Sunday, December 14, 2014

An Open Letter to My Children This Christmas

Dear ones,
We got a lot of flack from both sets of our parents for "ruining Christmas" and "denying you the magic of childhood and believing" when we didn't "do Santa Claus" with you as children—didn't tell you that he was real... and watching you... and giving you gifts based on your behavior. 

We didn't have a John Piper article (see below) to support us or help us feel like we weren't freaks... we just knew that we didn't want this god-like man, Santa Claus—all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipresent, omnipotent—to figure into your thinking in any way about God. 

If we were to choose to "do the Santa thing" (which everyone around us was doing, and encouraging us to do!), we knew it was possible that it could cause a stumbling block to your young faith, a thing we weren't willing to risk. 

When push came to shove, we were unwilling to have your experience come down to this: When Santa (and the Easter Bunny... and the Tooth Fairy...) all turned out to be fabrications—untrue things we'd told you were true, and helped you believe, even—we didn't want you to doubt God, too. After all, every other too-good-to-be-true, invisible being we had told you about turned out to actually be too good to be true! We didn't want the truths you'd learned about the *true* all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipresent, omnipotent Being (the Way, the Truth, and the Life: for real and true!) to be compromised by our letting Him share the glory (and pieces of your heart. and affections. and love.) with other beings who were lies. 

We believe we did the right thing. We really hope you never felt gypped to have learned about the true Saint Nicholas, yes, but to have celebrated and worshiped and adored the coming of Jesus, instead!

Here are John Piper's thoughts on the matter, from his recent "Ask Pastor John" podcast called Rethinking Santa.

Oh, how I love all of you! It's interesting—and a little hard, in a bittersweet way—walking through this particular Christmas season... celebrating with you for the last time as just our little family of six. Over the coming years, our little family will expand into "extended family" as you each leave our home to start your own little family units of living and learning and teaching and traditions and celebrating. I rejoice with you through the growing pains, and I look forward to seeing how you guys honor the coming of the Savior of the world in your own homes one day. For now, though—this one last time—let's do it all this way

Merry Christmas, my little sugarplums. I love you! 

Celebrating Christmas

As we move into the week before Christmas week, the excitement around our household is growing. Many of our family's "Christmas traditions" have already come to pass, and many are yet to come in the next few days.

This is an interesting Christmas for our family... our last as just our own little family unit of six. This coming February, our daughter EV is getting married. Over the coming years, our little family of six will expand into "extended family" as our four children eventually leave our home to start their own little family units of living and learning and teaching and traditions and celebrating. I am rejoicing through the growing pains, and I look forward to seeing how they will choose to honor the coming of the Savior of the world in their own homes one day. I'm sure some of our traditions might remain, having made their indelible marks and been found worthy of repeating. I know that some of those that were part of their spouse's growing-up years will mingle in as well. Most, however, probably will not, as they seek to create their own traditions and memories as a couple and with their own children.

I first wrote this post about our family's Christmas traditions back in 2008. (At that time my children were 14, 12, 10, and 8.) It has been amended and added to over the years, as our family has grown into (and one out of!) the teenage years, but many of the traditions have remained. Just this one last time, we're implementing as many of these things as we still can. And maybe, just maybe, in future years, some of those beloved "extended family members" will join us in some of the traditional celebrating at our place!

Here's the original (though oft-amended) post from 2008:
At the meeting of our worship team during our weekly practice last week, the "icebreaker" question was to share your favorite family tradition in celebrating Christmas. It was interesting to watch people decide which "life stage" to answer about—whether to answer about the traditions they remembered from their own childhood, or the ones they implement now with their own children, or the ones they used to implement when their children were still at home. Generally, the effect was that you got "the best of the best," as they had to choose a favorite from among all of those experienced during any life stage.

My own children were in the room, participating in the meeting, so we got to hear firsthand their perspective on some of the favorite traditions we're practicing now. What I discovered is that "it's working." We have long desired to capitalize on our children's love of holidays and special occasions and celebrations, and to use them to underscore the special significance of certain spiritual truths. We've always wanted Christmas to be more about Jesus than Santa. We've wanted them to be firmly grounded in truth. We've wanted them to be more excited about giving than receiving. And we've wanted to avoid the materialistic spending frenzy that is typical of Christmas in America.

Yeah, right. Pretty tall order. But we've done our best, and it seems to be mostly working. Here are some of the things we do toward that end... all of them are not "spiritual," and some of them have just "come about on their own" without any planning or thought or purpose to it. Some of them are just silly and fun, while some of them are deeply significant. Some we hold lightly; some we simply must do.

So, although I'm pretty sure nobody else is as excited to read all about our family's Christmas traditions as I am to write them all down, here they are, in no particular order:

* We usually stay away from anything Christmas-y until after Thanksgiving, in order to give that holiday its own importance and focus. On Thanksgiving day, after all the feasting, we always watch "It's a Wonderful Life." It is just a great movie that underscores what's really important and what really isn't... and my husband is pretty much George Bailey. (2014 note: This year was the first year in all of my married life that I didn't watch this movie on Thanksgiving Day. Seriously. Thank you, pre-Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Grrrr!)

