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Friday, December 28, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 18

21 Days From My Window

This morning outside my window, the pale blue sky is filled with a great fluffy cloud. White and dense, like the stuffing inside a throw-pillow, it has a tinge of dirty gray around the edges. The wind stirs and blows the flags, the neighbor’s wind chimes, and the pampas grass across the street. Lying empty at the curb, the trash cans are a reminder that the Christmas packages are gone, and things are returning to normal. Yet piles of branches still lie at the ends of the driveways, waiting to be hauled away.

In the pale light of this morning, the tree branches reach silently toward the sky. Their bare branches quiver in the wind. Only the great tree in the distance is not bare. His top branches have let go of their leaves, but he clutches a blanket of withered brown across his lap, as though still trying to cover the scars of the icy storm. He looks stronger every day, and I suspect that soon, he will relax his grip on those remaining leaves and let them fall.

The clouds drift purposefully in an easterly direction, and as I watch, the light changes across my framed view. The bright sunlight deepens the shadows and turns the grass a deeper golden shade. The clouds lose their fluffy whiteness and are suddenly grayer, darker, and heavier with what looks like rain. In a moment, another cloud covers the sun, and the colors fade. The horizon looks white and cottony once more. The color slips from the grass, the bricks. The black branches fade to brown. A bit of light and shadow changes everything.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 17

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window this morning the sky is colorless, nearly the pale white shade of a child’s crayon. The sun seems to be sleeping in again, as does the entire neighborhood. Beside the curb, a crowd of trash cans and empty boxes with bits of torn Christmas paper flapping in the wind are a reminder of the holiday that has come and gone. The wind also lifts the corners of the team flag and the American flag but doesn’t have the strength to hold them aloft or make them wave.

A flock of brown-black birds flits back and forth across the sky as I watch from my window. The birds are intent on some avian business, flight exercises or possibly some unfamiliar contest. In the branches of the Bradford pear tree across from me there are no leaves remaining. Only bare branches reach straight up to the colorless sky. In her branches, the Bradford pear is graced by a single red cardinal. He hops from one limb to another, fluttering his wings and bobbing up and down. A bright sight on a gloomy morning, he cocks his head to one side, and flies away, leaving me with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 16

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window this morning the sun shines warm and yellow on everything I see. Long shadows lay across the yards and the houses. Twin black electric pole shadows cut across my neighbor’s grass like railroad tracks and if I pause and listen I can almost imagine the clackety-clack of a shadowy train.

The team flag hanging on the neighbor’s porch casts its shadow across their white garage door. It stretches and snaps, reaching for the corner of the bricks, and then sighs back into its place again and again. The power lines that cross the sky over the two houses facing me are no longer covered with ice. They are barely visible, once again, but their straight lined shadows on the shingles of two roofs are evidence that they are still there.

The shadows of both the American flag and its great tall pole climb up the wall of the house and across the roof. Even the lonely long branch of the Bradford pear tree on the left casts her shadow on the same rooftop.

It’s a typical chilly morning outside my window today. Light and shadows both spill themselves across my view. Nothing strange or unusual to see, and that’s okay, because even normal views hold their own kind of beauty. And it’s good to see that again, through this pane of glass.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 15

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window this cold morning, I see great white trucks with huge bucket arms. Three of them stand rumbling along the curb. In the yard beside them, a dozen or more burly bearded men in brown coveralls and white hardhats gather around a giant with a clipboard. Soon they begin to march past my window, their faces grim and determined.

I sit quietly inside, watching these unlikely but longed for heroes go about their work. I pull my blanket closer around my shoulders, and peer through the cold window pane at the morning outside. Great boots have tracked through the snow just below my windowsill, and muddy brown footprints remain to mark the truth we’ve been hoping for these past, dark days. The icy storm stole our electric power. And inside our homes, we’ve waited, with warm blankets piled high, and flashlights or candles flickering.

But today, through the glass pane, is the evidence of our hope. Great burly heroes are on the job, and very soon, we will have power again. I shiver with the cold morning air, and a happy anticipation as I leave my seat by the window and return to one near the fire.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 14

21 Days From My Window

Through my window this morning I see the snow fly in the winter wind. Small white flakes twist and turn rise and fall on a million separate roller coaster rides just past this cold pane of glass. The snow quickly gathers on the ground, on the cars, on the branches of the trees---and still the wind blows and scatters whiteness all around.

I am reminded, sitting here on the other side of the window, of a winter scene inside a snow globe. Before the pretty white flakes can whirl and fall, the snow globe must be shaken, turned upside-down---a scary prospect indeed, if you are on the inside. This stormy week of cold and loss, ice and freezing rain has been that shaking, upside-down sensation.

But now, before my very eyes, that winter snow globe has been set right again. The base rests on a level surface and the shaking has given way to softly falling snow that will soon blanket everything in sight. I sit for a moment, peering through the glass, and watch the flakes as they chase each other to the ground. It is a beautiful thing to see.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 13

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window this morning, the cold misty rain still lingers. The clouds are a blanket across a cold wintry sky. Ice is melting, and it drips, drips, drips off of the houses, cars and power lines. Two men and three boys are bundled in sweatshirts and bulky coats across the street. Their hair is plastered damply against their heads, and their cheeks are red with cold.

These are the strong but gentle surgeons who will lend their compassion and skill to my tree friends today. They drag broken limbs into piles as one man uses a chain saw to section the severed branches of the once lovely Bradford pear ladies. In the faces of the grown-ups, I see the gravity of the work they perform, while in the faces of the young boys I see a mixture of glee, and determination to perform their important, manly tasks.

The job is soon finished for the tree on the right side of my chilly window pane. She stands, thin and wan. Daylight peeking through her ribs where only a few days ago were leaves of bright red and green. She looks pale and feeble, yet she is really quite strong. She will continue to heal as these December days rush toward their end. I imagine that she closes her eyes to sleep, in spite of the noise of three young boys, and their hard-working fathers wielding a chain saw.

On my left, the guys go to work again, cutting away the twisted and broken limbs of the second Bradford pear lady. I can barely see, from my window, that her trunk is strong and sturdy. Though her remaining branches are thin and fragile, she just might make it through this season. One strong, solitary branch reaches toward the quaint little house which it is her duty to guard, while around the base of her trunk, the branches and logs are gathered.

The bent and scarred giant behind her is brown and ragged against the misty morning sky, and I can just make out the pale yellow patches where his limbs have been broken and torn. His silhouette is vastly changed, as his heaviest branches have fallen from the center of his body. But he seems to watch in hopeful silence as this surgery is performed. The great bare giant beside him is bolstered and strengthened by the stoic reserve of this grand old tree.

The air is filled with both expectation and the bright voices of children, working happily alongside their fathers. Hope refuses to go quietly into the wintry morning. Here beside my window, I am thankful that he continues to stand and fight, in honor of my beautiful new tree friends.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 12

21 Days from My Window

Outside my window this morning, the beautiful Bradford pear ladies show the signs of a horrible winter storm. The one nearest to me stands tired and bent. Her wounds gape open and her branches lie around her on the cold ground. Still she stands resolutely, facing her grief and fighting for her life. She may yet survive.

Her sister, on the other hand, is in pieces. Most of her ravaged body lies on the ground blocking my view of the friendly, festive yard, the porch, and the wreathed door. Ice still clutches her branches in a death grip, and I fear that she will soon expire. Only half of her trunk and one cluster of feeble, bent branches stand against the backdrop of a wintry scene.

The rain is coming down now, pouring out its’ grief as it washes the street, the cars, my windowpane. The great gold tree has had to surrender several strong limbs to the weight of the ice. The struggle was too much for him to bear without injury. He is half the size he was just a few days ago. The great naked tree stands beside him. His top branches bent low, as though reaching to comfort his wounded comrade.

