Thursday, June 24, 2010


when my grandpa was 96, he could still bend down and put his palms flat on the floor. what was his secret? years of farming helped. but so did simple toe-touching exercises every morning. someone, upon hearing i was turning 36 this summer said, "wow, you look great for that age!" i thanked them but walked away puzzled.

before i could overanalyze it, though--which never bodes well--i decided that no matter if i was 36 or 63, somehow i was going to keep my body moving.

one favorite way i have found of doing this is through Nia. a combination of pilates, aerobics, yoga and dance, classes meet in a downtown studio that has hardwood floors, billowy white curtains (this fact alone somehow makes me feel more limber) and mirrors (which i could do without). in between going to classes which isn't nearly as often as i'd like, i do a myriad of other activities. but everytime i go, my body especially thanks me.

because a body in motion tends to stay that way. what's your favorite way to move?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the beautifier

our garden is plowed! so today, in my quest for plants, i met whom i've called "the bridge lady" for lack of a better name. (first i went to wilco and bought gorgeous herbs and vegetable starts. hint: go to the very back of the garden center first, they are 40% off and there's nothing wrong with them!)

so on the way home, i saw the "free" sign for flowering lamb's ear at "the bridge lady's" house. i've stopped and gotten free plants from her before. i always go, though, when i don't think she'll see me. honestly, i thought she was kind of odd because i see her just hanging out on the bridge at random hours of the night when i drive by. plus she...stares. so today i parked and made a run for it. but before i could leave she saw me and came out to help. the joke's on me, as she is a completely nice woman who just loves to garden and share her bounty. the reason she hangs out on the bridge is to weed and to beautify it, replanting flowers native to this area along the banks. phew. i suddenly felt silly for being scared of her. i'm glad we've met as fellow plant lovers. in fact, i suggested maybe she put out a jar for donations and she thought that was a good idea.

i carried the flowers, root bulb and all, back to my car thinking, i should really give her a new name. how about "the beautifier"?

when writers strike

when writer's strike, things like "dr. horrible's sing-along blog" happen, circa 2008.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

farmers: friend or faux?

while weeding today, i thought about potential differences between real farmers vs. the faux or "farmer wanna-be's".
for starters, real farmers don't have time to blog. there are machinery parts to grease, chickens to feed, seeds to sort and fences to mend.

real farmers rarely write books about what cool farmers they are and how they've made the switch from urban to rural, blah blah blah. they were green as john deer before it was hip to be and don't have to talk about it. they do, however, read the farmer's almanac, usually while eating bacon, eggs and oatmeal at 4:30 am.

and finally, real farmers don't just try the land on for size and move back to a condo if they don't like it or get someone to pet-sit the cows while they vacation in italy. (not that they couldn't). but they're IN. for at least twenty, if not fifty, years or more. risk extraordinaire.

i think they would agree with us wanna-be's on one thing however: weeds are a product of The Fall.

in praise of routine and adventure

i love the rhythm of routine and adventure.

this quote summarizes my contentment regard to the former, "what is it about my daily rituals? why such pleasure in repetition? well, it occurs to me that i might just be practicing...being me. those cherished creaks in the old floorboards. the precise angle of sun cheering my kitchen. assembling ingredients for a dish i've made hundreds of times. a novel position my pets have adopted, lost in their midday dreams. each nuance resonates with a kind of timeless wisdom, and i realize that it is these humble putterings--nothing fancier--that have allowed me, finally, to know myself." (david jacoby)

as for the latter? i am going to be spending the next week with 73 foster kids at camp. every minute is an adventure because you never know what's going to happen next and need to be prepared for anything. i'm never quite prepared, however, for the expansion of heart that happens. the capacity for love is redefined every single year.

just to show how adventures find us, i spent time listening to a person at work this year who'd taken on the foster parenting challenge. i had no idea, however, that i would have their foster children at camp this week. the daughter is even in my cabin! i got to meet them and answer questions they had and tell them all about the cool things we'll get to do together. coincidence? i think not!