* By far our most important and significant tradition is doing our "advent banner," beginning on December 1. Iivo and I created this banner (from the book Family Celebrations - Meeting Christ in Your Holidays and Special Occasions by Ann Hibbard) when I was pregnant with EV, and we've been going through these family devotions during advent ever since. We made a banner with a large flannel Christmas tree, and each "ornament" (with its symbolic felt emblem) is velcroed onto the tree by a child after the advent meditation has been completed each evening. This keeps our focus clearly on the spiritual dimensions and implications of the advent season. Our regular family devotions are replaced with this advent banner during this time. [2013 note: These devotions are perfect for little ones, and a little "babyish" for older ones, but we walk through them every year anyway. We've added an advent "road to the manger" candle tradition—compliments of Ann Voskamp's son, who crafted it himself, with all profits going to missions. We printed the pictures and made the "ornaments" for her advent tree devotional several years ago, and we usually do some of that, too, when we can. We reprise the "thankfulness tree" from Thanksgiving, and we do these things when we can. Sometimes, now that they're older, we'll do three or four days' worth of felt banner devotions at a time, and other nights we won't do it at all. Whatever works to keep all the relevant advent scriptures before our eyes and minds throughout the month.]

* We also have collected quite a set of Christmas books over the years, so our evening "family read-aloud" is also disbanded during this time, and we read a Christmas story together each night. These range from the explanatory (Santa, Are You For Real?) to the symbolically spiritual (this year's acquisition—The Tale of Three Trees) to the silly and fun (A Wish for Wings that Work - an Opus Christmas Story). We have enough by now to last us throughout the Christmas season. The red-white-and-green basket of books comes out with the Christmas decorations and sits out all month, by the couch; the kids tend to pick up and read the books on their own throughout the month, as well.

* However soon as  is practical after Thanksgiving, we head together as a family to get our Christmas tree. Though there is a lovely(?) artificial tree in our attic even as I type, over the past few years we have developed the habit of heading to our local Taylor's for a "real" tree, which as of this 2008 writing can be had for only $14.99. Somehow it has come to be tradition that after we choose our tree and strap it to the van, we head across the street to eat at the Tijuana Flat's restaurant that is there. There is nothing Christmas-y about it, but it is pretty expensive for our whole family to go there, so we usually only do it this one time during the year. It has become part of the Christmas traditions purely by accident. [2013 note: The "must have a real tree" thing has continued, through several price hikes at Taylor's over the years and then the eventual abandonment of that store entirely after this tree fiasco. Also, the super-close Tijuana Flats closed down, so we now head across town to the other one, though it is nowhere near the purchasing place of the Christmas tree anymore!]

* We usually end up putting only the lights on the tree at this point, and then "do the ornament thing" about a week later. While the lights go up, we tend to gravitate toward a favorite Christmas CD called It's Christmas Time, with carols and fun Christmas songs sung by Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra.

* After the lights are on the tree, the girls usually grab the other Christmas decorations from the attic and scatter them about the house, while iivo and PT put some Christmas lights outside, on the house and bushes.

* We have a variety of nativity sets, and they go up in different rooms of the house... right down to the little clear glass ones EL bought at the Dollar Tree for her sister OG and her brother PT one year when she was very little, "so they can have one of their own like EV." (The "nativity of her own" for EV came from her Sunday school teacher when she was a preschooler, and is a little nativity set of black figures. She still puts it up in her room every year.)

* Iivo's birthday falls in the middle of the "Christmas season," so there is usually a break somewhere in here one weekend to celebrate him and his birth.

* "Doing the ornament thing" is an experience around our house, and it is usually reserved for a weekend of its own after Iivo's birthday weekend. (We're still homeschooling during these weeks of early December, so weekends are all we have!) Each ornament is brought out and—since many of them have significant memories attached to them—discussed as it is put on the tree. My mother has been buying a different Christmas tree ornament for each of my children every Christmas since they were born, so that they'll have a set of ornaments to take with them to their own homes when they leave ours. They each pull a few of their own ornaments out of their ever-growing collection of special storage boxes, smiling and remembering and deciding where to place each one. It is usually best if I stay out of this process as much as possible. (See here for more about this!)

* When we put ornaments on the tree, we listen to A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This is relatively calm and mostly instrumental, which helps during the frenzy. So does egg nog, by the way, so that's become typical during the ornament-hanging as well.

* Though we own a lot of Christmas albums, and have put them all into a Christmas playlist on the iPods, a few favorites tend to come out and stay front and center around our house in December. These include the two already mentioned, James Taylor's James Taylor at ChristmasChristmas Portrait by the Carpenters, and A Christmas Together by John Denver and the Muppets. A local radio station plays Christmas music all season, and it tends to irritate some of us and thrill others of us. So there is usually some listening to "I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas" or "Feed the World" or "Santa Baby" type songs... and the commensurate "radio wars" that go on when one member of the family doesn't want to hear "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" for the eight-hundredth time, while one other member of the family has every radio station in the house tuned to this station—and turned on!

* Our children do not have "Christmas wish lists," and we tend to buy each of them only one "big" present each Christmas. This item is something we think they would enjoy having, not something they've asked for. (I think both our homeschooling and our not watching television help in this regard, because there aren't nearly as many "have to have this" items in a kid's mind when he isn't in the peer-conformity world of school or watching TV commercials telling him how much he needs a specific thing.) They never ask for particular things they want, as we've never fostered an environment that caters to that. They do have grandparents, however, who will sometimes ask if there are any particular wishes; occasionally one surfaces, but not usually.

