The Runner

September 8th, 2014

I was a soccer mom for a couple of years, when my oldest son was playing. A very laid back soccer mom. I liked those fall mornings, standing around the field with the other parents, chatting with each other, cheerfully shouting out our kids’ names whenever it seemed like something might be happening out there between the nets. That lasted until my second child got old enough to join the league. One season of ferrying kids between different practice and game times, happening in two separate locations was enough. I bailed.  I’m the mom Olympic sponsors will never celebrate in commercials: half-assed, but whole-hearted.

That was seven years ago, and if I sometimes felt guilty for depriving the boys of one of the cornerstones of a suburban upbringing, I never missed it for myself. So I was surprised at how much I loved spending this past Saturday morning in a field, chatting with the other parents, eyes on the race course, ready to shout my kid’s name when he made the final sprint in his first 5K with his high school cross-country running team. 

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This guy loves to run. In middle school, he was crazy about parkour, but couldn’t find an organized training program. I encouraged him to try out for track, and we were both discouraged when he ran one of the fastest times, and didn’t make the team. I don’t know if the coach took one look and decided my punk kid wasn’t jock enough, or there was some technical reason he wasn’t picked, but I knew I’d have a hard time persuading him to put himself out there again. Parkour gave way to skateboarding, which has been his passion and focus the last couple of years, one I’ve supported and mostly delighted in (when I’m not covering my eyes with my hands).

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Then a few weeks ago, a friend happened to see him running to catch up to someone, and remarked on his natural gait, suggesting he’d make a good long distance runner. It was the nudge I needed to nudge my son one more time. I called up the coach of the cross country team, and sent a message telling my son to bring the forms home for me to sign, and expect to run after school the next day. Just to see.

He’s been at practice every afternoon, ever since, and comes home exhilarated by it every night.

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It’s always beautiful to see a person doing something they were born to do. For however long a season.

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It makes me think of that line in Chariots of Fire:

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

My son doesn’t have to run like an Olympian, or even stay on the cross-country team, for God’s pleasure or for mine. But whenever he does anything with his whole heart, I hope he feels both.

 

Harvest

September 1st, 2014

 

Sowing corn on May 25

May 25

Of all the sweet summer memories to be gathered in now, and put by, the days spent gardening with this boy are among the sweetest. 

planting corn May 25

May 25

watching corn sprout

May 31

Corn stalks June 17

June 17

Corn tassel July 9

July 9

Corn stalks July 13

July 13

Corn silks July 23

July 23

Corn harvest August 11

August 11

And they’ll keep a long, long time.

Mason Jar White Sangria

August 29th, 2014

Happy Labor Day Weekend! (And Labour Day!) Got any special plans? How about a fun drink recipe to kick things off?

I gave you the recipe for Mason Jar Sangria, made with red wine, citrus fruit, and spiced rum, back in February. It’s a nice hot weather cooler also, but when the real dog days hit, white wine sangria is a refreshing twist. 

I made a batch of Mason Jar White Sangria for a pool party last Labor Day, and it definitely merits a place in the Planting Dandelions mason jar cocktail collection. Now, some of you are into mason jar cocktails for the rustic charm, but for me, the chief charm lies in portability and convenience. As with the red sangria, and my recipe for Mason Jar Spiked Lemonade, it lets you premix individual drinks and keep them cold without them getting watery or going flat. 
white sangria ingredients

The formula for sangria is simple: wine + fruit juice + spiced rum + fresh fruit + sparkling water (the last ingredient being added at serving time). There’s a lot of room to improvise (add hot tea or cider instead of sparkling water and PRESTO, hot spiced wine), so feel free to substitute, but here’s what I used:

  • White wine (I like sauvignon blanc here, because it has nice tropical fruit flavors, without a lot of oak)
  • Peach nectar
  • Fresh peaches
  • Spiced rum
  • Seltzer water for topping up at serving time
  • Wide-mouth pint jars

First, slice some fruit and put it in the bottom of each jar. Pretty!

