Monthly Archiv: September, 2014

Making men


Boys on Bikes, originally published May 1919. Compliments of OldDesignShop

It started off with rides. I’m teaching Phys.Ed. two afternoons a week at the younger kid’s school. On teaching afternoons there’s simply no way to pick up Boy one unless he has a late practice. Enter the lowly bike. It’s about 18 or so km (10 miles) from the bus stop to here, most of it against the wind. I thought he would balk at the idea but he didn’t. We’ve only needed the bike solution a few times, but the effects have been far reaching. The stress of how he’ll get home those days is gone and we’ve all opened our eyes to the possibilities.

A few weeks ago, Boy one wanted a ride to the much beloved, 150 year old annual fall fair. Timing wasn’t good for me. He opted to bike. It took him an hour. He got permission to put his bike behind the village store. We picked him and his bike up after dark. For the cost of admission and the labour of transportation, he got a much appreciated day of independence.

On the weekend, Boy two was desperate to get to the library. Normally pretty happy go lucky, every once in a while he gets his mind set and becomes remarkably like a dog with a bone. Such was his need for the library. It was the third or fourth day in a row I had been grilled about it, but I didn’t know if I could manage to get him there or not.

Just last week we were chatting with the librarian (librarians = revered members of the social elite in Boy two’s world) about kids who live in town vs. kids from the country. How Boy two would be at the library every day if he could walk over, and how old did he have to be to volunteer there anyway. With Boy two now in obvious emotional pain for want of a library trip, I was feeling bad about not living in town, when I remembered the mighty bicycle.

“I can’t promise to take you. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. If you want a guarantee, get your brother to bike there with you. It’ll take you awhile to get there,” I said.

Brother tried to say no due to other plans but did not stand a chance. Normally the weaker debater, Boy two had Boy one signed on the dotted line in pretty short order. They got their music practiced, their beds stripped and some basic chores done. They filled water bottles, threw in some cold pancakes and a hunk of cheese for lunch, grabbed their backpacks for book restocking, and pedalled off. They left at 11:30 and didn’t get home until 2:00.  Due to size, they don’t make bikes for Boy two with big tires and lots of gear options, so their trip was not speedy. With book offerings for themselves and their sisters, the brothers returned home tired, but happy and taller.


Angels, Flying and Reckless

We have fallen in love with a song called, “Sergeant Reckless.” It’s another off the Hoofbeats CD, from Marie-Lynn Hammond, that I mentioned in another post. “Sergeant Reckless,” is the true story about a horse that served in the Korean war. Wikipedia tells me the horse was purchased by a U.S. marine for $250 from a young boy in need of money to buy his sister a prosthetic limb. The song, which was researched and included an interview with one of the marines, does a nice job telling the story of the mare’s heroism.

Maybe we’re a little bit smitten with music right now, but you try to listen to this song (with pictures of Reckless) without your heart and eyes filling up. See how far you get.

All I can say about that song is . . . oh, how very much we all want an angel riding Reckless through the fire.

If that didn’t get you, here’s one based on kids at a therapeutic riding facility:


I know, I know, I should really get a job marketing this woman’s work. Except I can only sell french fries and I hate marketing. Otherwise, yes, I should apply for the position.

From the wilderness


I try very hard not to burn bras and hold protest signs (although both have tremendous appeal). Amidst waves of nonsense in the sea of our world, the urge to settle down for a good sit-in, march around a building seven times, or grab a bull horn at an intersection gets to be almost an ache in my bones.

The chickens, the sheep, even the rats trying to tunnel into the chicken coop again this year, all make a modicum of sense. It’s the people world I can’t always wrap my head around. I have tried to avoid this moment, but it is upon me. The roar in my head fills up my ears to the exclusion of other thoughts. I can’t help myself: this is a time that demands a list.

Why are we letting go of real things and replacing them with pictures of real things glued around nothing?

Why won’t we stop ourselves from checking endless mostly meaningless messages long enough to think actual meaningful thoughts?