* What they do love (and I mean love) is the practice we have of going out shopping—one child at a time, with me—to buy a specific gift for each of their siblings. (I talked about this in my last post.) They plan out and think about what they might like to buy each other, sometimes for weeks and months before Christmas, and head out once we finish homeschooling—with either a very specific plan in mind, or with an open mind, combined with a pretty good knowledge of the sibling—and we shop. This is both exhausting and exhilarating to me. Truth be told, I love it, too! There is something thrilling about seeing your children genuinely more excited about the gifts they're giving than the ones they're receiving. (2014 note: Although I still LOVE watching them give each other perfect gifts that demonstrate how well they know each other, I've had to let go of the joy of helping them pick them out and getting to shop with them. They've all been old enough to get each others' gifts without me for a while now! Every once in a while a non-driver will ask for a ride, and I'll secretly smile inside at this throwback to the good old days!)

* Christmas Eve, for us, traditionally involves a series of Christmas Eve church services. There is a children's service at my parents' church up the road that starts at 4:00 and involves story-telling and craft-making and a "birthday cake" for Jesus. My parents pick up and take the little ones to that, while the older ones and we adults get ready for our church's service. Iivo is the worship leader, and usually some of the rest of us are involved in the music in some way, too. That service is typically at 5:30. My father brings the little girls after the children's service is over, and then attends that 5:30 service with us. My mother is usually doing some last minute rehearsing at her church for the 7:00 service there. Once our service is over, we try to limit the intake of Christmas cookies by our children, then head up the road to that service to see Nanny sing in the choir and ring the hand bells. By the time this service is over, we are all "sung out" and starving, and we head up the road to the local Chinese restaurant and share a variety of dishes, served "family style." Afterward we head back to my parents' house for more Christmas cookies and hot apple cider, and to open stockings.

* [If my family has traveled out of town to TN for Christmas, or if Iivo's family is visiting from out of town, this pattern tends to look a little different. We only attend our Christmas Eve service, and afterward we eat a meal highlighting a blending of traditional Estonian and Swiss foods. This would typically be a pork roast, sauerkraut and red cabbage (very Swiss-German!), rosolje (Estonian "purple potato salad" containing pickles and beets and—if you're lucky—skipping the herring!), sai (an Estonian Christmas bread made with raisins), and verivorst (Estonian Christmas sausage). If my mother-in-law has cooked and brought some verivorst, the Eesti folk eat this—and Iivo loves it—but the rest of us tend to pass on the blood sausage. If my in-laws are here, we'll stay home and open our own stockings on Christmas Eve, with my parents joining us here for egg nog or cider or Christmas cookies.]

* On Christmas Eve we get to open one present... the huge box—all individually wrapped inside but also wrapped together in one big box—of our new Christmas PJs. I wish I'd taken pictures of everyone in them, every year, to watch the growth of the kids and to save the memories... but we didn't, so we just have to remember in our brains. Even as I type right now, I'm wearing the "Downton Abbey-style" PJs we selected in 2013, all warm flannel with buttons and collars, and oh-so-comfy.

* Once the kids are in bed, we go around and swipe all the baby Jesus figures from each nativity set and carefully wrap them together in one package. We wrap this package very plain and dull and place it under the tree. (This becomes "the first gift of Christmas" in the morning, and we highlight the fact that Jesus—the greatest gift ever given—arrived here without fanfare or recognizable earthly glory.)

* On Christmas morning, Iivo and I get up early and put in the dough for the traditional cinnamon rolls that are our Christmas breakfast. Afterward, we crawl back into bed and "sleep in" as late as the first child. This child—however big or small—crawls into bed with us and waits for brother or sisters to awaken and join us. Once three of the four are up, we decide it is time for the final child to get up, and all head in together to rouse the sleepyhead.

*We get up and get going in the morning with the final installment of the advent banner. This is meant to be the Christmas Eve lesson, but we wisely skip this since we've usually already attended two church services that night. This lesson is on the wise men, and segues nicely into the first gift of Christmas. We open this (the baby Jesus figures wrapped the night before) and the children go put each baby Jesus back with the corresponding nativity set. This was more naturally "fun" when they were little, but it has become part of what we do, so even these older children love to walk through this process.

* After this, we head into the kitchen, fashion the dough into cinnamon rolls, and get them going in the oven. While we wait for them to bake, we open our stockings.

* For breakfast, we have cinnamon rolls and either sausage or hard-boiled eggs for protein so no one "melts down." After we eat this, the kids are finally able to head in and distribute their gifts to their siblings. They are fairly about to burst with anticipation by this point, but they take turns and go one at a time. One child "plays Santa" first, and gives her gifts to her siblings one at a time. Said sibling opens the gift and we all enjoy seeing what was given and received. This process takes a while, since there are twelve gifts (three each) that have been purchased by the children for each other. It always strikes me every year how fun it is to "know" and "be known," as these gifts perfectly reflect their knowledge of each other and what each other likes and might enjoy receiving.

* After this, we take a break to read a Christmas storybook, then give the children the presents we have bought for them. Iivo and I don't buy each other any gifts (his birthday is in early December and mine is in early January), but instead buy one "big thing" we feel the family needs or would enjoy. This can range from the immensely practical and needed to the totally frivolous and decidedly un-needed. Everybody usually knows about what this gift might be, as there's been some discussion about it throughout the preceding months. It is revealed at some point over the course of the morning.

* At some point several years ago (2011, maybe?) we started a tradition of eliminating each child's "big gift" and replacing it with $100ish dollars' worth of credit toward a World Vision or Show Hope gift that they select and give, using the money that would have gone to their "big gift." (If you didn't click on those links, you really should. Or at least click here and take 90 seconds to see how it works. We love giving gifts that make a difference in the world all year long!) They still receive a small gift or two from us, but now more than ever, Christmas is, for them, about what they get to give, not what they are going to get... both to each other, through the gifts they buy each other, and through the gifts they choose for the needy around the world.

