Friday, January 18, 2013

Climbing Cold Mountain

Maybe this is the name this month wants to be called:  Climbing Cold Mountain.

"So what are your requirements, then?" I asked Young yesterday.  We'd both been reading and were now at the kitchen table eating afternoon toast.

"Adventure.  There has to be a battle.  Though a battle can ruin it if it's done bad.  And beautiful places that you would want to go into. What do you like?" because he's now that age where conversation is reciprocal, and thus delightful.

"I like stories that have travelling by foot or some other slow and real way of going.  And danger.  But I don't like battles.  I usually skip them, or skim them anyway."

"You do?  But they're really interesting.   How can you know what's happening?"

"I skim for bits of conversation, where people are talking? I don't like gore and descriptions that go on and on of people's innards.  I want to know the feelings."

"Yeah.  Though also I think revenge always makes a good story."

"Really?"  I ask.

"Well, not vengeance, but like bringing something back that enemies destroyed."

"I guess I can see that.  Like avenging dishonor and restoring what's right?"

"Yeah.  And majestic characters who can really do the hard thing to do," says my son.

"Except I don't like them to be braggy."

"Me neither," he agrees.

I say, "And I like there to be spots of coziness, on the brink of disaster. And beautiful places like you said.  Things worth seeing.  Also I notice I really like it when they talk about gardens and they know the names of plants and it's not just "big tree"  or "weeds"  or "a perfect red rose."  Like they've really seen things and not just watched a lot of movies."

Young nods, eats his raisin bread, toasted, with lots of butter.  Drinks some milk.  But his eyes stay on me, full of thought. 

"Maps, I like,"  I say.

"Yeah, they're usually a good sign."

"I think most books I like have a map.  Or they're set in London or some other clearly known place."

"Except sometimes in some books it feels like some people just throw maps in.  Like it's a trend.  It has to be a real map, even if it's imaginary," he points out.

"I agree. The place has to matter and where things are in relation to each other has to be felt in the writing."

And I realize later, it's not just our shared favorites:  The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Dancing Bear, that have maps and journeys, but so many of the works that feel like ancestors when I find them.  Books that appear not as made things, fortuitous, but as inevitable, undeniable and somehow holy like ancestors are -- that share these same qualities.

Take Cold Mountain.  What is it makes Cold Mountain so stinking good?   I asked myself.  I asked the Great Google. He answered,  I answered myself.  We both pretty much agree.

Restrained, musical rhythm of the writing voice, classic story-arc of the returning warrior, the future agrarian egalitarian dream dressed up as a plausible past (and therefore a plausible future), the true love and true loss that means a new generation can be born, the sense of place, the trueness of the two characters, redemption, tragedy, doggedness.  This sense of inevitable, undeniable truth to everything that happens.  And enough believable awfulness to let the goodness feel earned and willed and chosen and some kind of wonderful blessed luck.  The way it does in real life.

But how do you do it?  I've read Thirteen Moons, Frazier's second book.  It has many of the same ingredients, but never takes flight.

But Cold Mountain does.

What is the way to Cold Mountain?
Cold Mountain:  there's no through trail.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

hot february (jan - may 2011)

I have this idea that it's a good idea to go back to what was written two years later and see if anything still ticks.  Not as a real-life, news-flash, of-the-moment blogpost, but as a piece of possible writing, something worth looking at again in time to come.

Anyway, it motivates me to cull  and index my posts so that what I'm doing here feels more archival than wastrel.

But frankly, I was not looking forward to looking back at 2011 --  a year I set out to post not at all during the odd months and during the even months I remember only squirming with dissatisfaction so intense I finally gave up and went elsewhere.  A case in point, for illustration:

I am wearied (again, always) of the form my blog has taken, does take, always threatens to be taking.  My private focus (a word that means "hearth" - that most homey heart of the home) that keeps refusing to escape its own smallness. 

What began as a way to say something unmuddied by the grasping fingers of time and change, a private writing room where those who would could read, a kind of oratory in the woods, a chamber like Dickinson's where the soul selects her own society, begins to seem to me a lobby. With glossy magazines laid out.  Plants that look plastic. . . .

