The Witch’s Cottage

This weekend, we spent a lot of time with the Legos. I decided to tear down my apartment building and build a witch’s cottage. I looked at pictures of a Lego fairy tale cottage for ideas.
      
The front of the cottage, looking out toward the swamp, where the gang is birding and boating and enjoying the day. And the rear of the cottage, with the requisite spiderweb (it IS a witch’s cottage).

           
The sides. Yes, there’s a rat in the flower garden. The baby dragon, an owl, and Michael Birdboy live on the roof.
     
Jasmine and Robin have tea in the dining room and discuss their morning bird sightings. Raine and Marie and Midge warm up by the hearth

Gratitude List:
1. Kings: The Kingbird that flew beside us all the way past the cow meadow at the top of the hill, and the Kingfisher that swooped across the street and into the sycamore tree today.
2. Hannah’s quilt in front of the sanctuary these last few weeks. I love the way her grandmother used straight lines to suggest curves.
3. Tender-hearted people
4. Two more weeks
5. Three weeks until the beach. Five weeks until my Solitude Retreat. I am trying something different this year. Last year, I was serendipitously there at the same time as a friend, and we finished our time there with a long chat. This year we are intentionally going at the same time, and planning some processing time together.

May we walk in Beauty!

Houseguest

mouse
(Free online photo, marked available for reuse. I ran it through a Dreamscope filter.)

We struggle every winter with the houseguests. Usually they take up residence in the bathroom drawers, stealing cotton balls and Q-tips, knocking over my little bottles of oil, and getting high off of loose cough drops and allergy meds. We’ve learned to keep such things in jars.

Sometimes they invade the kitchen, too, and that feels like more of a cause for concern, but it does force us to become more fastidious about keeping our countertops clean.

We’ve become familiar with several brands of no-kill traps. There was a time when I let the frustration of the constant escapes from the no-kill traps drive me to the snap traps, but that just always feels so terribly unbalanced, and then there was the incident a few years ago when I was carrying a dead mouse downstairs and one of the smallfolk saw me, burst into tears, and wailed, “You don’t have to KILL them!”

The Skunk Hollow mice are too smart for the no-kill traps, however. It’s been a long time since we’ve actually caught a mouse, although we diligently add new peanut butter every few days. It’s become less of a trapping program and more of a feeding program.

This morning as I was sitting in the dining room typing, a rustle on the kitchen counter caught my ear. I looked up in time to see a tiny four-footed person with a long tail whisking across the counter from behind the microwave and squeezing behind the cutting board propped up behind the sink. Moments later, nose and whiskers poked out the other side, and the Small One dashed toward the counter edge by the refrigerator.

Clamped tightly between her teeth, she held a red plastic bottle cap from a half-gallon of cider. At the edge of the sink, she became aware of me watching her, stopped, lifted her head, started to dash forward again, but tripped over her bottle-cap treasure and accidentally dropped it. She raced on to the counter-edge, sans prize. But seconds later, she re-appeared, ran back, picked up her bottle cap, and plunged over the edge between counter and fridge. I heard the bottle cap drop, then the scuttle of little mouse to the floor, and I was back to my quiet solitude again.

After that, how could I get out the snap traps again? She needed her bottle cap for something. Perhaps she’s completing a full set of dishes for her little mouse house. Perhaps I should start leaving bottle caps out for her on the counters. Still, I don’t really like the thought of a mouse on the counters, adorable as she is. We’ll have to upgrade our no-kill traps to something more successful, I suppose.

Gratitude List:
1. The wee four-foot folk
2. On the way to school today, a golden ray of rising sun shot out above the ridge from the direction of home. Yes.
3. How this ancient cat still plays, sometimes, like a kitten.
4. All my Beloveds. The hill, and the tree on the hill, and the wind in the tree on the hill. The mouse and the cat whose mousing days are done. The children who are preparing birthday celebrations for the man and the man whose birthday it is. And you. All my Beloveds.
5. The young woman who spoke her story today, to hundreds of her peers, who told of a good life in Syria, of the beautiful city of Aleppo that she loved, of her friends and her school, and her grandparents’ farm. Of how the bombs destroyed their home, how they fled on foot through the nights to Turkey where people were suspicious of them, assuming them to be allied with ISIS. Of coming to the US to make a new home. Of how the city and the school and some of the beloved friends are no more. May her words nurture seeds of compassion and action in the gathered community, that we may all seek to create safety for those who run from danger.  May her courage inspire us to acts of courage.

May we walk in Love.

A Long Weekend

stones-or-eggs Eggs or stones?

