Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Wow, just noticed that this is my 400th post.  Somebody should throw me a party or something.  I mean, that's a lot of words.  A whole lot of words about words, I even dare say.  But you ain't seen nothing the song goes.  I mean, I'm a woman who has blue composition books full of words all the way back to when I was 14 years old.  And, as a friend reminded me the other day, I'm almost (dang close, actually) obsessive-compulsive about those journals.  And in disclosing all this, I'm confirming his diagnosis.
1. I never erase or cross out anything I've written, except for 'typos': mispelled words, or those kind of rare errors.  The reason for this goes all the way from superficial to deep.  I like the way smooth, unblemished handwriting across page after page. I may not be great at sports, and am not a gifted (or even semi-gifted) musician, but I have nice handwriting.  I got that from my mother.  In truth, it's just about the only thing I got from her that I'm actually glad to accept.  The rest: my skin tone, my deep-set eyes that always look like somebody punched me in the nose and bruised me (actually there's an incident in my college days when a man burst through the door of my apartment and threatened to rape me.  One of the only things that stopped him was that he thought someone had already beat me up by the look of the dark shadows beneath my eyes) look just like Mom's eyes, staring blankly at us rom behind her oversized glasses (are you following all this?  I know that was a long non-sequiter, and with the word rape in it, you might have caught your breath, but reel yourself in!).  She had great handwriting, and I'm proud that mine isn't too shabby either.  I like the way it looks most days.
2.  I'm committed to transparency in my words.  I write whatever comes to mind at the time.  Here as well.  Sometimes deeper than other times, but that's all part of me, after all.  We're all a mix of intention and impulse, of profundities and redundancies--every one of us.  My blue books are flooded with 'screams' and 'dances for joy.'  However, there is one caveat to this:  I don't write about sex.  Never have, never will.  In fact, even in my novel, I can't bring myself to write about it, even it would sell my book sooner.  I can allude, imply, insinuate, intimate, but never point directly.  I believe the bedroom door should be kept shut. And I'm positive--positive--that my children are thankful for this now, and will be in the future.
3.  I keep them all, only write in those blue composition books (that my sister sends me from the same bookstore in my hometown where I've been buying them since I was 14).  I about had a heart attack a couple years (about 6 journals ago) when the binding was black instead of blue.  Like my friend said, a little OCD, huh?  I write the season and year on the front of each.  The one I'm in now says Summer 2009.  I'm just about finished with it, and will try hard to word my entries so I end one at the bottom of the last page.  I rarely continue an entry into the next book.  And I never skip any lines.  EVER.

The thing is, I like order.  In my writing and in my life.  This doesn't always seem possible in my life.  I'm a salmon swimming against the tide, it sometimes feels.  Mail, receipts (Beve keeps receipts for EVERYTHING!), keys--did I mention that I was supposed to have a doctor's appt yesterday but had to reschedule for today because I looked all over this house and couldn't find my keys?  They turned up before bedtime, and I won't be so unkind as to mention whose shorts I found them in, dogs, dog- paraphenalia--Maica has TWO crates, one at each end of our bowling alley house,sewing supplies...the list is endless.  I have friends who are professional at order.  One, literally professional, but others also gifted at it.  I'm not.  Except at my own stuff. 

But God is a God of order.  He's gifted at it.  This is one of the things I always fall back on when life is rough, and let me tell you, it's been rough on folks around us lately.  Sickness, even the dreaded C-word that so terrifies people of even 'a certain age' has been circling around two young women not even old enough to drink.  Marriages in crisis, loved ones facing continual economic crises.  And when I begin to pray for them, I try to align my prayers with the order of God.  Seeking His way as prelude to what I pray.  Asking Him to order my steps as I pray these myriad prayers, and asking Him to order their lives so He is honored and that in all things, they become more His.  Just like my blue notebooks, lined up on the shelf--peace and strength and hope lined up together-- God definitely orders this.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A rubber band--stretched

Another day, another trip to the vet.  We've practically set up a tent and moved into that place, are comfortable with dogs barking, peeing on the floor tiles (or the scale as the miniature collie did today), the anxious animals that practically climb onto their owners' heads (oh wait, that anxious pet would be Jamaica, and that head would be mine!).  Jamaica is suffering from a goopy eye (and yes, that is the medical term for it) and a lopsided nose.  Serious stuff, huh?  The whole right side of her face is swollen, which isn't easy to see from the side, but from the front...let's just say that the vet and the vet tech were both quite impressed with her face.

I am too, most of the time.  I find her dang cute, to tell the truth.  Except when she's in a frenzy trying to get someone--anyone, preferably Jackson--to play with her.  We've spent the last week or more trying to keep Jackson from rumbling with her (the word Beve uses), because he invariably steps wrong on the lame leg, then falls, then his limp is even more noticable for a while.  And in the last several days, if he (or any of us) knock Jamaica's nose, she yelps and darts into her kennel, then sits all the way at the back.   Her kennel is her one safe place, after all.

The vet said she probably got bitten by a spider or a hornet (or one of those flying, buzzing stinging bee-like insects that tend to swarm this time of year).  E and I both said, "Ah!"  For the last week, Beve's been shop-vac-cing a nest that is located up inside the cedar shakes up in the corner of our house.  I've been staying as far away from this exercise as I can get, given that I'm allergic to these bee-like creatures and, therefore, have always had a phobia of them.  I'm not the 'need the epy-pen or I'll be breathing my last' kind of allergic, but the 'swell up like a hot-air balloon from one tiny sting' allergic, but I'm here to tell you, getting over bee-stings has always been a long and arduous process for me, and NOT something I lean into, so to speak.

None of my kids, nor Beve, is allergic to bee-creatures.  Just the other day, E came in the house, grumbling because a bee had been caught between her foot and her flip-flop (which reminds me, we used to call that kind of footwear thongs, but whenever I forget and call them that around my kids, they say, "Mom!", as if I've said something obscene.  This morphing of language continues to bewilder me.). Needless to say, E got stung.  A few minutes later, when I looked at her foot, I couldn't even make out where the sting was, though she'd had to pull the stinger out of the ball of her foot.  This is NOT an allergic reaction.  And SK was stung this summer on her little toe, and swelled enough to bother her, but in the grand scheme of things, wasn't much to speak of.  So it seems only the dog got the allergy.  (Though E is allergic to spiders, and has just about the same reaction to them that I have to flying, stinging things)

So Jamaica got put on steroids for her swelling, so we won't be signing her up for baseball in the near future, though she could play center-fielder quitely adroitly, just as long as the ball played with was a tennis ball, and it was always hit to her, because no matter where it was hit, she'd be racing after it, and certainly wouldn't throw it to first in a timely fashion.  And she got put on eye drops for her goopy eye.  She has something of a ski-jump look to her muzzle at the moment, and looks a bit like Richard Nixon--or what he might have looked like if he'd been a Springer Spaniel--or if she was a paranoid (though I guess she is, now that I mention it) president who bugged every conversation ever held in the president's office, which would be great because then I'd have an all-access pass to the president, since I own her and have to put drops in her goopy eye.

But the thing is, all these trips to the vet, all these things I have to do for my dogs makes me aware of how little I actually control anything about their lives.  Even if I do 'own' them, which turns out to primarily mean deciding whether or not to allow expensive treatment for their ailments.  It's the same old story, isn't it?  I've been around this mountain a million times before.  Whatever else I'm learning, I'm learning that I'm not really in control...not of my dogs, my kids, my spouse, my own life.  Maybe you have this all worked out.  Maybe you easily abdicate control of your kids, spouse, dogs, house, job, interests, everything else to God.  But I don't.  I hang on and hang on and hang on.  And when that doesn't work, I hang on. Finally, when I've been to the vet 47 times in a two week period, I get the message--at least for today.  No matter how I map out my week, my day, an hour, I'm not in charge.  I have to be as flexible as a rubber band to where He will take me, what He will ask of me.  These days I feel a little bit like a rubber band that's been so over-stretched there are a couple of little tears in it.  Still doing the job, but one pull too far and it'll be ripped apart, and will be unable to perform its purpose. 

But I believe--even as I feel the rips in my physical body, my chaotic mind and tender spirit--I believe that God will not stretch me too far.  I will not rip.  Even if it feels mighty close at times.  He promises not to.  And I believe it.  I stake my life, my kids' lives, Beve's life, even my dogs' lives that His word is always true.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lame lame

Words.  A word about them:

The other day, J was talking to a fellow employee at his purported place of business.  I'm guessing the person he was speaking to was a blonde female, but that could just be me being stereotypical.  Anyway, J told this person about our big lug, Jackson having torn his CCL (canine cruciate ligament).  J said, "So now Jackson's lame."  And this girl (Really, she had to be a blonde girl!) said, "Don't say that about him.  He's not lame, he's a really great dog."
J shook his head, saying, "Crippled.  Jackson's now crippled."
And the girl said, "Oh, I thought you meant like lame.  You know, lame lame."