Caught by the pleasure of hearing responses from faraway friends and friendly strangers, I want that response more and more, that eye contact, that small applause. 
But that wanting distracts, distorts. Everything I write becomes a self-justification, a bid for sympathy.  Time is limited: what I need more is a chambered space  - contained, restrained in the way the private journal cannot be . . . 
Something.  Less solipsistic, more wide. More intimate, less confessional.  A way out by way of going in. A way of moving into the clearing.  A way of singing in the woods.
All of these terms are unsatisfactory.
(MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 201 the recurrent CONFESSION:)
Most of the first half of 2011deserves to be forgotten forever.   But lo!  what is this?  One month alone shone!  February 2011 smoked!

All of these were fun to read again: 

el rencor se sienta sobre el corazon como un sopa pesado 
" . . . In place of "Gr-r-r there go . . . " I can roll my tongue around  el gorro de baño (which means, innocently, "shower cap").  When faced with this moment's particular "What's the Latin name for 'parsley'?" and all other daily games of 20 questions, that tend to drive me around the bend, I can innerly chant my conjugations 

hablo, hablas, habla, 
hablamos, habláis, hablan 

before answering - remembering we all talk - hablamos.  All the time.  It's harmless.  It's what we humans do. . . . "

because of the sweet spot
". . . as for the sweet spot - I love it that Edith Wharton began every day writing in bed for a few hours - no doubt while trim housemaids in starched cap and apron poked the fire, opened the draperies and brought tea in delicate Messein.  You can almost catch the rustle of their silent assiduous bustle in the words with which Wharton finally found a way to populate her page.  

But each of us must write out of what and who and where we are. . . . "

tongues of love, the lettered heart, and other bad translations
" . . . This flower-giving is uncharacteristic of Fritz, though not out of character.  Especially as no words were offered, just flowers, with a silence which is a corrective, I believe, to the too many words said lately. . . .

Without opening his lips, Fritz handed me white tulips.  And I was touched, moved even, though our hands barely brushed.  It was, if you like, I like to think, a kind of speaking in tongues.  A purer kind of language. 

Or at least, less open to bad translations. . . ."

Things I Will Stop Doing Sometime Soon
" . . . And while we're at it, do stop apologizing to your younger self - she didn't know what life was bringing, she likes you anyway,  she's still here holding your hand.  Start talking to that wise old woman you're going to be.  Let go and turn away from the things you do that offend your soul - latch on to the graces and blisses that make you feel alive - which is what repentance is meant to mean.  Live in this body:  respect its needs for the hill-work, for early sleep and early rise, feed yourself as you would a cherished recuperating guest.  Grant this mind access to the work it needs.  We mean something like that. We think. It's anyway a place to start. . . . "


in different lights

" . . . This is my gift, making him laugh when he's decided to be sadly serious.  We were praying together, just the two of us.  When I gave thanks for our "supple marriage," he let out a startled snort-cough.
And afterwards, gleamed at me over the top of his glasses, grinning still reluctantly, Supple?

- Yes.  Don't you think so?  Isn't it amazing when you think of all we put it through and still it's strong. Supple, not brittle.  Aren't we lucky?  . . . "

FEBRUARY 30, 2011 - taking questions 
" . . . What are you doing here?
I am trying to write something and crossing out lines like the heart of what really matters and the thread of light in this mazy murk and meanwhile my mind keeps wandering away to that article from Sunset (June 1993) in the waiting room at the DMV about braising/deglazing and now I'm thinking how a clutch of yellow onions in beef broth/with balsamic, respectively, would be rather divine if stirred (with a little garlic) into those 15 varieties of beans.  And then maybe some smoked paprika?  a bit of sage? . . . "

FEBRUARY 32, 2011 - the end  
" . . . After saying my magic-symbolic words of transformation and putting the pigeon-now-dove into their hands, I tried to keep my face suitably sober as these two tear-softened gray-haired brothers together tossed their pigeon-dove into the air.