Why do we do things that aren’t important and go places that don’t matter until we’re too dizzy and tired to notice what we’re opting out of?

Why do we turn up the noise so we can’t hear the silence?

All the troubles in the world, all the troubles in us . . . it’s awfully hard to notice them and see them for what they are, much less fix them, if we never stop, in quietness, and wait.

Such is my heaviness. I swear if John the Baptist was here eating locusts today, all the top of the line anti-depressants on the market couldn’t stop him from lamenting the deafening noise of nothingness (clothed as something) filling our brains and hearts with emptiness.

I have to remind myself to take the time to think, yes, but not to hold the weight of it. This is where real things save me. I went outside last week. It was a warm late afternoon with the wind was swirling around in leaves. There was Girl one, barefoot, cross legged, sitting on the old red tractor in the driveway, playing her violin.

Yesterday, my young Queen of distraction took ten or so reminders to open her violin case. I heard a few measures and went about my business. By the time I realized she was gone, it had been a while. I found her outside again.

“Guess what?” she said beaming. “I invented something. It’s called, ‘extreme violining.’ So far I’ve played my violin on the tractor, in a tree, on top of the car, and on the roof.”

Her grin these days is full of crooked teeth and spaces. We’re supposed to be saving up for an Orthodontist, but I’m thinking it might be cheaper to move to a third world country where they don’t have Orthodontists.

I still worry about common sense and quiet reflection, lost in a wilderness of activity. But hope is real on a roof at my house. Long may the band play on.


Against the Dark

It was quiet in my house this weekend. I was home to take care of animals and write. The rest of the folks went camping. It was lovely. And ground breaking. The victories were quiet. No fireworks. They came the way most victories come. Steadily pushing on, like the forests overtaking the fields, year after year they’re back. More seeds. More seedlings, try again.

I am afraid of the dark. More specifically, I am afraid to be alone in the dark. As a teenager, I maintained a strict routine. I did not walk to my bed after turning off the light. I flicked the switch and leapt into bed from three feet away. No errant unknown things reaching for my ankles, thanks. I knew there weren’t monsters under my bed. Probably no people either, but the routine helped and so I did it.

I was a nightmare child. And really, who am I kidding, the nightmares have been significantly reduced from the paralyzing strength they held in my twenties, but they still come round now and again to say hello. Remind me about darkness and what I think of it.

Since high school, I’ve either had a roommate or been married (a package that conveniently comes with a roommate). My husband has gone away many times, but there have always been children in the house or someone. I have gone away and had hotel rooms to myself. But never, until this weekend, have I ever spent the night at my own home alone.

No houses in sight. No hotel guests on the other side of the wall. Just me, the cats, and the dog.

Fear traumatizes. If we could see each other’s souls, and I do believe we can for tiny moments, but anyway, if you looked at mine, a lot of the scars you’d see would be from the swaths fear cut. Where I grew up, the reasons for fear came and went, not like seasons you saw coming, but like tornadoes out of nowhere.

Children are not sophisticated. They smell a storm, any storm, and having seen a few tornadoes touch down, they wisely fear the power of all harsh winds. So it was with me, alone in the dark for what felt like a very long childhood.

Time, love, forgiveness. They all do their part to heal. But nobody it seems was assigned to heal the little bit about the darkness. Hence, at 42, I remain afraid to be alone in the dark.

Going into the weekend I was a little anxious but determined. Now, with my family home again, my roommate returned to where he should be in the bed beside me, I feel a bit triumphant. I did it. I stayed in a house by myself (fully mobile and functional) two nights in a row.

Look, Mom, no hands!

State of things

Summer 2014 July Aug 059

Apple trees:  Only some bore fruit this first year. The ones that did had one or two apples, except our champion tree with more than a dozen. Resulting apple cobbler was priced at $70 a plate, but maybe it was only $60.