Seriously?  Lame lame?

Apparently, while we weren't paying attention, the actual definition of lame, which J and I both believed to be a synonym of cripple, has morphed into what I would have considered slang.  You know, lame lame.  Like, that movie was so lame. And this post is pretty lame.  See, I can actually use the word contemporarily correct.

It reminds me--this lame lame stuff--of how my mother used to quiz me about boys I talked about.  "So," she'd ask, "Do you like him, or do you li-i-i-ke him?"  Just writing that makes me cringe, remembering how her voice would slide up the scale as she said like, and how she'd look at me as though she was one of my girlfriends and we were sharing confidences.  I hardly ever answered her directly.  Usually I said, "Mother!" in an incredibly annoyed tone.  It just bugged me that her extension of that single vowel sound changed the meaning of the word.  Though, now that I think of it, I confess that I've used the same idea with my kids.  Oops, now I'm cringing about that.  "Do you like him?  Or do you like like him?"  Shoot, how lame lame is that?  Both the twinning of the word and the pushing for the information in such a fashion.  I repent in dust and ashes, at least today.  Tomorrow, when one of them mentions a person of the opposite sex, I can't guarantee I won't be lame lame again.

I'm pretty sure it's in a parent's job description.
At least they'll have something to talk to therapists about years from now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fingers do the talking

Hands poised over the keys as if just setting them there will spark the crative juices.  For a long time I believed that it was the actual motion of pen in hand across a page that did the writing, as opposed to the brain that controls that hand.  Now that I do a larger proportion of my writing on a computer, I've revised that theory to include both hands, and pecking away on the keyboard.  There have been times when I write, whether on paper or on the screen, that I'm utterly amazed by what I watch being written.  It's like there's a pathway to my fingers that I am unaware of.  Maybe this sounds crazy but this has happened often enough that I believe it.

For example I sat down at my first laptop about nine years ago, needing to have a writing sample for a seminar I was taking to complete my masters' degree.  After spinning for a few minutes, I placed my hands upon the keys and wrote this:

My life began on October afternoon when I was twelve years old.  Though I'd been born a dozen year before, recollections of my earlier life are miraged memories, and every attempt to drink from them leaves me with my fact full of sand.  If I were twelve years old again and asked to write an essay about my life, I would have only one fully formed day to write about, as if I'd been floating in my mothers womb all the years before, safe and content, and not anxious to move through that dangerous tunnel into the light.  I preferred the darkness that covered like a cloak and protect me from exposure.

This paragraph is the first one I ever wrote for my novel, and for a very long time it didn't change, though practically every other sentence in the 300 pages morphed into something so wholly different from where it began, I don't even remember the beginning.  However, this paragraph was also finally murdered, slain as though it had never been.  Now the novel simply begins, but was also written with very little sweat and tears.  Like so:

 It is an early October afternoon in the Palouse, and I am riding home on the late bus, which is empty, since our house is the last stop on its route.  Out the window, I see a man on a tractor plowing a dark circle around the contour of an empty field.  I squint, wondering if he is my father or my Uncle Tommy, since from this distance, they're hard to tell apart.  The bus driver, Mr. Olson, honks, and the man on the tractor waves.  Uncle Tommy, I decide.  Papa wouldn't wave. He keeps his head down when he's working in the fields.

Huge difference, huh?

But both came out the end of my fingers.  And now, after sitting with them for years, then sitting without them for months, these words haunt me.  Draw me in.  Me, who knows where they're headed (at least some of the time)...and I believe they can draw others in as well, even though I don't know who those others are yet, or where they'll come from.  Maybe I'll just copy out this story right here on my blog, allow my few faithful readers to be the audience.  And maybe, this way, this story I still feel compelled to tell will find its voice.  And maybe, as my fingers write it out again, I'll find my own voice again, and the dream will live.

And maybe the reason that some of my best writing comes through my fingers rather than my brain is because the Spirit doesn't need my brain to help it along, to get in the way even.  And maybe, if my fingers do the talking again, so to speak (and not to be punny), He'll bestow His magic--er, His miracle--of creativity, and together we'll finish what we (He, my fingers and I) began so many years ago. 

What do you think? 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A pen story

A quick story:
I was at Value Village this afternoon, looking for old t-shirts for a reason not pertinent to the story.  As I waited in line at check-out, I watched the cashier, a young man with dark eyes, a mustache and plenty of unshaved whiskers, dressed in a flowered dress, blonde wig, and fancy hat with netting.  I'd stumbled into the Halloween sale at Value least I hope that was the reason he and his fellow employees were so dressed.  This young, should I say, woman?...stalled the line in order to change the reciept tape in his dinosauric cash register, and the skinny young mother ahead of me with identical pink Halloween t-shirts, was doing her best to be patient.  After replacing the tape, the cashier began looking around for his pen, which he'd somehow lost in the whole tape-replacing episode, and grew increasingly frantic.  I'm not sure what the fire was, but he was sweating beneath that blonde pageboy, but that could have just been the heat of wearing an itchy wig.

So I reached into my purse where I keep about a thousand pens at all times, because after all, one never knows when they'll need to, say, write something.  There are times when I'm with someone who also carries a purse, and that person will say, "Do you have a pen I can borrow?"  Seriously?  Not have a pen in a purse?  I could see not having a pen if I had nothing more than a wallet in my back pocket (though they make these cute little pens that take up less room than a key, which I definitely put inside my wallet, if that's all I have with me), but no pen in a purse?  Of course, my grandmother, who might have gone out with her hair in curlers but never went anywhere without lipstick, would be horrified to know that I don't carry lipstick in my purse.  Chapstick, yes.  That colored stuff that gives me cold sores?  Not on your life.  But that's beside the point.

The point is, I pulled out my pile of pens, grabbed a black ballpoint, and handed it to the blonde, mustached cashier.   "Keep it," I told him.  The woman with the pink t-shirts in front of me gasped.  "I can't believe you're giving him that pen.  You're just giving it to him."  And the cashier said, "Really?  You'd let me have this?" You would have thought I'd given him the keys to my car and told him to keep it.  "It's just a pen," I wanted to say.  But the woman was walking away, busy telling her husband about this lady who'd actually given the cashier her own pen.  So I just smiled and paid for my 99 cent t-shirts and said, "Thanks but I don't need a bag."  Then walked away myself.

When I got home, I told J about it, and he said, "It says more about what people are like these days, than it does about you."  And I think he's right.  How is it that we find it so stunning that someone might actually do something right for others?  I mean, if a single pen could elicit such responses?  I'm no hero, not even in this scenario.  I mean, I checked that I wasn't giving away any of my favorite pens, but a simple bic.  If I'd really wanted to make a big statement I'd have given the fancy one I never let anyone use.  That's the sacrifice that costs.  And I'm woefully poor at making such sacrifices.  But what if I did just give away my things because someone else needed them?  What if I saw a man on a street without a shirt, and gave him the one off my back (ok, so I'd be arrested for indecent exposure, but you know what I mean!)?  What if we all carried extra pens around with us, just so we'd have them to give away when someone needed them.  It'd go a long ways in this making this world the place God intended it to be.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Ok, so I might be a sports fan.  In fact, I might be a rabid sports fan, especially this time of year, when it's football season.  Have I said this before?  And do you think there's something wrong with me that I love watching boys (er, I suppose they might be called men, or even giants in many cases!) in pads and helmets line up and on a certain count, ram each other as hard as they can.  Sometimes we watch shows where animals with horns back up and drive full speed into each other, and the sound of their horns can make me wince.  Yet, these men on a carefully kept field, in full view of a stadium of people, do exactly the same thing, so that one of them, lined up behind their human shield, one who is often much smaller than those hitters, can carry a ball as fast as his very quick feet can carry him.  And I'm compelled by it.  Even as I write it out this way, I'm compelled by it.

J calls me a fair weather fan, because I can't bear to watch teams I care about lose.  I honestly can't bear to watch the university team from my hometown right now, because the games are so dismal, and I want so badly for them to do well.  But I'll watch to the last second a game that is close, no matter who is playing, no matter whether I've rooted against such a team for most of my natural life.  And.. there are some teams I root against--like USC and Notre Dame.  I told J this afternoon that I don't care who beats either one, unless they're playing each other, then I wish they could both lose.