As I sit beside my window, the sight I see saddens me. I know that soon the debris will be cleared away. These trees will begin to heal if they can, and before long, winter will drape a lovely blanket of white snow over each of them. They will rest beneath his careful ministrations, while deep inside will begin that special magic known only to trees.

The first notes of rebirth will resonate deep within their cores, and it will hum throughout the winter season in preparation for a glorious spring. Yes, in the face of this awful, icy storm, there is still great hope. I wrap it around my shoulders for warmth, and turn away from the window with a sigh.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 11

21 Days from My Window

Outside my window this morning, I see a view both beautiful and tragic. A crystalline layer of ice covers everything in sight and icicles up to eight inches in length hang from the eaves of the houses and the cars. My two dear friends, the Bradford pear trees, have suffered serious injuries at the hands of old man winter. Their bodies are ripped and scarred. Great dark limbs lie severed and exposed upon the icy ground. Branches that remain on the trees are bent and bowed---coated with an inch of clear, cold ice.

The great gold giant that arches over the houses across the street is drawn and curled in the icy grip of winter and even the bare giant who flanks him is laying lower on the horizon, his great limbs weighted with ice. The power lines that cross in front of these two huge trees are coated with ice. Hemming them in like a fence, they offer little protection, and I fear they may succumb as well.

Everything looks cold, broken, and bent. The street is dark this morning, and quiet. Ice has slowed us down, threatens us still. As I watch in wonder from my window I contemplate how this wintry weather will affect my morning view, and I cannot bear to imagine.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 10

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window this morning the sky is foggy around the edges. The ground is wet and raindrops drip from the roof of my neighbor’s house. Overhead, five parallel power lines stretch across a corner of the sky. A dozen or more little birds perch haphazardly on them, like quarter notes lining up on a piece of sheet music. A couple of them shake the rain from their feathers, and suddenly they all take flight. They quickly vanish, leaving behind an empty musical staff.

Steam rises in intermittent clouds from the vents on both of the neighbor’s roofs. They drift lazily up into the air and join the misty shroud that lingers in the corners of my window frame. Everything has a darker look about it, soaked in this morning shower. The porch lights still shine from across the street, and the morning sun seems to be sleeping in for a few minutes more.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 9

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window today, I see the house where the second Bradford pear tree stands. It has the same burnt orange brick as its neighbor, the same white shutters and doors. The porch and steps are even covered in the same green outdoor carpet. Most of the house is blocked from my window-side view by the turning leaves of the Bradford pear and the pampas grass that grows at its feet. But I can see an empty porch, a single bush, a garden hose on a rack and an Oklahoma University team flag hanging from the roofline. A white SUV stands stoically in the driveway.

The simple giant candy cane tied to the wrought iron spindle on the front porch was joined by a string of colored Christmas bulbs outlining the roof. But the festive air of holiday welcome is oddly absent. Black iron bars cover the windows and the glass front door. The house looks colder and a bit lonelier sitting there in the gloomy December morning. Maybe it’s just that the sun is not shining, and the tree blocks my view of the windows and the door, but gazing at this little house, I feel a wintry sadness creep over me, and turn away from the window.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 8

21 Days From My Window

Through my window this morning I see the cute little house directly across the street. She has burnt orange, brick walls, white shutters and doors, and a grey pitched roof. One of my Bradford pear tree friends stands in the yard, and casts dancing shadows across the lawn. The blowing leaves play beneath its branches. Several bushes and flower beds flank the house’s green, carpeted porch and steps. They are neat and trim, even in the absence of the color and bounty of spring and summer. A bird bath and a number of small statues seem to beckon visitors to come for a closer look, and a green park bench invites them to linger a while longer on the porch. Red throw pillows grace the bench, and that same red color is echoed in the Christmas wreath ribbon on the front door and in the poinsettias on the porch. As the wind stirs I note that the glass door is not completely shut. It opens slightly and then closes again in the wind, as though offering me entrance and a cup of coffee. A warm cup sounds good. So, I turn from the window to go brew up some tea.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 7

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window, the great, golden tree stands silently in the glare of the morning sun. His leaves already falling, he is barer than yesterday. Soon he will arch his naked branches over the houses he guards and his leaves will only be a memory of Autumn’s glory days. The Bradford pear trees are solemn as well, standing guard at their respective posts. Where yesterday they were orange and brilliant, now the undersides of their leaves are showing through like gray hair on the head of a middle aged man. Pale yellows peek through the oranges, and their dark shadows stretch across a blanket of dry, pale grass.

Even the pampas grass stands by, quiet and pale in the morning light. No leaves are chasing each other down the street. Instead they rest along the curb of the driveway. A smashed paper cup lies in the middle of the road. Its usefulness has passed, and now it has been broken and discarded, like so many leaves and twigs scattered across my neighbor’s lawn. A black and white cat tiptoes slowly across the street. She stops to sniff at random leaves, the cup, and the pale grass, before she moves on in search of something more interesting.

Even the dogs in my back yard give only a half-hearted yelp and growl as the cat passes by. They sound as though they want to lie in the last bit of morning sunshine and wait for more exciting things to happen. As I turn from my window to go, not even the flag lifts itself to wave goodbye. Though nothing is listening, I whisper, “See you tomorrow.”

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 6

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window this morning the autumn wind marches right down the street in a grand farewell parade. The patch of pampas grass waves its arms in delight, and the red, white and blue flag flaps and flutters in merriment. Spinning like pinwheels in the morning air, the leaves on the twin Bradford pear trees have changed again, from green and dark red to a warm orange shade that matches the brick of the two houses standing proudly in the background. The great tree that looms over these houses has turned from yellow-green, to a warm honey---one last burst of autumn color for this festive celebration.

The trees toss handfuls of orange leaves into the air like confetti. They are caught by the wind as he continues his procession past my window, and they chase each other along the curbside like happy children. Scudding across the blue sky, white clouds look like great billowy cotton-candy floats. A dozen or more sparrows dart back and forth in front of my window, like a troupe of aerial acrobats. They flit and twist, narrowly missing the corner of my neighbor’s roof. Lighting on the high wire, they enjoy a brief rest before they jump and tumble again through the air overhead.

The morning sun smiles brightly down upon the street, lending her warmth and cheer to the carnival spirit that passes by my window. All too quickly, the parade has ended, and the neighborhood grows quiet, save for a great group of leaves. They chase each other down the neighbor’s driveway, like a pack of unruly teenagers trying to catch the end of Autumn’s final hurrah.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 5

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window today the street lies deserted. A stillness seeps into the atmosphere, and I sit here gazing in silent wonder. All the neighbors are gone as though some important business or Christmas sale has called them away in the early morning hours. There is an emptiness left behind, where their cars usually sit in the driveways and the street.

I see four barren trash barrels lying on their sides---empty, cold and dark. Discarded by the garbage men, they wait helplessly on the cold ground. An unruly tangle of pampas grass stirs faintly in a feeble breeze. The flag on the pole rouses only slightly as though snoring in his slumber; and the house with the second Bradford pear tree has added a lone, giant candy cane to the neighborhood’s festive Christmas décor.

The four trees stand silently, their branches twitching. There is a tension in the air, a sense of anticipation. Even the shadows across the lawn, the street and the rooftops stand perfectly still---waiting for something. The sun shines brightly, but the temperature is cool. Will winter wrap its chilly arms around us today, or will the sun be warm enough to hold him off for a while longer? I shiver, and turn my face away from the pane.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 4

21 Days From My Window

This morning through my window, the sun shines brightly. The wind has finished his performance, packed up, and headed down the road. The trees and the flag droop quietly in the morning glare as though remembering their late night celebration, and nursing a morning headache. The house across the street has started putting on her Christmas finery. A wreath of red and green hangs on her door, and what look to be red poinsettias flank the green wooden bench on the porch.