peaches in jar

Next, for each pint jar:

  1. Measure one shot (1.5 ounce) of spiced rum and pour over the sliced fruit.
  2. That’s about about a finger’s worth, if you learned to mix your Dad’s drinks as a child in the 70s.
  3. Add peach nectar or whatever juice you’re using to a depth of three fingers. That’s metric fingers if you’re Canadian.
  4. Add wine so the jar is a little more than half full. Or less than half empty, depending on your outlook.

white sangria steps

Depending on the juice and wine you’re using, you might want to add sugar to taste. So be sure to taste, and adjust the batch accordingly. Also, I mix these on the light side, because it’s a tall drink, and they go down easy on a hot day. You may like a more generous pour of rum. I won’t judge–just don’t drive. Screw the lids on, and keep the jars iced down until serving time. Don’t forget to bring the sparkling water, and keep it chilled, too!

mason jar white sangria on ice

To serve, unscrew the lid and top off with sparkling water. I especially like the rum-soaked fruit at the bottom. It’s full of fibre and vitamins. And rum.

Have a restful and refreshing Labor Day weekend. Here’s to the Summer of ’14!”

cheers!

We Believe. (part I)

August 27th, 2014

A psalm of belonging.

Church courtyard

After the sermon, before Holy Communion, Episcopalians stand up to recite the Nicene Creed, the profession of Christian faith. It begins with the words, “We believe,” followed by a list of things that the church agreed to agree on in the fourth century, and has managed to hang onto as a common denominator through hundreds of years of killing each other over everything else. For Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and most of the major Protestant denominations, the creed is the bottom line.

It’s a poetic, rhythmic litany, with trippy bits that sound like they were penned by a medieval Jim Morrison. Light from light, seen and unseen, and all that. And it lines up perfectly with my personal spiritual beliefs, all the way through those two opening words.

 “We believe.” 

As for everything after that, well, I just don’t know.

***

I tell people I’m a one-foot-in, one-foot-out kind of person when it comes to church. I’ve been doing the hokey pokey with religion as long as I’ve lived. My parents were Catholics in name. My grandparents were Catholics in everything. I was baptized Roman Catholic and went to Catholic school and mass week in, week out, until I graduated from high school, but religion was something I put on and took off like my navy blue uniform. It wasn’t part of my home life (though my mother was, and is, deeply spiritual), except as far as it was part of our cultural heritage. I still claim to be Catholic in that cultural sense, the way I call myself Canadian, though I chose to leave both a long time ago. “Catholic” says a lot about where I came from, but not much about who I am.

***

I wonder if my kids will feel that way about being Episcopalian when they are grown up. They were baptized in the Episcopal cathedral. They go to Episcopal youth groups during the school year, and Episcopal camp during the summer. Once every so many Sundays, I can bribe/threaten them all into coming to church, and they know the liturgy like a book of nursery rhymes. We stand up together after the sermon and they hear me recite the Nicene Creed.

“We believe…”

 Then we leave the liturgy behind, with the service programs and the paper lemonade cups, and go about our lives. Sometimes at home, but mostly in the car (because there is something about in-between spaces that invites truth), we talk about what we really believe, or sort of believe, or don’t believe at all. Often, we just wonder.

The kids know I believe in an historical Jesus, a teacher and wise man, who understood God uniquely. And that I believe in Christ, as shorthand for something that connects us to the source of our being and our highest becoming. But whether they are both the same, and where doctrines and creeds  fit into it, I have no idea, and no inclination to figure it out. I find most theology to be a weirdly forced and abstract enterprise–men building tiny boxes of logic that are supposed to contain boundless mystery. The metaphorical devil surely lives in a religion’s details.

I prefer Carl Jung’s proclamation of faith: All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakable conviction of the existence of God. I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take his existence on belief – I know that he exists.”

I wouldn’t dare say my own convictions are unshakable, only that I know what I’ve known: a loving power that’s greater than the box of my thinking, bigger than the boxes of religion. That doesn’t eliminate believing (or thinking) for me, either, because there are times that I need to remind myself what I’ve known until I know it again. But it simplifies my creed vastly. 