* After all this, my parents head back home, we shower and get ready, and then we all re-convene at their house for a holiday meal mid-afternoon. The menu used to vary a bit every year (usually some variation of turkey or ham, with each of us contributing different side dishes to go with it), but over the years it's settled into ham, Nanny's warm potato salad, Nanny's cranberry salad, fresh green beans, and Laura rolls. When we gather at their house, we eat the feast, and then open the gifts from them.

* Over the course of the month, we tend to watch a Christmas movie or two. These vary from year to year, and have included such favorites as Miracle on 34th StreetElfThe Santa Clause, Samantha (An American Girl Tale for Christmas)Prancer, and The Polar Express. We also usually try to fit in a viewing or two from among the favorite childhood television specials we always watched when they (and we!) were little:  How the Grinch Stole Christmas; A Charlie Brown Christmas; Frosty the Snowman; Rudolph; or Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey (my personal favorite since I was a girl). As the kids have gotten older, this list has expanded to include many hardly-seems-right-to-call-them-Christmas-movies-just-because-Christmas-is-in-them films that we've enjoyed with our teen children. (Think Die Hard or While You Were Sleeping here!)

* We have watched The Nativity Story every year since we went to see it in the theater with my sister and her family, who were visiting, the year it came out, but we have yet to figure out a "regular" time to do it, so the tradition is simply that we must do so some time over the course of the season.

* If Iivo's family hasn't come to visit us, there is usually some holiday travel involved after Christmas to go see them. This may be the weekend after Christmas, or over New Year's, but sometime over the course of the break we try to get to see them, too.

* Although the Christmas decorations disappear from my mother's house as quickly as the local radio station playing Christmas songs reverts back to its usual love-song format, we tend to leave the decorations up through all of the "twelve days of Christmas." We're just not quite ready to see them go by December 26th, and so we leave them up until a weekend falling somewhere around January 5.

* Unfortunately, it is usually not until this stage of things that I get around to doing our Christmas cards! We are terrible about Christmas cards, but I love them!! I love sending them, and I love getting them, even if they do arrive later than everyone else's! (See here for more on this!)

"The aroma of our homes is created by the liturgy of our lives. The liturgy of our lives, simply put, is what happens when we deliberately think through what we do and why... There is liturgy in all of our lives. We all have family traditions that in many ways tell the stories of our homes and what we value."
- Steve Murphy, publisher of 
Homeschooling Today magazine

What is it we value at Christmas time? First and foremost, we value the Savior. We long to keep Him first and foremost in our minds as we walk through the season that follows Thanksgiving and incorporates New Year's. What began as a celebration of the incarnation—God made man and delivered to us as a baby—has become deliberately secularized in American culture. It has become more about Santa and getting stuff than about Jesus and giving stuff. It has become more about "happy holidays" than "Merry Christmas." It has become a spending frenzy that breaks many families' budgets and creates many spoiled, ungrateful, never-quite-happy-enough children. We work hard to reverse that focus in our home. Jesus is squarely the central focus for us.

We also value the fun and the feasting and the break from the routine that this season offers. It is a chance to break out of the daily grind and to reflect on what is important to us in new, fresh ways. We value our immediate family, and love remembering them with special little tokens of affection. We value our extended family, and treasure the chance to visit with them in whatever ways work out each year. We value the special friends we have, and enjoy spending time with whichever ones He's given us to be particularly close to in each of the various seasons of our lives.

Even talking about it all has made me nostalgic and anticipatory. We will walk through many of these traditions again this year... this week... and over Christmas Eve... and Christmas Day... and New Year's Eve... and New Year's Day. I really can't wait!

Sunday, November 9, 2014



I heard her say it with all the, like, Valley Girl flip she could muster.
She, like, had to, um, make a point. Totally.

Except she couldn't.

Yeah, well, whatever! She can speak how she wants.
And whadda u know, anyways?
She's totes adorbs and u r just, um, yaknow, old.

It fits with the purple hair and the bare midriff and the black nails.
This carefully crafted look needs a carefully crafted soundtrack.
And that mom is just begging to be sassed at.

Come ON!

I wonder if she practices the little stomp,
or the snort,
or the perfectly executed head move.
We used to flip our hair, but this is definitely better.
She's got it down, that finger in the air and that head move.

Like, yeah, well, yaknow. Whaddya expect? It's all cool.

Cool bananas.

I wonder if Mom thinks it's cool bananas.
This tired, haggard, defeated-looking mom
who's committed the ultimate sin.

How could she!

We dressed them up and called them Bratz and nobody batted an eye.
That's what they are, but it's not insulting anymore. Just true.

True, 'dat.

Yeah? Well, whatever.

My entry for the November 2014 prompt—Slang!—at Poets Online

For this prompt, select a word or phrase that would be considered slang as your title and starting place. Your poem can be about the slang itself, but it could be about language or go off some other direction.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Goodbye, Facebook

Simultaneously, I am both addicted to Facebook, and I can't stand Facebook. Truly. It is my only contact with pop culture since I don't watch television. It is the easy, lazy way to get the news when you don't have time or inclination to comb internet news sources or read a real, live newspaper. So many great, thought-provoking articles and blog posts come through from people I admire and respect. I can watch the children of dear friends and family members grow up from across the miles. Truly, in many ways, it's wonderful. 