Withered leaves dot my neighbor’s lawn like pecans in a banana bread batter. Patches of frosty dew are slowly lightening and the neighbor’s truck stands dripping in the driveway. The neighbor with the wreath on his door steps outside and breathes in the crisp morning air. He does not wear a coat, rather a long sleeved purple shirt and blue jeans. He steps into his car and pulls out of the driveway. Soon he returns, carrying a jug of milk. He looks as though he’s whistling as he climbs the steps. He disappears back into the house to what I imagine is a warm breakfast. And I smile as I watch behind my chilly window pane.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 3

21 Days From My Window

Outside my window today, the wind blows in great, hurried gusts. It rattles the window, and sends shivers up and down my spine. As I sit gazing through the glass, I see the Bradford pear trees dancing merrily in the wind. They may have missed last week’s Grand Autumn Ball, but today their beautiful, faded gowns are fluttering in an impetuous breeze while they flirt and laugh, breathlessly. Flapping gallantly between the trees, a red, white and blue flag pulls and tugs, trying to get free of the pole and fly. The white tether that binds the flag to the pole snaps angrily in the wind and fights desperately to control its overactive efforts.

Even the older, larger trees, standing solemnly behind the houses across the street are bending and swaying in time with the music of the morning. They have a more dignified air about them, but they cannot help being affected by the strength of this blustery blowing. The street before me is empty. No spectators, no audience will brave this chilly day and enjoy the show. Only the bright yellow sun gazes on from its place in the pale, cold sky. And, of course, there is me, watching intently from my box seat behind the window pane.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass – Part 2

21 Days From My Window

Outside my bedroom window this morning there is frost on the neighbor’s truck. Cold winter has blown his icy wind through the morning dew and left behind a crystal sheet of frozen breath. The street is quiet but for a handful of birds, darting back and forth across the sky. The trees stand, damp and chilly, in the morning breeze. They have not changed all that much, maybe a few curled, faded leaves are relaxing their grip and preparing to fly.

The grass just below the window sill glitters brightly in the morning light. The frost knows it has only moments to capture my attention before the sun melts it away, and the day grows warm. Already I see wet footprints across the neighbor’s yard, where school children trudged out to face the day, and stepped from the curb to the bus. The footprints are dark against the silvery layer on yellow green grass.

Drops of water draw vertical lines down the windshield of the neighbor’s truck, like an etch-a-sketch toy. I blow lightly on the glass. My warm breath gathers on the window pane, and quickly disappears. It is fleeting, this frosty, cold wetness. It will fade quickly in the lightening hours of this morning, and winter will be chased away once again by a fading yellow sun.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Through the Pane of Glass - Part 1

21 Days From My Window

From my bedroom window, I can only see a small slice of my neighborhood. Between the red brick wall of the next house and mine, there is a narrow view of my street, some trees, and the sky. The cement is dark and gray, damp from rain that has fallen and rain yet to come. The sky is gray-blue, with just a hint of warmth, suggesting that maybe the sun will peek through the cloud that stretches from horizon to horizon and add a bit of her cheerful self to this dreary autumn day.

Four trees stand framed by my window. In two yards across the street, twin Bradford pear trees wear the same faded green-red-brown dress, as though still waiting for a horse-drawn coach to carry them to last week’s ball. Behind the neighbor’s house a huge tree fills the blue-gray sky. Still green leaves reach over two rooflines, and those farthest from the trunk are turning a rusty brown before my eyes. The vivid hues of autumn are already seeping away into the cold morning air, and the branches sway slightly in the breeze. They are reluctant to release their leaves to the wind.

Just behind the great green and rust colored tree stands a naked giant. His leaves have long since liberated themselves and flown to the ground. His black shiny branches rake the sky like majestic fingers. He seems to know better than his younger counterparts, how to embrace the season’s change as winter strides steadily onto the scene.

Rather than cold and dread, the sight of him on the horizon offers hope. If he can so willingly surrender to winter’s chill, he must know that the cold darkness does not last forever. I smile at his grace and charm. More than any other object, he speaks silently to me, framed on this cold autumn morning by my tiny bedroom window.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Word Clouds Gathering

Like a dry Oklahoma field needs rain, I need words. I need to soak in books, swim through libraries. I need to set my pen to the page and flush out the tap in a torrent of words, to stand in a word-storm and feel the cold icy wind cut right through to my heart, whipping my hair about my face and pelting me with sleet like phrases.

I need to stand silently in a stream of words, shivering in the cold night air, and then gather them up in a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I need to sit on the hearth of a crackling fire, and slowly, slowly let the heat soak in through my skin, while I sort the words, sift through the phrases and let the stories spill out across the page.

I need words to rain down upon my dry, parched soul, to blow through my mind and filter through my fingers, to line up on a page and tell their story out loud, echoing through my body, my mind.

Sometimes, life is dry, barren and oppressive. But even then, I know the clouds are gathering. The pressure is building. The storm will come and pour down a rain of words on me again. Thirsting is never terminal, never a sentence of silence, death. Thirst always comes to prepare me so that I am thankful when the first word-drops sprinkle across the dusty ground and my heart whispers into the wind, “Let it rain, let it rain.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Silent Muse

Silence is never truly silent. When I am still, the soft quiet noises all around me can better be felt, heard. The wind rustles the leaves, and flutters through the pages of my book. In the distance I hear a woman’s voice, high and happy, like she’s talking to a loved one. Footsteps echo, approach, pass and recede. In the background the traffic rumbles and hums as though music were playing in the autumn air.

Silence can be a hiding place, or a place of discovery. The thoughts and feelings that are drowned out by the day’s noise are suddenly before me in a quiet room, in the absence of a blaring television. The questions line up before me and beg to be heard, demand to be answered.

Even in silence, the world, outside or inside, clamors for attention. It’s not long before a telephone rings or a friend drops by to borrow a cup of human connection. Silence makes people uncomfortable---smothers and suffocates---until they turn on a radio or start a conversation with a stranger. But they don’t know silence as I do.

We sit together in a room while my pen scratches across the page, and silence listens to me. He values my words and keeps my secrets. Silence does not judge, but waits patiently until my flood of words is spent, and then echoes the same words back to me with delight and approval. No, silence is not one to be feared. He is rather, one to embrace, to welcome, to greet with open arms and open heart. Silence cannot frighten me, he is a welcomed friend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Family Jewels

When my mom and her sisters were little, they lived in a sleepy little west Texas town. There was a family in that town that walked everywhere they went. They didn’t walk side by side, holding hands, chatting happily, rather they strung out like a parade winding its way down the block. It was an interesting sight to behold--growing up in that close-knit community---and it left an impression on my mother. I know because when my siblings and I would go shopping with her, she’d gather and herd us through the aisles. It was a constant battle, keeping an eye on all three of us. I know I heard her admonish us many times to not “string out like the Smiths.” (Not their real names.) In fact, I said it hundreds of times to my own little brood as we navigated the grocery aisles or the clothing racks at Wal-Mart.

Ray Stevens is a very funny comedian. We used to listen to his records and laugh until we cried. I can’t remember which it was now, but one of them involved a man trying to win the attentions of Margaret. The whole “It’s me again, Margaret” line became a source of giggling fits for our family. Over time it transformed into, “Is that you, Margaret?” and we say it again and again. A few years ago, my mom and aunts were sitting in a restaurant with my grandfather, when mom made a trip to the ladies room. In a minute or two, one of her sisters followed her. She entered the stall next to my mother’s, leaned over toward the wall, and inquired “Is that you, Margaret?” Silence ensued. My aunt giggled to herself and repeated the question. After a moment of hesitation the soft voice of a stranger echoed from behind the divider, “Um, no.” Since then, Margaret is liable to speak to you from anywhere you can imagine.