Today, as I watched the Washington-USC game, I thought of what a gorgeous afternoon it was for football, sunny and warm, in a stadium with a beautiful view of a beautiful lake, and the action on the field went in favor of the home team, which meant the crowds were enthusiastic, full of life and hope, and in the last moment, when a pass was completed and a field goal made with mere seconds left, such raucous joy that as soon as the final seconds ticked off, that crowd rushed the field.  From my seat at my sewing machine, next to the TV, those people looked like a swarm of purple carpenter ants with the nationally touted quarterback the center of the swarm...but I quickly brushed off that comparison.

Because what it really made me think of--this long awaited win against a national power house--was the kind of joy worship can be--will be--when the final victory is won, and we come near the throne, and the crown and the Holy crowned One.  We love to gather to cheer on our team, but really, shouldn't we feel just as anticipatory, as faithful, hopeful, lively and absolutely full of joy when we come together in our places of worship?  Worship, after all, is what we get to do, not what we have to do. We--merely human, definitely needy, always the losers (without Him, anyway)--get to call on Him, sing to Him, and believe that this worship makes a difference, not only in the moment, but in eternity. So imagine what it would be like to come together in the presence of the Living God, to raise hands and hearts and make a noise as loud and boisterous as in any stadium anywhere in this country.  Imagine if we really expected Him to be there, expected Him to not merely appear be participate in that hour, in our prayers, our praise, our everything.

PS.  Apparently, while I was busy being a fair-weather fan and NOT watching my home-team, they managed to win.  Go Cougs!

Friday, September 18, 2009


My aunt and uncle came by and took me out to lunch today.  I come from a rather compact family that now has sprawling fingers all around this continent.  My mom was an only child, so my dad's sisters and families are my only family.  However, those four offpsring of dad's parents produced 23 grandchildren and I have no idea how many great-grandchildren.  And the center wheel of this family is the dad's next closest sister, Auntie, who keeps track of every single one of us, knows our birthdays, anniversaries, what our kids are up to, etc.  She's organized and positive, and quite possibly the mother I wish I'd had.

Not to mention the fact that she and Uncle Don have been married for 52 years, and have the best marriage I've ever seen.  Bar none.  I'm not kidding. My uncle was diagnosed with macular degeneration over 20 years ago, which made him retire from his management position at Boeing when he was just barely older than Beve is now.  For the next two decades they've hiked in the Yukon, visited Machu Picchu and Easter Island, taken a cruise to New Zealand and Australia, spent time in Ireland, Costa Rica, and driven (or I should say, Auntie's driven) all across this continent.  As his eye sight has worsened, only the most perceptive would know.  Now he's just about completely blind, sees only shadows and light, but still manages to hike, fish (he's an avid tie fisherman, though he has to have a buddy tie his flies now), and doe all sorts of handiwork around the family cabin at Whidbey.  It's pretty remarkable.

I sat across the table from them at lunch and listened to Auntie read the menu to him.  She read everything once, and he decided...just like that. He listens well, my uncle.  He's had to learn this.  Most of my life, he was a bundle of energy, the one who sharpened all the knives in our house when they visited us in Pullman, or fixed the screen door a little brother had pushed through.  When Beve and I took our small children to Auntie's house, they were interested in two things: the miniatures she kept in glass shelves, and the noisemakers Uncle Don kept in his bedroom.  He brought them out to make them squeal, chase them through the house, and generally wreck havoc on my notion of well-behaved children that I wished to show to my extended family.  But Uncle Don just laughed, and Auntie just dodged them as she whipped up more cookies, a full-blown meal, even if we'd just dropped in.  Every now and then she'd say, "Don," in a certain tone of voice, but that is about as much of a fight as I ever heard between them.

Uncle Don says what he thinks, even if what he thinks is neither politically correct, or tactful.  He knows we're believers, but he makes no excuses for the fact that he not only isn't, but thinks the idea of a God who might walk on water, heal the sick (or the blind!), and most especially raise people from the dead, is ludicrious.  And you know what?  I utterly love him.  And my Aunt, who would rather cut off her tongue than say anything controversial, never quite gives away what she believes about anything beyond this earth.  And I utterly love her as well.  I love how they care for each other, are intentional with their lives, have an open home and open hearts with all of us, from my mother, whom they visit every time they're east of the mountains even though she no longer knows them or can communicate in even the simplest sentences with them, to their youngest niece, whose toddler son they help celebrate since his own grandmother, my youngest aunt, died when she was barely older than I am.

It's always good to be with them.  It's a breath of fresh air in this world of troubled relationships and easily disposable families.  I'm glad to have them in my corner, I always am.  And you know what? I see a whole lot of Christ in them, in the way they treat others, in the way they treat each other.  I might never tell them so,  but He's present in lots of hidden places.  And a marriage that thrives after 50 years, that's not a very hidden place, is it?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Road rage

Just got home from running a few errands, mostly designed to increase my temperature.  I sat in line at a gas station, was about to pull up to a pump when a subaru swooped in from the other direction and took my spot.  Then I went to a fabric store, where I was almost hit as I was backing out because an SUV in the next row was backing at the same time. If the man about to get into his car beside me hadn't noticed and yelled at me I would have smashed or been smashed because the woman in the other vehicle wasn't about to stop for anyone, anytime, any place.

On the way home, I stopped in the left-hand lane at a light where the cross traffic is always busy.  This light is notorious for NOT turning green for this particular left-turn arrow, so much so that often, when Beve is driving, he turns when the light turns green for the straight through lanes.  I'm not as much of a renegade as Beve, so wouldn't think of breaking a traffic law, but especially not today when the car beside me was a police cruiser.  So I sat there while the light turned, then turned again.  Then I rocked the car back, hoping to trip the sensor which would make the light change for my lane.  To no avail.  Four times that traffic light made its loop without the green arrow ever appearing.  Am I just stupid for obeying traffic signals, or what?  Finally, on the fifth circuit, I drove straight through the light, up that street and turned around so I could make a 'right on red' turn before my hair turns gray and my body calcifies from inactivity.  As I turned, I watched another car pull into that left-turn lane.  Poor sucker, I thought, as I drove away.

I don't have often have road rage myself...though I'm certainly not immune to it.  Sure, I've been the target of flipped birds on occasion, usually by men, but not always.  I always feel ashamed of whatever small infraction I might I done to cause such disproportionate anger.  But years ago, as Beve and I were on the freeway in our van with our three small chublets secured in their carseats, we saw firsthand, how dangerous roadrage could really be. I don't remember what Beve had done--whether he'd moved into a lane too quickly, or was driving too slowly, but suddenly, a big ol' low-riding sedan pulled up beside us on the passenger side (where I was) and two heads appeared out the window of this other car. Rather graphic epithets were spewed toward us, ones we couldn't hear through our rolled up windows and the roar of their engine.  But we could imagine they weren't phrases we wanted our children to hear.  Beve slowed down so the car would pass us, but though it moved into the lane in front of us, it also slowed down, until we almost hit it.  Then it moved back beside us on Beve's side, and I'm pretty sure there was taunting going on, though I ducked down in my seat, and tried to ignore it.  Beve decided to get off the freeway, though we weren't near our exit, hoping to lose our 'companions'.  But they got off with us, and tailed us for a while.  Finally, sensing, I suppose, that we weren't anxious to get into it with them, the engine was gunned on the other car and they took off in a cloud of smoke (not really, but you know what I mean!).

That incident scared the living daylights out of me.  And the nightlights, too, come to think of it.  I imagined a gun sticking out their open windows, and our tires shot, if not one of us.  Ever since then, I've been determined to take responsibility for whatever I do in my vehicle that might cause another to become annoyed.  Even little things like not turning on my turn signal soon enough, or moving into a lane too quickly from an on-ramp on the freeway.  I raise my hand and mouth my apology, even when I'm pretty sure whatever happened wasn't actually my fault.  Like backing out too quickly in a parking lot, or cutting someone off at the gas pump.

What does it hurt to apologize, after all? Life is too short to get mad about things we can't do anything about, and perhaps even shorter, if we blame other people for inconveniences in our driving--or in our lives.  How do we treat those around us?  How do we respond to others on the road? Are we surrounded by idiots who don't know how to drive...or by others who are just like us--doing the best they can, but sometimes making mistakes? Maybe our reactions to others on the road could be pictures of how we react to others in our lives.  You think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Feeling woozy

Spent the morning at the dentist, my head a little woozy from the two valium they gave me to take an hour ahead of time so that I wouldn't gag when they began sand-blasting my farther back tooth in preparation for a new crown (the way I gagged last time just getting the cracked tooth x-rayed).  It's hours later and I'm still woozy.  I really hate the way such drugs make me feel.  But I sat there listening to 'soft rock' so the grinding was slightly muffled, and the instructions of the dentist and his assistant very muffled.  All in all, a great morning, which has lingered far into the afternoon. 