In many other ways, however, it is maddening and infuriating. 

Having already whittled my "friends" list down in a mad, moody moment from 800-something to 100-something, I am still considering deactivating my account. 

I really hate it even as I love it. The fact is, sometimes it stilts true relationship. It can make people mean. It can cause people to speak and behave in ways they never would in person. It can make me draw assumptions and form (sometimes unfair but always ungracious) judgements about people based on the stuff they post. It keeps me "involved with" and "worried about" far too many people I never see and no longer have actual contact with. It can cause or exacerbate relationship problems. It can cause hurt feelings. It can cause unhelpful comparisons with the self-presentations of others that are just that: carefully crafted self-presentations. 

So, anyway, I'm in a mood and tired of it all and have too much I should be doing in real life to be wasting so much time in virtual land. Goodbye, Facebook... at least for a while. It isn't you. Truly. It's me. Perhaps one day I'll grow up enough to use you responsibly. In the meantime, a week off couldn't hurt!

Monday, October 27, 2014

If I Had A Million Dollars

This is what a $180.00 teddy bear looks like!

*Entry 10, October - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the song If I Had A Million Dollars by Barenaked Ladies

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Tradition Is Born?

Here are the official photos at the start of the half marathon. OG is the second of our children to run a half marathon with their dad and their aunt. I wonder if one day their little sister EL will join them?


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Motion Media in Action

I recently received a letter from a young friend of mine. She is at an art school studying motion media. I was unfamiliar with exactly what that was, and I found this visual explanation interesting... fascinating, really. So, here is a video explanation in case you, too, weren't sure what this is.

So, just what is "motion media"?
"Motion Plus Design" Center : "What is Motion Design ?" from Motion Plus Design on Vimeo.

Here is my favorite example of it in action:
Sherlock Holmes end credit sequence from Danny Yount on Vimeo.

Finally, here is a motion media video that my young friend made for class. I find it cute and fun as well as moving, haunting, and a little sad... pretty impressive array of emotions for something only forty seconds long and made entirely of animated images.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two for One

When, "Get in your crates, boys!" yields some confusion.

"But Mom, he has a soft bed! I like his better!"  (Yes, that *is* Finley in Pippin's crate, having gone in there before Pippin... and stayed there.)

Don't feel too bad for Finley. Pippin only has a soft bed in his crate because he hasn't puppy-eaten the last two I've bought him!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Me, Myself, and I

I've noticed you like to write to people, not about them.
Yes, I enjoy writing in first person.
Are they all real?
Who? The people in my poems?
Yeah. Did all that stuff in your poems really happen?
Yes. I'm sure it really happened to someone. Somewhere.
But not really to you?
No, not all to me. Not really
So it's really just lies?
In the strictest sense, I suppose you could call it that.
Fanciful tales from my brain.
Written strangely
In choppy
That make you
The next guy will want to know if you were real.
And I'll have to tell him no, not really.
Then he'll stop
And wonder
If he's really real, after all.
And I'll smile
Because the poet
Has done
Why do you write in short, choppy phrases?
And why do you ask me questions when you don't really exist?

This poem was written in response to the July 2014 prompt on Poets Online. I didn't write it or submit it in time--July 2014 was a blur of grief and busyness for me--but I found the prompt intriguing, so I came back and picked it up now.

Questions Asked of the Poet

July 2014
If you are a poet and publish or give readings, you may have been asked questions about your poems. Readers and listeners often wonder how real or autobiographical the details in your poems might be.

Some readers expect that the first car you owned in that poem must, in fact, be the actual first car you owned. That Francine who was your first kiss - Was she really your first kiss?

How honest do you need to be in your poems? How autobiographical are your poems and how much poetic license do you allow yourself? Is there a line of fiction that poems shouldn't cross?

For this month's prompt, we consider the questions readers ask (or might ask) about your poems. There are two poems by Aimee Nezhukumatathil that serve this prompt. First is her poem, "Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?" I like the way she answers the question in several ways and I think for many poets the answer does depend on the poem and situation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Your Name Is an L Word

I love the exercise of writing poetry to a prompt. It stretches me as a writer to have to work within someone else's confines. This month's writing prompt at Poets Online was as challenging as it was interesting: write a poem about sex, using tweet-like stanzas of fewer than 140 characters. That's it. 

So, with a blush and a sigh, I offer you this month's post. 

Your Name Is an L Word

I really, really didn't know what I was doing, all those years and all those climaxes ago. Never mind the virginity. It was intentional.

Yes. I had decided to bottle all of it and save it for you. Every last drop. Every once in a while, we uncorked it and tasted a little.

Scary how it almost consumed us, those few little drops. It was sweet and savage and I knew it would be the death of me. In the best way,

like she said as she sang about the dark and wonderful unknown. It *was* wonderful, this unknown passion that threatened to undo me

and send me careening. There came that point that the wine tastings of the future glory were too much for me. Drunk on you. Drunk

on the need. The craving that was most certainly going to eat me alive--or at least my resolve--was staring me down. I wanted it to win so bad

I could taste it... but I corked it back up and I made it wait. Starved it for a while, to make it hungrier and hungrier.

They called it old-fashioned, and truly it was, for who waits for this sacred moment anymore? I felt it in my throat. The longing. I felt it

in my gut, the aching need. I became aware of words like "loins" because I needed a word for it. Such a good Bible word

for the good Bible girl. Longing and loins and lovers. Luscious L words.