I believe. That’s all.

Until I get to church, where “I’ becomes “we.”

“We” is complicated.

***

The first Episcopal church I walked into, with my infant firstborn son in my arms, was my church home for nearly a decade. My two oldest sons went to the attached parochial school for primary grades. The baby spent a couple of years in daycare there, while I worked in the office as an assistant to one of the priests. I led study groups, and served as a lector. There was a blink of time when I thought I might become a priest myself. I had just gotten the Bishop’s sanction to begin the official discernment process when I learned I was pregnant (surprise!) with my third child. I daydreamed about seeing my children get married there. I pictured my own funeral there, the words of John 11 pealing out through a cloud of incense. I am the Resurrection and the Life.

I put my whole self in. Then I took my whole self out.


(To be continued.)

Free to a good boy

August 25th, 2014

Can I have a kitten

One morning, right at the beginning of the summer, the Littlest Who came home from a sleepover with big news.

“Mom! I got to play with a tiny kitten, and give it a bottle, and it was so cute, and guess what? We can keep it! For FREE!”

No kidding.

“That’s nice,” I said, “but we have a cat and a dog already. We’re good on pets for now.”

“PLEASE. His name is Gingersnap, and we can have him on August 7.”

“No way.” I was smiling, but firm. The idea of bringing another animal into the house was one that had to be pinched in the bud. I knew it was disappointing for him, but there was no point in giving false hope. It just wasn’t going to happen. 

Besides, he’d forget all about by the end of the day.

The Littlest Who is the most buoyant soul I’ve ever known, so it was hard to see his spirits deflate so suddenly. He bent his neck and shoulders perpendicular to the ground, Charlie Brown style, and shuffled dejectedly  into the house, where he went to his bedroom and shut the door.

Give him an hour, I thought, he’ll be fine.

By suppertime, he was still in bed, moping. Okay, so it might take the rest of the weekend for the new kitten smell to wear off. I was touched that he was taking it so hard, but no less resolute. And Patrick was emphatically on my side.

Later that night, I found a note on my computer.

Dear Mom,

first of all the kitten is free

I could take care of it

I would feed it

I would protect it

I love it so so so

so much

its 12 weeks old

and its realy nice

I showed it to Patrick. ” We’re doomed,” he said.

But I wasn’t ready to accept defeat. “Give it a week,” I said. “He’ll forget about it.”

“Can I get a kitten?” was the first thing the Littlest Who said to me in the morning.

“Can I get a kitten?” he asked again that night.

A few days later, I got a call from the mom who had hosted the sleepover.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, explaining that she thought it would be harmless fun for the kids to visit the litter of orphaned kittens her friend was fostering.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “But I’m going to need you to sign some papers before he sleeps over ever again.”

She then described for me how the Littlest Who had gotten to give the kitten a bottle (it was actually four weeks old), then a bath, and then lay down with it and sung it lullabies until it went to sleep.

“I just feel like I have to tell you, I’ve never seen any boy be so nurturing with an animal like that. It was like they had a bond.” 

I repeated the story to Patrick. “LIKE THEY HAD A BOND.”

“We’re doomed.”

“Wait another month.”

“Can I get a kitten?” came a voice from around the corner.

But my resolve was weakening. They had a bond. “We’ll talk about it later.”

“Can I get a kitten?” he asked the next morning.

And every day, and every night, for eight weeks.

Until August 7th.

gingersnap arriving

When Gingersnap came home.

a boy and his kitty

 Where he obviously belongs.

 

 

Backward glance

August 22nd, 2014

Wrapping up the week.

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We went into the last weekend of summer holidays with fresh haircuts, hot-off-the-press class schedules and new teacher reveals. As exceptionally sweet as this summer has been, the boys seemed content and maybe even a little excited to start the new school year. 

