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Quiet Time

Sometimes I must tell time to be quiet, to “shush”–

Time is an indolent child, unraveling a blanket

thread by thread with a radar for my distraction.

The lid of winter closes down and I realize it has been days,

weeks, months, years, a lifetime of serving two masters.

Here’s how to stretch an eternity in the present like salt-taffy

held in tension and rain: bed down in the love of your ancestors,

write a long letter, give something away, sit with someone who remembers you young. Double your day by letting the morning sun

dance in her dusty shadows without you. Be a watchman, be a lighthouse

for the word that will come from the Lord. Pay attention to how God

knows you and speaks to you, and only command your ears to stiffen for that. Pick up the threads of your own soul and let them meander

into the wind of the unknown and weave.

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Hummingbird Cake

You are having these conversations with your God that no one else is having, and sometimes it is easy to forget that and to think that the mediums God uses to connect to your soul are the only ones available to mankind.

The Word is the Word and that goes for everyone. Sure. But within that Word are connotations and whispers and secret language because nothing makes us feel more loved than a love note in special, contrived

shorthand that might look and sound and feel like a jibberish to everyone else. Sometimes I open my Bible and a passage stands out to me and it feels like a piece of hummingbird cake saved for me because I was a little child who fell asleep at the birthday party. Sweet taste for my tongue only.

But that cannot and should not discount the sweet tastes of others, who may be meeting God on a different plane in a different time zone, listening with their own eccentric ears and experiences.

God’s Word doesn’t change. Truth doesn’t change. But the ways God places His truth into the palms of his adored children are for Him to decide…not me.

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The way to the heart might be through the stomach…

I am reminiscing this morning about all the wonderful places my husband and I have shared a meal together. Eating out has been something we’ve always enjoyed. Our first date was at Applegate’s Landing, a Midwestern version of an Italian restaurant in our little college town. Then there was Sal’s in Delano, California, our family gathering place for delicious, authentic Mexican food. Once while en route to California on a road trip with the kids, we ventured out in New Mexico for a dinner for two for some of the best Mexican fare I’ve ever eaten, and true to form, I can’t remember the name of the place. We had so few date nights in those days, everything about that meal from the chips and salsa to the honey we drizzled on our dessert tortillas, was special. Santa Fe’s Cafe Pascual’s and El Encanto in Scottsdale are two restaurants that we will make reservations for every time we are in proximity. El Encanto’s tamales, with their sweet masa, are unforgettable.

There was that Italian restaurant we were taken to on a job interview, “Papa or Mama–something.” This was the dinner where the 2-year-old son accompanied us. He was so well-behaved I think it actually worked in my husband’s favor because they offered him the job on the spot. While my husband conversed with his possible future employers, I scarfed down lasagna like only a woman in her third trimester can do.

Our week in Ireland several years ago provided us some of our most memorable eating experiences. In Sligo, we became chummy with our taxi driver (we had the same one for almost a week and on our favorite driver’s day off, his uncle came to pick us up). He even delivered our laundry to and from the laundry service place while we hiked Knocknarea, and as he transported us from place to place, we conversed about poetry and food. His mother was an amazing cook, and we were very close to securing an invitation to eat at her house. I think he wanted his family to experience listening to us butcher the pronunciations of all the local landmarks. At any rate, his suggestion for the best local food in Sligo was Lyon’s Cafe. We ate there several times for lunches–it was that good AND it was not pub food. I had remarked to Taxi-Driver-Friend that dark, damp, over-greasy fish and chips was not my thing. At the time, I did not appreciate Guinness the way I do now. I must go back. While in Sligo, we also ate at an amazing cafe on the coast with seafood chowder that tasted like a book taken at face value for a “beach read” that ends up a part of your inner life forever. The name escapes me (I should keep a food diary) but I remember the exterior clapboards were painted deep blue and there was a statue of Yeats nearby (not helpful in Sligo as a landmark…Yeats is everywhere). There was also a sign on the shoreline that read “For Yeats’ sake, pick up your rubbish!” While in Northern Ireland, Magherafelt in County Londonderry to be more exact, all we had to do for one of the best “fancy food” experiences of our lives was walk across the street from our Seamus Heaney B&B to Church Street Restaurant. We ate several suppers there and everything we consumed from the wine to appetizers to soups and salads to seafood, steak, chicken was delectable. My mouth waters as I remember. This was a place locals obviously loved but it also felt like a restaurant where important celebrations were taking place around us. It was humbly elegant.