Lingering. All the waiting had made you patient. When the day finally came and the dam finally broke, you were ready

to wait a little bit longer. Just long enough to play skillfully and work wonders, without any training save a book and a song. We learned

together, those many romps ago. Your fingers worked me like they do that guitar, and I could barely breathe from the desperate hunger of it

all. Craving. One flesh. I consumed you, and you filled me, and it was unspeakably worth the wait. Every. Single. Time.

Who knew it could be new every time, and that every time would be my favorite? The years are swirling, and the taut flesh is aging,

and the guitar fingers ache a little in the morning. But you're still the best thing I ever tasted, and I'm still so glad it's been you.

Only you.

Listen to Ingrid Michaelaon's "Wonderful Unknown"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We Run On Fumes

My husband and my daughter OG are training for a half marathon in October. They've done several small runs in preparation, the most challenging of which was this mud run.


I ask you: Who looks this good after miles and miles of running in sand and mud?! (I think I would be dead. I am not kidding!)

After this, conquering the half marathon next month is just a matter of context.

*Entry 9, September - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the song I Run to You by Lady Antebellum.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

There is beauty, beauty everywhere

Taking a page out of Mark Rodriguez's play book and looking for beauty everywhere, my daughter OG grabbed my iPhone camera and snapped these shots on the way out of Home Depot, of all places.

Mark's thoughts, shared from his personal journal by his mother on God Is Super Good, are really encouraging me in my walk with God.

Despite his youth, Mark had a strong faith and an exemplary devotional life. This is journal-writing at its best!

It really does seem that Mark lived life with one foot here and one foot already in heaven. I, too, want to see beauty everywhere, and to give God glory for all of it.

*Entry 8, August - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the song Beauty from Starship--The Musical.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

...but you will know they contain great gain

"If you have one hug left, give it to P. from me. You know there are no greater moments in the life of parents than to see their fledglings spread their wings. We take these moments as if they represented a loss, but you will know they contain great gain."

Words of wisdom from my dear father-in-law as we return from having dropped our son off for his freshman year at college. Such bittersweet, happy-sad days those were!

So, now it's official. He is a college student, about to spend his fourth night in his dorm room. I'm learning to trust God with my son in a whole new way, and I am so thankful that I can trust that He loves him even more than I do!

We are so grateful for this opportunity for him to be there on full scholarship. I trust that they will teach him much, and that he will teach them a few things, too!

Blessings, PT! We truly couldn't be more pleased or more proud!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Every Damn Day

Below is my submission for the August Writing Prompt for Poets Online:"Your task this month is to write a poem about a negative wish (or wishes)--a wish to undo, wishes that change the past. Those are the wishes that pull you right back to the present and have you thinking about the future."

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
They keep telling me not to think about those.
That's pretty easy for them to say.

("Who the hell is 'they' anyway?" you always asked me
When you didn't agree with what I was saying
But knew I was probably right.
I remember that about you,
Back before Shoulda came to visit
And stole you away.)

They is the people who knew better than me.
I wish to God I'd listened to them.
I wish to God that I'd listened to that white-coat man--
The first one--
When he told me to give you the medicine.

"Time is of the essence," he said
(Yeah, when is it not? Ever?)
And then he pushed me to say goodbye too soon.
I wasn't ready to say goodbye
So I got that second opinion.

Damn the second opinion.
That's what we get when we don't agree with what they are saying
But know that they are probably right.

Well, Second Opinion served his purpose,
And I got the answer I thought I wanted.
At the time.
Before Shoulda came to visit.

What he didn't tell me--
That second white-coat man--
Was that either way you die too soon
And either way I have to say goodbye.

I wish to God I'd just been brave and said,
"Yes sir, you give her that shot right away.
Don't waste any time now.
We need her to walk again.
We need her to talk again.
She won't want to live in a bed the rest of her days."

But I didn't.
And so I got my wish.
The one I wish to God I hadn't wished.

I didn't have to say goodbye too quick.

Now I have to say goodbye too slow.
Every damn day.
While you lie there and look at me with wild eyes
In sunken sockets
And wait for Shoulda to come calling.

Every damn day.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wagging My Finger at Wednesday

You never packed up a bag of stuff
And marched out the door
Like a runaway train.
Your little self was happy at home
Just like my mommy self was happy to have you there.

Your best lady.

You told me so once,
Long ago,
When it was still true.

They say that often
You miss the "lasts"
Because you don't realize them at the time.

("Who is 'they' anyway?" you always asked.
"They," I always said.
"You know.
The people who know more about something than we do.")

Turns out they did know more about it than I did.
And I did miss them, those lasts.
Precious.  Unrecognized.
They slipped by,
and were gone.

The last time you crawled up into my lap and stroked my hair.
The last time you climbed into my bed to snuggle in,
You held my hand as we walked down the street,
You extended pudgy arms and mumbled, "Hold you,"
Or carried around that night night
with the regular corner
and a thumb in your mouth.
The last time you looked up to me.

("Literally or figuratively?" the pirate had asked.
And we've asked it, too,
A thousand times since then.
And that is the question, isn't it?)

I thought I would want to know
When the next last came around.
But I don't.
It's better when I miss them, and look back wistfully,
Than when they announce themselves
And I have to live them.

Your last Wednesday at home introduced himself this morning
And rudely made me cry.
I told him to go away
But he didn't.

And so I live with him
And the tears he brought with him
(Which I hide from you like a shy schoolgirl
because you'd never understand
and you'd be embarrassed
and so would I.)

The friends he brought along--
The ones I'll greet every morning this week
Over the lump in my throat--
Are waiting in the wings
To introduce themselves, too.