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Saturday was a museum kind of day. In the morning, I attended a genealogy workshop at the military museum. My obsession with dead relatives has been on the back burner while I’ve been growing tomatoes and painting bedrooms this summer, but you can count on it cranking back up as those things wind down.

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That afternoon, I took all three boys to the Clinton Presidential Center to catch the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture exhibit. I invited the teens to bring their girlfriends along. Whatever it takes to get them to spend a Saturday afternoon with their mom.

 
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Oh, yeah, and I cut my bangs really short. I’ve been trimming them a tiny bit every couple of weeks for months, but I clearly got overconfident. Also, I did this hours before a big party that night. I may have thrill-seeking issues.

 

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Oh, well. It’s just hair, right? It will grow. If someone will lock the scissors away.

back to school

With the kids back in school, I’ve been able to get back to writing. I’ve got a new desk arrangement in our bedroom, and it’s working quite well for me. There’s a green hummingbird that comes to visit me at the window every day. I’m turning into a person who watches birds, grows tomatoes, and attends genealogy workshops. If it weren’t for my maverick home haircutting tendencies, life would be altogether too tame.

Except that this one time, Billy Bragg made a surprise appearance at the Whitewater Tavern in Little Rock, and I was there. Last night.

billy bragg at whitewater tavern

Having grown up in a home where Woody Guthrie was revered as a household god, most of what I know of Billy’s work is from the Mermaid Avenue sessions. But after last night, I’ll be putting some serious time into getting to know the rest of his catalog. It was a generous performance in an intimate setting, and I place it among my favorite concerts ever, with Leonard Cohen at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, and a Pogues concert hall gig in Toronto in the late 80s. 

Billy Bragg is on the road (with touring partner Joe Purdy) for a photo and film documentary in connection with Aperture magazine, and has been doing these pop-up gigs along the way. If you hear of one anywhere near you, don’t miss it.

A pretty good week, rogue bangs notwithstanding. Hope your weekend is wonderful.

And all creeds and kinds and colors
Of us are blending
Till I suppose ten million years from now
We’ll all be just alike
Same color, same size, working together
And maybe we’ll have all the fascists
Out of the way by then
Maybe so.

Woody Guthrie, “She Came Along to Me”

 

Seeking first to understand

August 20th, 2014

Some words on Ferguson.

morning glory

There are so many words I’ve started to to type into little boxes this week, then stopped.

I’ve stopped because I’m afraid they might be the wrong words and add to the pain of people who are already hurting, or enrage people who are already angry.

I’ve stopped because they might be cheap words, and I don’t want to be that person whose opinions are forcefully voiced, and faintly lived.

I’ve stopped because I want to examine what I feel and believe before I share what I think, and it takes time to search out the deep, dark places.

I’ve stopped because the bewildering, complex puzzle of race in the United States is something my brain really wants to pull apart and solve, and I become so absorbed in the intellectual exercise, I forget that there are people trapped inside.

I’ve stopped because the little boxes are too small for something so big.

I’ve stopped because I sincerely believe it’s time for me to listen, though holding back words doesn’t come easily to me. I’ve been reciting the “St. Francis” prayer a lot.

I don’t want the silence to say things I don’t intend, though. So I’m allowing myself a few words here, in this slightly roomier box, to make it clear, to those who’ve wondered, that I am talking and thinking and feeling a great deal about the crisis in Ferguson, and the questions it begs of us all. That my understanding of systemic racism, and my own part in it, is very much a work in progress, and not something I want to work through out loud on twitter or Facebook, scattering the seeds of that growth on such scorched and thorny ground.

And anyway, there are other people whose words in this matter are more appropriate than mine at this time. Here are links to some powerful ones, and if you haven’t read them before, I hope you’ll click through to reach each post in entirety, seeking first to understand and to love.

 

Make me an instrument of peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love

where there is injury, pardon

If the continuing conversation about racism upsets you, take a second to imagine what it’s like for the black people who deal with racism everyday, and who are tired of thinking and talking about it, but discuss it anyway because for them, it’s not just a dinner table dialogue. 