Now my poor, tiny jaw aches, my body feels separated from my head and with barely the slightest provocation, I could gladly fall into my cups...or my pillow, since I'm not likely to get anywhere near cups, unless it's tea, in which case, bring it on.

I just recovered from a rather nasty cold, though not before I passed it on to E, who now is in its death grip.  Poor kid.  So it's a slow week, one in which nothing productive has happened, nor is likely to.

On that note, I think I'll close, and hope my head re-attaches by tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Seventeen years ago yesterday, on a pre-dawn Monday morning, Beve's mother, whom I (along with the grandchildren) called Grammie, sucked in one large gasp of air, let it out and never breathed another.  Beve and I had had the post-midnight watch with her lying in a hospital bed in the family room in their cedar-shake clad house facing the Olympic Mountains.  We'd all gathered over that weekend--her children, in-law children, grandchildren, best friend, eating lots of food prepared in her kitchen, wandering over to give her sips of water, try to make sense of her garbled words, simply to breathe with her in the midst of a family gathering she would have loved.

We'd brought her home a week earlier from a long stay in the hospital, the seats removed from our van with a makeshift bed for her on the floor.  We all knew we were bringing her home to die, though we hoped for months, rather than one short week, in which to enjoy her company.  As we traveled across the Sound on a ferry, Beve's sister, Glo (fortunately, a nurse), stood outside the van's open slider, filling a syringe with morphine.  SK, who was 3, and I sat on the bottom step, so SK could eat her MacDonalds' Happy Meal.  I watched Glo  and watched the people in the car behind her, also staring as she held the syringe high to knock any air pockets from it.  It made me chuckle to imagine what they might have thought was going on behind the smoked windows of our van.

But then, I have to admit, plenty of things made us all chuckle that week, as we watched Grammie grow weaker and weaker. Call it deathbed humor...or maybe it was just our sleep-deprived, worry- filled way of dealing with what we could hardly bear to think of. There was the moment at the dinner table, when Glo said she liked her mother's salt and pepper shakers.  "Want them?" I asked, without missing a beat.  We both laughed until tears were streaming down our faces.  And, though Grammie went to sleep Friday night still speaking in complete, clear sentences, when she awoke Saturday morning, her language was garbled and impossible to understand.  So one of Beve's brothers helpfully made signs for her. "Water" read one, and "Hot/Cold" read another.  B would lean over her, speak in a loud voice (as if her inability to speak meant she had also become hard of hearing), telling her to point to the sign. Across the room, Beve whispered to Glo and me," She really wants a sign that says, 'Put down the damn signs.'"

That same afternoon, a woman showed up with a honey-soaked, spiral ham, one that Grammie had ordered probably a month earlier.  We ate that ham the same day she was taken away in a hearse. We got quite a chuckle out of that as well: only Grammie would have had the foresight, and domestic prowess to plan the menu, order the meat, for her death.  That was her, always entertaining, always, always taking care of others around her, with perfect verve and panache.

When she died that early Monday morning, just 12 hours after her last son had made it home from Finland to say goodbye, she was surrounded by her family.  Strangely--yet, as God does these things!--Glo, Grampie (her husband of 43 years), and her best friend had all gotten up to join Beve and me in our bedside vigil.  We were all standing there as Glo said, "I think this is it!" so we got to watch that amazingly natural process that we're all afraid to face.  "Thank you," I whispered as the silence filled the space where her breathing had been.  "Thank-you," I said a little louder, as we joined hands to surround her bed. "Thank you, God," I said, in an instinct as deep and true as any I've ever had.  And it wasn't just thanks that she had stopped suffering, though she had.  It was more visceral than that.  When I try to decipher it now, I think it was a thanks for all of it--for the completion of a life, for having known her, and--maybe especially--for being present at such a sacred moment.

And now when I think of her, I feel a huge sense of loss--less for me than for my children, especially my daughters.  She adored E, dressed her in frilly clothes when she was tiny, created lovely tea parties for her when she was a toddler, taught her to sew as she grew a little bigger.  Paid for her to take ballet lessons.  But E wasn't really the kind of little girl who was inclined to any of these things.  SK was.  But by the time SK was of an age to take ballet, Grammie had already died.  And though I created many--countless!!!--dresses for SK, Grammie was sick before SK was 2.  She didn't live long enough to watch SK to demand that she wear a dress, even for digging clams or playing outside in the mud.  Grammie missed all of SK's tea party birthdays.

And when I see my lovely daughters look at shoes, sigh over jewelry, talk about hairstyles and dresses (SK loves the same kind of enormous rings Grammie always wore!), I think of how their Grammie would have loved them, how she would have shopped for them all year long, found treasures meant only for, exactly for them.  She would have gotten these girls of mine, would have completely, utterly gotten them, in a way that I, with my more easy-going, make-up-less, comfort-first, style can only shake my head over.  They are Grammie's girls, these daughters, even though Grammie didn't live to know it.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I was named for my mother.  My mother who was named for her mother.  My mother who doesn't remember her name any longer.  We all lived in the same house for a while--blind grandmother who had actually two variations of her name, depending on which family was speaking to her.  Birth family called her one thing, but her husband apparently didn't like it, so called her something else.  Then morphed it into initials, just as if he was anticipating my blog 80 years ago!  CD is what she ended up being to him--Carol Darling.  Carol.  We all have variations of that name, just like my brother, dad and his dad all have variations of the name Richard, though they didn't all live together, and their nicknames were more distinct than our non-nicknames, because you see, most people think that the nickname for any variation of Carol--Carolee, Carolyn, Caroline--is Carol.

Sometimes, during those years when Mom, Grandmom and I all had the same address, people would call and ask for Carol.  If my mom answered, she'd start talking to them as if every conversation was meant for her.  Sometimes the person on the other end of the phone was calling Grandmom, though not often.  More frequently, it was someone calling me.  And to have my mother not recognize this really, really annoyed me, especially when I was...well, every age.  I remember once when I was in my twenties, back in town after several years away, going to grad school at WSU, when another grad student called our house.  His name was Jed, and he was interesting enough that I didn't hesitate to give him my phone number when he asked for it. He called up and Mom answered, and said, yes, it was she, when he asked if Carol was there.  Then he asked if she wanted to go see a certain movie with him.  Mom, as you might guess even if you had a normal mother, wasn't interested, told him he meant me, then, as she ALWAYS DID, held the phone straight out from her ear and yelled at me that this 'boy' didn't know my name, and had asked her out.  I was horrified, humilated...and always hated that she was so crass as to not cover the phone with her hand when calling for one of us, or being interrupted on the phone.

It also made me really hate the name Carol, and refuse to answer when called that.  I still tell people that it's not my name, but I'll give them one freebie.  After that I will simply assume they're talking to someone else, and go on my merry way.  And, frankly, I've never really appreciated having been named after my mother, though I really do like my name.  Always did like it.  Just wished it wasn't Mom's name as well (or almost her name!).

But I was thinking this morning of names.  Thinking of how, in scripture, they have meaning.  Old Testament names are given because the person IS that quality.  Years ago, I looked up what my name meant--first and middle name--and discovered that my name is a derivative of Charles, which means 'man.' And my middle name, Theresa, means 'one who harvests'.  So put together, my name means 'Man Harvester.'  Seriously.  So incredibly apt, let me tell you.  If you only knew...Ha!

God told Moses His name was "I AM that I AM."  This ontological statement of being is the very essence of God.  He told Moses this--Moses which means to draw out of the water, which he was as a baby and would be again as the one who led his people through the held-back waters on their way into the wilderness.  A name as telling the truth about someone's life.  Like David, the beloved of God.  And Jonathan, true friend.  And Jesus--or Joshua--the deliverer of His people.  As He gave people the dominion over this earth, He gave them the significant job of naming all the creatures.  And we have done so, all through-out time.  But what about when time ends?  What about when God calls us home.  By which name will he call us?  Our human name, given by parents simply because they like the sound of it, or because the family has long had such a name?  Or perhaps, will He call us by our heavenly name, the one that will correlate with a heavenly body?

