Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Real Deal

In so many “mommy blogs” the stunning photographs and whimsical little anecdotes all seem to tell the same story: My family is so beautiful and my life is so wonderful. There are never any blips on our radar and we move in a landscape of neverending joy and inspiration… but this is a ruse.

You don’t have to be a very astute observer of the human experience to recognize that real life involves more than just hitting the high notes. It has been a long time since I studied music theory but if I remember correctly there are not only low notes, but sharp ones as well.

So I was not surprised to find that several people, friends who have known me through many trials, wrote in response to my September post to ask, is this really true? Do you really love where you live?

To these I very humbly offer the following addendum:

I am a traditionalist by nature. I like to wear sweaters and drink coffee, warm; and leaves that change color in the fall; and pumpkins and Christmas trees and trees that grow up tall in my backyard. I am an ocean and not a mountain girl.

But I live in the desert where fall comes on late and lasts only an instant (Saturday's high was 103); where instead of trees, Agave and golden barrel and saguaro cacti greet me when I walk outside my door; where lizards and snakes, coyotes and quail, jack rabbits and bobcats (really) and stink bugs and javelina all run wild in my neighborhood.

By 7 o’clock in the morning it is so bright you would swear it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

But this is where I live.

And where I live is beautiful. And I really do love it.

Besides, if we always get exactly what we want in life then we miss out on a lot of the adventure. Wasn’t it Marcel Proust who said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes?”

Arizona is where God has planted me. And as a seed I can either settle in and absorb the nutrients or (mad suicidal effort) kick away the soil. I spent too much time trying the latter anyway and discovered it is a wasted effort.

It may be warm, but there is so much – like the sky and the mountains and the light of early mornings – that is spectacularly beautiful. Besides, as this picture so perfectly illustrates, no skies are cloudless … there is always something obscuring the view.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Alice in Candyland

This morning we planned to attend a short children's production of "Alice in Wonderland" in a nearby outdoor shopping mall. All day yesterday I prepped Audrey, telling her we were going to see a play and there would be kids in it just like her and wouldn't it be fun to wear a bow in your hair.

This morning she was excited... "We going to see Alice in Wonderland, Mom?" Yes, I told her. "Oh, that'll be really kinda fun, Mom!" Yes, I said, it will.

We arrived just in time and hurried to take our seats. She saw her friend Ella and sat down beside her. The moment the play began I looked back and forth from Audrey to the actors - Alice in her blue dress talking to a garden flower - eager to see Audrey's reaction. But within minutes, inexplicably, she began to cry, "Mommy!" I scooped her up and away and asked what was wrong. She didn't like it? "No!" Was she scared? "Yes!" Why? "Be-cause," she whimpered, "I wanted to go see candyland!"

It struck me that Audrey had most likely conflated "Wonderland" and "Candyland" - a game we have been playing frequently in the last two weeks. Here was Alice but where was all the glittering candy?

Thankfully (regrettably?) we only had to travel a few hundred yards to AJs Fine Foods where they offer their own version of Candyland on aisle number 3.

Chocolate anyone?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Babe on Quilt II

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Big Girl Bed

There's nothing like having children to mark the passage of time... Audrey, once - just a moment ago, it seems - my baby, is now my big girl.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

it's the little things...

...that matter most

~Jessie Willcox Smith, "Mother's Morning"

In my world these 'littlest things' made news today:

1. Evangeline rolled over - from back to front and front to back
2. Audrey went to sleep in her 'big girl bed'
3. Dutch cleaned the kitchen!!! (not a 'first,' but still deserving of triple exclamations)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

a friend is someone who likes you

This gorgeous little poem of a book - written and illustrated by the acclaimed Joan Walsh Anglund - makes a powerful (if diminutive) argument in favor of friendship and is currently on my short list of favorite things. After thumbing through it in a bookstore I bought it for my friend on the occasion of her '29th' birthday - which is tomorrow!

My favorite passage: "[Sometimes] think you don't have any friends. Then you must stop hurrying and rushing so fast... and move very slowly, and look around carefully, to see someone who smiles at you in a special way... or a dog that wags its tail extra hard when you are near... or a tree that lets you climb it easily... or a brook that lets you be quiet when you want to be quiet. Sometimes you have to find your friend."

C'est vrai.

To all the friends (online and off) whom I have found in precisely this manner - here's to you!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The view from my front yard...

It's taken me some time but I can say with full confidence: I love where I live.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

friends are like flowers... no one is the same

"A tree can be a different kind of friend. It doesn't talk to you, but you know it likes you, because it gives you apples... or pears... or cherries..." or, sometimes, a place to gaze in wonder (Joan Walsh Anglund).

Monday, September 14, 2009


It was late afternoon, the last day of our vacation, when Dutch and I ventured out with the girls to walk the beach. North of Manzanita, at the very tip of the coastline, sits a large mountain covered in dense pines. Ages and ages ago some coastal Indian tribe named it Neah-kah-nie which means “hole in the sky” - a fitting description because on a clear day that is precisely what Neah-kah-nie does: it cuts a mammoth hole in the sky.

But wait one moment, I can hear someone saying, I thought there were no clear days in Oregon – isn’t that why they call it the rainy Northwest? This is an exaggeration. For although the landscape is often crowned with gray drizzle, the weather – particularly out on the coast – is more often fickle. In a given day, conditions alternate from dense fog, rain, and cloud patches, to radiant, beaming sun, to rain again.

Thus, whereas that morning – in the earnest sunshine – I had been able to see Neah-kah-nie as clearly as the nose on my face, now it was blanketed almost completely in a dense fog, as though a cloud had – quite miraculously – fallen from the sky and swallowed it whole.

If I didn’t know the mountain was there, I thought, I never would have ‘seen’ it.