“11 Things White People Should Stop Saying to Black People Immediately”by Derek Clifton

where there is doubt, faith

where there is despair, hope

where there is darkness, light

where there is sadness, joy.

I’m tired of walking through the world constantly aware of how my blackness is being perceived, how my interracial marriage is being perceived.  The fact is, whether it is being perceived positively or negatively, if I’m in the United States, I am always aware of it, and I’m tired.

“Affected” by Karen Walrond

Grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console

to be understood as to understand

to be loved as to love.

If you want to know what to do, my answer is this: risk death. Risk the death of your reputation. Risk the death of close ties to your family. Risk the death of your dream home and “safe” neighborhoods. Risk the death of a large congregation. Risk the death of your big donations. Risk the death of your worldview and perspective on American history. Risk the death of your comfort in majority, dominant spaces. Risk the death of your leadership role, of your speaking engagement, of your writing opportunity. Risk never being invited back to the conference. Risk the death of your social and professional circles. Risk what we risk just trying to live. 

Black Bodies, White Souls by Austin Channing

For it is in giving that we receive

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned

it is in dying we are born again to eternal life.

 

 

The eleventh first day

August 18th, 2014

firstday2004-2007

firstday2008-10 firstday2011-13

2014

The boys walked into their fifth, eighth, and tenth grade classrooms this morning, at three different schools. At least, I think those are their grade levels. At check-in this year I tried to register my youngest for fourth grade again. The PTA past-president had to persuade me that my child was, in fact, going into his final year of elementary school. It took a full minute or two for me to believe her. I still can’t quite fathom it. How can the Littlest Who be going off to middle school next year? 

For that matter, how can each of his brothers count off on one hand the mandatory school years remaining? And why I am seeing so many posts this week from friends who are dropping off kids at university campuses? How can that be, when it seems like we’re barely out of college ourselves? 

I feel like a cartoon character paddling backwards at the edge of a waterfall, having just now heard the roar and realized where this lovely stream of days and years was always headed.

We used to wait

July 30th, 2014

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As anxious as the days are in between, the wait for a letter from camp is worth it, if only to recall a time when we used to have to wonder. 

Now it seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what’s stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive

Arcade Fire “We Used to Wait”

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Adventure Time

July 29th, 2014

Preparing for first time at camp with help from fictional friends.

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The Littlest Who went to his first sleep-away camp on Sunday afternoon. He’s watched his brothers go before him, three years running, and he says he’s ready.

“We won’t be able to call each other,” I reminded him, when he declared it, back in the spring. Our last significant separation, a year before, was difficult. A heart wrenching, tearful telephone call, the long, anxious hours until I got home. “You might get homesick.”

“I might,” he allowed. “But I’ll get over it.”

Definitely ready. It’s a long way from nine years old to ten.

When he accompanied me a few weeks ago to drop his brother off at camp, he was unusually quiet as we walked away from the cabin, his blue eyes wide and solemn. I knew he must be picturing me walking away without him.

“Let’s walk around a bit,” I said. I pointed out the various buildings, the swimming pool, the chicken yard, the astonishing view.  We ended our tour in the stone chapel that looks over the cliffs to the river valley below. “You’ll be like Harry Potter going to Hogwart’s for the first time,” I told him. “You’re going to love this place more than you know.”

He brightened up right away. Isn’t it good how stories can give us a frame of reference for situations we’ve never experienced before?

Even the cartoon kind. On departure day, he emerged from his room dressed as Finn, from Adventuretime, wearing the hat I knit for Halloween before last, and sporting an empty green backpack “just for looks.” Ready for adventures. The first of which was getting manhandled by big brothers. 

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When we pulled into the camp parking lot, he took his props off and left them in the car, their purpose presumably served. As was mine, clearly, as soon as he found his bunk, and was surrounded by friendly cabin mates. I managed to get one more hug and one more picture before I left him, ready to be the hero of his own story.

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I can’t wait to hear it.