So I wonder this morning, what the name is that God has for me?  What is the name that is written in His book of life, designating me?  I feel certain that there is one, given by Him, chosen to denote His original, and redeemed, design of my life.  And I'm equally certain that I will know it.  That I will feel at home with such a name, that I will wear it like the skin I was meant to wear, the person I was meant to be.  But maybe, as I think about it, until then, being a harvester of men--or of people--isn't such a bad moniker.  Maybe while I dwell on this earth, if I look at my name and its meaning from His point of view, I will reap the harvest He intended, not crudely, not relationally, but Kingdomly--the harvest of souls; ie, as bringing people to the place where He can welcome them into His Kingdom.  Not such a bad name, after all.

Yet, I admit, I can hardly wait for what He will call me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New quilts

  Three new quilts I've made recently.  The top one is for the bed at the family cabin on Whidbey Island.  During a recent visit I asked my aunt if it'd be okay if I used up some fabric I've had for a while (some since the girls were little and I was still sewing for them) to make a quilt for the one actual bed in the bedroom, and she was thrilled.  It's purple and pretty, perfect for a little girl...or for a cabin where the made goal is to be kept warm at night.  The second one was made for E, fabric and pattern chosen by her, the actual construction done by me.  And the last one is simply a big block quilt I made for our king-sized bed, again with some new, but some very old fabric.  It works better than I expected. (It's not really as brown as it looks in this photo, which is what happens when burgundy is out in the sun.).

I know that not all of my readers really care about quilts, but it's what I'm doing these days.  It keeps me off the streets--or from hiding my head under my pillow in dispair.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Watershed moments

9-11.  I've mentioned a time or two that one of my gifts (or party tricks, if you prefer) is that I remember dates.  And phone numbers, for that matter, though now that I only use my cell (mobile, as they say in Britian), and have numbers plugged into it, I'm much worse at phone numbers.  Still, dates are set in concrete in my brain, for better or worse.  So you can imagine my own surprise that I forgot what August 27th--the anniversary of my dad's death.  And September 11th? When I think of it, first I remember that it's the birthdate of one of my college roommates (I had about 10 different college roommates, which might be a record for a person who never lived in a sorority).  My friend Karen (as opposed to Karin, a different roomie) was born on Sept. 11.  Before 9/11, which everyone who was alive instantly remembers (unless they have Alzheimers, in which case they don't remember their own name let alone the date).  Unlucky is Karen who shares the day with such an infamous event.  Like those who were born on November 22--a date I remember as well and not only for JFK's assassination but also as the date CS Lewis and AW Tozer died (though not together, in case you were wondering), and the day before my friends' Sally and Janet have birthdays.  I'm just saying... my memory may go the way of my mother's but not yet, people--JESK, I'm talking to you!

The thing is, though there are these dates in our lives that are watershed moments.  I remember the sunny August day in 1977 when I was lifeguarding at the public pool when Elvis died.  The news snaked its way around the pool via the other lifeguards; since I was at the deep end of the long pool, I was just about the last to know, but it was obvious something was going on, by the conversations at each shift change.  I wasn't a fan of Elvis--I was more a John Denver, Neill Diamond, James Taylor person--and by the time I was old enough to pay attention to music, Elvis had moved into his white, sequined jumpsuit phase, which I found a bit ridiculous (even when a skinny John Travolta pulled it off in Saturday Night Fever).  But Elvis's death was a big moment--the death of a legend, even to me.  And I remember when the Challenger space shuttle exploded in January of 1986.  By unhappy coincidence I was working at Washington High School in Tacoma and every television in the school was turned on to watch an educator fly into space that day.  So every high school student not playing hookey or legitimately absent watched as the shuttle blew up just 17 seconds or so into the flight.  I went home soon after that and pulled out the tiny black and white TV we had stuck in a closet in our dorm apartment, set it up on a couch and pulled Beve in to watch the explosion replayed over and over throughout the evening, almost as if it wouldn't explode if we watched it often enough.

And when Beve and J stopped at Haggens, a grocery store, that early Tuesday morning while I was trying to get the girls off to school, calling to tell us to turn on the TV, I watched almost without stopping the rest of the week.  I was sitting there listening to Katie Couric and Matt Lauer speak with a smoke plumed Tower behind them on screen, and watched as a second plane flew into a second tower, held my breath as, in their raw footage, they caught people jumping from windows before turning the camera away, and a while later, as, one after the other, those towers crumpled onto themselves down to earth. 

Watershed moments.  Moments we'll never forget.  Like the four personal dates in my life--May 12th, July 25, March 20, and January 20.  Dates that created my family.  These were the big moments for me personally, the days that changed my world, and perhaps the world beyond me.  None of us know how our children will impact the world beyond our front doors. Every day they march off to rub shoulders with others.  Every day one way or another, we're making a difference in the lives of those we come in contact with.  I don't know how God measures dates, I really don't.  But I know this.  Watershed moments aren't merely the big dates, or the traumatic ones.  I think in God's economy the most significant moments are the ones where He is present, where He speaks and we know, and we are changed.  Maybe they're when we get outside ourselves, leave our comfort zones to touch others in simple but eternal ways.

I have a nephew who is on his way to Africa to use the gifts and skills God has given him athletically to touch the lives of kids who want to play soccer.  Using what he is and what he can do well to impact the world beyond his neighborhood.  Pretty amazing to think of.  We often think that serving God--particularly cross-culturally--means some kind of sacrifice of self and of interests.  And of course it does. But God is always the smartest One in the room, so it makes sense that He'd use what we are, what we can do, to touch others.  Who knows what moments on L's trip might be watershed moments for some of those kids, or maybe just a single one.  Soccer as a vehicle to move a person into the Kingdom.  Talk about watershed moments.

And L isn't the only one doing such work.  Everyday, in fact, we have the opportunity--just by being ourselves, our forgiven, sanctified selves--to participate in watershed moments with others.  To be present when God Himself comes calling, to be present when another human being answers that call.  What a privilege, what a responsibility.  What great joy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I can't figure out when males grow up.  Or when they stop finding potty jokes so blasted funny.  In my house, where the youngest male is 22 and the older one...well, let's just say the age beyond the potty must be sometime after the age of 53...for all I know, it's after the age of 100! I've been sitting here trying to have a legitimate conversation with J and Beve, and when I said something about 'turf burns,' Beve said, "Did you say turd burns?" Immediately they both started cackling, and the conversation (if I can call it that) disintegrated from there.  I just shook my head.  Boys!

In today's mail was a note from one of Beve's former students, who wrote of Beve's impact on his life.  "I consider you a godly man," this young man said.  A godly man who sometimes likes to laugh at semi-inappropriate things.  It's a bonding moment with his son, I suppose.  

But despite such humor (really, if I told you some of the things they laugh about, you'd be shaking your head as well), Beve really is a godly man.  This letter from the former student (and let me tell you, such letters are few and far between in Beve's profession!) made me remember a particular day this boy shared with our family.  For J's 18th birthday, Beve invited several of J's high school teachers over for a meal.  This young man was included as well. At this meal was a Jew, a Catholic, a couple of very conservative evangelicals and an agnostic. After the meal, Beve spoke of the Old Testament practice of bestowing a blessing on a son when he reached manhood.  He told the collected company that they'd been invited because they'd been significant people in J's coming-to-age, and it was important that they be present to share this moment.  Then Beve spoke to J of who he is, how God had designed him, and what Beve believed was God's intention in J's life.  It was quite a holy moment at that table with such a diverse company.  J, who's always a bit wary of being in the spotlight, was both embarrassed and proud of the words his dad spoke over him.  I was proud, and very blessed by the intentionality of Beve with his son.

That meal impacted all those who partook of it.  In the following weeks, we heard from many of them what a cool thing it had been.  And this former student who's shared in it, had been deeply impacted as well.  And J?  Well, every child needs to hear that their dad is not just proud of them but sees exactly who they are for themselves.  Not as a reflection of Beve, but for himself, just the way J is.  That mattered to J, and it matters to every other child out there.  And from my point of view, specifically sons from their dads.  It can be a tangled, complicated mess, that father-son relationship.  Our son constantly measures himself by his dad, worries that he isn't nearly the man his dad is.  And no matter what I say, he needs Beve's stamp of approval.
So even when what they share is potty jokes, there's something wonderful about them laughing together.  And the more profound moments--when J asks Beve for advice, when he speaks earnestly of his fears and hopes with his dad, or when Beve tells him how glad he is that J's his son--these moments add up to health in J's soul.  They are soul-creating moments, even.  I am sure of it.