The best pizza we’ve found in Chicago is Lou Malnati’s. Best French Fries–possibly Boise Fry Company, Boise, Idaho. The accompanying burgers were not bad either. As for barbecue, I’ve lived in Texas and Oklahoma and I’ve tried North Carolina’s smoked offerings. Of this I am most certain: KC Joe’s. The sauce. In a pinch, Hickory Hut in Salina works for us. Best meal while in Hawaii is a hole-in-the-wall Teriyaki place –Mark’s– that made us so happy, my husband put the name of the place in his phone so we can head there straight from the airport next time we are on the island of Kauai.

Prague was the site of two of the most expensive and formal dinners we have ever had the pleasure of partaking in. One took place in the famous “Fred and Ginger” building, compliments of Glen’s company, and the other was one of those 12-course delights where the Chef brings out two tablespoons of food with a wine pairing over and over until it ends up costing you hundreds of dollars per person, and like the Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” you find yourself, not naked, but starving (so “naked” in the metaphorical and gastronomical sense). The company of our friends made this memorable and fun and the room-service hamburger filled our growling stomachs at around midnight when the dinner finally ended.

The best meals are those that check all the boxes–ambiance, occasion, and ingredients. My favorite food memory shared with my husband took place at our 25th anniversary dinner in Asheville, NC, at the Grove Inn. I ordered a baked chicken with a delicious sauce that included sweetness, a bit of a kick and pecans. We dined outdoors with a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains. Our waitress was perfect–attentive but not intrusive–and, not only were we celebrating our anniversary, but earlier in the day our son had called us to tell us he was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart.

While in Scotland on a company trip, we were served a feast fit for Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle, one of the castles she lived in as a child. I have seldom tried a food I didn’t like, but on this evening, I couldn’t bring myself to try the haggis. Since traveling there, I have learned through 23-and-Me that my genetic profile is predominately Scottish, Irish, and Native American. In fact, some of the ancestors who immigrated to this country from Ireland, were also Scottish along with the the Scottish Scots. So in a sense, I’ve probably tasted haggis.

I’ve made several trips to Oregon in recent years to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson and I have to say that every bite of food from start to finish in this state has been delightful. Even the Portland Airport serves fresh, delicious food. The best French dip sandwich was eaten at my daughter’s butcher shop (also a lunch spot) in North Plains. We love Tom’s Fish and Chips at Cannon Beach, as well as the lovely breakfasts at my favorite hotel–The Stephanie Inn. The best news is foodies tend to begat foodies so when in Oregon, we have family to embark upon eating adventures with.

Once, with another daughter, I attended the Madison Food Festival, in Madison, WI. It will forever be a life-highlight. Macaroni and Cheese Pizza from Ian’s, Cheese-curds from everywhere, the best ice cream ever…everywhere. We would leave our hotel room, walk across the road and eat bread and cheese concoctions until we were so full we would hobble back to the hotel room and crash on the bed for a few hours. Then repeat. For three days. It felt both sinful and holy at the same time to do so. Mimosas and Brunch at the Old Fashioned topped off our long weekend. You think when you give birth to your daughters that you will have this long stretch of time for making memories, but life moves so quickly and there is always so much to do. I will never forget this time of laughter and eating and dream-sharing with my daughter. Also, I gained ten pounds in three days. I think it was my heart, not my stomach.

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Fragility

God looks upon us and perhaps he sees

a trembling leaf folding in the rain

He sees, in all of our capability, a fragility.

We are dying in clusters now, laying low

and allowing fear to make us mean and disparaging

toward one another, as we try to make sense

of the senseless, we try to give voice to our limping hope.

In the distant horizon is a sun-sized moon and remembrance

of when we could run and when we believed so big in ourselves,

thinking we believed in God.

I think I will stand before God tonight with all of my wrinkles,

with make-up off, and I will celebrate the end of me that is

the beginning of God; my weaknesses that lay bare like open

trees, my voice cracking and soft and devoid of meaning.