Gratitude List:
1. Hooray! Pippi Prius can be fixed. It took a while to get the details worked out with the insurance company, and the damage was apparently almost equal to her value, but they’ve agreed to go ahead and do it.
2. My colleagues. Yesterday was an in-service day, and much as I always wish I could just have those days to decompress or catch up on work, I always come away feeling energized and inspired for the work ahead–also, grateful for the earnest, positive, playful energy of my colleagues.
3. Our school superintendent, Richard Thomas. Since he announced his coming retirement last winter, it’s been disconcerting to think of the future of the school without him. He has helped this school system to shape a vision of itself as a community, as a place where students and teachers and staff work to become our best selves, to create a place of shalom. Yesterday we had a chance to try to tell him a little bit about what he means to us.
4. The Search Committee, who had a huge task in a short time. They listened well, heard our concerns and our hopes for the future, and found someone who seems to have vision and determination and savvy enough to step into the superintendent’s role.  They have been careful to be confidential when confidentiality has been necessary, while staying as transparent as possible. Yesterday they carefully led us through their process of the past six months and shared the ways in which our new superintendent fits the values and ideals that we gave them.
5. Today. I can work all day to catch up. I didn’t get as much done last weekend as I wanted. I plan to go to school on Monday with no late grading hanging over my head.

Shalom.

Let Wonder Be Your Guide

kindness rock

Gratitude List:
1. The Little Engine that Could: “I think I can!” Always the subject of the first chapel, since I was a sophomore at my school. This story has been a bridge across my own shift from student to teacher.
2. All those Bright and Shining faces yesterday. Lots of shyness and lots of nervous energy all ’round. So sweet.
3. My own 2nd and 6th graders both had marvelous first days as well.
4. Cool mornings. My brain gears up more quickly on cool mornings.
5. The fierce mothers. My friend Sarah has been putting this one on her list lately, and I copy her as an act of prayer. Mara and Lisa have been holding their daughters with such fiercely loving hearts in these days. I will stand in these circles of mothers and others as Katie recovers, and as we hold out every shred of certainty that Kyla’s new heart will come soon.

May we walk in Beauty!

Stand Still

garden peach
Garden Peach tomatoes. Sweet, juicy, almost fruity. These two happen to be heart-shaped.

Reading Parker Palmer this morning, I again came across this poem by David Wagoner. I had such a strong reaction to this when I first read it a couple years ago that I can still recall how my skin felt as the words took hold.

Lost
by David Wagoner, from Collected Poems 1956-1976

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.

Gratitude List:
1. She might not be gone. I was certain that the hummingbird had left her nest, either abandoning her eggs as unviable, or getting too skittish about all the activity below her. This is the sort of thing I worry about. Yesterday, I watched her zip up to the nest, and instead of sitting on it like she usually does, she perched on the rim, and stuck her beak down into the nest. I can’t be positive, but this appeared to be the behavior of someone feeding young ones. Holding out hope.
2. Jumping spiders. They’re sort of like teeny tiny puppies, only you don’t have to worry about who is going to take care of them. Yesterday, I encountered a tiny brown jumping spider who kept leaping from finger to finger. It was like she understood where I wanted her to jump to next. She would race toward me across the vast distance of my hand, and then look up at me, and then when the people at the picnic table laughed, she would suddenly stop and twist her body so she could look at them, and then we would resume our little game.
3. The village that raises the children. My kids hadn’t seen Sandra for several weeks, and yesterday when she came, they raced to her and couldn’t stop bending her ear. She listens to them, she converses at their level, but never talks down to them.
4. Also, the schools. Last night was Back to School night at Wrightsville Elementary. I love the teachers and administration and staff at this local elementary school. I love the friendly, earnest culture of the place.
5. Encountering Beauty–in words, in the visual realm, in the aural realm. Sort of like encountering that little spider–there are moments when Beauty seems to say, “I get you. I am here to play with you for this one bright shining moment.”

May we walk in Beauty!

Happy Number 49

49

I am turning 49 today.

Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, though not, I think, when he was 49.

The number 49 is a square, of course: 7*7. Perfection squared.

And its digits, 4 and 9, are themselves squares of 2 and 3. Kind of cool, that.

I have also learned that, mathematically, 49 is a Happy Number. That’s delightful, and the mathemagic that makes it so is rather sweet: 4 squared (16) + 9 squared (81) = 97. Square and add those digits (9 and 7) for the number 130. Keep doing that–squaring and adding the digits–and if it’s a Happy Number Sequence, you find your way to 1. Wholeness and Unity. Mystery within the mathematical process. So, 1 squared + 3 squared + 0 squared = 10, and 1 squared + 0 squared = 1. Voila! It’s a Happy Number.

The US/Canada border is on the 49th parallel. Good boundary between friendly neighbors.

Many Asian traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, and others) believe that 49 is a sacred number, the number of days the soul hangs around before it moves on after death.

The website Affinity Numerology notes that the number 49 “resonates with focus, conscientiousness, and being realistic, generally with concerns about and directed toward solutions for humanity. The number tends to be both pragmatic and idealistic.”

