Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Note

"Lucy, what are you doing?" Myra says. She lifts he chin.

Lu marks a lime green sticky note in pencil, tilts her head. "I'm making something 'cause Jack's gonna play a game with me today, " she says, "hopefully." She makes a curved scrawl on the green note. Myra frowns.

"Jack, wanna play Shoots And Ladders with me?" Lucy shouts. Jack, holed up at the little black couch, creases a fresh towel on itself, folds it in half two more times, then flops it on a stack of clean laundry.

"No," he says.

"Is it 'cause I'm so good?" Lu asks.

"No, I wanna play outside."

"Ok." Another pencil stroke across the green note and Lucy discards the pencil. She balances her note on the piano lip.

Outside. It's two shakes of a lambs tail, the laundry folded into geometric shapes, slid into cupboards, and the children are outside, an economy of play unfolding.

Then there we are again sidled up on that same table bench working out the underpinnings of a morning.

"If you give yourself less time in the time test than the teacher says," Lu chatters, "then you will go faster." She presses the stop button on the math timer, subtracts the remaining time in her head and writes her score.

She scoops up Joe Alan, her baby. His head lobbed over one shoulder, she pats his blue bottom. "Rockie at Grammie's yesterday kept asking me, Why are you STILL holding your baby?" she says. "And I was like," she cups a hand to her mouth, "in my head, Well, THAT'S how you take care of a baby."

I nod in time to her story. She rubs Joe Alan's back. I hold still to let the story unfold. A tiny vibrato of affection there between us.

The day pages by, snap shots of faces up turned to me, full moons of faces, unself-consciousness and present. The moments move past in perfect time.

"Do you know where my piggy bank is?" Myra asks.

"No." I look up from a notebook of memory work. I copy verses over and over until I know them.

"It's on my bed," Myra says, a tiny nod to punctuate. I watch her, all pjs and wild hair, and I feel it again, that tiny rhythm of a scene. We both wait, a fermata, as if a line were coming, but it didn't belong to either of us.

"Did you put the NOTE in it?" Lucy says.

"Yeah." Myra nods to Lucy there over my left shoulder, penciling away math facts. Myra turns to me, her face wide open. "It's by my pwidow," she says. A confidential tilt of her head, her bottom lip drawn up, she almost winks.

I nod. There it is again, that urge to hold perfectly still, let the current of play rush by, make as small a dent as possible.

The note. I wrote the note before bed, stuck it to her headboard. I called her Strawberry Shortcake. A note. She put it in her piggy bank next to her pwidow.


5295. Myra bonks her head. "What happened?" Craig asks. "I was speeding," Myra says.

5296. I hear a noise in the night and jostle Craig away. It's nothing. After playful jabbing he pats my leg. "It's ok," he says, "I live to protect you."

5297. "Mom, today can I wear something pretty?" Myra greets me.

5298. Joey fishes the carrots out of his stew and stacks them up on his spoon.

5299. Lucy can't find a cup so she gets a drink in a cupcake liner.

5300. "Jane, some boogers keep dribbling out of my nose," Myra Rose whinnies. "Yeah," Jane says. "Then you know what you do? Blow it. And then it stops." She fetches Myra an arm-length of toilet paper. "Here, Rose. Fold it like this. Then wipe your nose." They converse wilted on living room rug.

5301. We travel to our friends' house for dinner. The eleven of us around an old farm table, we commune over minestrone and fresh bread, salad, lemon bars and coffee. Adult and child conversations overlap in concentric circles.

5302. Joe pours a quarter cup of honey on his toast when no one's looking. Honey fingerprints dot the house. I even find them on the handle of my toothbrush.

5303. "Ya didn't paint my nails," Myra says to me. "I know, 'cause we might have to wait if there's not time," I say. "I'm just sayin' that," she says, "'cause don't you want me to be pretty tomorrow?"