Perhaps we can become like prayer, vacuous sounds that rise up

into a blank sky, that tell us nothing, yet fill us and equip us

to accept and to love and to heal.

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When you miss someone

and that feeling is new

you can pinpoint the hole left in the place of daily filling

acutely aware, no beauty goes without notice

breath and friendship not taken for granted,

your mind can move forward and back at grief’s bidding,

it feels like paralysis and flight all at once

Every day, the face of the Earth loses a speck

and gains another, but I do not. I gain much from my loss–

words already spoken, a faith now cradling my restless head,

the significance of ordinary things. Is it marking time?

Or is it grabbing the colors of a universe bent upon painting

and framing the eternal in each one of us? When you miss someone

your soul is on fire, you know life in a singular way

you pick up the pencil and you trace the shapes.

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Tribute

These two are those friends…

The ones who read your blog when no one else does.

The ones who drive over in the dead-end of night to help you through tragedy, who make Amtrak reservations because you just lost your parents in a plane crash and cannot bring yourself to get on a plane.

The ones who cry at your 25th anniversary wedding vows on a cruise ship to Alaska while the inebriated ship captain with the “Princess-bride” lisp mispronounces you “huthsband and wife.”

Those friends. The ones who invite your daughter, who is struggling at school, over once a week for sewing lessons. The ones who watch your baby for the weekend so you can attend a marriage retreat and baby pukes on their new carpet and they don’t mind at all.

She was the one who brought a basket of freshly-baked muffins to my house the day our oldest son left for college. They were the first ones to hold our youngest as a tiny preemie.

Once when I shared with her how disconnected I felt from my own extended family, and how painful that was for me, she labeled herself as my “sister” on facebook.

They are those friends, who have called each of our four children on their birthdays and sung them the “Happy Birthday” song every year of their lives since our kids lost their grandparents. The prayers for my children are like jewels strung from their hearts, now all the way to heaven, where I know she will still be praying for them.

When it comes to faith, I am confident that I possess belief in spades, belief that will endure no matter what. But these friends, these friends have more than that. Together, they were a dynamo of love together, full of grace and acceptance and humor and fun. They led, always, with their hearts. And they held on to you in such a way that you knew there must be a reason for everything and a God much bigger than reason.

They were our card-playing friends. Easy to laugh with. Easy to cry with. The only thing they ever judged was barbecue. Christ-like yet authentically flawed and human, always pointing to Him as their strength and reason for living.

You know. Those friends. Two of our greatest gifts. Today, we say goodbye for now to her.

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Alchemy

Writing really can’t be taught or caught.

It’s more walking uphill backward and barefoot carrying a screaming baby or bird and giving it your last morsel of trail mix even though

you know you won’t eat for days. You hoard your drops of water and you hide your dictionary because the ideas are signposts pointing

the way to everywhere simultaneously. No one understands. You don’t understand.

I am called a writing instructor–a teacher– but I don’t teach, actually, really. I walk around, masked these days, looking at whittled shapes

that young people who have lived so fully already, have carved out of their own skins and memories and I talk to them about how to re-arrange or mix so the formula (the 5 paragraph essay) gets its own fresh dose of life. Nothing happens for a reason and nothing in Creation

is so formulaic–look at a bird-wing and say it isn’t so.

I walk around with my hands open showing them a lost alchemy, talking to them about the used bookstore I love in Breckenridge where poetry occupies such a small shelf, and I hope they’ll remember the one I shared last week as a warm-up, I hope they will remember

one stanza or two when the Science stops making sense yesterday. I hope they remember that Grammar needs us more than we need her, and we are so much more in the reflection of our beating time, so much more and so much less all at once–Champions, we are

of a broken page.