Monday, June 21, 2010

summer solstice

today is the first day of summer. my naturally optimistic attitude says, "well, at least we don't have to put the air conditioner units in yet". i don't know how many times i've heard "it just doesn't feel like summer". but it's true, we are a bit vitamin K-starved as a region. it was dry enough to have a bonfire last night and watch the stars. that helped.

as much as i like to start with seeds (in those nifty little peat pots that grow when you add water--great childhood memories, but i digress), plant starts will have to do this year. it's an exercise in faith. as i write, spots of light are appearing through the pine trees. i don't want to miss this window of opportunity for a great country walk because it may not be open for long.

like anything, it calls for resourcefulness. can i make it summer inside my soul and beauty from what i've been handed? here's to celebrating the start of a new season...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

ordinary miracles

i've been thinking alot lately about the spirituality of ordinary lives that bear fruit. sometimes, in our culture's quest for the immediate or the sensational, we tromp right on by the tenderest of moments. we want fireworks, supernatural manifestations, magic moments. but, in my experience, they are literally all around us every day. so many, in fact, that i've lost count.

like a pilot donning night-vision goggles, we don't have to drum up some new object out there, we just get to practice changing ourselves to notice what's already there.

consider some of the lyrics from sarah mcLachlan's song ordinary miracle:'s not that unusual when everything is beautiful, it's just another ordinary miracle today
the sky knows when it's time to snow, don't need to teach a seed to grow
it's just another ordinary miracle today
life is like a gift they say, wrapped up for you everyday
open up and find a way to give some of your own
do you want to see a miracle?
the sun comes up and shines so bright and disappears again at night
it seems to exceptional, things just work out afterall
it's just another ordinary miracle today...

it's today. it's you right where you are with the people you're with.
bearing fruit that will last.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

my new math

this planting season calls for patience. i'm counting the days. june 16th and still too wet to garden.

so i've had to mark summer in new ways. one shift i enjoy is not eating any more of those frozen lunches; you know, the kind that you mindlessly microwave for 3 minutes in the teacher's lounge? today i bought only green and leafy, colorful fresh produce. and canning jars, a hopeful symbol that there will, in fact, be something to preserve.

and i made a new summer section for my bucket list which includes taking welding lessons. oh, and there is this other thing...

while i was housesitting i came across a college algebra book. i opened it and discovered the text was written by a former 70's hippie who also likes to raise roosters. i liked this guy. he had beatle's glasses on in the author bio and i think his name was bob. i thought, "if bob likes math, maybe i can do it too". i hate math. once i was asked to teach it and i politely responded, "i'd rather be a mortician." i'm so bad at it that i can't even help the 7th graders in study hall with their arithmetic.

so, with a free evening on my hands, i made tea and opened the book. and loved it! everything that bob had outlined made sense! basic algebraic equations, formulas and fractions. grabbing a pencil and good old college rule paper, i set about the exercises. pages and pages later, i realized i wanted to work my way through the entire book! not only did i understand it--no small redemption from failings in junior high and high school--but it was
who knew?!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


the word of the day?

chiaroscuro. in art, it's all about light and dark; a study in contrasts.
i'm writing from the hospital where my young friend has just undergone back surgery.
the clouds are heavy outside, dropping hail. she's resting now, but not too long ago we both saw lightning and heard the thunder rumble outside the halls of OHSU. welcome to summer vacation.

my young friend is honest about the pain, but is also quite a trooper.

and a couple of days ago i had my cleansing end of the year cry. as counter-intuitive as it sounds, it felt good and cleared my soul's atmosphere for reflecting on one of the best years of my life.
i guess you could say we're both appreciating the light.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

tales of teacher-farm girl

to commemorate my first full summer living in the country, i listen. what i hear is the sound of neighbor's tractors as we all make a mad dash to plow. it's like a race, all of us casting furtive glances from acrage to acrage to see who has their garden in first.
and then? nothing but quiet.
when i managed to get the herb garden in today, the plants didn't call me "miss smith". the warm earth just tumbled in among their roots just so, it didn't scream or ask if it could go to the bathroom. as much as i love my students, weeding was a refreshing change because i could see the immediate results of pulling, raking the blueberries free from their previous entanglements.

by myself.

stay tuned for more stories from this country mouse.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

desert dancer

think something can't be done?
watching the dvd "amargosa" might make you think twice.