Bees: Despite the failure of the Let the Boys Become Men campaign, and my subsequent involvement in beekeeping (due mainly to my ability to read) we are still glad we got our bees. If they can survive the winter, we’ll be sittin pretty for next year. If they don’t, well, we’ll re-evaluate.

Misty (the pony who arrived with a “staying for one year only,” guarantee) has had her chances of staying around here upped mightily. We had an actual horse person come and work with Boy one. They were happy with what he was already doing and gave him some help going forward. (Strike one success for the Boys Become Men Campaign.) The clincher was a show by a Canadian folk singer (Marie-Lynn Hammond) that I went to last weekend. I bought a CD about horses called, Hoofbeats. I thought I bought it for the kids (who are absolutely crazy about it) only I am in love with it too. (Honestly, if you love horses, kids, or good storytelling, you would love this CD.) There is some kind of magic floating around in the music because I’m starting to feel lucky when I see Misty in the field instead of wondering how many pounds she’d dress out at for the freezer.

The other animals are all happy. Chickens are laying billions of eggs. Currently, 1103 to wash on the counter. 31 little meat chicks are growing like weeds. We’re down to one chicken left in the freezer, so I am pretty happy to see them getting ready to address the situation. Until then, I’m scratching my head for recipes to hide tongue, heart and liver in. They seem to be most of what’s left in the meat section. I thought I’d done it with a stir fry the other day, but later Boy one got to shivering, telling me he knew there was liver, he just knew it.

Maybe you had a little, I said, but less than half of that meat was liver.

Mine was all liver. I could tell by the smoothness on the outside.

Statistically, that’s just not very likely, I said. Anyway, heart meat is kind of smooth on the outside too, so I doubt you could tell the difference.

His eyes bulged out and his lips trembled a little bit. Cocky boy whispered, you’re not joking are you.

Hmm – not joking, but feeling pretty good.

Lastly, the cats are failures. There are a lot of little somebody’s moving in for the winter to the space between the downstairs ceiling and the upstairs floor.  If, for example, you sit quietly writing during the middle of the day, they run over your head, in and out for hours. Does marvels for the peace and concentration.

Finding fence holes

"A Herdsmen With Cattle On A Countryroad, Drenthe," by Julius Jacobus Van De Sande Bakhuyzen

“A Herdsmen With Cattle On A Countryroad, Drenthe,” by Julius Jacobus Van De Sande Bakhuyzen

Chasing cows is similar to chasing dreams. I learned this on Monday. My husband had noticed the cows missing. After a bit of searching, we found our two bovines settled in on a neighbor’s property (newly set up for skeet shooting). Finding them was the easy part. Despite the black, “no trespassing,” signs, we got a good sense of the neighbor’s property (who knew he had such nice interconnected paths mowed through his brush and trees?).  But through all that brush and trees we weren’t quite sure precisely which way to head the animals because we didn’t know where they’d broken through the fence.  My idea that we’d just get them moving and they would lead us to the spot of their escape was, as my kids would say, an epic failure.

Anabelle and son Buster were content to wander up and down the fence line crashing through as many trees and bushes as we pleased and not the least bit interested in showing us where a break in the fence might be. So it took an, “us,” (my husband and I) for an hour chasing cows. Of course chasing cows makes it seem like they were running, which they never did for more than thirty feet, and only when they saw a chance to move in the wrong direction. The rest of the time it was pushing cows, prodding cows, and cajoling cows. The dog was of no use.  She would get them moving but then make them crazy going too close. Buster, especially, doesn’t take to having her at his heels.

We finally got them through by guessing that they leapt the fence (due to the slope of the land it’s easier to do going off the property than back on) so we lowered a section and lured them back. Then I went inside and my husband fixed the fence.

I had been annoyed, it is true, to find my afternoon interrupted by lost cows and by forcible teamwork with a man who failed to properly appreciate the magnitude of grievance the interruption caused me, not to mention the good sense in my ideas. Yet somehow I went back to the house encouraged. About writing of all things.