5304. Cat cookies. We celebrate the last wrestling match with a bucket of cat cookies.

5305. The last wrestling match finally comes and goes. Jack takes home a gold. All the cousins look a whole year more practiced. A new grade of solidarity passes between them. And us.

5306. Lemon soap.

5307. Knitting needles. The tunic dress almost finished, I already have the needles for the next project.

5308. I mention chili powder, and Cerissa sends some over for me to try. We saddle up for another week of beans.

5309. Another week cycles by, and I count myself rich. Love encircles me. I bend a knee to my savior.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hard Work

"It's big. Jack's making it really big," Jane says. A ruckus in from the backyard, someone gallops across the kitchen. The back door squeaks closed.

I prop the cutting board over the sink, brush it off, slide it back in place. I roll a two pound bread loaf across my palm, square it on the breadboard. Jane yo-yos around my elbow.

"It's up to his waist, and the other kids are ALL helping," she says.

I nod, measuring the loaf with my eyes. I grab my saw of a bread knife, heave it over the cover. A perfect slice. We hush, watch the slices lean over on each other, each hefty and warm.

"Can we have butter?"

"Sure. Just eat it outside so you don't get crumbs on the floor."

"Ok. I'll go tell Jack to take a break on the hole." Jane calls, her hair twirls like a shawl.

She's half out the door when I yell. "Hey, hey wait. What HOLE?"

"Jack's diggin' a hole."

"A hole? I hope you asked Daddy." She's out the back door, a few steps into the yard  We blink into each other's eyes. "You need to call Daddy and ask him before you dig any holes."

"Oh. Ok, we will." She gambols over the spongy brown grass.

I shrug, match a rain boot to its mate pinched in the corner. I remind myself to rally a tidy-up. Joey fishes a bent harmonica from beneath an inside out pink parka. He puffs into the kitchen. I follow, match his grubby hand to the fresh bread, scoot him outside.

Lunch. More hands find the bread, gobble it up. I brush another set of crumbs into the sink.

"Is there anymore bread?" Jane wanders past the breadboard.

"No, you guys ate it all," I say. "There are some stale sandwiches from yesterday if you want."

"Ok." She crinkles the saran back. "I love it when the honey's crunchy."

"Good. Hey, did you guys ever call Daddy?"

"No, not yet." She rips the saran off and wads it up.

"Why not?" I lean an elbow on the counter, wrinkle my forehead.

"Jack's filling in the hole first."

"Oh. Well, don't forget, ok?"

She's just rounding the corner, a skiff of breadcrumbs behind her. "We won't," she calls. I let her go.

Filling it in. Isn't that the way it goes. I slide the breadboard back in the slot. Filling it in -- I try to decide if it's guilt or good faith.

By Saturday Craig has them digging worms in the garden.


5271. "I was sort of surprised you let her sleep on your bed," Jane comments. I now know to remove pee from a mattress.

5272. "Don't laugh, you're encouraging him," Lucy says when Joey palms the ice cubes in his oatmeal.

5273. Craig steals my coffee out of the microwave. I find a decoy in it's place. The note inside says, "Just kidding." I laugh about it all morning.

5274. Creamy winter soup, the Tuesday girls, we prepare for various members absence in April.

5275. I announce pizza for dinner. The whole family cheers. We part the worries of a busy week with Grandad and Grammie. It feels like an oasis.

5276. Kale salad. Lots.

5277. "It would be scary on an ostrich farm, I think,"Jack says. "'Cause with one blow of its foot ostriches can knock you unconscious."

5278. Daniel and Cerissa join us for dinner. We set a coffee table for the kids. Soup, salad and bread, Jude heralding compliments like stones from a sling shot, cupcakes and blueberry squares, a circus of camaraderie and devotion, bliss -- we eat like kings. Ten children between us, and it feels like two for all the good fun and high manners.

5279. "This is REALLY good soup, Aunt Bethany," Jude says. "And I LIKE soup. This is REALLY GOOD soup. I'm gonna have another bowl. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm," he shakes his earnest head.