And yes, we can make the connection that we need the exact same thing from our heavenly Father.  We need to be reminded that He loves us so much we are the 'apple of His eye,' or are 'engraved on the palm of His hand.'  But tonight, as I listen to my boys laugh, I'm mostly thinking of how great it is that there are earthly dads who stand in the mold of God in our kids' lives. Of course, as I see how our sensitive, thoughtful son thrives under the gleam of joy in his dad's eye, I am reminded that many don't get this gift. Not all dads are like this--I know and lament it, and don't want my words to mitigate how painful a gap that leaves in a person's life.  But if you're a dad, if you have the charge to raise your kids--daughters, too--even if they seem old, married and beyond your 'realm of authority', tell them how much they mean to you.  Not what they've accomplished, not what they've done in any way, but just because they are.

I'd love to hear such words from my dad, even in my 50s. The last time all the kids in my family of origin were home for Christmas (it was 1989, and SK not quite a year old), my dad tried to tell us what it meant to him to have us all there.  He cried.  My big strong daddy, crying because he was just so glad to have his kids all together.  It was incredibly touching, but I don't think I really appreciated what was happening-- that it was a 'shut up and just listen, this is a Holy moment' moment.  But now, 20 years later, I realize.  I understand what I'd give to hear such words from him again. Can you imagine?  Your dad coming to you and saying, "You are the best thing that ever happened to me.  I love who you are."  Life-changing.  Really.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Ok, so we're professional ACL sufferers around here.  Seriously.  Beve did his back in our Olympic Penninsula days, playing a pick-up basketball game with a bunch of other old athletes.  Beve's older brother, B, had torn his ACL back in the 70s, when the repair meant surgery and a hip-to-toe cast for three months.  B's knee never really recovered from the whole ordeal; it became stiff and immobile and gives him trouble when the weather changes.  Fortunately, 20 years meant that great strides had taken place in such surgeries.  Beve went to the U of W for his surgery, and worked with the best sports medicine people in the state to help him rehabilitate.  When he got home from his knee surgery, J, who was about six at the time, insisted we wrap his knee in an ace bandage so he could limp around like his Daddy.  It was more prophetic than any of us knew--J had his own knee surgery two years ago, and this summer, when 360 pounds of meat fell on the same knee at work, he had to put another brace on that knee, re-injuring his MCL. 

And we watched plenty of E's teammates writhing in pain during the long hoop-playing years (a friend, and mother of one of the sufferers, believes there's a strong corrolation between a girl's cycle and ACL injuries, but I don't think that's been scientifically documented).  One of the most talented girl E ever played with did one knee, rehabbed that for a year, then did the other about the second game back on the court.  And she wasn't a shy, quiet type, that young girl.  Let me tell you, I heard a stream of words coming out of her mouth right there in the high school gym that I've didn't know actually went together.  Screaming for her mother and swearing like a sailor all at once.  I was shocked, not only by the volume and language, but by the pain that clearly necessitated it.

But now our big lug, Jackson, has ruptured his ACL (or the equivalent in canine terms, which I don't remember at the moment), and though there's a 'brilliant' surgery available to repair it, our vet doesn't do it.  Jackson's a large dog--and enormous 110 lb. dog--and it takes a specialist in Seattle to do it.  For 3500 bucks. Or 'over in Pullman--that's on the east side of the state,' the vet said, 'they have a vet school...' I started laughing. 'I grew up there,' I told her. 'We took our dogs there...'
Anyway, she said it's a lot cheaper there--like 1200 $ cheaper!  Oh quick, only 2300 bucks now. Why just today's tests alone were more than we'd intended to spend.

Dang it!  Long ago, we decided we wouldn't be those kind of pet people who made emotional decisions about their dogs. We'd decide well ahead of time how much we'd be willing to spend on them, and stick to it...But you see how well that worked today.  Beve put me in charge and I made one emotional decision after another until I racked up that 500$ bill.  Beve, as you might guess, was not pleased with me.  Not one bit.  Yep, I'm officially in the doghouse, if we actually had a dog house, instead of allowing our spoiled big lug to sleep wherever he pleases in our house, while Jamaica gets locked into her kennel so she doesn't sleep on our heads!  But the worst of it is that I get it.  I get that Beve's upset.  I am ruled by my heart, you see.  And money is math and I don't do math well at all.  And I knew--I knew!--that I should have asked how much these tests would cost, but I just went along with the vet's recommendations.

And the vet will always recommend surgeries.  At least it seems that way.  I have a whole lot of friends who have had expensive procedures done for their pets.  And trust me, I get it.  Ask Beve!  But Jackson's nine, and has already begun to slow down.  I recognize that I'm trying to justify the decision not to do this surgery, but I guess I have to.  Dr. Barron told me that when this happens in one knee, it is likely to happen to the other as well.  If that happens, and we've done nothing about this knee, he won't be able to move at all.  But two such surgeries?  On an old dog?  Especially when that amount of money isn't exactly lying around in our lives.  If Jackson lived out on the farm with my sister and brother-in-law, he'd limp around, learn to survive this way, and if he got to the place where he couldn't move, would be put out of his misery.  No question about it.

But for me, it's not an easy thing.  I don't have a theology of pets, you see.  I wish I did.  I'd like to think I'd see all the beloved dogs of my life again someday.  And maybe I will.  Maybe Jemima, Caspian and Misty are chasing balls in heaven.  But I really have no idea.  What I believe is that we love our pets here, can even consider them part of our pack and grieve extravagantly for them when they die. But our priorities must be people.  And our money as well.  We have finite resources.  And must spend it wisely.

So I'm sorry, Jackson, buddy.  I love you--as is your due, as Cornelia in King Lear said.  But no more than that.  What is reserved for the Beve and E,J, and SK must be saved for them. It's the the order God gave us in the beginning. That's all I have to say about this today. As I said, I'm sorry.

Monday, September 7, 2009


It rained last night, which is a common occurance around here for about nine months out of the year. But last night, while we were listening to the rain on the roof, the wind was blowing crazily, making the dogs bark loudly, and then across the bottom of the football game we were watching on TV came the words, "Funnel cloud possible."  Funnel clouds?  Here in northwest Washington? Sure we've had winds so strong pieces of our roof flew off, and rain pounded through the attic straight into our bedroom.  We've had such high winds power has been lost, and school canceled (like the week Jemima died, now that I think of it!). But I don't remember ever being in danger of funnel clouds around here.  Funnel cakes?  In BIG danger of them--in danger of over-eating them at the fair and expiring in delirious joy!  But funnel clouds, ie, tornados--unheard of!  I'm no meteorologist but I've always thought that we had too many topographical outcroppings--er, mountains--for tornados to grow.  Our changes in geography interrupt the wind.  Don't they?  So how the heck would a funnel cloud be possible here?

We were all a little tense, particularly Jackson, whose gimpy leg kept him from being able to race outside and secure the premises by his intense barking at the wind in the trees.  This made him so anxious that Beve had to finally bunk down beside him in the family room.  Even then when Beve finally drifted off on the long white sofa he's been taking naps on since it was in his grandparents' home in Eugene and Beve was a little tyke (it's for another day to explain how said couch ended up in our home--I'd say it was over my dead body, but I'm clearly still alive to complain about it!), Jackson limped outside and began howling at something in the neighbors' yard. I think it might have been the alleged funnel cloud, but Beve and the neighbors agree that it was some other scared-of-the-storm pooch.  Made for a long night.

Needless to say, it was a long night.  Lots of rain--buckets of it coming down all at once, creating a flooded river flowing down our steep street.  Plenty of wind, too--branches are down all over the place.  But no funnel cloud here.  Not even a single funnel of any kind, including cake, sad to say. 