Through the years, our family has passed down these little phrases. We all know the stories, but instead of re-telling them, we just sprinkle the catch phrases through our conversations. Things like “Your turn is OVER”, and “Comb your pig-sty hair!”---it’s our way of making sure the memories are treasured, enjoyed, celebrated. From my grandmother, who slipped on an icy road: “Just let me lay here a minute,” has become a phrasal heirloom, and from my sister, when she realized she was outside, alone in the dark comes “I got excited and thought I was scared.” Just the other day, my aunt and mom were shopping for clothes. Mom remarked on a very silky shirt, and my baby brother’s “soft this” took her back to his childhood.

So, my question is, do other families fixate on silly sayings, and repeat them again and again, passing them from generation to generation, along with their background stories? Are all families as entertained by these catch phrases as we are? And if it’s true that other families do this, and we’re really not candidates for the fellows in white coats, how do you describe this phenomenon, this passing of memories through just a few key words--this “phrasal heirloom” thing? What would you call it?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Louder, Please

Words were meant to be read aloud. The timbre, the inflection, the lyrical cadence is released only by the human voice. Words in business reports or medical journals are intellectual, and do not suffer from being silently read, but stories, memoirs, poetry---these were meant to be voiced, repeated, whispered and shouted around a crackling fire.

Before there were writers, there were storytellers, patriarchs, bards and wandering minstrels, who sat before great fires, or roamed from village to village dispensing words and wisdom, drama and praise to an expectant crowd. These masters knew the power of a well turned phrase---the effect of well chosen words. If they were worth their salt, their listeners were enthralled and moved with emotion. Children trembled at their whispers and cries. Women fainted, and men were compelled to test their courage on the hunting grounds or the battlefields. Words were power, and those who wielded them were revered.

Eventually, someone put pen to paper---actually charred wood to rock---and writing was born. Today, we record those stories to be passed on in books, letters, even blogs. And still, if we’re worth our salt, the words are powerful. Men, women and children are both thrilled and challenged. But something has been lost in the quiet libraries and waiting rooms of our civilization. Where is the music, the cadence, the inflection? Now the responsibility for releasing those words to their fullest extent lies not with the writer/storyteller, but the one who reads what the storyteller wrote.

“Read my words.” It’s the cry of every writer. But a true story-teller has a deeper, more desperate cry: “Read my words---out loud.”

Monday, November 5, 2007

Blue Luna Poet

I used to write poetry. I had notebooks, full of verses---about teenage angst, love and heartache. I wrote about the daily life I felt down in my bones every day of high school. I even wrote poetry as a young newlywed, before the babies came. Love poems to my husband, lines about the future, my hopes and dreams.

I don’t write poetry much anymore. Not the way I used to---words crying out to be released by my pen. Now I write poems once in a blue moon, as part of a language exercise, or for the fun of simple wordplay. What does that mean anyway? When does the moon ever turn blue?

I love to read poetry, to let the sparse words roll off my mind’s tongue---powerful words, packed with both music and meaning—able to stand alone after the editing shears have snipped their last.

Today, my prose is filled with poetry, lines of metaphor and simile, filled with the music of the daily life I feel down in my middle aged bones. Maybe I should write poetry more often. The discipline of limiting words, weeding out the weak, half-hearted ones, is good for me. It reminds me to sharpen my sentences, prune my phrases and make sure the music in my prose has room to sing.

If I listen closely, maybe I can find the song again, crying to be freed by my pen.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Spinning a Spooky Web

Last night was, of course, Halloween, and though we don't go in for the blood-and-guts monsters, or the walking-dead-flavor of fear, we do enjoy exploring the creepy nature of---well, nature.

A year ago, we decorate the house with scary giant bird silhouettes, bird-tracks, and a feathery wreath. The soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds played in the background, greeting our costumed guests.

It made for great memories, and we were satisfied.

Until this year.

Charlotte's visit in late September inspired lots of creepy feelings as we watched her repair her orb-shaped-web---dispensing gauzy threads from her full-figured abdomen. When she caught something in her sticky trap, she scuttled like lightning along the strands, and wrapped it so quickly, a blink meant you missed it. We watched, fascinated, night after night as she went about her spidery business. Sarah was so creeped out, she had to watch from behind the glass of our front door.

When the time came to decorate for Halloween, the choice was simple. Fearsome spiders were our best option.

The spider webbing was sticky, stretchy, and fun. We wrestled it for two afternoons, getting it just right.

By the time we were finished, it looked like Charlotte had invited her brothers and sisters and cousins, and taken over the house.

We hot glued spiders of all sizes to the siding, and crafted egg sacs from styrofoam balls and white knee-highs.

I'm particulary proud of this wreath, I combined black flowers with orange and grey gauzy leaves, and spiders. Hot glue makes beautiful spider-web-like strands, but they're covered by the stretchy webbing you see above.

Here's a closeup of the wreath. Isn't it deliciously dreadful?

I'm sure the mailman appreciated our seasonal mailbox. He still delivered the mail. I wonder if he had nightmares because of these leggy critters? (Don't mind the dirt on my mailbox. Spiders are messier than you might think.)

Larry rigged up two large spiders to climb the door when it was opened. Sarah said she would tell herself every night upon coming home, that the spiders were gonna move---the spiders were gonna move---but they still gave her the jitters when they did.

This centerpiece is overrun with little black spiders, but we decided to not light the candles, because the queen spider built her lair right above the table.

Larry also rigged up this queen spider to lower herself on a thread as the door opened. It was the highlight for our trick-or-treaters.

She dropped fluidly from her perch on the ceiling,

and seemed to wave her legs as she settled into the web below.

She was a big hit!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where Can Brown Take You?

“What can Brown do for you?” No, wait, that’s another site…

I bought a new book recently, and I’ve used it daily, since. It’s called
“Flip Dictionary: For When You Know What You Want To Say But Can’t Think of the Word.” It’s not just a dictionary or thesaurus, because it categorizes words. When you can’t think of what they call the front of a ship, you don’t have to remember the word bow, you look up ship, and find a list of related terms like galleon, carrack, binnacle and bosun. The ribs are called futtocks. Now that’s an interesting word.

So, I was browsing this book shortly after purchase, and ran across a section listing eighty-one shades of brown. I fell in love! Brown is amazing, it’s rich and warm, earthy and---well, brown. Brown can take you so many places. Stroll into the kitchen with biscuit, oatmeal and toast. Lose yourself in the candy store with chocolate and nougat. The local coffee shop is full of brown, in the coffee, with mocha, hazel (nut) and almond---and the café au lait.

Of course, your spice rack is overflowing with brown, in shades of bay, cinnamon, maple sugar, nutmeg and peppercorn, while on the forest floor you might gather acorn, chestnut, and walnut. The forest’s trees range from mahogany to sandalwood and its creatures are beaver, fawn, fox, mink and otter. In the barn, look for brindle, leather, peat, rust and sorrel. And for the few remaining days of fall, don’t miss amber, autumn leaf, bronze or butternut.

Brown can take you anywhere.

Where will you go, today?

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Fall Cotillion

While I was busy with daily chores, Autumn dawdled and delayed his arrival in my Oklahoma town. I felt an occasional chill in the air, and remarked with surprise. I stared out my kitchen window at the steady rain that filled the gutters with streams of water, rushing onward past my gaze. I considered the still green trees all around me, and wondered what was keeping him. He was late by at least a week, and I had things to do, preparations to make for the holidays to come. Losing myself in activity, I neglected to watch for the signs of the seasons changing guard.

Driving downtown over the weekend, I began to note the colorful clues all around me. At the fall market, polished orange pumpkins in great piles took up residence next to buckets of mums spilling rust, gold and crimson over their rims. A row of Bradford Pear trees lined the avenue, and at the top of one branch a red leaf blew in the breeze. Like an invitation in a bright red envelope, it fluttered for my attention.