5280. Logan eats his cupcake liner.

5281. We feel that bond of family braided through every moment.

5282. Craig discovers a way to refill the toner in our printer.

5283. Fleece lined leggings.

5284. Almond extract.

5285. A new black nail file finally replaces the one I put in a really safe place and can't find.

5286. Mom tells me the beginning of a story about synthesia.

5287. Jack wrestles gold at the weekend tournament. All the cousins congratulate each other.

5288. Craig's parents come for lunch. We linger over soup and sun. Peace surrounds us. Affection grows.

5289. I navigate two migraines. The children pick up the slack. We pull together. Security feels good.

5290. "Baby sleeping," Joe says, his baby bear balanced on a pillow. "Shhhh," he says.

5291. I awake from one migraine to the smoke detector's scream. Toast, it must be the toast, I think. I finally roust and check. There is Lucy placidly buttering toast at the kitchen counter, fire alarm screeching high C.

5292. Craig leaves a chocolate bar on the coffeemaker.

5293. We begin to plan our garden. Black garden soil, seeds filed away and pulled out, we swell with anticipation for the good hard work ahead.

5294. Hard work. We take in it's nourishment.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


"Did you see me working?" Lucy says. She lopes to the front door, waves at me, her therapy goggles covered in fingerprints.

I pull the storm door open. "Yeah, I did." I smile. I had been watching her on the front porch after my run. I pull the orange cord of my ipod up through my shirt, snap the cord out and wind it around my hand.

"Did you see ME?" Myra does a two-step gallop from the kitchen.

"No," I say, " I couldn't see you from where I was standing."

"I was working in the kitchen," she says, "with a vacuum to get all the crumbs. And SPIDERS." She titters and peals giggles. Joe and the dust-buster clatter after her, she half down the hall already.

Then it's almost lunch. A colony of papers litter the table. A collapsed fort leans across the living room floor. The sprawling arms of Myra's comforter completely cover the rug. I sigh, weave my dismay into a plan.

"Hey kids," I call, "can you come in here? I have a special treat for you."

"Is it vinegar?" Jane calls.

"No," I say. I snap a panel door closed over the washer and dryer. "Go get the kids."

"Lu-cy, My-ra," she calls, "come in here. Mom has a treat, and it isn't vinegar."

Vinegar, the all purpose seasoning, I shake my head. We rally to clean up the house, fold up fort supplies, turn in the papers, capture a rogue breakfast bowl, dunk it in the sink. We clean. Cleanness, we get to keep it. Cleanness, the special treat.

Then it's Sunday. We gather up a new week and prepare it for spending. The kids make themselves oatmeal, baptize it in brown sugar. I brew coffee. Joe manhandles the sugar, blazons a skiff across the floor. I corral spare utensils into the sink, suck up the brown sugar. Everyone congregates at the table.

"Lucy," Myra says, "Mom told me spiders like brown sugar. Mom actually told me." We all wait for this to be meaningful. "Right?" Myra turns to me.

"Ah. ANTS," I say.

"ANTS like brown sugar," Myra says, her eyebrows perfect parenthesis over each eye.

"I already KNEW that," Lu says. She stirs an arc in her oatmeal, her face serene.

"Spiders eat bugs; ants eat sugar," I say.

"What do ants eat?" Myra says, her face devoted to mine.

"Sugar," I say.

"What do ANTS eat?" she says.


"What do SPIDERS eat?" she says, chin dipped, forehead furrowed.


I blink. She blinks.

"Oh," she says. "That's EWIE."


With a pluck of staccato, she yanks Joey's hands, claps them together. "Come on, Joe-Joe," she says. And she's off, already half through the next measure, Joe a clatter behind her.

I lean on an elbow, let them go. Something expectant lilts behind, snags the slack end of my smile. Expectant. Dauntless. The week presents it's ingredients. I take them in.