dancer and artist at life, marta becket (now 85) moves from new york to transform a run-down theater in death valley junction.


school is out. give or take a couple of meetings, our summer as teachers has begun. which sounds like a lot. but between recovering in june and gearing up again in august, it comes down to beautiful, untouched july. nonetheless, the question of the hour becomes "what are you doing this summer?"

as i write, one friend is writing and painting her way across europe. another pal is taking a two week french cruise. (those are hard to beat). one family is helping their daughter through back surgery. and another gal's mother fell and broke her hip, so she is caring for her. (these are exercises in family strength). sometimes we get to choose adventures and other times, they choose us.

having had so many experiences--mostly great--in the last decade, what sounds good to me is adventuring at home. experiments in kerr canning or getting up to weed the berry patch sound just fine. taking the bike out for a ride or having people over for an evening around the outdoor fire pit.
one tradition i have on the last day of school is buying a children's book. yesterday i chose "the tale of despereaux" by kate dicamillo. a fitting exerpt:

"now you're free. you see. you're not going because you have to. you're going because you choose to. 'yes', said despereaux, 'because i am on a quest.' the word felt good and right in his mouth. quest. say it, reader. say the word 'quest' out loud. it is an extraordinary word, isn't it? so small and yet so full of wonder, so full of hope." (p.221)

what is it that you are choosing...what is your quest?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

a matter of perspective

my high school students were none too pleased that they have a real final class. i mean, it's art, right? (did they think we were going to fingerpaint?) their 1/4" study guide for friday took me more than a few hours to write and includes definitions of vocabulary terms, short answer, history, philosophy of creativity and basic applications of art criticism that we've learned this year. i conceded to give them extra credit for defining terms in the greek or latin.

perspective, or perspicere (latin for "to see through") has been on my mind a lot lately. not just as an art term, but as a way of being; life events being relative to how we understand things from past experience. put another way, one person's hang nail is another person's hiroshima.

it's not that little things don't bother me. cough drop wrappers at a concert. clapping between orchestral movements. inane traffic tickets. people who breathe loudly through their nose in quiet reading rooms. stepping in water after donning fuzzy socks. tiresome, all of them.

but they're not cancer. or bombs. or someone's missing child.
eternity's just in my heart more than usual right now for reasons beyond my understanding.
i'm asking myself what "seeing through" each situation in the day might profit?

i'm sure my students will do well on their test.
as for life's final exam, perspicere.

Monday, June 7, 2010

yiddish, anyone?

i don't know if my hebrew teacher would be pleased today or not. she was from jerusalem and told us to stop complaining that this language was "backwards". "what if english is backwards?" she would exclaim, followed by an exasperated, "ay!"
what i can say after her class is "moses went up the mountain" and "the king took the queen's horse". but, more often than not, it comes out as "kings walked up to the donkeys" and "the lady took moses' hill land." sigh. it's harder than it looks.
what got me thinking about all this? the word "schlepp". i love saying it lately for some reason. schlepp, schlepp, schlepp. and, remembering a keenly humbling lesson in third grade about not using words if i don't fully know what they mean, i thought i should look it up.
schlepp, transitive verb to carry, take, haul or drag. origin: yiddish shlepn, middle german sleppen. intransitive verb to go or move with effort, drag oneself. noun an ineffectual person.
then of course, i had to look up "yiddish" because i realized i didn't really know what that meant in the truest sense of etymology either.
i discovered that yiddish is actually a mix of german, hebrew, aramaic and slavic with traces of romance languages. it is written with the hebrew alphabet and wasn't termed "yiddish" until the 18th century.
there you have it. the word of the day sponsored by wordnest. and now that i've learned not one but two new things today, i don't feel like such a schlepp.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

with open hands

i'm never sure how to answer people when they ask me if i have kids. i'll be getting a haircut or making small talk at a party and inevitably the question comes around. i usually say "no, i'm not married but i am a teacher" which smacks of spinster. so what i've started to say instead just for fun is, "yes, i do, about 1,000 of them", just to see their expression.