So, I dropped some items from my to-do list, and took some time to celebrate the appearance of my beloved friend. The trees bowed and waved at me, shaking out their colorful skirts as they prepared for the grand ball. The morning mist frolicked around my feet as I walked through the field at the neighborhood park. The air was heavy with the smell of smoke, and leaves chased my footsteps down the sidewalk. The breeze whispered in my ear, and playfully blew my hair across my face. I reveled in this romantic dance, however short-lived it might be.

Today my thoughts turn to mugs of hot tea and bowls of steaming stew as I gather wood for my outdoor fireplace, and stack it neatly on the porch. I intend to gather these last days to me like flowers, and enjoy them until they fade, dropping their petals in my hands. For all too soon, winter will lay its blanket of snow across the shoulders of my town, and I will be forced indoors by the frigid temperatures. Autumn will shortly slip away again, while I am preoccupied with life’s demands.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Young Bibliophilist

I taught myself to read at the age of four.

So, I cannot really recall my first book. Maybe if I telephoned my mother, she’d tell me yes, she has it written somewhere in my baby book, or she has a Polaroid of me sitting in the floor with it open on my lap; finger on the page, sounding out the words.

Or maybe she doesn’t remember either.

But I can imagine what that first book must have felt like. I get a hint of that same feeling with every new book I take down from the book store shelf or unwrap from the cardboard box the postman delivers.

Running my fingers over the flat cover and hearing the first creak of the spine as it opens both give me a thrill. The new book smell floats on the air and I lean close, breathing it up from the pages. I love to feel the weight of a book in my hand, to draw aside the textured end papers, like a curtain opening on a Broadway play.

Examining the typeface, the title page, and the illustrations, I smile in anticipation. This bundle of ink and pages, paper and print is my ticket on a long black train. As I read the very first words on the very first page, I am carried away by the clackety-clack rhythm and through the window I can see a whole new world.

This post is part of my
8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #8 coming soon.

The Queen Bea, You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Scribbled Script

I have horrible penmanship. It’s true. I’m not sure whether it stems from being left handed, or from my mind going too quickly to keep up with my pencil. You see, I read really rapidly, and talk very fast, and I write like I’m in a footrace. It’s always been that way, and my penmanship, I’m afraid, has suffered for it.

When I go to a coffee shop, or a waiting room, or the parking lot of the building where my husband works, I can’t take my computer with me, so I carry a messenger bag packed with writing how-to books, pens, pencils and a couple of lined journals. I sit quietly and write, write, write. Filling page after page with what looks like meaningless scribble, I don’t have time to slow down. I can’t risk letting myself question whether it makes sense or sounds good. That will come shortly in the editing stage. I scribble and scratch away, and hope that later I can read my own letters and words.

To tell you the truth, it’s not easy. I’ve dragged those notebooks out, and sat at my computer, trying to decipher what I wrote there. Is that an e, or an a? Is that break, or brink? Sometimes, for me, editing is just getting an idea of what I was thinking, and re-writing from there. I wonder sometimes, whether I miss the really good stuff, the one amazing, perfect phrase, because it turns out illegible and for the life of me, I can’t remember what it says. Oh well.

I often dream of words, phrases, and paragraphs. I write much more creatively asleep than I do alert. But sometimes, in that place between the two, I can grab those drifting words and sentences, and jot them down in the notebook that lives on my bedside table. Of course, I have to decipher them by the light of day, or they’re mangled and distorted, lost forever.

This penmanship problem didn’t start when I began to write in earnest, and it doesn’t show up only when I’m creating. I have unreadable shopping lists, and address books. I have dialed the wrong number countless times, because I can’t tell the difference between my nines and my fours. I guess I could work on it. Practice my printing, and cultivate my cursive. But, I’ve lived this long with horrible penmanship; and who is gonna read anything before I type it up on the computer, anyway, right?

Maybe someday, if it’s one final love-letter penned on linen paper, or a last will and testament written on the back of an envelope--on a deserted island--after my plane went down over the Bermuda triangle, I’ll slow down and distinguish my e from my c. After all, I don’t want to leave my children all the eats in my house, and have them neglect the cats after I’m gone. Now, that would be horrible.

This post is part of my 8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #7 coming soon.

P.S. TAG, Mrs. Pivec @ Golightly Place, You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Road My Pen Travels of its Own Accord


The following is a writing exercise from the book Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life.

Starting with "I remember", write until you come to a stopping place. Then start with "I remember", and go again.

It's a different kind of piece for me, with no forethought, no planning, just following my pen. As I watch my adult and almost adult children making choices, it's good to travel this road again, in my memory. The place where it takes me isn't so scary, after all.


I remember the sound of slamming lockers and the throng of people hurrying to class. We were grabbing books, passing notes, trying to beat the one-minute warning bell. I got caught kissing a guy enthusiastically outside a classroom during break, and was reprimanded by a favorite teacher. I don’t remember if the guy was named Tim or Todd.

I remember writing a poem about Wes and Jeanette. I used to watch Jeanette in class as she French-braided her long blonde hair in minutes. There was a joke in our group about cream-of-mushroom soup, and mushrooms being fungus, not vegetables. We passed that soup can from locker to locker for weeks. I recall eating in the cafeteria for lunch, or going off campus to Sonic. I sometimes sat through the lunch hour in Larry’s black pick-up truck listening to the same Survivor cassette tape over and again. I don’t remember which song it was or why it was so important to me.

I remember checking Larry’s locker between classes for a jacket, a note, or his keys. I remember he could always get out of Mr. Gay’s class with his laminated blue slip. I would look up at the math class windows from his truck outside and wonder if Larry was watching me. I consoled him time and again, when he and Lynne broke up---his mirror sun glasses masking his eyes and making him look to tough to care. I cried on his shoulder when Jason and I broke up, and later when the other guy from drama class dropped me. I don’t remember that guy’s name, either.

I remember T3, a trio of girlfriends who met in choir class. We attached ourselves to each other immediately. Tauna, Twyla and Tammy---we weren’t best friends, but we were close. We wrote the T3 symbol all over our notebooks and the notes we passed in the halls. I sang “Father’s Eyes” for Tammy during some kind of ceremony. Was it a rainbows thing? It had something to do with the Masons but, I don’t remember now.

I remember Twyla dated J.P. Blackwood. He was on the debate team, and was a really funny guy. He had a friend named Butch who was absolutely gorgeous. Butch sent me roses to school one day, and when he called me that night, he didn’t mention them, so I didn’t either. He later told me he drove to the school after dark, and peeked into the windows to find out if the office staff had neglected to deliver them. I recall kissing Butch on the front porch of my house on Madison, and the day he, J.P. and I met after school to go to the electronics store and check out the new, compact disc. I was amazed that this little silver thing would replace cassette tapes and records, and was almost indestructible. I remember riding to speech and debate tournaments, and Butch was there, on the team, on the bus. We always sat together and held hands for the whole trip. We didn’t date for long. I don’t remember why.

I remember working at Sonic just around the corner from my house---filling cups with soda, lining up tickets, and bagging onion rings. I hated cleaning the shake machine and walking on wet floors in my black tennis-shoes. I always called my mom to let her know I was walking home at midnight – the equivalent of three houses away. My clothes never smelled of anything but burgers and grease and milk from the shake mix. I enjoyed working with one manager in particular, Delbert Briscoe. He had a million stories to tell, and was a great boss. I used to make onion rings early on Saturday mornings, with the red-haired lady whose baby grandson was named Jeremiah. She called him Miah for short. I don’t remember her name.

I remember Larry used to show up on random weeknights, and order a Route 44 vanilla Pepsi, with extra vanilla, easy on the ice. One night he kissed me behind that Sonic, when I was supposed to be walking home in fifteen minutes. I can still feel the softness of his lips, and see the smile on his face. I asked him why he’d done it. He said he just wanted to see if he could. We never dated much in high-school, but he kissed me anyway. He still kisses me that way, sometimes. I don’t remember whether I was late getting home that night.

