Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Olive Branch

I picked for my devotions this year to spend “A Year with C.S. Lewis” and

“Morning and Evening” with Charles Spurgeon. It’s proving to be a good choice.

Spurgeon wrote an entry about the dove that brought an olive branch back to the ark. He called the olive branch “the memorial of the past day, and a prophecy of the future.”

In the instance of the olive branch, the dove returned to Noah a souvenir of its day. Just as we shop carefully on our travels for a memento to bring back to a friend to give her a sense of what we have experienced, so the olive branch recalled an encounter that pleased the dove. The branch represented firm ground and life-giving bounty to the hand that reached out from the sea-tossed vessel to receive it.

Spurgeon challenges his readers to bring home pleasing records that pledge loving kindness. He suggests that we present to our Lord grateful acknowledgements of tender mercies which we experience as new every morning and fresh every evening.

What a lovely thought. I will look for the olive branches in each day that remind me that God loves and cares for me, memorials that testify to His Presence and His promise to sustain me. Like the dove, I will bring my daily souvenirs before my Lord. We will admire them together.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

RIP Ford Taurus

Yesterday my five-year-old Ford Taurus gave up its engine on the road to Sonora. Just as we passed Sierra Motors in Jamestown, Joel remarked as how he’d heard that was a great place to buy a car. I relaxed into idle conversation and commented on how well our Taurus was running now. The alarming smell of engine oil that sent us to the auto repair shop last week seemed to be gone. The moment I said that, the oil pressure light came on, something clunked under my feet and the car expired half a mile passed the dealership.

We had it towed to AutoTech where it received last rites. A couple of quick calls on a dying cell phone located a friend in the checkout counter at Safeway who came and collected us and all the worldly goods that had collected in the crevices of my young car. I was surprised to find I owned so many flashlights and that they’d all found a home in the car.

We shed no tears for the untimely death of my Taurus. It’s just a car. Still, the thought of abandoning her in a parking lot, a perfect body with an engine that just stopped turning makes me sad. Soon, a wrecker will come for her and dump her where vultures will rip parts from her body. Maybe it would be more comforting to think of her as an organ donor, giving new life to other cars with failing parts.

She was only five years old! Something gave out inside her engine. It’s rare the mechanic said, but it happens. It’s just bad luck.

Last night, we went to Sierra Motors and ordered a 2011 Buick Regal; white, like my little Taurus, but with upgrades -- cashmere colored leather seats, a sun roof and a navigation system. We’ll get to take her home next week.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


No amount of tying and retying the short strings on the smock would hold the fabric across my naked breasts, so I finally gave up, held the garment in place by anchoring my elbows to my sides and reached for a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. The perky radiologist came around the corner with my chart and said,

“What are you reading?” I held up the book for her to see. That instantly exposed my left breast but she was more interested in the book.

“Are you a writer?


“Come with me.”

In the room, I dropped the smock to my waist. We are both women, but she said,

“Oh no,” and pulled the smock over my right shoulder, leaving my left breast in line as the first candidate. She lifted it and plopped it down like meat on a tray. Then she threw a lever, flattened it and said,

“I just read the best book! Hold your breath now.”

Breathlessly, I waited for the synopsis.

“The Red Leather Diary, have you read it? You can breathe now.”

“I haven’t,” I exhaled. She adjusted her equipment, put my right one in a sidewise vise-like grip and retreated.

“A New York columnist lives in an apartment building. Hold your breath. One of the apartments is being renovated. The contents of the apartment have been thrown in a dumpster. She’s curious to see what got thrown away. She goes through the dumpster and finds a red leather diary and reads it. The woman who wrote the diary lived in the 1930s. She wrote about her life and it was so fascinating the author, I forget her name, wrote a book about it. You can breathe now.”

“Was it a good book?” I ask, gasping for air. She repeats the drill for my left breast.

“I didn’t want the book to end. That’s how much I liked it.”

My right breast is now sandwiched between sheets of plexiglass. She seems to be applying more pressure to this side. I focus on the music that is playing in the room. It’s not your usual massage room ocean-waves-lapping-the-shore soundtrack. This sounds like the music wafting through the lobby of an upscale resort hotel in the tropics.

“Gee, I feel like when I’m done here, I should go get a margarita,” I said.

“Good idea!” she said. “You’re done.”

I like this woman.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Witchy woman

There are occult, sports and finance definitions for the witching hours, but normal people don’t need Wikipedia to define the witching hour for them. It’s the period of time between 3 and 4 am when you lie wide awake, wishing for sleep.

It's also that period of time between 3 and 4 pm when the kids or experience a drop in blood sugar levels that brings out their inner nasty ogre. They flail, they whine, they really do appear to be possessed. It’s the time you abandon your diet and reach for every evil thing you can stuff in your mouth.

Donovan wrote a song about the witching season. The lyrics are part of my brain DNA, yet their meaning escapes me. When I’m perplexed about something – like why I’m awake at 3 am or who turned these kids into Godzilla – I get a brain buzz:

You’ve got to pick up every stitch.

Mmm, must be the season of the witch
I’m a knitter. I know that if I drop a stitch, the whole piece of work unravels. If I miss something in whatever mystery I’m trying to solve, I will never see the truth.

A witch is classically defined as an ugly hag with malignant, supernatural powers; alternatively she is an attractive woman with allure. As an archetype, her truth has two sides, evil and benign.

Judeo-Christian tradition condemns the practice of witchcraft, most often referred to as sorcery and most specifically focused on the sin of idolatry. Do I have “seasons of the witch?” Oh yes.

As sure as the seasons come and go, I will vacillate between that which merely distracts and that which has the power to undo me. Exodus 22:18 cautions us not to suffer a witch to live. When things go wrong, rather than employing this verse to justify whatever witch hunt is de rigueur stop and count your stitches. Maybe while you are lying awake at 3 am.

What have you let slide that is affecting the shape of things? What have you picked up that you should have left alone? Are there holes in what you’re doing? Unevenness an extra stitch may have caused? Pick up the spiritual practice you dropped. Drop the unnecessary activity that threatens your perfect design.

About the baby Godzillas, I haven’t a clue. And, what possessed me to put a brownie in my mouth after I’d been good all day? Must be the season of the witch.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

This old house

My mother’s house is on the market. It was our family home for over 60 years, but I think of it as my mother’s house. She designed it to suit her needs. Sinks and counters were scaled to her tiny frame. It worked for me. Not so well for my father and my sister.

Her house was her refuge, protected all around by ten-foot fencing. The fence prevented automobile lights from shining in the windows of a house set into a cul-de-sac. It also discouraged human traffic. That’s why it was there.

A small house on a large lot, my mother found sanctuary in her backyard among the raised vegetable beds. There, the Early Girls, rainbow chard, lemon cucumbers and a bountiful cornucopia of their sisters slept and grew and came to our table.

She watered the birds and fed the squirrels until they got too rude. She disdained automatic sprinklers. For as long as I can remember, she was always moving a hose. She knew what wanted weekly deep watering and what required daily sprinkling. To her, watering was a meditation. To me, it was a chore.

Her main occupation was collecting recipes. She filled 60 binders with recipes – good ones. I threw them all away. I’m not proud of that. Binders rot and recipes, even the old ones, are all online. But I now I realize it was a life’s work. One of those occupations you can’t take with you.

Once in awhile, I open a book that belonged to her and a piece of memo paper drops out with a recipe copied on it in her beautiful handwriting. I wonder what this meant to her. She had beautiful serving dishes suited to every type of cuisine, but she and my father rarely entertained.

I think the beginning of the end was when my father could no longer help her in the kitchen. Meal preparation and enjoyment was their private worship.

Most of the fence has come down. The Japanese maple yanked from its place in antiquity; the dogwood tree leveled in favor of grass and bark; only the gardenia and camellia bushes survived the facelift.

I pray whoever buys my mother’s house will find sanctuary of their own sort.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Clothes Story

I walked into my closet and announced to my clothes,
“I’m going to Arizona for a month!”
The fleece vests immediately got in a huddle and muttered,

“She’s not taking us.”
The church clothes hung proudly on their hangers and said,

“She’ll still go to church. She’ll take us.”
The sundress contingent peeked out from where they’d been shoved back behind the church clothes and laughed,

“I don’t think so.”
Then they flaunted their airy skirts and sleeveless construction. The lovely sweaters slumped in the corner.

“We’ve hardly been worn. It’s just now turning cold. We’ve so looked forward to a trip to the mall to see the new styles. Why would she want to go to Arizona in the winter? Now we’ll never get worn.”
The clam diggers slid looks at the short sleeved tees and smirked,

“We’re goin’ to Ar – uh – zo – na.”
The tees sang,

“We’re going too,” and they began to pair up.
The sandals rattled in their boxes high on the shelf, but the underwear remained quiet in the drawer,
“We never get a break. What difference does it make to us whether it’s the snowy mountains or the sunny southwest? We never see daylight!”
"Don’t get too excited,” I said. “I’m not going until March.”

They all relaxed, except for the designer jeans, whose bid for attention is constant.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January Snow

A fresh snow in January spreads like hope for the new year. Like a new resolution, it allows the eye to skip over distractions buried beneath – the rotting leaves of past seasons, the new buds of the season to come. They are there, like the seeds of weeds that will plague us in springtime, but we don’t see them in January when it snows.

For a time, vision cross country skis in exhilarating rhythm over paths we don’t normally trod. January is a time to abandon ruts, set our feet on new tracks and just go! Buried below our feet may be a pavement edge engineered to warn us away from a meadow, but just now we are free to wander.

Time and space expand at the beginning of a new year that has clothed itself in a thick, glistening robe and swept its train across the landscape. January is a blessedly long month in which to recover from December’s revelry. Soon enough, muddy holes will burn their way through the fabric of our winter, presenting obstacles to our best intentions.

Now, rest.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Twenty eleven sounds kinda clunky. Nineteen eleven has a lovely illiteration. You don’t mind letting those five syllables linger on your tongue. Same with twenty twelve – three strong syllables that chime like a bell. But twenty eleven? That’s a slog; precisely what we hope 2011 won’t be.

I propose we shorten the pronunciation to twenty’leven, or a more thought provoking 20leaven. The action of leaven lightens and softens a finished product and gives good things the ability to rise and increase in volume.

As we reflect on 2010, a year of struggle, what have we learned that we can use as leaven in 2011? Hard times can be incubators for new ideas. Adjusting to “new normals” gives us our ideas time to ferment and produce in a good year.

What in your life could profit from a little leaven? Is 2011 the year you rise to an occasion or a challenge, increase your giving, reach or influence, lighten your hold on something, soften your attitude toward someone?

May 2011 produce good things in you.