5256. My dad turns 60. Dad, my first measurement of courage and strength, wise, righteous, and humble. Sixty, a great beginning.

5257. I bluster over a mess in the kitchen, spill myself out into the sunroom. "Mom, I have a really nice paragraph," Jack responds. Holed up for silent reading, he points at Revelation 4:8. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty," he says, "who was, and is, and is to come." I immediately become sane.

5258. "Jesus, help me to get good at writing notes to Mom," Lucy prays. "Amen."

5259. "Joe-Joe, I love you," I whisper in his ear. "Yeah," he says. "You're a good boy," I whisper. "Yeahhhh," he says.

5260. "I have an egg from my chickie," Myra says, waves a nut brown egg in the air. "Here," she says to Joe, "I'm gonna rub it on your cheek. DON'T eat it. Feel, it's WARM."

5261. My brother and his family come to dinner -- soup, salad, bread, IRISH DAIRY CAKE, perfection.

5262. We visit and laugh, the children eating olives, buttering bread at our elbows. I marvel again at that solid rock of heritage, that cornerstone of every conversation, that plumb-bob of loyalty hanging there in the middle of us all. Conversation comes easy.

5263. We replace our bread maker.

5264. Mom and I map out the rhetoric of Ravi Zacharias, trace Truth's silhouette.

5265. Jack wrestles tournament #2. He finds himself the recipient of a very good compliment. "You're the hardest guy I've ever wrestled," says the wrestler who beat him.

5266. We spend the morning in the bleachers surrounded by family.

5267. My nephew turns eleven. At his party his face flashes glimpses of the man he will be -- gracious and strong, funny and kind. Good.

5268. "Joe-Joe, what are you eating? Don't eat that," I say. "Don't worry," Myra chirps. "It's just boogers, Mom."

5269. "Guys," Lucy says as we make lunch, "I saw twenty-eight fire hydrants on the way home from church. Twenty. Eight."

5270. Expectant. I don the clothes of expectancy and prepare for the week.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


"Where does the stamp go?" Jack says. Barefooted after a tromp out back, he hee-haws from one foot to the other. I slide my pink slip of paper in the card-sized envelope, hand it back to him.

"Here," I say. He licks the flap, mashes it over and presses it between his fingers. Generously moistened, it blurps a little along the seam.

"Look, Lucy," he holds up the letter, creases the lip further.

"Careful, you don't have to pinch it like that," I say. He flaps the letter like a wing. Anchored farther down the table, I stir a ramekin of soup, scalding hot.

"Ok, where does the stamp go?" he says. Now holding the envelope in a feather grip, he points to the front side. He taps the top right corner, then left corner. He leans on the table end, studies the addressee.

"Just a minute," I say. He fingers the parcel. I draw a scoop from my bowl, billowy hot. Taco soup, I blow across the spoon. The broth flutters. I watch him wait, gather his enthusiasm, chisel it into an engine.

"Is it by the G or the S," he says and points to either side of the addressee.

"Uhm," I slurp the cumin-y broth, scorch my tongue. "The S," I manage and swallow scorching sop.

My stamps around the corner and down the hall, I let him wait, watch him squirm with excitement, and then corral it, harness it.

The letter. Scrawled in enormous print across the middle: my Grampa's name.

Gentle waves of heritage wash over me, something decent and good. Upright. And humor. That man laughs all the time. A retired M.D.,  still he never misses the hilarity of high class, high society. He and Gramma used to laugh until they'd cry. He still laughs every day.

"I hope Grampa likes the letter," I say. I think how long it's been since I've seen him. Long.

"Does he know Jesus?" Lucy blurts.

"His parents did," I say. Everyone slows on her pivot. My spoon rests slack at the bowl. Jane glances up from a page of math. "He says he doesn't know if there's a God," I say.

"Why?" Lucy says, her eyes round beacons. She's leaned so far over the table that she's almost laying on it, propped on her elbows.