I remember my high school years. I made choices of my own, and came to regret some---like the night I lost my virginity in the front seat of a car. I thought I was in love with a boy. We dated for several months, though I don’t know whether he was faithful to me or not. I remember my mother saying that she didn’t think he was the one and the heartache when he finally cut me loose. I recall a notebook of his poems, and a black sweater, and sneaking off to the auditorium to be alone. I destroyed that book of poems in college. I don’t remember what happened to the sweater.

I remember the guilt that haunted me for years, because I chose attention from guys over God’s plan for me. I felt ashamed and dirty because I’d had sex outside of marriage. I decided I’d always have to settle for less than His plan, because I had messed everything up. But, I remember the day I realized that His mercy was enough to wash me clean, and give me back His best plan, again. I don’t remember all of the mistakes I made, but by His choice, God doesn’t either.

I think I’ll always remember that.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Branches on My Tree

Some of you may remember in my list of 8 Random Topics about Me preliminary post, that I listed the fact that I am the oldest child of three.

Actually, I’m the oldest of five, if you count the two sisters my mother didn’t give birth to---the two siblings who didn’t share my childhood.

It’s a strange thing, to have sisters who didn’t grow up in my home but are still a piece of my family. I grew up with three parents who were always a part of my childhood. We never said “step-sister” or “half-brother”. So, instead of a mom, dad and step-dad, I had one mother and two fathers, and I was very happy in spite of the divorce that came when I was nine. It was hard on my sister and me. But we adapted. And we were loved.

It wasn’t long before my second dad came along and married my mom. Soon after my little brother, Derek was born. But before Derek, my other dad brought us a sister, Angela. She only came on weekends, but she was just the cutest thing, and the three of us had so much fun. After a while, she stopped coming. We really missed her. A few years after Derek was born, my first dad remarried and had a baby girl, Natasha – the cutest little baby I’d ever seen. I was a teenager, and I loved babysitting for this beautiful, dark haired child.

So, I am the oldest of five.

My brother Derek, who will be thirty, next year, talks with me often about the wonder he finds in our family tree---the people who came before us with dark, thick hair, or freckles, or high foreheads, and how he can see them in himself, his sisters, and our children. How his love for the woods and the water must be a genetic predisposition, passed from a great-great-great-grandfather who spent his life among the trees, listening to the voice of the wind in the branches.

Derek is eleven years younger than I am. When he was very small, he started calling me Bubba. It’s an unusual nickname, borrowed from a little friend of his who used it for her older brother. Though he’s been six-foot-something for nearly fifteen years, he’s always been my little brother, It’s odd, now, to look at him and see a man who’s not only “full-growed”, but whose face is painted by the life he’s lived.

Derek is a man who stands for something, no matter the cost. He believes in love even as his heart is healing. He can make you laugh in about three seconds, and sing a song that would cut right through your soul. He’s a loyal friend, and someone I’m better for knowing. And even now, when the phone rings, and I hear, “Hey, Bubba, I love you.” I’m the happiest big sister alive.

Before Derek came along, there was always my little sister. Alissa is three years younger than I am, but I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t my playmate. We used to dump all of our toys out and scatter them about our tiny bedroom. Sitting in the empty toy box, we’d sail away on a ship to Africa, or drive a bus to school. We could make believe like no other kids we knew. Summer afternoons were spent at Mimi and Grandpa’s house playing outside with all the neighborhood kids. We’d put together a talent show and rehearse for hours. As twilight would fall, we’d drag the adults out onto the lawn and perform in the front porch spotlight. We were such a hit!

For my sister and me, things were always a competition. We argued over chores and the television. I remember throwing a peanut-butter sandwich at her in the heat of the moment, and a plastic dinner plate on another occasion. Somehow as we grew older, our friendship became more and more of a rivalry. I wasn’t thrilled when she joined the choir after me, or when she got a job at the Sonic where I worked. She didn’t like it when everyone called her my sister.

When I got married and started having kids, and Alissa soon did the same, we quickly realized how amazing it was to have each other as friends. My sister never met a stranger. She’s the kindest, most generous person I know. She’s an amazing mom and wife, and when her husband did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, I watched her hold everything together, manage the household, her job, and their finances, while sleeping alone every night in their bed, and praying every day he’d come home safely. Watching her through all of that, I knew---she was my hero.

Looking back, I still sometimes feel like the oldest child of three, and I often wonder what I missed out on with Angela and Natasha. As an adult, I’ve had the chance to get to know Natasha better. She’s a really beautiful and fun person. And though I don’t know Angela that well, I wish we’d all had the chance to share toy box adventures, and long conversations walking home from school together.

Childhood passes too quickly, and a kid can never have too many siblings to share it with.

This post is part of my 8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #6 coming soon.

Michelle @ Childlife, You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Plangent Din

The coffee shop is filled with noise. The music clangs and thumps in time to the voice of the woman at the next table. She’s unhappy. Her tire is damaged. The service center is backed up. She frets to the listener on the other end of her phone that her busy, important life is interrupted. Her voice pitching against the ceiling tiles, she deliberates changed plans for dinner, picking up the kids from school, bills to pay and frustration. How can her tires give her such trouble today, when she has no time or patience to spare?

The blender and coffee grinder spin in the background as baristas greet customers and distribute cups filled to the brim with flavored caffeine. In another corner, two men in business attire discuss claims and dynamics, golf and chaos theory. The man behind me sits stoically as the waves of noise break over us. Randomly, the chain he wears from his belt clinks against the chair leg---a persistent, albeit timid voice in the cacophony. Absorbed in his book, though he frowns in response to the woman’s tirade, he is, for the most part, weathering the storm.

Another woman, chatting on her cell phone, cuts across this sea of sound on her way out the door. Like a passing steamship, her voice grows louder and then fades as she sails out of sight. Finally, the woman with the ill-behaved tires ends her phone call, and in the quiet that follows her wake, the smaller voices chime in. The clink of ceramic cups and metal spoons, the rustle of a newspaper, and the melodic humming of a barista behind the counter all blend with the jazz cascading from the speakers in the ceiling. Occasionally, between the melody, the conversation, and the crashing of the ice machine, silence sounds its grave, tacit notes, and my pen scratch-scratch-scratches as it makes its journey across the page.

Too much silence can be a gaping, greedy beast, stalking me. Moving in to devour the creativity that pushes my pen, it threatens. But today, in this coffee shop, teeming with life and humanity, silence is a welcomed friend, who takes me by the hand and whispers truth in my ear. Even here, in this sea of jangling din, there is room for words to unite, grow and thrive. Beauty is born of clamor---moments before the headache begins.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

St. Vitus, I Salute You

It’s a generational thing – my reaction to spiders. I know, because I’ve heard the stories, I’ve seen the spectacles. I’ve danced the dance.

“It’s on me, it’s ON me, IT’S ON ME!”

It has been a creepy-crawly week.

My bathroom was invaded by a BIG black furry spider, and I danced. Even as he lay on his back, his legs curled in the throes of death, he was bigger than a half-dollar. My daughter has a spider bite on her hip. Ewwww! I can’t even think about how it might have crept into her bed at night, only to be squashed as she rolled over in her sleep—biting as its eight creepy legs twitched in agony. It makes me feel crawly-all-over. I’ve read and heard more spider bite stories in the past week than I care to recall.

And then there’s Charlotte.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a photo of my new friend Charlotte. It is, however, a very nice portrait of one of her family members. And since I didn’t want to disturb Charlotte---lest she jump on me, (she was a bit camera shy) I decided this photo, from Wikipedia, which is available under the GNU FDL, was the best alternative. Charlotte shares this spider’s coloring and—ahem---girth. I hope she’s not sensitive about her hips!