It struck me, just then, how little perception has to do with reality. It is the weather which alters my ability to see the mountain, I thought, but the mountain does exist – as surely as the raindrops on my shoulder, or the sun on my face. No wonder sociologists talk of ‘cultural climates’ for just as the fog alters my perception of the mountain, so the culture in which I live alters my perception of the world, hurling some things into the foreground of my consciousness while casting others backward into oblivion.

It is somewhat astonishing, then, that there are any ‘well-educated’ persons – in our day and age – who still dare to believe in God.

“Persons of faith,” as we are sometimes called, cannot be responding to the consensus of mainstream culture which persistently insists that we are, if not victims of hallucination, then intellectual lightweights unwilling to grapple with the hard truths of science and seeking, instead, to satisfy some insatiable need for security and solace in a cruel, chaotic world.

But more than a need for solace (for faith, in my view, does not function as an opiate), I would argue that we are responding to something else – some indescribable sense that “this is not all.”

As the afternoon faded into the pale light of early evening, I watched Neah-kah-nie re-emerge slowly from the fog. Isn’t that a bit like how faith in God is born? You catch a whiff of something in the air so you look up and – at first, see nothing. But then, you’re not so sure, it, whatever “it” is, comes round again; you strain and look until – there! just there! – you see behind the thinning layers of fog, something emerging out of the darkness.

Indeed, I thought, Neah-kah-nie is a fair metaphor for Christ. There He sits at the tip of my proverbial town – of all that comprises my reality – and yet I often do not, cannot see Him. Instead, He is obscured, so often covered by clouds.

Meanwhile I walk up and down the sandy coastline of my life, scurrying here and there, gathering shells, filling pockets, emptying buckets, building and smashing and re-shaping sand castles, exhausted, but never looking up, never stopping long enough to squint and try to see him through the veil.

Perhaps my greatest sin is one of forgetting or an unwillingness to remember (I’m not sure which) that all I have to do to commune with Him is approach the mountain and be still.

But the mountain sits there, waiting for me. Even more, it beckons to me and transfigures itself now and then so that I see it glimmer in the sunset and flash out across the water, all the time begging to be climbed.

The question is, will I, when all it takes is putting one dumb foot before the other?

I want to. More and more, I want to. I will try.

This vision of Neah-kah-nie was my ‘gift from the sea,’ the thing I have carried home with me, in more than the pockets of my beach clothes, and which I hope will remain, when all else has been put away and forgotten.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009


While vacationing in Oregon I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, “Gift from the Sea,” a series of essays first published in 1955 in which the author attempts, among other things, to formulate – in elegant, insightful prose - a method for achieving what she calls ‘a state of grace,’ where the inner and outer person are at perfect peace.

She insists – rightly, I think – that we women do not so much resent the fact that we spend a substantive amount of our lives giving, but that our giving, because it is so varied and so often undocumented, sometimes feels purposeless. It is for this reason, she suggests, that we often become drained, deflated, and despondent, victims of what Ms. Holly Golightly would call 'the mean reds.'

By way of chronicling the cluttered and fragmented nature of most women’s lives, Lindbergh contends that in order to achieve this ‘state of grace,’ we need, above all, time to be alone – either to be contemplative and creative, or simply just ‘to be.’ “Eternally, woman spills herself away,” she writes, “in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim” (p. 38).

Lindbergh asserts that in order to “fill the pitcher” or feed the soul amidst its myriad activities we should aspire to be internally still as “the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities” is still; and that such inner stillness can only be accomplished by means of solitude.

A beautiful idea, undoubtedly; but is this the way to keep the axis still? For a time, certainly. But solitude for its own sake is worth little, I think. One can spend a solitary 60 minutes of every day knitting, gardening, cooking, painting, exercising, reading, or any one of an infinite number of other things and find a certain degree of enhanced tranquility; can, indeed, develop a more serene disposition. But does an improved outward disposition also improve the inner fabric of one’s soul? Does it bring the inner and outer man into perfect harmony? And is it equivalent to living in a ‘state of grace?’

I'm not so sure.

Lindbergh’s election to use the term “state of grace” is interesting for although she doesn’t use it in a distinctly Christian sense, it stems from Christian theology. The theological definition of the word grace (charis) is: “unmerited favor.” In simplest terms, God has bestowed His unmerited favor upon mankind by giving us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, His Son (Eph. 2.8, Rom. 3.21-25). Thus, from a Christian perspective, to live "in grace” or in a “state of grace” must, if it means anything at all, imply that one is living in a new reality whereby Christ is the light by which we see and experience the world.

To borrow and modify Lindbergh’s metaphor, solitude is, more accurately I think, but one of the many spokes emanating from what should be, what is, man’s only Hope of achieving any kind of lasting inner peace. It is a means and not an end; and to mistake it for the solution to all our disordered-ness, is, as Dutch would say, a bit like trying to cut down a tree by pulling its leaves off.

For it isn’t solitude alone that is going to cure our frenzied-ness, despair, and inner malaise – it is solitude spent with Christ.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The EVIE Equation

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welcome Home "Birthday Party"

We were sitting on the runway, about to take off, when Audrey proclaimed for the thousandth time that she wanted to "go see Ella and Kate now." To curb another paroxysm of tears, I suggested that we throw ourselves a birthday party upon our arrival home, thus commencing an elaborate discussion about just what we would do... the cake we would make (angel food, Daddy's favorite), the songs we would sing (Happy Birthday, of course), and exactly how many candles we would need (13, to spell h-a-p-p-y b-i-r-t-h-d-a-y).

Yesterday we succeeded in completing all necessary preparations and - the moment Dutch dragged his tired body through the door - the festivities began. Here is a catalogue of our party in pictures: