Fall Notes

Fall is traditionally my favorite season. Its crisp leaves and cool air combine to make it a time I want to linger on indefinitely. This one is half-gone and I’ve kind of missed it.

At least that’s what I thought before I took a look back.

I haven’t missed anything. There’s been life and learning, grace and every kind of good gift. I just needed to turn around and open my eyes. A regular recounting of the gifts and graces, the lessons and the stuff of life keeps me a little more light-hearted and grateful than when I move through life on autopilot.

A quick look back often clears the way for good forward movement. Care to join me? (I’d love to hear what you see.)

Gifts and Graces:
  • Long evenings. Because candles.
  • Wood heat. Because the ambiance of fire.
  • Daylight savings. Sunlight in the morning—or lack thereof—impacts the whole day.
  • Fleece sheets. They instantly transform the bed from a place I have to warm up to one that warms me.
  • Grace, both from God and from people.
  • Boots. The pretty kind.
  • Boots. The warm kind.
  • Doctors, dentists, emergency rooms and insurance. Between the concussions, weird stomach ailments, and sudden jaw displacement we’ve experienced this fall, I am grateful—again—for the many means God uses to heal us.
  • Farmers and the work they do that produces the food that ends up on my table every day.
Learning:
  • Those things that stress me out? Generally, they resolve themselves within a month. It’s true. I’ve been using Lara Casey’s Power Sheets for the past couple of years to set my goals and fine tune the actions steps. (And, incidentally, making more progress on them than I have in the past.) One step in the process is to make a quick list of all the stressors, worries, and concerns that are taking up brain space. Recently, I realized that the list was completely different every time. All those things that felt like they might be the end of me had come to some kind of resolution over the course of a month. Seeing this on paper has helped me take a better perspective on them and made them sit a little less heavily on my shoulders.
  • The only way to keep a fire going is through regular attention. Like a person, a relationship, a project, or a practice that we want to grow and thrive, it needs to be encouraged and fed.
  • People in the Christian writing community are generous. I attended my first writers’ conference in fifteen years at the end of September. The people I met have been helpful and encouraging in all kinds of ways that I would never have expected.
  • I am not a Charles Dickens fan. When I read David Copperfield, I thought it was just me, that I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for Dickens and the depressing lives of so many of his characters–especially poor David. When I forced my way through A Tale of Two Cities this fall, I acknowledged the truth: I don’t like Dickens. If I hadn’t wanted to read that particular book so badly, I would have quit. I persevered and am glad both to have done it and have it done. (To my Dickens-loving friends, I’m sorry. I feel a bit like a failure, but I’ll be putting my reading time in other places.)
Liking:
  • Living the Season Well: Reclaiming Christmas, by Jody Collins. Jody’s book is an encouragement to bring our Christmas seasons back from the brink of chaos through a shift of mind and heart. An evangelical who’s benefitted from learning about the church year and the liturgy surrounding the Christmas season, Jody provides a little education along with practical advice to take steps to reclaim Christmas, one small step at a time.
  • Tresta Payne. Something about her voice, her perspective, her earnest faith makes me wish we could chat. She’s currently my favorite writer on the internet.
Listening:

Show tunes. Lots of show tunes. My girls have discovered musicals and now the soundtrack of our life is a medley of Newsies!, Hello Dolly, The King and I, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and a variety of others. Up next: Christmas music.

Looking:

Scripts, flames, and fairy lights. It’s the season for choosing the spring play, fire in the wood burner, and the companionable glow of white lights in my small, indoor forest.

Again, if you’d like to join me in recounting of the gifts and graces, the lessons and the stuff of life, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or via email. (And I’m really a better emailer than commenter, so don’t be shy. Use the contact tab on the navigation bar or the mail icon in the top right corner.)

Summer Notes

Summer Notes

Seasons–the days, the weeks, and even the months they are made of–are easy things for me to give away. I saw this tendency when my son and daughters were small and I referred to them as the age they would be on their next birthday rather than the one they were in that moment. I see it more often than I’d like, when I give away bits of a day that had stretched into the distance like our straight gravel road to things that don’t matter. And with a month of summer still left, I struggle not to feel like it’s already over. 

Do you feel that way too? If you do, I have good news: It’s not.

Summer still holds thirty-seven days on the calendar. Recounting the gifts, the graces, and the things that have made a difference helps me remember that. Care to join me?

Summer’s Gifts and Graces:

  1. Kittens. Period.
  2. Warm sun on my skin.
  3. Summer school. AKA reading by the pool.
  4. Shade. Because too much of even the good gift of sun is too much.
  5. Watermelon. I’m not usually a fan. This summer, though? Different story.
  6. Long days and late nights. Even though it means the sun is up before I am.
  7. Breezes. There’s nothing quite like the gentle rustle of wind through the leaves.
  8. The return of school. My girls mentioned their desire for its rhythms and routines before I did.
  9. Gardens. Where else is it so evident that worthwhile things require time, effort, and cultivation?
  10. Rain. It waters the roots, settles the dust, and, some years, there doesn’t seem to be quite enough.
  11. Time. Even though summer is still busy, the space-time continuum is just different during this season.
  12. Central air. Because even morning’s singing birds and evening’s chirping frogs can’t make up for the heat of high summer.

I keep track of more of each season’s gifts and graces on Instagram. If you’re on IG and you’d like to join in, use the hashtag #thegiftsandgraces.

Learning:

Diligence is good but deadlines are better.

I’ve never been one of those works-best-under-pressure sorts of gals. Back in college, I believed it when professors told me I would need the whole semester to complete an assignment. I started right away and finished without a lot of stress and pressure. In my current life I’ve been working diligently on a project. For a long time. I added a deadline and made huge progress. Fast.

Diligence paves the way. Deadlines provide the fuel to actually arrive.

Liking:

Watermelon, Cucumber, and Burrata Salad. Find it here. Sweet watermelon. Savory lots of other things. Love it!

Listening:

To my body: It needs more sleep. Either the 5 a.m. wakeup call or the late bedtime had to go. I’m getting up a little later. I’m not getting as much done, but that really isn’t the most important thing in life.

Looking:

At some public gardens and a nearby pretty little city: The flowers demand attention. They’re reminding me that effort and patience produce good fruit.

How about you? What gifts and graces have been part of your summer? What have you learned, liked, listened to, or looked at that’s made a difference this season?

Linking over at Emily P  Freeman’s today, with lots of others sharing what they learned this summer..

No: A Long Bridge to Yes

HA Spring Bridge Collage

When I slipped off the wide gravel road and into the woods, I knew it was a risk. The worn, earthen trail between the trees was wore a dark, saturated look, as if just a few drops of rain would transform it into shoe-sucking mud. At first it was solid and often grassy. Before long, though, I heard the unmistakable squish of a boggy trail under my feet. I picked my way over and around and through the sloppy path and emerged at the edge of a clearing that could have been called a swamp. Because it was shallow and my toes were already wet, I tiptoed in and picked my way across. There was something on the other side I wanted to see.

A bridge.

Finding a bridge in the woods is one of my favorite things. It’s unexpected. A gift.  After walking and walking and walking on dirt, suddenly there’s something different, something meant to make the way easier or maybe even possible, depending on the nature of the impasse.

As I approached the bridge, I thought it seemed a little odd. Out of perspective. Off somehow.  When I reached it, I saw that to cross the bridge required three steps down and three back up on the other side. Usually you just walk straight onto and across a bridge. It’s a zero-depth entry operation. To cross this bridge required me to climb down onto it just to cross.

I thought it was weird.

The people who built the bridge could have used a little extra wood and added a few feet on each side and it would have been like the others. Straight on. Straight off.

Those bridges are easy. Familiar.

But this one, I realized, as I leaned over the railing and inspected the cleft in the earth below, mirrored one I’d been walking for a while. Not a literal bridge, of course. This one mirrored one of those figurative bridges I’m fond of. They’re as unexpected as the ones in the woods, and possibly a greater gift.

No. That’s the bridge. And it’s taking me to yes.

It’s a long one. I climbed down onto that bridge one yes at a time only to discover that I’d yesed myself into a whole lot of noes. Noes to people. To sleep. And to fun. All those noes prompted my husband and me to take a close and prayerful look at our life. A close and prayerful look led to the realization that what we need now are more, different, noes–noes to Big And Very Good Things, things we enjoy, things we’re good at, things where we make a difference. All in the name of crossing the bridge back to yes.

Yes to people. Yes to rest. And yes to joy.

It’s a long bridge and I’ll be on it longer than I would like. It will take a lot of  steps to cross from one side of the chasm to the other, steps I know will be small and halting because I’m more prone to overcommitting than to cutting back.

But now that I’ve walked down the steps and onto the bridge I can see that it’s a good place to pause and count the cost, to ponder the conditions of current commitments and attend to God’s leading in order to press on, better able to stand behind my yeses and my noes. It’ll be awhile before I make it across the long bridge and climb the stairs on the other side. Along the way I’ll be learning to make better use of my noes, my yeses, and—for now—my summer, a season in which I’m trying to put my yeses in the right places, places like people—including my kids and the pool.

How about you? What are you doing with your yeses and noes? 

Linking over at Lyli Dunbar’s place today.
Click on over and see what she’s been up to!

When the Mind Won’t Stop {5 Ideas That Might Help}

For When the Mind Won't Stop

There you are, on the couch with your kids, in the stands at the game, at the coffee shop with a friend. You’re sitting. You’re supporting. You’re socializing. But you haven’t stopped.

You’ve pushed pause. Your body is still, at least enough to watch and cheer and talk, but your mind is running. Writing a grocery list. Rehashing a conversation. Remembering the mountain of laundry waiting at home for a reboot.

What’s to be done with a mind that resists the pause button, a mind that won’t stop?

Set it.

Set its direction. Set is tone. Set its limits.

Set it before it sets you. Before it sets you on a path that steals moments meant for restoration. On a path of duty rather than joy. On a path that distances you from others and even from yourself.

Setting the mind, it’s not a once and done kind of operation—not once a week, once a day, or once an hour. It’s a persistent, gentle shepherding, a returning of the mind from where it’s wandered back to where it belongs, a pointing it toward the path you want it to take rather than the one it’s used to, a cultivating of the discipline of mentally being where you are rather than back into the rigors of work or the woes of life.

And just exactly how does one set the mind? How do we shepherd it back, point it toward the path we choose, cultivate discipline?

Practice. That it takes time is unavoidable. There’s no easy plan. Here are some things that help me when I discover my mind won’t stop.

  1. Pause. Even if it’s imperfect. Open up some space for connection, for reflection, for rest.
  2. Predetermine: Often when the mind wanders it isn’t into the healthiest or holiest or even the helpful-est of places. It goes off borrowing trouble from tomorrow or dragging some of yesterday’s into today. Decide where you don’t want your mind to go. And where you do.
  3. Pray. Because what better way to renew your mind than to invite God in? Because human strength and stamina is limited and His is not. Because we can.
  4. Choose the present. Even if the present is chaotic, stressful, or even a little dull, the present is where our body resides. It’s where other folks with pulses live. It’s where our people are. Best if the mind and body reside there together, near their people.
  5. Persevere: The mind, like the body, gets stronger through use and exercise. A twenty-four hour day stretches out like a marathon course. Just as runners train the body, we who struggle to press pause must train the mind. Some marathon runners train to finish, to complete the course. And some train to win, to finish fast. None of us will finish first in a twenty-four hour day. It begins and it ends at the same time for everybody. Perhaps true perseverance is to train to finish well, not to finish first.

And you? What helps you set your mind in the direction you want it to go?

Sharing this week at Lyli’s and Barbie’s.

 

Every Day We Show Up

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Dress Rehearsals

Every Monday during the winter, I drive into town. There, twenty young actors and a few directors gather to work.

We block scenes so the actors know where they’re supposed to be, when. We practice dialogue so they know their lines and how to deliver them. We fine tune character development so they know how to inhabit their role. 

In the beginning progress is slow. Details that seemed settled at one practice get lost before we make it to the next. We forget lines and props and which side of the stage to enter from.

But week by week, little by little, we improve. The actors go where they want to end up. They say the right line at the right time. And they become the character they’re meant to be.

It’s a process.

We start with blocking rehearsals. We don’t do the scenes in the order they appear in the script. We work the scenes in an order that helps us make the best use of our time. To an observer it might look as though we’d dropped the script and are performing a mixed up story.

But observers don’t matter at this point.

We just need to figure out what’s happening on the stage: How to get from here to there. How to get the props on. How to get the set changed.

After blocking, we move to polishing. We work on getting on and off stage at just the right time and in just the right way. We work on saying our lines not like ourselves but as our character. We quit relying on scripts because we can’t use them in performance and it’s impossible to act well with a book in your hand.

A few weeks before the show, we begin technical rehearsals– bringing in sound and lights and special effects and the audio-visual crew so that it all flows together. And we continue to polish. We perfect line delivery and placement and postures. We prepare for the inevitable moment when someone will forget a line, when some prop will disappear, or break, or just get forgotten.

And then it’s dress rehearsal, probably the cast’s favorite one of all, with costumes, a dark house, and directors glued to their seats, unable to stop things and ask them to “run that one more time.” It’s the moment they’ve been working toward. They take the stage. They perform the show. Just as they’ve practiced.

When it’s over they’re tired and hungry and ready to go home, but first they sit together on the stage and we talk. They talk about how they think it went, what went well and what they hope doesn’t happen again. Then the directors and even the technical crew do they same, because it’s important to know what went right and what still needs some work.

In just over twelve hours we’ll all be back, putting on makeup and costumes, and–because they’re all teenagers–eating, rested and ready for the show.

The lights will go down. They’ll take the stage. And the show will begin.

The cliché is right. Life is not a dress rehearsal. But it’s not a performance, either. Life is living, one day at a time.

We show up for practice. We block so we know where to go, when. We polish so we know how to communicate, what we need to say and how and when we need to say it, how to make ourselves heard and how to be silent so others can be heard. We practice the technical stuff and grow more and more into who we already are.

Over and over again.

Every day we show up with what we have,  ready to do our part and do our best. Every day we block the new, polish the old, and hold an imperfect dress rehearsal for the day to come. And every day we learn from that day how to better move into the next one, how better to run the race set before us, how better to attend to and apply the Word that lights our path.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. It isn’t a performance. It’s a story, blocked, polished, and lived out one day at a time, with new mercies raining down.

And you?  What are you showing up to today? What’s it teaching?

Linking this post at Jennifer, Lyli, Brenda, Barbie, Jen and  Dawn‘s.

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Do Not Approach

elkcollage

The girls and I emerged from the cozy, fire-warmed lobby,  braced ourselves against the chilled morning air, and took to the sidewalk that led to Mammoth Hot Spring’s historic chapel. Aware of the cow elk lounging on the lawn between the buildings along the way, I said, “Don’t worry. I won’t risk our lives on the way to church this morning.”

It was the end of September, well into the annual rut, and the local bull was busy defending his harem from challengers and his territory from vehicles and  passing pedestrians. It was just the girls that morning because the guys were taking advantage of a break in the rain to hike Bunsen Peak. Even though they were on the trail, we were probably in more danger because of my persistent delusion that the trappings of civilization—sidewalks and roads and such—offer safety from the perils of the wild.

Of all Yellowstone’s developments, Mammoth most resembles an actual town. Beyond the usual–hotel, store, gas station, and post office–there’s a medical clinic, a federal courthouse, and large homes with welcoming porches which front the main road. Appearances aside, our sidewalk was not a safe, civilized place. Its covering of elk scat announced that.

“There’s the bull, Mom,” my oldest girl pointed out.

There he was, in the middle of the lawn at the end of the sidewalk. Abandoning my plan to not risk our lives, I herded the girls off the sidewalk, across the road, and kept moving toward the chapel along the edge furthest from the elk.

“I thought you said we weren’t going to risk our lives,” my oldest daughter said as we climbed the stairs.

Chapel, Fort Yellowstone District Mammoth Hot Springs

“We didn’t,” I started. Then I remembered my delusions about sidewalks and roads and realized what I had done. “Sorry.”

An hour later, after the sermon, the benediction, and the visiting which occurs even among strangers, my littlest girl informed me she needed to find the restroom. The pastor’s wife handed me a key and directed us out the front door and around the side of the chapel. “It’s an old building,” she apologized.

I shepherded the girls out the door, intent on our destination. We were still on the stairs when the oldest–obviously more observant than her mother–said, “Mom, that ranger is talking to you.”

A  ranger, a young and uniformed, smiled and pointed toward the grass between the chapel and the trees. A bull elk was circling around the side yard, heading for the cows on the other side. The harem-defender we’d skirted around earlier, threw back his head, abandoned his station on the other side of the chapel, and began a slow run toward the challenger. We couldn’t leave the building.

My daughter’s this-cannot-wait look compelled me to explain our predicament to the ranger. He looked toward our destination and over at the bulls.

“I’ll walk you over,” he said.

DSC00846

I stood  outside the bathroom door and the ranger stood nearby, his camera ready. “You don’t see them together very often,” he told me.

We watched the elk, ready for a horn-locking battle. They continued toward one another, one with caution, the other with quick, strutting steps. That confidence proved enough for the challenger, who retreated to the woods. The dominant bull reestablished his watch over his harem, and we returned to our hotel. It was over.

For awhile.

This time the challenger did not slink back into the woods without a making a stand. We didn’t see the fight. We saw the evidence—an antler, half of a matched set, sitting on a picnic table near the herd’s morning grazing site—later that day.

As the line of vehicles we were in crawled through the company of elk camped between the medical clinic and the meadow late that afternoon, we saw a bull. He sat alone, apart from the others. Not until I started snapping pictures through the open window did we notice that one of his antlers was missing, a casualty of the battle.

So he sat alone, defeated and disappointed, thwarted by his broken equipment, legs folded neatly under his tawny body and his one-antlered self situated directly under one of Yellowstone’s signs: DANGER DO NOT APPROACH ELK.

Oh, the irony.

I laughed. For a minute. And then I realized that I do a version of the same.  I’m smoother than the elk, blessed with the ability to read, so I wouldn’t actually go park under such a sign, but I put off the signals just the same: Leave me alone. 

DSC_0630

Or maybe don’t. The elk didn’t want to be left alone. Not really. He wanted a harem and, because I anthropomorphize wild animals, I figured he was pouting. Just like I pout sometimes when I’m disappointed. Or lonely. Or dealing with being broken.

Every year elk lose their antlers and every year they grow back again,  bigger than before. This autumn brought the elk another opportunity.

I don’t have to wait that long.

Every morning, every moment really, I get the same. God’s mercies, they’re new every morning. Like the psalmist, I can ask Him to teach me to number my days. What are days but a series of moments? And who wants to spend them parked under a DO NOT APPROACH sign?

Sharing Do  Not Approach  with the writers at the Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursdays Link-ups.

Lifelong Learning: Compelled

IMG_1590

When we drove away from Yellowstone earlier this month, we went only as far as we could get in an hour and stopped for a couple of days at a resort famous for its thermally fed, all-season, outdoor pool. We expected to relax with our bodies submerged in the therapeutic ninety-eight degree water as our faces braved the mix of cold air and steam which hovered over the pool and permeated the courtyard. We had not planned on the arrival of the eight ladies on a girls’ weekend. They took over the pool’s northwest corner and the fifty of us who remained drifted to the opposite end.

Even from a distance the group was loud and coarse and on the receiving end of muttered derisive comments from some of the people congregated in the packed half of the pool. The atmosphere was tense. People seemed to feel able to do nothing other than tolerate it or leave. While it was warmer than the previous evening’s thirty-five below zero air, people were not inclined to go.

When the least sober member of the group mooned her companions as she exited the pool, I knew that I had to grow up and talk to her or be willing to leave. Just days earlier I had wondered if I had ever been compelled to do anything and here I was, compelled to act. I hopped out of the pool and into the ten-degree air, padded across the heated tile and into the locker room where I told her privately, quietly, and matter-of-factly that I had a teenage son with me who really didn’t need to see her backside.

I learned a few things during the next few minutes:

  1. Although I see myself as someone who handles neither conflict or confrontation well, it seems that when it was required of me, it was possible for me to deal with it. Well.
  2. Even though I spent the short journey between the pool and locker room contemplating the likelihood that I might get punched out, if that had happened I would have survived. My family (or maybe someone from the pool full of people I was blissfully unaware had watched me head to the locker room) would have come checked on me. Whatever happened, it would have been all right.
  3. One quietly spoken sentence was all it took to change the atmosphere of the whole pool area. The stream of f-bombs dried up, the group subdued itself, and everyone else relaxed and redistributed themselves throughout the pool.
  4. While it’s not always easy, it is right for me as a mom to defend my children’s one short childhood from the thoughtless and uninformed.

IMG_1602

What has life been teaching you?

Linking with Emily at Chatting at the Sky.

Let’s Sit In Front!

Two years ago my parents took all five grandchildren to Florida to the beach and Sea World and Disney World.

Disney World.

My mom looked kind of chagrinned when she brought it up, as though she was worried we might think they had taken leave of their senses. She had reason. When my brother and I were young, our family drove west, not south; we vacationed in the woods, not the city; and rare were our visits to an amusement park.

They take them, all five of them, somewhere every year. I accompanied them on one of these trips. Two words: controlled chaos. Plus hefty doses of work and fun, adventure and love. They come home exhausted.

 

My son is the oldest grandchild and my niece, the youngest. The ten years between them has allowed him to enjoy her in a different way than he has the others. From her toddlerhood he’s carried her on his back when they’ve been on the trail. He pushed her all-terrain stroller down the mile-long switchbacked dirt trail to the Yellowstone River and back up again. He still hoists her up when she’s too little to see.

Yellowstone River Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone River
Yellowstone National Park

They’re pals.

DSC00237

She was his partner so his was the dilemma when they passed through the gate to the Journey to Atlantis water roller-coaster. He felt her pull on his hand as her little voice called out, “Let’s sit in front! Let’s sit in front!” What was a fifteen year old boy to do? He didn’t want to take her to the front because he knew it would be scary for her but he didn’t want to disappoint her either.

They sat in front.

It was a rough ride. “Let’s sit in front” quickly gave way to “Cover my eyes! Cover my eyes!”

Roller-coasters are punishing. I didn’t know that when I was young. When I climbed out of the car on Adventureland’s Tornado at fourteen, I didn’t know how it would be twenty-five years before I rode again. What was a thrill in my teens was just painful in my thirties. Every hairpin turn shook my rigid body. Every drop rearranged my insides.

I don’t get to choose reality and unlike my niece, I don’t head to the front car. My tendency is to hang to the back and give myself the illusion that I’ve postponed the drop or minimized the effect. I suppose we all have our way of engaging the drops and turns that come our way. This year I’m wondering if I need to shatter the illusion and grow up enough to revisit the zeal of youth that heads toward the front.

And you? Where is your seat of choice on a roller-coaster? How about in life?

Linking with Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursdays.

For This July: Lifelong Learning

A few months ago, Emily at Chatting at the Sky wrote a post about what she had learned during the previous month. Her list was filled with the serious and the lighthearted and it made me wonder what, if anything, I was learning. By the end of the day, I had my own list and have made one each month since. The learning continues. This month, Emily invited her readers to share their lists.

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park

Here are 5 things I learned this June:

1. Five chords: E, E minor, G, D, C. I am learning to play the guitar. For much of my adult life I have wished that I knew how to play the guitar. It finally occurred to me that I could learn.

2. Harmony applies to more than music and getting along with people, as in living together in peace and harmony. It is the beauty that rises from the uniqueness of who we are as we experience life together. Sadly, at 44, this is something I still needed to learn.

3. My girls’ interest in sewing did not require immediate formal instruction, as I fretted that it would. A pile of sheets, access to the sewing machine, and a viewing of the A & E version of Pride and Prejudice was enough to prompt them to produce bonnets and several regency style dresses, complete with pleats and sashes. They must be adherents to my brother’s How hard can it be? philosophy and are willing to learn from their mistakes.

4. How to add text to a photo and upload it to my blog. I was not prepared for all I have had to learn just to manage a simple blog, one of the first being a little html. Who knew? I didn’t and I’m glad. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to embark on this journey if I had known html was hidden around a bend in the road.

5. Before heading out the door in that new casual skirt, always, always check it out in full sun. Probably that is all I need to say.

Learning has taken me to places I might not otherwise have gone. In 2012, the year designated Old Dog: New Tricks, I learned again, after a twenty year interlude, to be comfortable singing alone rather than in a group. And then I got to sing with a friend, so I needed to learn how to sing some harmony. As a life-long, melody-singing soprano, that did not come easily. It was hard but I adore it.

Natural Bridge, Yellowstone National Park
Natural Bridge, Yellowstone National Park

Learning that one new skill, harmonizing, reached beyond singing and into the rest of my life. If I had not learned to harmonize, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that I could move from wishing I played the guitar to learning how. Without my newfound ear for musical harmony, an understanding of how the uniqueness that we bring into the lives of those around us contributes to a beautiful whole would have continued to elude me.

What have you learned recently? Might it lead somewhere unexpected?

Ode to Books

Be warned: I wrote no poetry. The only way this will even possibly meet the dictionary definition of an ode is if you put these words to the melody of your favorite song as you read. Now you know.

Last Sunday afternoon, I (on the coattails of my husband, who will be slaving away as I pass delightfully silent hours) left the children in my parents’ hands and headed to Chicago for the week. On Saturday night, a friend asked if I was ready to go. Um, no. She pressed. “What does not being ready look like for you?” Reality weighed heavy until I remembered that my books were packed.

I started packing the first of what became two bags of reading and writing material two weeks before our departure. Each item was chosen with more care than the clothes which I hurriedly tossed into my suitcase on Sunday afternoon moments before our departure. That, my friends, is saying something.

Webster’s definition of a book is an anemic expression of its essential nature (which is the definition of a defintion): a set of written, printed, or blank sheets bound together into a volume; a long written or printed literary composition. Technically, this is correct, but just as the scientific description of a flower –the seed-bearing part of a plant, consisting of reproductive organs that are typically surrounded by brightly colored corolla and a green calyx– fails to bring to mind spring’s flowers in the garden or an arrangement on my counter, this definition does not bring life to the word book.

A book goes beyond its form and even beyond its words, to the reading life, which William Nicholson summed up well in this line written for C.S. Lewis’ character in Shadowlands: . We read to know that we are not alone. Now that is a robust expression of the essential nature of a book.

From my earliest memory, there have been books. From Mom, it was nursery rhymes, especially There Was a Little Girl and Bobby Shaftoe; from Dad, a very dramatic rendition of Horton Hatches the Egg and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; and from Grandma, who was a librarian, it was The Bobbsey Twins books and Heidi. When I started devouring books on my own, Baby Island and Ann of Green Gables were favorites to be read again and again. A pastor’s wife from my youth introduced me to The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, establishing my appetite for classics.

This week I am in the city rather than the woods and reading rather than hiking. Technically, I am alone, yet I find I am not. I am in the company of books, surrounded by ideas distilled and dispensed from the pens of poets and thinkers, persons from the past, and the great characters of fiction whose foibles hit painfully close to home. They cast influence over my thoughts and perspective and even my state of mind. They are friends. They regularly, gently, do me kindness by helping me, making me, get outside of myself and my world and I owe them thanks.

You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. ~ Paul Sweeney

What are you reading these days? Is it friend material?