Charlotte is a fat voluptuous brown spider who has been living under the eave of my front porch for several weeks. She sleeps in the daytime, and at dusk, she goes to work. First, she repairs her giant web. Then she waits patiently near the top for the prey that she knows will come.

As soon as the porch light goes on, the moths and bugs begin to congregate. The crisp night air is evidently just right for a bug soirée. Charlotte is a smart hunter. She nimbly navigates her tightrope web, capturing and wrapping the unfortunate insects that find themselves trapped in its silk. I suppose she waits until the wee hours of the morning to drink their blood. I appreciate her thoughtful discretion. I prefer that she dine while I sleep.

Charlotte and I had a late-night discussion, and came to a verbal agreement.

If she stays on the porch, and doesn’t enter the house…

If she helps control the bug population that tries to enter my home through the front door, or the window over which her web is strung…

I won’t let the neighborhood kids poke her with sticks…

I won’t knock her to the ground with a broom and Stomp.Her.Guts.Out.

Because, generally speaking, the dancing, screeching, stomping of guts reaction is my family's pavlovian response to creepy-crawly spiders. My great grandmother used to call it her
Saint Vitus dance.

This reaction, as I said before, is a learned response. The women in my family were all fine instructors, I assure you. My childhood memories are crawling with bug related episodes that I will never forget --- mostly because of the way my mother handled them.

When I was but a wee child, before my kindergarten days, I recall the morning that my mother found a tarantula in the bathtub. Evidently this creature had crawled up the drainpipe, like the itsy-bitsy spider of children’s sing-a-long fame.

Only this baby was neither itsy nor bitsy.

My mother, true to her heritage, made what her children now call her ‘satan noise’ --- a deep, guttural bellow of pure terror --- then twitched and ticked her way to the bedroom, where she leapt onto the bed and planted her feet firmly in the mattress yelling for my father to DO SOMETHING!

I can’t remember the first time I heard my mother tell the story of the day she stopped rush-hour traffic. But if I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times. She was driving our little red Volkswagen downtown one afternoon, when she was suddenly overcome with arachnophobia. She slammed on her brakes, threw the car into park, and jumped out of her driver-side door, exhibiting that same twitching, flapping dance.

A man on a white horse in a white truck came to her rescue – He was stuck in the traffic jam, what else could he do? He asked whether she was having engine trouble, and she replied, “No. There’s a spider in my car.” The beast had had the nerve to drop from her sun-visor to her steering wheel, right in front of her eyes. Brave spider. The kind gentleman deftly removed the offender from my mother’s car, and sent her on her way, while drivers around them cheered.

There was a time when my mother and father were headed down a country road in their old pickup truck. The truck had those wing-vent windows, the kind that push out at an angle and funnel the air back into the cab. My mother lovingly laid her hand on my father’s leg. He suddenly yanked the truck over to the roadside, put it in park, and jumped out of the cab. He yanked down his pants, in front of God and everybody, and sure enough, there on his thigh was a bee sting. The pressure of my mother’s hand had panicked the poor creature, and it had defended itself as only a bee can.

After a careful search for the bee, a moment to dress himself, and a few calming breaths, my dad got back in the truck, and they continued on their way. A while later, mom felt something hit her smack in the middle of the chest – something that felt rather buggish, and bee-like. She panicked, and flapped and beat and clawed her bosom until she had angry red marks all over herself. Once again, dad pulled over to the roadside, and got her calmed down. There in the floorboard was the body of a dead bee – the same one that had died in a battle with my father’s leg and my mother’s hand. Its body had lain on the floor for a while, until a particularly strong draft from the wing-vent windows picked it up and hurled it at my unsuspecting mother’s chest.

The Saint Vitus Dance that day was a clumsy partnership, performed by my parents for the entertainment of fellow country-road travelers.

I could tell you more stories about bugs like the talking roach my aunt found in her new Texas home.

I could share tales about snakes and mice and even a raccoon that inspired the St. Vitus Dance.

But I won’t. Instead, I leave you with evidence that the St. Vitus phenomenon is not only hereditary. It can be passed between friends.

Yes Ma’am.

Across the miles, and mega-html-byte-world-wide-ram-dsl-particles of the internet, St. Vitus can be transferred.

It is true.

Don’t believe me? Check out this
lovely autumn tale, told by my dear bloggy friend, Kari.

And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hungry for Ink, Letters and Words

I have an irrational love for empty notebooks with lovely fabric or leather covers.

There's just something about them--filled with blank pages--waiting. They call to me. They're hungry for a ink, for letters and words. I understand that longing. Being full of good intentions, I rescue them from emptiness and lovingly write on the first few pages with my favorite pen.

I have dozens of them, in my desk, on my bookshelf, under my bed. They were empty once. Now they're not. Not empty, not full, just used; and tossed aside when another, beautiful and new one entered my life. I'm not proud of it--the orphaned journals left in my impetuous wake.

They were each assigned a purpose in the past. I let them hold my secrets, track my reading, catch my random thoughts. Some I carried to church, and recorded sermon notes on their pages. Others I used to brainstorm projects or jot down phone numbers, websites, and addresses I didn't want to forget. Some began as the keepers of my poetry -- written before I got too busy to see the world in rhyme.

Most of them are gorgeous. It's not the spiral college-ruled notebooks that capture my affection, but the textured, gold edged affairs. I can stand in the journal section at Barnes and Noble, mooning about for hours---fingering the pages, stroking the covers, wondering if I can justify the expense.

But I've seen the error of my ways--the effect of my selfish, short-lived love. I've learned to re-appropriate these orphaned cast-offs. Once in a while, I dig one out and carry it in my bag, to jot notes in when I'm out observing life - I scribble on the tattered pages, dog ear the corners, and doodle in the margins. Later at home, I transfer those notes to my computer, and write. Soon the notebook pages will be filled, and the journal won't feel so neglected.

Then I can go to Barnes and Noble and buy the Italian leather journal with cream colored pages I've had my eye on, or the red Scrivo leather journal with the pen closure, or maybe the embossed Italian leather journal with the distressed finish...

This post is part of my 8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #5 coming soon.

P.S. TAG, Mamaglop You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Am Addicted to Color-Coding

It must be the administrator in me---the organizing junkie---the order freak.
I do love color coding.

Take me to Staples, or Office Depot, or Wal-Mart in the paper aisle, and I could spend many dollars on multi-packs of highlighters in every hue, boxes of colored paper clips and thumb tacks. I have sticky-notes in dark blue, lime green, fuschia, goldenrod and violet. I can walk by a display of those colored sticky flags that show people where to sign their contracts, and suddenly I have trouble breathing; and don't even get me started on colored Sharpie permanent markers. Oh, my lands!

When my kids were younger, everything from their book-covers, to their pencils and notebooks matched. The girls each had blue or green, while the boy had red---everything.

Even today, on my “great-white-board” where I track my writing projects, each section has its own colored 'dry-erase' marker, and matching sticky notes. In my monthly bills filing cabinet, the hanging files are color-coded according to which bill is which. The dry erase calendars in my office (one for each child, and one for my husband) are color coded red, green, brown and blue with matching markers, thumb tacks and magnets. The coat hangers in my laundry room are color-coded. One shade for each member of the family.

Yes, I know, I have issues.

A while back I discovered a new kind of 'color-coded' addiction. It's called color-coded poetry.