for starters, there are several summer's worth of kids from camp tilikum. add in the church nursery-junior high pastoring years. plus 7th grade literature students who are now seniors in high school. college students. foster kids. and the 250 new students from art this year. it's funny how life is because, growing up, i always saw myself having kids, but never working with other people's. maybe i'm a little slow to notice, but there's definitely a life pattern going on here. why fight it? join it.

so in the interests of joining it, if you opened my calendar you might see "emily's concert @THS 7 pm", "david soccer 4 @ cook park", "help with sophie's 3rd bday", "stacey grad dinner, 5 @ subterra", "connor's play, sunday @ alpenrose", "maya starts school", or "jacob football game sat." ten years ago i could still make it to most everyone's events, but i had to give that goal up a couple of day planners ago. i can barely keep up with the graduation announcements that pour in along with mission team support letters and requests for job references. but i wouldn't have it any other way.

can i meet them for coffee because they just had a breakup? do i want to listen to a new song they just wrote? will i do their hair for prom? can i come to their wedding?

just having made breakfast for one young lady before she goes on an international adventure, i realized how much i will miss her. you want them to grow, it's exciting. mentoring isn't about us, afterall. some i've met with are recording worship albums. one is in prison. we can't take the credit or the blame, but we can show up. and keep showing up. the rewards are infinite and yet it does involve a great deal of letting go in stages of small and private griefs. i guess it's walking that line of staying connected while having open hands.

so when she got in her car and drove into a life of possibility, i stood in the driveway. my hand was waving, my smile beaming. my heart? bursting with pride while my eyes filled with tears.

"so how many kids do you have?"

at latest count? 1,001.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

dear ordinary day

dear ordinary day,

it's me again. thank you for your sonorous rain while i watched her make coffee. pelting-turned-mist falling into those wild tresses by commuting time. it made her appreciate the fleeting rays later in the afternoon. i notice the poppies have had their fling and passed the baton to peonies, now heavy with blossom. they bow their heads at twilight, dropping prayer petals into the freshly mown blades like sprinkles on a princess cake. spent clouds push may's abacus into a barely-noticed june, the only alert being the kitchen calendar. below which dry today's dishes, an ode to routine. holy plodding tugs at her sense of tomorrow, but not just yet. i will wait. she is thinking. has she loved people on this wednesday? yes, and recycled junk mail, and another thousand little tasks that scrape seconds slowly from their lives. or enrich it, depending on how they view quotidian mystery. stop long enough, please. i will last only three and a half minutes, maybe less. she is looking! out over the vineyards. beauty for it's own sake with room for tea and time to spare. well-spent! she puts the bookmark in, pulls crisp sheets of contentment over her--always--right shoulder. my cricket cousins can now begin.

the sunset

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

donation or sacrifice?

it's time to give blood again tomorrow. being a rare A negative, every 56 days the red cross calls (pretty please) and i make a pilgrimage to the local bloodmobile. once there, if i am lucky, i get carl who can always get veins on the first try. the donation ritual concludes when betty hands me a raisin box.

since my body makes more blood, it will be a donation. but just that and nothing more.

not growing up in a military family, i didn't pay much attention or homage to memorial day until my cousin went to the middle east last year to join the 101st airborne division. he served dual roles in trauma-triage and psychiatry.

we alternately prayed and worried, waiting for a call either from him or from someone on his behalf. my cousin came home safely, but many others have not or worse yet, won't. seeing flags lining portland's waterfront yesterday brought a lump to my throat as i remembered his words before leaving. "many people ask me how i can join now when i have a wife and two sons at home. but for me the real questions is, 'how can i NOT go when i have two young sons at home?' "

in a most poignant scene towards the end of "band of brothers" we see soldiers, already having lost a lot of their own men, liberating a concentration camp. many local germans are still in denial of this camp's existence so the soldiers bring them in to help bury the dead.

sacrifice: the act of giving until there is nothing left, or at great personal cost.

i will stare up at the same stained glass windows tomorrow as the donation bag fills and i will see a chalice and loaf marking the supreme sacrifice. jim eliot said, "he is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." no greater love has anyone than this, that he lays down his life for his friends. donation or sacrifice? here's to memorializing the difference.