Hopes, dreams, editors, kids and cows . . . it’s all about the same thing. A little confusing, a lot of work, but you figure it out the best you can, consulting the guy beside you as you go. . . and eventually, you find the low spot in the fence.


Summer 2014 July Aug 048

Sometimes I have heretical thoughts. Ninety nine hit me walking through the fields the other day. The kids have been at each other’s throats lately. Everybody picking at everybody else, no longer willing to endure another second of the many faults glaring at them in capital letters. I’ve got one who can’t stand if siblings chew too loudly, or touch the edges of anything, or fail to follow any number of eating rules that REALLY matter. I’ve got another who can’t stand anyone else’s singing. Or reading out loud in the car. I’ve stopped the car multiple times on the way home from school. It’s supposed to be this major event where they realize they are no longer progressing towards home and they immediately quiet in hushed tones so as to get me driving on the road again. Except they really don’t care if the car is moving while they argue or not. They don’t feel that motion is relevant to their case for moral superiority.

Walking through the fields occasioned me to gaze at sheep and stumble upon a very new conclusion. I have always thought the parable of the good Shepherd lovely; him lovingly leaving his flock and going out into the far, far away mountains to search for the one tiny little lost lamb. Then there in the field it came to me (heretical thought). Getting away from 99 sheep is not as terrible as it might seem, in fact it sounds pretty good. If there was a sign-up sheet today to stay with the 99 or go get the lost one, I’m going lost one every time.

Navigating Failure


An English Sloop Becalmed Near Shore the Shore.  By Francis Swaine

An English Sloop Becalmed Near Shore the Shore. By Francis Swaine

I have been working up the courage to write about failure. The latest rejection on my fiction novel came. (Thank you again for the social media supports to my efforts.)  I thought of writing lists of all the failures in my life. Maybe numbering them and tacking this latest one on the end. Couldn’t see anything beautiful about it so felt a little tongue tied.

I thought about starting a new blog to write about true, depressing, ugly things, but no. If you fail at beautiful, you can keep trying. If you fail at ugly and depressing .  . . well, it would be hard to get back up after that. (I am not without a practical side in these matters.)

The desire to write about failure is practically burning in me. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on the subject. Whatever the questions end up being, I’m pretty sure the answers are in tears and laughter. I know this because when I cry, things are better afterwards. Also because when crazy things happen (that have nothing to do with not being able to make your dreams come true) I laugh and afterwards things make more sense.

We were sitting at dinner. Most of us were eating, because that’s what normal people do at dinner. Sort of the reason they sit down I’m told. I have to clarify because while I birthed 3 eaters, I also birthed a stirrer . . . as in someone who stirs things.

I would try to remember what it was she was eating that night that she didn’t like except the list of underappreciated foods to pick from is too long. I’m not a fan of picky eating. The kids can all have one food they hate, everything else, they eat at least a bite of.

After half a meal of stirring, Girl one was getting restless. A bite or two went down the hatch and her idea light went on. “I could be a sword swallower when I grow up,” she said. She took another bite. “Seriously,” she said. “I trained myself on so many things swallowing them whole. I bet I could do it.”


And lastly . . . putting Girl two to bed last night we got to talking about monkeys who apparently don’t leave their trees very often. This led to discussions of a practical matter and a little gem I have to say I did not see coming:

Boy one did that before

Did what?

Peed from a tree.

A long time ago?

A time that was close to today.

Are you kidding me?


Thank you

You’re welcome. (Batted eyelashes. Smug and satisfied smile.)


My almost fourteen year old has been peeing from trees. Seriously, failure to publish children’s novel may not be my biggest crisis. I’m not exactly laughing on that one, but it has me good and distracted.

On the way to school


Girl #1 is rambling about the King of England. Something or other she learned at school from Mrs. V. who, it is repeated with reverence, absolutely loves history.