Being a mixed creature myself, I was jubilant standing amid the grievers to feel that maybe my cycle was grinding into action once again. . . "

things that still spin (august - december 2010)

Looking back, trying to look forward.  
Meanwhile, here is where we wereThese still have wheels that spin for me. 

[click titles below to link to full post]

The Bike Report (4/5) : Recovery, Return . . . no rain!
. . . "We have to," YoungSon insists, pedaling hard behind his dad on the tandem.  "We have to. I haven't ever done it yet all alone on my own bike."

 "True," I say. "Probably we will.  We could come this way again."

"And I'll be coming home for summers," says Eldest.  "Some summers."

"Probably we'll do it again.  Maybe."

"But it won't be the same."

"Nonsense," says Fritz. "This isn't the end, guys."

 [Mostly for the pictures and the links to earlier Bike Reports with 
even more pictures of this historic and pretty fantastic biking summer.]

I thought I'd said all that needed saying about my Eldest leaving home.  When I've wondered if something more needed to be said, I've sometimes clicked back to  daughter's words that could have been my own back when, mother's words that could be mine now.  

Reminding myself.  Renewal, ripeness, times and seasons. 
Consoling myself. Patterns, cycles of all kinds, the eternal return.

What more needed to be said?  . . .


fools, old ladies, and other answers to prayers
. . . I pause Eldest's story part way -  "I want to get her picture. Do you mind?" -  because glancing over my shoulder I've seen an older woman with a fully loaded bike at the berry stand. 

Because in a life a little over-endowed right now with old ladies, 
 it's enheartening to see one who carries her own tent and sleeping bag strapped to her bike,   
long white hair braided down her back  
beneath a self-designed, self-made helmet cover. . . .

this was once your life
. . . What will you remember from all these years that you once lived in and lived through?   
We took you to feed the ducks, do you remember?  And the way the ducks would gather below Edith's Beauty Shop with its flower boxes and its bright red roof and its ancient proprietress?  Will you remember this road you've walked along, ridden along, driven along, stood beside, so many uncountable, irretrievable days in so many kinds of weather?

All this was once part of your life.  Wherever you go it will go with you. . . .

of the dust, dusty.
We've slipped in late, because  - remember?  - no need to get Eldest here early to lead the singing.   I'd thought to sit elsewhere  where I couldn't see how she was gone.  But being late, chapel full - it's easier to slip up the side aisle, toward our usual bench, open and waiting. 
I'm not aching with loss this first week without my Eldest. Not even thinking about her. Nor, though, am I thinking of matters reverential nor salvific.  The grief I'm wracked with merely horticultural.  . . .

. . . Here I am, the only girl again.  But my son now, not my brother, catches the fish I don't, each silvery catch an iridescent, dotted wonder.  We laugh into each other's faces.

What could be more beautiful than this first catch?
He watches patiently the same water I watch when I'm not watching him.  There should be a soundtrack.

Something about how water flows.  Around and through life's best-laid plans. . . .  

 small elegy
. . . But what I didn't say then, or ever while he was living, is this: 

Once I had thought he was weak - a smoother and a placater, who backed down to keep the peace - not recognizing his gentleness as a more supple kind of strength.

I had thought him unambitious.  Years back I would have thought smally of an obituary whose signal life achievement was the building by hand of a small and simple mountain cabin, but only because  I didn't really yet believe that family-building was in any way commensurate with career-building.  For his children and grandchildren, though, I have come to see - that cabin was only the most visible incarnation of an ambitiously sturdy, uncomplaining, and generous sheltering. . . .

all the things i'll never tell you now
. . . So many posts that will never now be told.  Because when I came to sit down at the desk, finally, late in the evening, I just could never see my way to words.

Too slight a post (such as, say, encouraging letters my old bike wrote me via the freezer and the answering machine, or disquisitions on the proper place of chocolate cake in the Grand Scheme of Things) and I'd be playing the fool at the edges of my dear ones' grief.   

Too heavy,  I risked swamping this rackety lifeboat I paddle in.  Because my life at sea has taught me I can't afford the interest on borrowed sorrow. . . . 