If you look for me
(which I'm sure you won't)
I'll be careening toward
the end of a season
I have loved very much
And wagging my finger at Wednesday.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


There were bees buzzing round my feet
The day we opened the ground
And gently placed you in it.
I remember that much.
Bees on clover
Like any ordinary day.

It wasn't you at all
(Not really)
In that box of cold, hard granite that
could never hold you.

Your bright, warm spirit would never feel at home there.
Which is good
Since this isn't home.

I know you must spend some time looking in on us
Between walks on golden streets
And visits with your mother.

And I think you must have smiled on us that day
We, who tremble and ache with grief.
We, who just don't get it.

Did you and Lulu and Mims and Pips
All stop by together
To watch the silly ones?
Crying during the meantime darkness.
Missing you.

I remember thinking how strange it was
That life went on
For you.
And other people.
And bees.

The blink of an eye
Is longer than I thought.
And longer for him than for me.
Longer still for the old man,
Who leans on a cane and God
since he can't lean on you,
Though he wants to, desperately.

It won't be long now
(What are days and weeks and months and years?)
When I'll watch the bees again.
And you'll watch me
Watching them.
I'll be crying, because I just don't get it.
Crying, because I can't get past
my own missing.

And you'll pause for a moment with us.
(I'm sure you love this spot.)
And then the Delightful Laugh
And the Smiling Eyes
Will dance off hand-in-hand,
Leaving me with the cane
And the bees.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


My son PT is heading off to college soon, and I think it is so fun that he planned a last "date night" with his little sister EL, taking her to her first live concert ever.

What a memory this will be for her! (And for him, too, probably...but don't tell him I said so!)

Here's to great big brothers who love their little sisters well!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Baby Bluebirds and Baby Boys

From this:

to this:

Apparently we missed the laying of a fourth egg while we were off with my son to his summer orientation for college.  As our little bluebird couple prepares to fledge their second brood of the summer, we are preparing to fledge our second-born off to college.  Soon after we recover from that, we will "fledge" our first-born in marriage.

Hooray for our little bluebird house, and our first batch of babies!  Someday they'll look like this:


Someone with more time and photographic skill on her hands than I have, chronicled the entire process here

I'm viewing these little birds as a living reminder to me of the normalcy and naturalness of sending your babies off--once they're ready--to face the world without you. It is strange to think that soon two of my children will be living elsewhere. I will miss them desperately. (If one's children are burdensome or irksome, I would imagine it might be nice to arrive at the, "Bye, see you later!" stage of things. But when they're delightful--and you count them among your very best friends and enjoy being with them as much as anyone on the planet--it is pretty difficult!)

I would imagine in the end, it feels a little bit like this:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We Had Seasons in the Sun

As I read this post from Shauna Niequist this morning, I was filled with nostalgia and family memories of summers gone by on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We don't have our own little island, and our memories don't house conch fritters and row-boat rides, but I loved reading about her precious times with her family, and the million little memories that have stacked onto one another over their years of visiting the same place, together.

Ever since my parents scraped together the funds to buy a piece of heaven-on-earth when I was in high school, we've been able to stack memories, one on top of the other, of yearly summer weeks spent together.  And Memorial Day.  Labor Day.  Cold winter weekends to get away during the off-season--just you and some folks you love sharing nothing in particular, but doing it together.  Retreats for church women--that much-needed get-away for harried young mothers, afforded only because of the generosity of my folks.  I doubt they knew all they were providing when they made that purchase all those years ago.  My family has precious memories I could never have afforded to provide--not even once, let alone year after year--because of the generous provision of two parents who gathered the generations by the seashore every summer.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for providing us with this blessing for all the years of our married life!  Our family trips to the NC shore are precious to me.  I'm full of precious memories with precious people over many precious, fleeting years.

From quiet, carefree, joy-filled days getting to know each other as husband and wife... to a tiny newborn sleeping in a drawer... setting up sun tents for sandy, sleeping infants (who no doubt have sand clutched in their teeny fists)... fits thrown at bedtime, or when it's time to get out of the hot tub... little cloth sun hats that cover tiny heads and necks, and shade little pudgy cheeks...  toys and games in the owners' closet, like old friends who meet us for a once-a-year visit...

Fresh fruit and veggies from Powell's on the way in... little pink, sunburned cheeks... meltdowns on the back nine as we play putt-putt past bedtime... sandcastles... working on puzzles together in the hot room with the ice machine... little girls fighting over who has to sleep on the trundle bed... MuMama's blue beach chair... Tripoly... making t-shirts together at that cool clothing shop... stopping for BBQ buffets... looking for shells and sea glass in the cool of the early morning...

Stepping on Pooh guys by the upstairs wood table... fireworks on the beach... chasing sand crabs in the dusky twilight... five little girls always pairing up to leave someone "out"... that bouncy, green cart with yellow wheels, full of shovels and buckets and coolers and all manner of fun... the respite of shade under a colorful umbrella... Rummikub... watching the neighbors' illegal firecrackers catch the dried sea grass on fire--and having to call the fire department!... Cabin Boy... bike rides to the pool... a buried body with a sandy mermaid's tail... honey buns for breakfast... Yahtzee... boursin... spying on feral cats from the balcony...

Lazy naps in a hammock... having to take turns with boogie boards and skim boards and huge, floating rings... offering your great-grandmother an arm on the walk to the ocean... knowing your great-grandmother--and I mean, really knowing her...