Girl #2:  I’m getting the idea that Mrs. V. really knows a lot. Like even more than mom

Girl #1 concerned: I don’t know. I think might both know a lot but they know a lot about different things

Girl #2: Yeah, like about God and stuff

Girl #1: No, everybody knows about God. It’s like they both know a lot about some things. Like Mrs. V. knows a lot about history and social studies, and . . .

Girl #2: So maybe they know the same as each other but more than Miss Sipple.

Girl #1 (a little taken aback): Oh no, she says with emphasis, Miss Sipple knows a  lot. She knows all kinds of things. But she teaches very small children. Sooooo, she has to take everything she knows and take down to really tiny little details so the little kids can get it. See what I mean.

Girl #2 Yeah, so she’s really smart but she has to make it so they can understand it

Girl #1 Exactly


I tune out while the conversation turns back to the King in England, and all that has been learned thus far from the beloved and admired Mrs. V. Somewhere I tune in again . . .

Girl #1  So anyway, the King and England wanted to fight New York.

Girl #2 Is that like called World War I or something?

Girl #1 Actually, it might have just been New York fighting New York

Boy #2 from the far back:  It’s called the War of 1812

Girl #1  Actually, I’m pretty sure it was New York trying to keep New York, maybe from England.

Boy #3 Then that’s the United States becoming a country. It’s called the Civil War.

Girl #1 Anyway, the point is that there were people in New York who wanted to be loyal to the King and that made other people really mad. They wanted to like lock them up in jail and be mean to them and stuff, but they weren’t bad people. They were good people and they loved the King.


Well, Dorothy, I say to myself. You aren’t in Kansas anymore. The traitors of your childhood are the heroes of your children’s. Your book loving son who spews facts about the quiet needed for beer brewing and all manner of odd things learned from his books doesn’t differentiate accurately between American wars, revolutionary, civil, or otherwise.

But that’s ok. My nine year old says that even though Mrs. V. knows some things I don’t, there are some things I know that she doesn’t. This bodes well for both of us.

Songs, invitations, and miracles



I am in a music group. Sometimes there are thirteen of us. Sometimes there are four. Backgrounds are varied. Retired business manager, school teacher, computer tech, farmer, accountant and so forth. Musical backgrounds are equally varied. Jazz, folk, musicals, guitar, classical training. One woman sang country western in bars every Thursday – Sat. for years. She had a chance to make it big, go to Nashville, but her husband said, no, that straw would break the camel’s back. So she stayed and sang her heart out here.

Without discussing temperaments, it’s safe to say not everybody gets along 100% of the time. At the worst times, people avoid each other. At the best, we don’t agree on how many measures to bridge between verses, or how long to make the introduction. We certainly don’t agree on which pieces should be sung when, and especially whether it is a glory or a torture to do the occasional piece in Latin.

We are very nearly like a family.  A little microcosm of personalities who love to sing, and irritations notwithstanding, we really love each other. Most people in the group live within five minutes of the church where we sing. I live almost half an hour away. A year and a half ago when I was sick, seven different meals were delivered to the house for our family.

We are musicians and little things bother us. Musicians, I observe, live closer to the edge than some. It makes us touchy. It might also help us step outside ourselves into the music. Outside the music, our footing may at times lack the steadiness of others. Inside of the music, we are loosed from ourselves. Ready for a mini-Pentecost, we are free to let the music speak for us and through us.

Sometimes the music our group makes is good. Other times we muddle through without the spark of something bigger. We don’t decide which day is which. We sing to offer up the grand invitation, hoping for the mighty wind to move among us. Every once in a while we feel the tongues of fire from our heads, through the depths of joy and sorrow, to our toes. We become the sum which is greater than our parts. In the cry of our own hearts we raise the longing of the hearts beside us. Our own voices lost, we are found in a single voice, together.

It doesn’t last forever. For all the wishing in the world, there’s no hanging on, only the chance to ask again and wait and hope. Say thank you and be changed. It’s not imagining. Sometimes for a second, a few minutes maybe, heaven opens up a window. In glimpsing what we will be, it changes who we are. Not just for a minute, but forever.