But the rainy season's just hope springs eternal, for me and the dogs.  Can you imagine? A funnel cake flying out of the sky, straight into my ready mouth!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A bad wheel

This is our big lug, Jackson.  He's almost nine years old, and beginning to feel the effects of too much standing around with tennis balls in his mouth, lazying on various pieces of furniture, following Beve around.  Just a couple days ago, I made an appointment with the vet--pretty sure Jackson has arthritis in his hips.  He kind of lumbers when he walks, and after jumping in my baby brother's face when he arrived for his visit, we noticed that he could hardly get up and down.  Our now-deceased beloved lab, Jemima, also had bad hips so for years we had a daily routine of giving her a pill, while Jackson sniffed at it and walked away.  Jackson's a pretty finicky dog; he doesn't like wet grass, doesn't like nuts or crackers or about half the leftovers our other dogs snap up quickly.  And if Jackson doesn't like something, he seems to know before he even tastes it.  He'll jump for it, but let the pecan (or whatever) bounce off his solidly closed nuzzle.  So I'm not looking forward to having to stuff a pill down his gullet every day, which I didn't have to do with Jemima, who was happy to chew it.
Today, though, when E was outside with both dogs, she grabbed Jackson's tennis balls and threw them across the yard.  Jackson planted on his right leg, then yelped.  And hasn't put any weight on it since.  It's really, really unusual for him to yelp in pain--in fact, none of us can remember him doing it before.  This is a dog who's plowed straight into walls without stopping, who's squeezed his 110 lbs through the deck railing without so much as a whimper.  So that yelp, which Beve heard from in the kitchen, was very telling. Even more so is his continuing not to put any weight on the bad wheel.  Very worrisome, I should say.  Now he's laying on the family room floor, with Jamaica (the wild Springer), trying to rouse him into playfulness.  Beve just walked to my car to get the pet bed out of it, and poor Jackson struggled to lift his body up without that important stabilizing back leg. I'm telling you, it's really hard to watch.
I hate having things happen to my pets.  Watching Jemima get sicker and sicker a few years ago was the hardest thing I did that year.  Not as hard as a person I love being sick, but dang hard.  We love our pets, we really do.  Their eyes stare at us with a giant question mark in them, wondering why we--their people, their humans, their masters--can't do anything about it.  I mean we take care of everything else, after all. We who feed and water them, brush them, clean out their ears and clean up their poop, take them for walks, pet them, love them.  But things happen.  They grow old, get hurt, get run over by cars that we can't stop (the first dog my family had when I was a child died this way), and we must watch it.  Their eyes ask me why we don't fix this too.  And all we can do is stare back and say we're sorry.
Or take them to the vet (which we'll definitely do), where sometimes unpleasant things happen to them.  When Jemima first had a lump on her leg, the one that was cancer, I took her to the vet, and she didn't come home for a couple days, and when she did, she was wearing one of those funnel collar so she wouldn't lick at the incision on her leg.  And...she was stinking mad at me--who was her person, but had taken her to the vet, where such pain was inflicted upon her.  To walk past me in a room, she'd make a giant circle so she wouldn't have to get near me.  Or she'd back in beside me and face the other direction, still wanting me to pet her, but not wanting to see my face as I did.  
I don't know if Jackson will react the same way Jemima did, because Jackson isn't attached to me as Jemima was.  But he might very well react that way to Beve.  Still, there's something in him that wonders why we can't fix this.  Why we let this happen to him and aren't making it right.  Or aren't fixing it in his timeline--and when we do, it might well mean, some pain will come along with the 'fixing.'
When I put it that way, it's easy to see how like Jackson or Jemima we actually are with God.  We expect his 'healing', or fixing to come in our time, at our pace...and without pain.  And why on earth did He hurt us to begin with?  I mean, it had to have been His fault, wasn't it?  But what if our human aches and pains, the human hurts we get from bumping around in this old fallen world, what if He's exactly as close, exactly as involved in them as I am with my pets?  What if He's aching about the pain I inflict on myself, or fall into by virtue of aging on this planet?  And maybe, just maybe the pain we go through is actually part of His cosmic, healing plan.  Maybe not in this world, but in the end--with Him. 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beve's favorite quotes

After finishing the old gunmetal gray  file cabinet yesterday, I went through our oak two-drawer one, in preparation for moving our overflowing files into the metal one from my parents' house.  I've saved so much for my kids--I just hope they appreciate it.  My guess, however, is that someday they'll be recycling these artifacts exactly as I've been recycling my parents' (and grandparents--who knew my grandfather wrote so much--short stories as well as diaries and letters--hmm, wonder where I get it?  If he was alive today, he'd be a blogger extraordinaire!).  But I usual.

In Beve's personal file, I found a folder of quotes he collected years ago.  He used to have them on the bulletin board in his office at Sequim Middle School, but I hadn't seen them again until today.  And thought they were eloquent enough to share some with you:

"There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outline all our lives."
                                Josephine Hart

"You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth."
                              H.L. Mencken

"The desperate need today is not for a great number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people."                 Richard Foster

"There are multitudes of people who seldom or never think.  Their life is like the thinnest of rafts, floating upon an ocean of infinite mystery; and they have to be asked to look over the edge.  They are very busy decking out their raft with everything which can make it feel like a permanent home...They never realize that they are on a raft and not a rock, until one day an illness or an accident or a war flicks them off into the ocean, where they have never learned to swim."                    A. H. McNeill

"Soul-talk: those unforgettable, sometimes life-changing (at the least life-stabilizing) conversations between God and myself, myself and others.  And looking back I have also come to realize that in those disruptive moments--as some like to say--a wake-up call alerted me that some aspect of my sub-waterline life was in a state of neglect...This is not the rule, please understand, only an observation.  But I cannot avoid noting that most of us--human beings that we are--are inclined to neglect the soul and all else beneath the waterline unless or until these disruptive moments come.  We don't like disruptive moments; they are too often associated with pain and inconvenience, failure and humiliation.  Not that they have to be, but that seems to be the human condition."                                                 Gordon MacDonald

Family papers

It's quiet around here this afternoon. E's off house-sitting for some friends who have taken their daughter to college in Southern California.  E's left with two dogs and two cats to ride herd on.  Plus a well-stocked refrigerator, and plenty of space to call her own.  She doesn't have much of any of that around here--well, apart from the two dogs, who she has more than enough of most of the time.  About thirty boxes of her belongings (she has more kitchen stuff at 24 than I had after a large wedding, including a Kitchen-Aid mixer.  I didn't get mine until Beve's mom died and left hers to me--one the the first made) are piled up in our carport at the moment.  They were in her room with a single file path between them to her bed, but Beve helped her move them back out of the room in time for our last guests of the summer.  That was over a week ago, and I really don't have a clue what we're going to do with them all.  Someday she'll have her own place and will be glad for the dishes, pots and pans, baking supplies, etc. For her sixteenth birthday, her dad bought her cookbooks and a couple of spring-form pans.  She still remembers it as one of her worst birthdays ever, though she's happy to have them now.  He knew something about her she didn't know about herself then...that's the Beve for you.

I went through the rest of the genealogy box this morning.  Discovered another ancestor who also owned slaves--Kean O'Hara.  His son James was the one who fought in the Confederate Army, so I should have guessed.  And James's brother's name was Charles, not Kevin. I read a copy of Kean's will and discovered some interesting things.  Kean left his slaves in inequal part to his three sons, and two daughters, 5/24s to his oldest son, Charles. 4/24ths to his other two sons, James and Theodore (who never married but was quite a poet, apparently), and another 4th to be divided by his daughters (who were married, with slaves of their husbands).  The rest were left to his wife.  It all seems very practical, until one realizes we're talking about human beings.  then it's sad. Very sad, from my 21st century point of view.

But though this Irishman, who'd come to the US in the late 18th century after an uprising he participated in, was clearly part of his time when it came to slavery, and had made enough money to warrant a 6 page will with many bequests, he was also ahead of his time in another way.  His monetary bequests to his daughters made it clear that those funds (and slaves, and piano in one case) were never to be given over to their husbands.  If the daughters died, their inheritance went directly to their children, and if there were no children, to their brothers.  In no way were their husbands allowed to have access or control of that inheritance.  This seems really progressive for pre-civil war America.  Unexpectedly modern in thought.  Why, I know families even today who think in terms of sons' rights but not of daughters.  I know it's hard to believe, but it's out there.

James O'Hara, the confederate soldier, eventually took his inheritance, and his bride, Patience MacKeever, and moved out to Tacoma, Washington where they had a daughter named Patience Teresa O'Hara, who was my great-grandmother (and namesake--I got my middle name from her).  Those slaves he'd been bequeathed had been long since freed by the proclamation and the war fought to preserve it.  I'd like to think that when the O'Haras came west, they left behind their old views on slaves, on what makes a person an actual person.  I'd like to think that...but who knows?

All this stuff is floating around in my head this quiet cloudy afternoon, with the dogs asleep at my feet, and the floor covered with piles of old papers.  It's all more interesting than I expected.  I like history, I like knowing where I come from, who I come from. Even if it isn't all a pretty picture.  There are drunkards in my family tree, and there are philanderers.  Patience O'Hara was married to my great-grandfather, Mat Roy Thompson, who spent most of his life with a woman named Ida Johnson.  After their first few years together, and three sons in quick succession, Mat only returned to Tacoma about every five years-- 1905, when my grandfather, Hugh, was born, 1910, when another Patience came along, and 1915, when the youngest, Maxine was born.  Imagine.  Imagine knowing your husband was off living with another woman.  Imagine those visits home which resulted with another child each time. What a damaging situation--for all concerned.