The site also says that “When 49 decides to do something, it determines the method and steps required to accomplish it, then applies its focus to that method and those steps until the goal is reached.” Now, no matter whether one believes that there is something to this numerology stuff, of that it’s all a bunch of hooey, that’s a nice goal to seek for living in this year labeled 49.

Of course, I am actually beginning my 50th year today, but I will stick with our cultural method of counting and call myself part of the cohort number 49. This year I will wear the Happy Number badge, and focus on systematically accomplishing my goals–conscientiously, pragmatically, and with a healthy whiff of idealism.  May it be so.

Gratitude List:
1. This practice. It has deepened and anchored and changed me. My husband asked me yesterday whether I think it’s been good for me because I write the lists religiously, or whether it would work to just try to inwardly experience gratitude more. I think the latter would definitely be true for a thoughtful and grounded individual. For someone with my tendency to live in the moment, the writing of the list holds me down and keeps me on the ground long enough to look inside and look around. And reviewing my lists regularly adds to the sense of it all being an unfolding journey.
2. Goldfinches. Yesterday, I did the 2-mile Schmuck walk–up to the top of the hill, back down to the very bottom, and back up again to the house, a two-mile loop. As I was approaching the small group of trees at the top of Skunk Hollow Lane, watching four bright male goldfinches flittering through the roadside weeds ahead of me, a big blue pick-up went racing down the street past me, past the little grove of trees. Out of the weeds at the base of the tree, a flock of a dozen or more shining golden birds (along with their quieter consorts) flushed out of the weeds and spiralled up into the trees, like yellow leaves falling upwards, chittering as they flew. It was a holy moment, pick-up and all. I will now call those trees Goldfinch Grove.
3. Also on my walk, I watched our neighbor farmer Donny baling hay. It’s so satisfying to watch the baler pass–cha-chung cha-chung cha-chung, to feel the anticipation build, and then the click and flick of a perfect green bale flung into the wagon behind. And Donny always smiles and waves. Whenever he drives a tractor past our house, he always looks in to see if there are children to wave to, bless him.
4. Crickets and peepers and cicadas. The cicada roar can be deafening at moments, but it adds layers to the sound-texture of the place. Even the birds are silent and listening this morning.
5. I think that perhaps I have Turned a Corner. Two years ago, I was really excited at this moment, getting ready to step back into the classroom. That was a marvelous excitement, but an anxious one, too, filled with worry about whether I was up to the job. Last year was much better, anxiety-wise, but somehow I just didn’t feel very prepared, like I was still off-balance, a little unsure of what I was doing, of whether I was equal to the task. My friend Verlin has been telling me for the past two years that it’s in the third year that you catch your stride, gain your full confidence, feel on top of things. If the preparations are any indication, I think he is right. I don’t know if I have put a whole lot more time into preparations this season, but I think the time I have put in has been much more productive and focused. I need to remember to be humble enough not to assume that things will be simple and easy going forward, but I feel ready to face the tasks ahead.

May we walk in Beauty!

Live in the Sunshine

Emerson

Not exactly a poem, perhaps, but I will write it like one:

Just for today,
let all the stories be happy ones,
full of surprise and laughter,
the gifts of the unexpected.

Tomorrow,
we’ll get back to the business
of saving the world,
of figuring out how
to love away the meanness,
how to create a shining space
in the dim and dingy rooms.

But today,
let all the stories be happy ones.

Gratitude List:
1. I really didn’t want to give up a day off for an IU13 conference, but I am incredibly glad I went, inspired to engage students in the written word, full of helpful ideas for sparking interest in the text, and eager to keep learning myself.
2. Back to school.  Back to rhythm.  I admit, it’s hard to get back to the work after a wonderful break, but I do miss it when I am away.  I love having a job I love.
3. Small graces.  A little extra time to do something.  A moment of sunshine on a gray day.  A smile from someone in a distracted moment.
4. Tiger eye–such a shiny stone.
5. The great wisdom of my friends.  I am fortunate to have many wise and compassionate and hopeful people in my life.

May we walk in Beauty.

Whiplash

IMG_0341

This is a whiplash of a week, one of those times when the emotional setting is not tuned to a specific feeling, but is simply set on High.

Excitement?  In spades.  School starts tomorrow.

Anxiety?  Under control, but really bubbly.  School starts tomorrow.

Lament?  Really, really deep.  Tomorrow evening is the life celebration for a good man who left the world too soon.

Joy?  Absolutely. I h ave only to lift my eyes up and look about me in these mid-August days to fine something that makes my heart sing.