Here's a sample:
I love the fire of red a tint of emotion
the sun orange and yellow
shining its warmth on me
leafy shades of green
making me feel alive
trees outside my window and blue afternoon skies filling me with peace
late evening sunset orange a blaze fires within my spirit
inky darkness of nighttime purple wraps me in blankets of hope
tomorrow’s sunrise pink as a newborn babe
this new day brings possibility
I can sing a melody of pure joy to celebrate
hope springs to shout life
a rainbow
the colors that paint my world

You read color-coded poetry four times. First, you read it all the way through, with no regard for colors:

I love the fire of red a tint of emotion
the sun orange and yellow shining its warmth on me
leafy shades of green making me feel alive
trees outside my window and blue afternoon skies filling me with peace
late evening sunset orange a blaze fires within my spirit
inky darkness of nighttime purple wraps me in blankets of hope
tomorrow’s sunrise pink as a newborn babe
this new day brings possibility I can sing a melody of pure joy to celebrate
hope springs to shout life a rainbow the colors that paint my world

Next you read the first section, or everything on the left that has the same color:

I love the fire of
the sun orange
leafy shades of
trees outside my window
late evening sunset
inky darkness of nighttime
tomorrow’s sunrise
this new day brings possibility
hope springs to shout life

Thirdly, you read the section that runs right down the center. It's usually a second color, but in this case I used the whole rainbow. I couldn't help myself:

and yellow
and blue
I can sing
a rainbow

You'll notice, (and please forgive me) this section of the poem isn't my original work. It's a song that harkens back to my preschool days. Remember it? It fits nicely in the middle of this color-coded mess splendor.

Finally, you read the section on the right, set apart by the third color:

a tint of emotion
shining its warmth on me
making me feel alive
afternoon skies filling me with peace
a blaze fires within my spirit
wraps me in blankets of hope
as a newborn babe
a melody of pure joy to celebrate
the colors that paint my world

Writing color-coded poetry is even more fun than reading it! No really, it's true. The challenge is to meld together three poems and come up with a final product that is really four separate poems.

Come on, give it a try!

And in case you're headed for Staples, or whatever you call your local office supply store, pick up a multi-colored pack of sticky notes for me...I'm getting kinda low and I’m finding it hard to breathe!


This post is part of my 8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #4 coming soon.

P.S. TAG, MidnightMom You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Leaves and Pages are Turning!

Yes, my friends, the time has come. Autumn is here, and in celebration I plan to Fall Into Reading! A huge thank you goes out to Katrina over at Callapidder Days, for giving me the push I needed to tame my TBR pile once again. I Sprang into Spring with the Spring Reading Thing Challenge, and had so much fun, I can't tell you.

So, once again, in the interest of reducing the many piles of unread books that live in my home, I have spent a great deal of time and thought choosing which books I'll share these glorious autumn days with. They are a different bunch from my spring set. Fewer fiction, more reality. But, that's a good thing. They all come highly recommended, and I can't wait to dive in, and then share the best ones with you, here!

First on my shelf is Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke. The opening paragraph on page 1 reads as follows:

"Twilight was gathering, and Orpheus still wasn't here. Farid's heart beat faster, ans it always did when day left him alone with the darkness. Curse that Cheeseface! Where could he be? The birds were falling silent in the trees, as if the approach of night had stifled their voices, and the nearby mountains were turning black. You might have thought the setting sun had singed them. Soon the whole world would be black as pitch, even the grass beneath Farid's bare feet, and the ghosts would begin to whisper. Farid knew only one place where he felt safe from them: right behind Dustfinger, so close that he could feel his warmth. Dustfinger wasn't afraid of the night. He liked it."

I read Inkspell's prequel, Inkheart during the SRTC. It took up residence on the bookshelf in my heart, and will probably remain there until my future grandchildren are grown and reading it to their young ones. I am sure Inkspell will be just as amazing, and so, it tops my list!

Second on my shelf is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. The first paragraph of chapter two says:

"The first useful concept is the idea of short assignments. Often, when you sit down to write, what you have in mind is an autobiographical novel about your childhood, or a play about the immigrant experience, or a history of---oh, say---say women. But this is like trying to scale a glacier. It's hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back."

I am already part-way into this book, and I am loving it. The practical tips Ms. Lamott shares are fundamental, and at the same time, very empowering. I look forward to finishing this book, and then referring to it again and again as I write my story.

The next book on my shelf is The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success, by Andy Andrews. Just before chapter one, the author opens with a very powerful quote:

"In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass, bodies disappear but spirits linger to consecrate ground for the vision place of the soul. And reverent men and wome from afar and generations that know us not and that we know not of, shall come here to ponder and to dream and the power of the vision shall pass into their souls. --Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 1828-1914"

Published by Nelson Books, and recommended by John Maxwell and Barbara Johnson, this book may just have a profound affect on the way I fulfill my dream.

The first paragraph on page 48 of Writing Down the Bones reads:

"Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there's another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and the details."

The first paragraph in chapter one of Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life begins:

"For fifteen years now, at the beginning of every writing workshop, I have repeated the rules for writing practice. So, I will repeat them again here. And I want to say why I repeat them: Because they are the bottom line, the beginning of all writing, the foundation of learning to trust your own mind. Trusting your own mind is essential for writing. Words come out of the mind."

Both books come highly recommended, and I've been stealing peeks at the first one for several days, now. It looks to be another practical and useful reference book for my desk. I'm sure the second one will be just as valuable.

The sixth book on my shelf is The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. The first paragraph of chapter one says:

"In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from the great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the tops of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on,they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds."

The City of Ember is a young adult book that will hopefully be a great escape into fiction. I can't wait to open the cover and lose myself in the pages.

Seventh on my shelf is Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. The front flap of the dust jacket begins with:

"I don't talk much about those days. Never did. I don't know why---I worked on circuses for nearly seven years, and if that isn't fodder for conversation, I don't know what is. Actually, I do know why: I never trusted myself. I was afraid I'd let it slip. I knew how important it was to keep her secret, and keep it I did---for the rest of her life, and then beyond. In seventy years, I've never told a blessed soul."

Set in the Depression, this novel hints at an enchanting tale about life and love in the 1930s. This one's gonna be good!

Eighth on my shelf is The Children of Hurin, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I am a Tolkien fan---one of many. Opening the book at random, I find I am intrigued by the following paragraph on page 48.

"On the morning of T'urin's birthday, H'urin gave his son a gift, an Elf-wrought knife, and the hilt and the sheath were silver and black; and he said: 'Heir of the House of Hador, here is a gift for the day. But have a care! It is a bitter blade, and steel serves only those that can weild it. It will cut your hand as willingly as aught else." And setting T'urin on a table, he kissed his son, and said: 'You overtop me already, son of Morwen' soon you will be as high on your own feet. In that day many may fear your blade.' "

I was thrilled to find that Tolkien's son edited this one, and can't wait to visit Middle Earth, once again.

The ninth and final book on my shelf for this challenge is The Center of Everything, by Laura Moriarty. The front flap of the dust jacket reads:

"Evelyn Bucknow is living with her single mother, Tina, in a small apartment outside Kerrville, Kansas. Though Tina is warm and loving, she is still young and immature herelf, prone to making hotheaded decisions that help create a precarious financial situation for her increasingly anxious daughter. When Tina's failed romance with her married boss leaves her jobless and desperate, Evelyn turns to her grandmother in an effort to distance herself from what she perceives as her mother's irresponsibility, immorality, and plain bad luck. But even the firmest convictions can crumble over time. As Evelyn winces her way through the trials of adolescence, she comes to realize that fortune, like people, can't always be categorized as good or bad. A curious student and a careful observer of her teachers, she learns the hardest lessons when confronted by the unexpected; a birth, a death, and the sting of unrequited love help Evelyn discover that luck is a tricky business, and a humbled compassion for others may be the greatest blessing of all."

This one sounds like a real coming-of-age story. I think it will round out my fall afternoons, quite nicely.

So, if you're a book-lover, and you're looking for a great way to while away Autumn's short stay, head on over to Katrina's place, and join the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2007!

See you there!

P.S. You can read BOOK REVIEWS written by participants in this challenge!

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