every common bush

earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes – the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries. elizabeth barrett browning

Tomorrow We Go on Vacation…

and all I have is my book list ready. Somehow this makes me feel fully prepared.

In Michigan, we tell time by where the sun is on the water. In the morning the light is behind the trees, not yet touching the lake, and a white mist hovers above it.  During the day, we watch the kids crash into the thousands of light crystals made when the full sun hits the blue below.  And at night we drift off  to moonlit ripples started by bullfrogs and loons.

We read morning, noon, and night, always facing the water. I have certain books for each time of the day.  In the morning, I crave soul food, like the Bible or a spiritual life book, or poetry.  In the day, I am vibrant and inspired, so I usually read non-fiction for work or homeschooling. The evenings are cozy and romantic, and ripe for stories.

I have spent the better part of today finding the books I will take with me on vacation.  In the process, I have signed up for a book club, added about a hundred books to my reading list, neglected packing, and developed an itch to write (I would write a grocery list poetically about now).  The best thing to come of it, though, is a hearty booklist for vacation. Here it is, in no particular order:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Anne Bogel from the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog recommends this series to Meyer’s Briggs’ INFPs, which I happen to be. The main character is an orphan, and so, has much incentive for dreaming and longing.  I relate to Anne quite naturally and I have decided it is time for me to make significant headway in this beloved, classic series (and not just the movies!).

How Children Fail by John Holt. John Holt is the father of unschooling, which I do not plan to espouse.  However, the subject of organic learning is intriguing to me, and this is a classic on it. I will probably not read this front to cover, but using the index to find the most interesting parts to me.

The Weather of the Heart: Poems by Madeleine L’ Engle. I happened upon this one in a used bookstore in Philly on Friday and I am forcing myself to not read it in one swallow.  The few flat lines that I did read created such three dimensional pictures in my mind that I think i’m looking forward to this one the most.

Drawing With Children by Mona Brookes. This one is playful and practical for me.  I want to integrate field drawings into our science this upcoming year and it is a personal ambition to draw better. This approach leads the adults through the book first so that they can take a child through it successfully. Her premise is that anyone can learn how to draw, not just inherently gifted artists.  Sign me up!!

The Cultivated Life by Susan Phillips. Ben introduced me to this one.  Susan Phillips is a spiritual director and uses the metaphor of a garden to illustrate how our spiritual life flourishes when we cultivate it. With prayer and Scripture, yes.  But also with friendship, creativity, and rest.  With her, I get a sense that giving myself permission to be fully and deeply human leads me to God in the truest way.  Like in the Garden of Eden.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. I do not know anything about this book or this person, except that this is the first book in my new book club and it won the pulitzer prize, which is enough incentive for me.  I will say, signing up for a book club makes me feel like a person, a real citizen of society, and not just a wrinkly mama. I am pumped.

I have fallbacks like The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver), Emma (Jane Austen), and Quiet (Susan Cain) if the others fail to keep me.  I know there is probably no way, with children, that I will read all of these books. I am ok with that.  There is something about just having them that gives me pure delight.






On Friendship, while my husband watches basketball.

“A friend is…crumbs, let me think. Someone who sticks by you, I think.  Someone who won’t let you down.”

Oh Mother, you haven’t said. What do you think a friend is?

Mother frowned thoughtfully and carried on nipping the little stalks off her gooseberries without replying. She said eventually, “Well, I’ve had friends who’ve disappointed me. Sometimes, even the ones who loved have let me down, and not understood, and betrayed my trust. Thats only human nature, isn’t it? I daresay I’ve done as much to them. No, I would say that because we all have our failings and weaknesses, because each of us is only human, a friend – a good friend – is someone who helps you to persevere.”

“What?” said Therese.

“A friend is someone who helps you to persevere. When the going gets touch and you’re on the point of jacking it all in; by the time you reach my age, Therese, you will be able to look back at lots of times when you nearly gave up and walked away from a difficult situation; and the people you will remember with thanks and love are the ones who helped you, in those moments, to persevere”.

Penelope Wilcock, The Wounds of God

I have been looking for a suitable definition for friendship for awhile now, and this is the closest fit to my experience that I have yet to discover.  I stumbled upon it while reading my most recent book and I felt like I do when I stumble upon a missing earring while looking for the library book.  A bonus find, perhaps more valuable than the item for which I was looking.

Friendships are important to me and I have done my fair share of failing them, and have been failed.  This has not squelched my desire to cultivate them. Actually, it’s been the opposite. The people who really know each other and are still showing up for the other, screwing up a little less, cheering a little louder, they are the miracles.