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Olympic Moments

The Summer Olympics. I’ve been watching the Summer Olympics since the days of three channels and rabbit-ear antennas with aluminum foil pressed around for better reception. Some casual observations:

  1. Remember when the athletes looked almost inhumanly fit, almost like they were from another planet? They are still fit; however, so is your neighbor down the street who is a Crossfitter-marathon runner.
  2. Remember when getting know more about the athletes was limited to special feature sections on one of three channels with rabbit-ear antennas? Now, I can Google the athlete and record an event or watch livestream anytime I want. Why does it seems so overwhelming now?
  3. Remember when the TV Guide came tucked into its bed of the Sunday paper? Now, there are so many channels and so many guides with live links that I find myself guessing and hoping I don’t miss any of Simone Biles’ routines. Even though I know there is Youtube and it has all been recorded. I want the best opportunity for viewing–I am going for the Gold in television viewing, which makes me an Olympian, right?
  4. Remember “Wild World of Sports”? The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. I dozed off to these words almost every Sunday afternoon of my childhood. I am not sure “Wild World of Sports” as a title would work in 2021.
  5. My son told me once that there are 2 types of people: the one who wants to win and the one who doesn’t want to lose. Which one am I? This seems like a trick question to me.
  6. Olga, Nadia, Marylou, Carly, Shannon, Nastia, Gabby, Simone…I once watched Olympic gymnastics and decided to try some balance beam moves atop one of our wooden fence lines on the farm. On my dismount, which didn’t go well, I almost bit my tongue in half.
  7. Sugar Ray Leonard. I went through a phase when I wanted to be a boxer. In retrospect, a boxer’s mouthpiece would have been a good idea for my gymnastics phase.
  8. Now there is 3×3 basketball in the Olympics. I grew up playing half-court ball in Oklahoma. I’ve always tried to tell people that 3×3 is an entirely different sport from full-court basketball. I feel vindicated. I was an athlete ahead of her time living in a time-capsule state.
  9. Why is beach volleyball so addicting to watch? I plan my days around Olympic Beach Volleyball, and then the Olympics end and I forget it exists until the next Olympics. I feel like my calves are getting toner just watching the athletes.
  10. If you watch the Olympics and you aren’t familiar with the story of Jim Thorpe, be sure to Google and YouTube after you read this post. I am surprised how many people have never heard of this great athlete. There is a Facebook meme that floats around from time to time showing Thorpe in an old football uniform and wearing shoes that neither fit his feet nor match. What isn’t always told about Thorpe is the tragic irony of his burial and his children’s legal battle to try to bring his body back to Oklahoma for re-burial, which is what Thorpe wanted.
  11. I am not entirely sure our world creates true amateurs anymore. Most small towns, like the one I live in, start recruiting basketball players when the babies are still in the womb, or so we like to say. Even though most of us never rise to Olympic glory, many of us train, skip church, skip family events as though we will. Thrill of victory. Agony of defeat. It seems that now, anyone can run a marathon, pull off the Murph on Memorial Day, eat food that comes in little tubes like astronauts and fork out gzillions for the right equipment. Amateurism in sports is murky as are many other “cut and dried” aspects of competition that once we did not think about or question. In the real world, amateurism has been replaced by professional mediocrity. I formulated this idea while attending a sports fair prior to the Austin Marathon, where we were all lined up to buy expensive special socks, protein bars, some kind of weird tube-food, and elitist Gatorade that was called something else. All of this so my sister and I could run-walk the 5K and other family members could complete the big race with varying levels of fitness and training on display, proving forever than almost anyone can eke out the 9- minute mile if you deprive yourself of dessert, skip alot of church, and become “evangelical” enough about keeping your feet blister-free and in Brooks.
  12. The Olympics teaches us that life is about the journey, not the destination. This is what I tell myself as I channel surf my thousands of options, searching for beach volleyball. My face feels ready for my Wheaties Box, however, I will need to get a new recliner prior to the photo-shoot.

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Don’t order that Big Mac!

Everyone go back to vacation and post pics of your food and the wildlife and the beach sunsets. Yes, Delta variant is on the rise and it is unsettling and yes, mostly un-vaxed people are afflicted, and YES many un-vaxed people appear to be getting their information from social media and unvetted news sources. In short, they are listening to people who aren’t “experts” in the field. Ok, well facebook is anything but a forum of “experts” so stop feeding the monster. If the only place you have to debate about the Covid vaccine is facebook, you are probably not qualified to provide “expert” opinions. Chances are I am not an expert either.