"'Cause he's blinded." I shrug. "I've been praying for him my whole life, for as long as I can remember." The words spool out, but almost as quickly as I say them, I feel the weight of all those prayers gathered up, wound up, saved and set aside. Acknowledged. As if for a moment eye to eye with Jesus, I gush love for Grampa.

"Is he a Jew?" Lucy blurts. Her brow furrowed as if distilling the options, she pokes the question. She raises her eyebrows. Her devoted blue eyes blink at me. They all do.

The sphere of the moment, a rising balloon of hilarity, I bust. "No," I burble. "Nope," I bubble and giggle. I unravel and fracture, mirth and merriment broke open. "I'm laughing because it's a good question," I finally say, "unexpected and good. Nope. He's not a Jew."

Lunch, split open and raptured, we busy ourselves with the work of the day, a marble of joy in our pockets.


5239. "I know I would never hibernate," Lucy says, "even if I tried. Only bears do that. And maybe monkeys."

5240. We eat vinegar over garbanzos for dinner. Joey slurps and slurps to get the last sips of vinegar.

5241. I check on Myra before I head to bed. She's asleep in maroon stretch pants and pink Converse.

5242. New swim bottoms, the kind that do it all and then some.

5243. Trail mix.

5244. Chicken white chili, salad and oat bread, blueberry bars, family.

5245. Joey takes to filling measuring cups from the fridge dispenser. He lounges and sips out of them.

5246. Myra and Joe eat oatmeal together. She peals in giggles. "He's staring at me," she says.

5247. "Mom, I'm gonna sit by you," Myra says, "'cause of my owie, so then the blood doesn't spray out."

5248. A summer tank, a new stock pot, a sweater you can wrap up and tie at the waist, almond croissants, a Friday out, it's perfect.

5249. "Joey fell out of bed," Myra says, when we go looking for Joe, "so I had to have him sit on my bed for a while."

5250. "Momma," Jane says as we play Words of Love at dinner, "what I love about you: When people do something wrong, you come down really hard on them, but they end up being really glad that you did."

5251. "Daddy," she says, "what I love about you is that no matter what happens you're just really happy. You're just so optimistic."

5252. We beat it to the first wrestling tournament of the season. The whole big family meets to cheer and hurrah. Camaraderie breaks loose.

5253. "I'm like a grown-up," Myra croons to Joe, "'cause on my date Mom gave me chocolate chips."

5254. Jude turns five. A birthday party and my sweet, force-of-nature nephew blanches with joy. Me too.

5255. We come in for another Sunday landing. The rhythm of rest and work pulses us on.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


"Revelations is a good book," Lu says. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches, white plates, crumbs past the radius of each elbow, we break for lunch.

"Revela-TION," I say. "It's Revela-TION. Not RevelationS."

I carve a trench in my lentil soup, yeah, Mom gets soup. I glance at Lu, kitty corner across the table. I crush taco chips and toss them over the lentil mush. It's one thirty, a rush of hunger now almost eclipsed.

"Yeah," she says. "Revelation."

Myra scooches next to me, slides her plate, chink, next to my bowl. "Can I sit by you?" she whispers, her lips on my shoulder. I smile, that red hair a cloud let loose. I encircle her with my arm. She's a chopstick of a girl folded up next to me.

"Oh, lean over," I say. "Don't get crumbs on the floor." She's grabbed her sandwich and nibbled the corner, a landslide of crumbs in her lap. She untangles from my arm like a magnet pulled from the fridge. "Here." I nudge the plate up to her chest.

"Revelation is all about the end of the world," I say. The jumbo chip bag almost gone, I rattle shoulder deep. Joey sets his sandwich on the table.

"Jack," Jane says, "if you read Isaiah, you'll get a pretty good taste of the same thing." The confidence of an executive, she bites into the white center of her sandwich.

"How did you know that?" I say.