If I had only a handful of words I could choose to describe my feeble attempt at a life, serving as the umbrella over my eternal resting place, one of them would be Friend.  And by friend, that up there is what I mean.







Fly Season

I was awakened in the middle of the night Saturday to a fly swooping inches from my head. It sounded like a helicopter on a rescue mission. This is a dreaded sound to me, and does similar things to my stomach (and sleep) as a baby crying in the middle of the night.  I can never come out of full consciousness to hunt and kill the thing, so it just takes half of my sleep the whole night.

So this went on throughout the night until morning light. It was Saturday morning, the one morning Ben and I allow the TV to be the babysitter so we can be lazy.  I had just taken my first sip of freshly ground, perfectly brewed, light black coffee, hmmmmm, and sank further into my sheets to read when I heard the fat, thick low lazy buzz of the fly again.  Darn if that thing was going to take my morning too.

I followed the sound to the window only to see a small BIRD perching on the blind. I promise, the thing was that huge. My first thought was that it had to be pregnant to be that big.  My second thought was panic.

Any minute, it’s going to have hundreds of babies in my house and the rest of our summer nights will be lived under mosquito nets with fans to mute the buzzing.

The rest of the day was spent, in and out, trying to catch that darn fly.  Ben said he would pay the boys a quarter if they caught the fly with their nets.  The boys, understanding that four quarters gets them a matchbox car, went to work.

Atticus had the idea to fill the nets with food, and found rotting hard boiled Easter eggs, along with the wilting spinach, for bait. We watched and waited for Mama Fly to touch down.

This went on for about five minutes until the children got distracted, as children do, and I set to work on laundry.  They say a watched pot never boils, and this mother and her babes will never wait long enough to find out.

Fast forward a couple hours, it was dinner time and I was putting away the last of the clothes, when a triumphant Atticus runs into the room announcing that he had caught the fly!  Perched on one of the kids’ toys, he caught her with his net.

Victory! We all slept a satisfied, solitary, soundless sleep last night.

This afternoon, after a Sunday morning filled with tears for all the reasons one can shed tears, we collapsed in the living room.  Ben was sleeping, I was reading a book with Solomon on top of me, who was also reading a book, and Atticus was playing with legos.  The afternoon sun shone through the windows, a benediction of glowing stillness over our weary selves.  I was finishing my book, practically a monk sitting in English gardens six centuries ago, when I heard a bump, bump, bzzzz. bump, bump, bzzz, pulling me back to my real self.  Small and imperceptible, I followed the sound to its source.

There, on the window, sat a tiny, baby fly.

Gardening and Parenting, Same Thing

I planted blue hydrangeas in our front lawn yesterday and today.   Actually, they are all green because they have not bloomed yet. I have a vision for this tiny ugly house of ours.  If we play our cards right (and close our right eye and place our left hand just so) I think we can feel like we live in a farmhouse in the middle of an endless green meadow. When I was a teenager garden dirt on my hands gave me chills like nails on a chalkboard.  Today it was spiritual and life giving; I must be growing up.

Today on the way to Nana’s Solomon was proud to know a strange animal fact, just like his older brother. Atticus was just as proud to let him know that he already knew that.  I felt the air still, like in the eye of a storm.  I searched for the smallest, most simple words I own to explain to Atticus that the way he speaks to his brother now will be a part of how Solomon sees himself later, and I think he actually got it.  “So if I am in Africa and Solomon is here, and I hurt myself, Solomon will cry?”, he replies.

Yes, buddy.  Exactly that.  Brothers run deep.

The garden expert says that the flowers I planted today will take seven years to be full grown and sweep in front of our house like prairie grass in a wind storm.  I think of time as I dig deep holes to place the roots in, not minding the work or the wait.  It’s enough for now to plant with purpose.



Moments Named Forever

“Everyday has something in it whose name is Forever”

Like drinking hot cocoa with real whipped cream foam

and squeezing twenty family members into a room,

which both happened today


I remember as a girl

when the storms would come in

We would all huddle in the basement with a candle

And I would whisper to the storm to stay

To take the roof off of our house

Just to keep us together like this


* the first line of this poem is from Mary Oliver’s “Everything That was Broken”, from her new book Felicity.  I got it today huddled in that room stuffed with family. I accidentally read the whole thing and am reeling.  The amazing thing about poetry is how you can’t predict what it unearths in you.  Like out of the whole thing what remained for me  was the feeling of storms in elvaston IL, the coziness of family around a single candle?  It was a moment whose name is Forever, is all I can guess.