 

Gratitude List:
1. Emotions.  They’re a compass, even when they’re all over the place.
2. Contemplation.  Breathing.  Grounding the emotions, so I can really experience them, rather than simply dashing wildly from one to the other.
3. The tender orange sliver of a rising new moon last night as I was leaving LMH.  I am a believer in omens (propitious ones at least), and that one felt like a gentle nod toward the hope and the delight that this coming year brings.
4. Seasons turning.  Constancy.  One thing comes after another.
5. Feathers.  I’ve told this story before, because it fills me with wonder.  Last year and the year before, for at least six or seven weeks in the months of July and August, I found an almost daily feather.  Both years, there were perhaps two or three days in a six-week span when a feather did not appear in my path.  This year has broken the pattern somewhat.  I am definitely finding more feathers all of a sudden, one every two or three days.  Yesterday morning, just as I left for a computer training at school, there was one, on the pavement right at the door of my car.

May we walk in Beauty!
Keep your heart-eyes open.

Gratitude and Praise

Gratitude List:
1. The first school events for the year are happening today.  First is a computer system training, and I always feel like I can use more training on the computer details.  And it will be delightful to see colleagues again.  In the evening is the New Student Orientation.  I’ll be sorry to miss my own children’s back-to-school night, but I’m really excited to get the room looking welcoming and friendly, and then to start meeting some of my new students and their parents.
2. Richard Rohr’s Mystics series.  I have always been drawing to the writings of the mystics, to their poetry, to the stories of their lives, but it’s only recently, in this series, that I feel as though I am beginning to understand a little of what a contemplative life might look like.
3. The Village that is helping us to raise our children: grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, friends, farm community, and teachers.  Tonight they will meet the teachers who will be with them through this year.  I am trying to get in touch with the anxiety I feel on behalf of my children: Will the teachers like them?  Will they be kind?  Will they understand my kids’ quirks?  Will they laugh with them?  This is one of those turn-around moments: So often, I think in terms of being the teacher that my students need; today, I commit to considering how I can be the teacher that mu students’ parents need me to be for their beloved young people.
4. Old friends and new ones.  I love you all.
5. The hunger, the ache, the longing for Beauty.

May we walk in Beauty!

Here is the second of the Psalms that I am writing for this series at my church.  One of my favorite ways to write poetry is to have an idea that burns in me, and then to suggest to that idea that it has a particular pathway to follow in order to come outside to play, and this project has three.  The parameters of this project are that the poems are: 1) They’re to be Psalms (I am free to interpret that as I choose–I am trying to make the language Psalm-like), 2) They each have a theme (desire, laments, praise, thanksgiving. . .), 3) They fit the Confessional moment in the church service.  Last August I was writing a short poem a day for a postcard project.  I didn’t do that one this year, but I am really grateful for this one: I am discovering that even when life is really busy, having a specific poetic task in the back of my head helps to frame the contemplative work of a season.

Psalm: Praise
10 August 2015

Yours is the music that enters our hearts.
Delight of you enlivens our voices to join in the song.
We are born to worship our Maker.

The world is awash in color and music;
your works are enkindled in sparkle and dazzle.
Every bright bird, each flashing star,
the chirp of the cricket and drone of cicada,
roaring waterfall, quivering leaf–
all of creation sings your glory.

We have only to look up and outward,
and wonder will fill our mouths with praise.

Yet daily our hands reach out
for wealth and power and fame,
instead of rising to praise you.

Our eyes are set on the glitter and shine
of all the distractions that we have made,
and not on your grace and your beauty.

Our voices turn to bitter complaint,
to quarrels and bluster and grumbling,
instead of joining creation’s constant hymn
of praise to the Creator.

O God of wonder and beauty and grace,
open the eyes of our hearts,
awaken our senses to all you have made,
that our spirits may rise in wonder,
that our voices may open in song,
that our days may be filled with praise.

Spiders and Space

Gratitude List:
1. Watching children wake up.  They’re like spiders, beginning all curled in on themselves, and then there’s the release of the limbs and suddenly they’re all elbows and knees and long limbs flailing and twisting.  I think there are only four limbs per kid, but I wouldn’t be surprised some days if there were eight.
2. August suppers: corn on the cob and tomato sandwiches and blueberries.
3. Making spaces: I spent yesterday in my classroom, puttering and making spaces, getting ready for my students.  The excitement is beginning outweigh the worries about not being ready enough.
4. Sweaty little hands in mine.  I feel time passing, feel their childhoods slipping by at a rate that makes me uneasy.  I want to hold onto those little hands as long as I can.
5. Butterflies everywhere.  The flowerbeds are alive with all manner of swallowtails and commas and question marks (English teachers have their own butterflies!), and I keep seeing monarchs whenever I am driving anywhere.  Fly safely, little ones!
(6. Bonus: In last night’s dream, Billy Collins came to visit, and we recited his poetry together.  I even recited some Mary Oliver for him, and he was impressed.)

May we walk in Beauty!