But I spring from such people.  And can look back and see the good in them as well.  What will my descendants think about how I've lived my life?  I'll be leaving plenty of written words for them to pour over.  They won't have to mucking around in the dark to discover who I am.  Maybe that that isn't a good thing.  Maybe it'd be better to burn all those journals, to whitewash the tombs of my life.  But I don't think so.  Let me be judged by who I really am, rather than who I would like to be.  Flawed, fallen, broken as my limb on my family tree might be, may it also speak of the other tree I'm grafted onto.  Adopted into.  Counted as bought with a price, a child of the King.  May that be the story of my life my descendents read.  The story of Him speaking and acting and moving, like a red-letter edition of His word--when they shuffle through the papers of my life, may every page be a red-lettered one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I spent the afternoon going through a file cabinet that's been sitting in our carport for well over a year.  I thought it was full of research my grandfather did for a naval history he intended to write in his retirement.  Unfortunately, death snuck up on him one snowy evening, a mere block away from his newly built home where he'd pulled over his car at the sudden chest pain that stopped his heart before he even had a chance to turn off the car's engine.

Beve has been after me to go through his papers, so I took a chair out and opened the first drawer, only to discover it crammed with my dad's records from the almost 30 years of being a scout master.  I found the paper Beve filled out (in legible cursive!!!) when he joined the troop in 1967, and another Dad kept on Beve's progress.  Among the merit badges Beve earned on the way to becoming an Eagle were Ahtletics (not surprising!), Cooking (and I've sampled his expertise over the years!), Sewing (What???) and my favorite, Basketry.  Basket weaving--like the kind of class we've always made fun of college athletes for taking!  I pulled out photos of my Dad with many of his 67 eagles, including my brothers.

In the next drawer down, however, were piles of my grandfather's stuff.  His genealogy records, mostly.  I now have paper after paper listing my ancestors.  Thompsons back to the 1500s (David Thompson was the first one to come to this continent--sometimes between 1616 and 1622; he was granted by the crown 6000 acres and an Island, named, appropriately enough, Thompson Island, which is now an Outward Bound School in Boston Harbor), O'Haras back to the old country (Kean O'Hara came over when he was a young tyke, in the early 1800s.  His son, James fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, while his brother, Kevin, was a Union Soldier).

There was an odd old clipping in one of the myraid manilla envelopes, about a graveyard near Louisville, Kentucky that had just been discovered.  It was in this article that I felt the ground shift beneath my feet.  Another ancestor, by the name of Andrew Evans, was one of the graves uncovered  (Evans was my maternal grandmother's maiden name).  Here's the sentence: "In 1817, Evans, a veteran of the War of 1812, came from his home about 75 miles south of Louisville, bringing with him his slaves...on the banks of the Patoka River in the south end of Jasper, he and the slaves began to construct a dam and grist mill."

Slaves. I have an ancestor who was a slave owner.  Now I realize that most of us who have been in this country for several hundred years have some connection or another to this bloody, vile institution.  But I never knew this about my own heritage.  I just never knew.  And now the questions swirl-- How could he justify owning--OWNING--human beings as if they were cattle or dogs? Like they were beasts of burden. What kind of slave owner was he--was he kind, was he brotherly (though it only eases my conscience slightly to think of a kindly slave owner. By definition those words are diametrically opposed, aren't they?)? Andrew Evans died before the Civil War, but would he have set them free of his own accord--by his own conscience--or would he have fought to the end for his right to own other human beings?  I'm more than a little overwhelmed by it.  As horrified by it as by the story I read yesterday.

The thing is, though I hate admitting this: sometimes I just want to say to all the disenfranchised people in our country what Rodney King said, 'Can't we all just get along?' Can't we move past what one segment of our citizenry did to another segment of us?  But that's easy for me to say.  I come from the oppressers, not the oppressed.  But I've usually thought, being from primarily northern stock, that it is only my skin color that connected me to the ruling class.  I come from a long line of educators, engineers, professional people.  With a sprinkling of Kansas farmers thrown in. Not plantation owners, southerners, tobacco or cotton farmers.  But it turns out those Kansas farmers went west from Kentucky, west from slave-owning.  So my heritage is as tarnished as any's.

 Were we able to go far enough back in our genealogy, I suppose all of us would find at least one person they'd be ashamed of.  Just as I've been saying for the last several days.  Even if everyone we researched was a model citizen, if the paper trail went back far enough, we'd find ourselves at Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel.  It's the human condition.  The condition of the flesh.

Still, I wish I could make amends to the descendents of those men who helped my ancestor build a dam and grist mill (whatever a grist mill is!).  I'd just like to know where I go to say I'm sorry.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A book

I fell into a book last night.  Sure, this happens regularly, but not like this. Trust me, this book was so gripping I read far into the night, and was reaching for it practically before I opened my eyes this morning.  Let me tell you about it.

A few days ago it was on the counter in the kitchen when I got up in the morning.  J's girlfriend passed it along to me.  Because we'd never had a conversation about books or reading, I'm wondering what J told her about me that was so dead on.  Dead on...and I don't mean to be punny, though you might think so by the end of this post.

A Woman In Berlin is the name, subtitled "Eight weeks in the conquered city."  Written about the seige of Berlin in April of 1945 by the Russian Army. it is the most honest, unflinching portrait of war I've ever read.  And I've read a few.  Bagdhad Burning, also by an anonymous woman in Iraq after the current war started, was a first a blog, and is also extremely compelling reading.  And, of course, I've read The Diary of Anne Frank.  A time or a dozen.  But this woman in Berlin, depicting the brutality of the occupation is overwhelmingly horrible.  But like an accident on the freeway, I couldn't turn my face away.  Really.  J's girlfriend thought I might be turned off by the explicit sexual episodes but it wasn't pornographic, it was rape.  Repeated, unceasing rape, not only of this woman, but of thousands--between 95,000 and 130,000 in Berlin alone in those days when the Russians took over.

Several things have been tumbling around in my head all day, as a result of this book.  One is that in my simple math, I've looked at the Germans in WWII as our enemies and the Russians as our allies.  And, as far as that goes, it's true. But it's not the whole story.  It wasn't those women who created the death camps.  Yes, they'd been mesmerized by a madman (to put the best possible spin on it), but by 1945, many of them--many, many of them--wished him dead and wished the war over.  Were the majority of those people any more culpable in that war than we average Americans are culpable in the one we're in now?  If so, to what extent?  By the time the Russians bombed Berlin, and marched in to rape every woman they could lay, hands on, those women no longer called their fuhrer by name.  Indeed, he'd become like that bad guy in Harry Potter--'he who shall not be named.'  They were so busy trying to find food, trying to stay alive, they cared very little about anything else.  And as a prize for surviving the war, they were violated. 

 It's also true that the Russians had lived under seige from the Germans for 700 days before the war turned.  They'd starved, been massacred, raped and pillaged.  These Russians who strode into Berlin carried that with them.  And they were men at war, men who'd been away from home for as long as four years without leave.  Men who'd grown up in Stalinist Russia, where life might have even been harder than war.

This all makes me wonder what I'd be made of in the place of that woman.  I remember the sunny Tuesday morning when planes flew into skyscrapers.  After sitting in front of the TV for hours, I went out into our backyard to play with our dogs.  That day I'd intended to mail my first query letters to publishers and agents, with the first 30 pages of my novel.  It was three weeks before I mailed those letters, and then, only to agencies on the west coast, rather than New York.  But that day as I stood at my fence throwing tennis balls and talking to my neighbor, I really thought it might be the beginning of war, and the ending of life as we knew it.  I couldn't imagine that we'd just go on as usual.  And I couldn't imagine what damage would be done to us, to our children, to their psyches from living through such a moment, such a seige as the one that looked to be coming.

But Wednesday came. Then October, then 2002.  And the world kept spinning, the kids kept growing, and our lives were barely disrupted.  Even the war has barely touched us, except philosophically.  And philosophy is merely a sieve in comparison to what actual soldiers, actual victims live through.  I can't imagine it.  I really can't.  I can't imagine the brutality of rape, the degradation of occupation in one's home, one's life, one's very person.  I'd like to turn my face away, to pretend such things are only nightmares, only horror movies.  But they are not.   And so I read about it.  Lean into this woman's experience, allow it to flow over my life.  Giving me perspective, propelling me to pray.  Maybe it sounds crazy to pray for those women who lived through those eight weeks in Berlin 64 years ago (though I'd really like to), but it isn't crazy to pray for their descendents, and to pray for those women who live in war-torn places in this century.

It's what I can do.  Maybe it's what we all can do.  Should do, we who live easy lives far from the range of bombs, or even the range or violence.  If it's true that we're all created in His image, it must also be true that we must all share together in the pain of others.  We must.