I am certainly not an expert of other individuals and the complexities of why they are not making the choice that is right for me. As a society, we need to clear the stage so that it becomes impossible to listen to nonsense instead of having those important conversations in private with our own medical providers. It seems to me, we are drowning out the voices that people should listen to. Shhhh! Vacation pics! We are all experts at that. Kindness. Love. Empathy and Mercy as we attempt to minister to people who, just like us, suffer the consequences of the choices they have every right to make.

My thing is fast food. Over 20 years ago, after I gave birth to Baby #4 as an older mom, I realized that, with my genes, the only chance I had of still being alive at this kid’s wedding was to give up fast food and the convenience of that. I was also aware that my being able to idle up to a drive through window and order a Quarter Pounder and large fries with a soda was a part of my class privilege. No one feels the need to question an unhealthy “skinny-fat” person driving a Lexus about her choices. It seems to me the best thing we could do to help our fellow Americans navigate Covid and heart disease and stroke and cancer and kidney failure and lupus and high risk pregnancies and just about every health problem that could be faced is not to increase minimum wage for fast food workers (which isn’t a bad idea) but to eliminate fast food altogether and force our society to relearn how to soak a pot of pinto beans and to eat slow again.

This pandemic is a complex issue and everyone who diminishes it down to a black and white decision is making it political. So stop. Everyone. Stop. In your spare time (some of you will have loads if you stop posting Covid articles on Facebook), read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Find the photo I saw this past week of a bottle of alcohol that was labeled “Government Whiskey” and was distributed along with bad cheese to Native Americans on reservations. Attempt to understand. Go stealth with the preaching to people you don’t even really know on social media and have smaller, more meaningful conversations with the people you personally know that are against the vaccine in the context of friendship and care.

And no more Taco Bell for you. 🙂

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What did you learn?

Today I engaged in a roundtable discussion with some of my amazing colleagues at McPherson College as we spent time processing what it was like to teach during the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact that President Schneider allowed time and space for us to process our experiences made me feel valued. The organizational question asked of us was “What did you learn?”

I didn’t share much at the roundtable because, well, I am a writer and why waste a good journal prompt on the spoken word when I can hoard the idea, listen to others and rush home to fill my blog with all of my insights and ideas. Here is what I learned:

  1. Most of what works in teaching during a pandemic works even better when not in a pandemic. Open communication, flexibility, patience and grace. Flexible deadlines and the willingness to communicate the same message again and again to students who have questions is something I have always done as a teacher. It was even more important during hybrid course delivery.
  2. Today’s students are often living in pandemic-like situations even when the rest of us, who are insulated from hunger, poverty, abuse, neglect, and anxiety about where the next ——– is coming from, can easily pretend the world is a stable place. When all the unknowns during Covid-19 left me taking on bad habits or attempting to escape rather than get my work done, I realized that we, as teachers, often expect our students to juggle these kinds of stressors all the time.
  3. I am not a teacher-centric teacher. If a student doesn’t know how to write a good essay, I don’t consider that an insult to me or that it is beneath me to teach such a student or that someone else in the faculty food-chain should have taught him this instead of me. The truly valuable educational moments are not mine, as the teacher, to dictate. I can plan for teachable moments, but they aren’t always going to happen according to my best-laid plans. Teachable moments operate much more like Nirvana.
  4. Flexibility and inconsistency are not the same thing.
  5. I simplified my lesson plans and it helped me to teach better. Post-pandemic, I will continue to simplify.
  6. I was cognizant throughout the pandemic that part of my job as a teacher was to model for students an honest but positive quest to thrive while in survival mode. I might not be teaching my dream lesson plan on Zoom (because my dream lesson plan consists of fully exposed faces in face-to-face format) but I could still have a good day.
  7. It was easier to allow at-risk students to fall through the cracks during the pandemic and it was much more difficult to pull them up through those cracks after they took the plunge into failure.
  8. It is ALWAYS important to take time to connect because without human connection, retention won’t happen. They will always remember how you made them feel is often quoted, but the pandemic taught me that this remembering and feeling is the only gate through which any kind of meaningful learning can be attained. This is foundational.
  9. Children learn what they live is another well-known parenting mantra, and we readily accept that this applies to small children, but what we don’t always remember is that the children in this premise grow up often to become those self-fulfilling prophecies I studied about in sociology class. Good teaching changes narratives rather than just reinforcing existing ones.