China blue eyes oblivious, she shrugs. "When Dad was listening to Isaiah, I thought he was listening to Revelation."

"Oh," I say. An imperceptible nod passes, a tiny consensus. We all feel it, but no one says anything.

A day later, and it's bed time, the gallop and gaggle of five children in various stages of undress, some with toothbrushes, others begging to wear clothes to bed because they can't find jammies.

Like a warm front blowing in, a white thunderhead clearing the pool, Craig fires up the shop vac. The usual clatter forgotten, he drags the roaring red beast from corner to corner. I sigh. Noise, I hate noise.

And silt. At least the silt and dregs and sediment are being sucked away. Slag and debris from meals gone by, oatmeal, corn chips, sandwiches and pretzels, a peanut, some raisins, a loft of trailing hair, grey dust bunnies. I watch him paint clean across the floor.

The furrow between my brows eases. I grab a wet wipe, scrub behind him. A long scuff of black, some sciffs of red crayon, a splotch of milk turned dry and encrusted, I scrubby them down to hardwood.

"You're doin' a GOOD job cleanin' up out here," Lu says.

I look up. There on my knees, a quarter of a grumble swallowed down, "It's mostly Daddy," I stammer.

"You're being a big help too," she nods, slaps me on the back. She trots over to the canister of noise. Elation billows behind her. And confidence. A will to lead. She doesn't see it, as invisible as her backside.

Embroidered along the inseam of her smile, there it is again, that small agreement, that tiny nod willing good for each other. This is family.

Like a ship sucked under, my enmity toward Craig capsizes. I swim for the surface buoyant after all.


5219. "I'm putting away everything when I'm done with it," Jack says. "Please follow my example, everyone."

5220. "An hour," Myra says, "means only like for four minutes."

5221. "I love you," I whisper into Jane's ear. "I want to see your shining face," she says and she pulls out of my embrace, peers into my face, and blinks adoration. "Me too," I say.

5222. "I want to dance with Dad sometimes," Lucy says, "'cause I like to put my feet on his feet and dance and dance."

5223. "Jack," Lu says, "you want to watch me do 200 math facts in 15 minutes?"

5224. White chicken chili with red bell peppers, cheese crisps, berry cobbler, and coffee, all of us girls meet at Mom's house for lunch.

5225. "Mom, musket bullets have stuff like gravel in them," Jack converses from the shower. "Dad told me," he says. "I asked him on about it on the way home from wrestling." (Over and over and over, Craig tells me later.)

5226. Pizza and salad, belly laughs and banter, the leisure dinner that overlaps wrestling practice, family reclined at the table, we peel the night away until it's just a core of love and loyalty.

5227. Craig's Valentine's gift to me finally arrives: two cotton dresses.

5228. "When Jack is a grown-up," Lucy says, "Mom will be really OLD. She'll be like a hundred or somethin'."

5229. "Jesus," Jane prays, "help us to know how to love you."

5230. Lucy sings Amazing Grace while she works math facts.

5231. I pine for a headband that will stay on my head and Mom lets me in on the secret: make your own.

5232. Coconut sugar, cat cookies, non-GMO cornstarch: a grocery run.

5233. Craig finds 15 skeins of yarn for $5 at an estate sale.

5234. I wipe Joey's hand and pluck him from the table. His chubby legs topple the spool stool on my big toe. I huff and puff and glow with agony. "I dropped one of Jack's coins, and it landed on MY big toe," Jane comforts. "It hurt. I know how you feel." I bust with laughter.

5235. Craig rebuilds our silverware drawer.

5236. "Look, Mom. LOOK, Mom," Joey begins to say.

5237. A nugget from The Truth Project: Assumptions are caught and bought without an open and conscious dialogue. They are the most dangerous form of knowledge.

5238. I think of those small moments of agreement, those imperceptible threads that lace through us at the end of a moment: assumptions. We are fashioning assumptions. I pray each and every one honors my Lord.