Taking refuge in a dark theater on yet another rainy day... Lighthouse bagels... late-night neighbor-partying keeping everyone awake... little fits and tears over sunscreen in little eyes... swinging on the swing set by the community pool... sunburned ears or feet because someone forgot about coating them... "Ssssh!  Aunt Nita's still asleep on the couch!"... early morning walks through Pine Island...

Looking for a bargain at the "all merchandise 50% off" spots... adding whatever is needed to the community grocery list... baths in Nanny's big, jetted tub... "reapply!"... dear dogs running on the beach, which may just be what doggie heaven is like now for Huckie and Zach and Little and Winston... guitars and fiddles and ukeleles...

Skinned elbows and knees from bike-time wipeouts... a huge lazy Susan... a row of bikes heading to the grocery store or to get Duck Donuts... Nita's spaghetti, and Nanny's pound cake, and MuMama's banana pudding: the tastes of beach week... "and now we're having fun writing songs with the fam..."

"There will be a day when memories will be all we have," said Shauna Niequist.  Tears spring to my eyes as I consider how true this is.  I think of many people I have loved, those I can now only meet in my memory.  I know the time is short... with our parents, one of whom is already passed from this life to the next.  With our children, one of whom is already pledged to another, beginning to dream about what life will look like when "home" isn't the same place as my own four walls.  I cry for my pastor, whose son was unexpectedly snatched from them a month ago by a gunman's stray bullet.  I cry for my sweet friend Jeanine, who entered her final rest from her courageous battle with cancer just 36 hours ago.  I cry for their family members and friends, who now visit with those they love only in memories.  The time given us is short, and life is fleeting, and in a matter of moments we have to say goodbye... whether we were ready to or not.

I am driven to a desire to live each moment to the fullest--in connection--and to never waste another precious moment of life fighting or arguing or taking those I love for granted!  I am driven to a desire to capture memories better than I do--more pictures, more videos, more snapshots of daily-day life with those precious ones who live in my circle, at least for this day.  I am driven to a Savior, who comforts my pain--and that of my friends--and who has made a way of lasting comfort and joy for me: that I may know Him in this life, and that I may know Him--and my loved ones who also know Him--forever in the life to come.  "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" - John 17:3.

"Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" - Psalm 23:6.  And until that day, may I live life deliberately, like one who is "stealing against the inevitability of time," and loving every minute of it I'm given.  Thank you, Shauna, for the reminder!

*Entry 7, July - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the song "Seasons in the Sun," recorded by Terry Jacks, and then by the Beach Boys, and then covered by many others.  It is an adaptation of Rod McKuen's lyric poem, which is itself an English translation of a French one, "Le Moribond."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lost With You in a Poem I'm Writing

A few key moments
Reside in my memory
Differently from the others.

Permanently preserved—
Perfectly preserved—
By the intensity of emotion
Of a single, tragic moment.
Chemicals, I suppose.
The same stuff that makes you fall down
And faint
When they knock on your door
At 2 a.m.
And a uniformed voice asks you if you're you.

Others reside deeply,
But vaguely...a hazy blur of emotional swirl
Of memory
And feeling.

I feel them in my gut, yes, but softly.
A strange blend of nausea and euphoria
That eats at me in a delicious way.

I savor these moments,
The beautiful ones.
I call them up into my mind
and feast on them sometimes.
Just "hang out" there,

Like the first time your hands cupped my face
And your lips touched mine.
Urgent and tender.
Long-awaited connection.
Like the look on your face
when you saw me hiding on that bunk bed.
Like the night after you said, "I will" and "I do."
I still feel the golden rope being carefully fastened
by trembling hands,
The hair swept aside from my longing neck.
Your lips finding me from behind
As I gulped and sighed and burned with longing.

A little hand reached up to that same face
(Only older. Always getting older.)
And touched me.
And he whispered,
In the bedtime darkness of
once upon a time,
"Mama, you're my best lady."
I could live in that moment
Like the bass line of that one William Ackerman song.
Breathing, touching, living—
just barely—
And praise.
And worship.

But life isn't all good moments
And they're not all clothed in hazy mist
and smiles.
Some haunt me by stubbornly refusing to be hazy.
By being sharp and clear and focused and terrible.
That pink beach ball of a baby
Floating face down in sparkling blue.
The cry of our sweet Dog Mom,
Bursting through the door,
Screaming that Little had been struck by a car.

And now, your face.
That look on your face.
Disbelief and grief.
("Oh God, what's wrong?")
First-morning news that there was a message
(Has any middle-of-the-night message
Ever been good
In the history of the world?)

Grief and disbelief.
Your eyes meet mine.
Your face is scaring me.
(And those damned chemicals have
Burned it into my brain

"There's a message from Rico
(You are shaking and visibly shaken.)
That there's been an accident
(Your voice is strange. Weak. Halting.)
And apparently Mark Rodriguez has been killed."

Hands on my face again,
This time my own.

I place my trembling hands over my mouth
As the guttural cries of "What?" and "No!"
Burst out anyway.
I've lost control of my body.
If I weren't on my bed I know I'd be falling.
The pain in my chest has climbed to my throat
And I think I may throw up.
The pit in my stomach grows
And I try to make sense of the words
But I can't hear you
And I can't breathe
And these damned tears blur the texts
That were sent my way as I slumbered.

Yes, some moments are burned into my memory
Like scars on nail-pierced hands.
How do we do this, Lord?
You, who lost a son,
Who gave a Son,
How do we unclench the fist
And let him go?