See Emma J.  She is sad.

She is not writing.  She is not happy.

Emma J, write, write.  You will like it.  You will have fun. . . .

Why is it so much harder this year, this writing?
  1. the obvious . . . 
  2. the extra . . .
  3. the technical abyss  . . . 
  4. the deathly seriousness  . . .
  5. the fear - (see Burning Houses) my constant writing companion anyway, both why I write and why I stop, this scab I pick at until I can't stand it and then cover it back up . . .

Thank You, Sarcasm
For resisting the easy and sweet in the name of thinking again.
For attending to the ubiquity of the ridiculous.
For liking to laugh.
For being that stubborn and irreducible gristle - of the mind I want to say, but it is you, Sarcasm, who stop me with your snarky eye-rolling over that gruesomely mixed metaphor.  We all thank you for that. . . . 

Thank You, Safety
Another day, Safety, that you have rested here with me.  

Another day the Nazis haven't shown up pounding at the door, the mobs have kept their torches unlit and stayed at home watching crime shows on TV.  Another day that there is food on my shelves and no fire is falling from the sky.   

Another day, Safety.  And all the days that came before this when I thought you were about to leave, but you did not . . . 

Thank You, Pillow
Thank you, Pillow.  Thank you, Bed.
Thank you, tired and aching head
that teaches me the value of
my pillow's sure restorative
therapy and furthermore
thank you, inner downy core,
thank you, soothing smooth exterior  . . . 

Thank You, Hydrangea
. . . And so I did - choosing you four sprigs because you were the prettiest of all those pretty branches.  When I offered your lady the dimes I had in my coin purse, she said, "Piff!" and waved my money away.  You are, after all, priceless.

"I'll think of you every time I look at them," I called to her as I perched back up on the saddle, beaming over my bike basket mounded over with your rosy blossoms.  And your little old lady stood smiling with a golden glint and waving until I was out of sight. . . .

Thank You, Anything
. . . Everything had been handed me.  All I'd done was reach out and take it.  Which is something - we all know that.   

Nevertheless, I looked at this girl, felt myself torn with self-justifying irritation and grudging acknowledgement that she was right . . . Life had been unfair to her.  

And yes, she had been unfair to Life.  I knew there were gifts she couldn't bring herself to reach out for, blisses and blessings she had refused.  There always are. . . .

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

cerebral but not quite logical

The Soul scrabbles at the creek bed, fishing with a bare hand in cold water.  

She's searching blindly, by hand, for something.  Standing back up, ramming with a long stick into the rocks beneath the water.  Looking for some kind of leverage. Bending back down, knee-deep in cold water and reaching down into the white cold froth, hoping to catch hold . . . 

 . . . of what?  the handle to  . . . ?  There is the iron ring she imagines in her mind but cannot find.  Is it a door? or the lid to a box?  Is it in a small depression between the rocks?  Is it attached to a chain? Has she put it there? Or dropped it, lost it?  Is is something she was sent to find?  Or something just remembered?

Now again, six days later she is still searching.  Or back again searching.  Her hands are cold, her feet in the cold water, numb up to the knees.  Anger and grief the only thing warm about her.  She is stubborn, past thinking.  All the world is gone to her.  Nothing but the cold creek, the rocks slicked over with moss and wet.  The white turbulence like liquid ice, the dreary woods around her.

What will happen when she finds it?  Why does it matter so much to her?  Is it in itself a thing of value -- a key, a seed, a medicine, a map?  Or is it just a pointer to some greater lost or hidden thing?  

Come on, give her space.  Step back and stop talking about her in overvoice as if she were an interesting aborigine and we the documentary crew filming.  The Primitive Soul shows her teeth but doesn't seem to otherwise notice our retreat.

This is what I was writing this time last year.  Whenever I sat down to write I saw in my mind this desperate character who would give me no name but the Soul: 
I was riding back from stats class in the wide- windowed, high-windowed county bus, riding down Cornelius Pass, a winding steep road, punctuated with memorial crosses where other earlier vehicles took a nosedive and lost their animating drivers. 
It was the latter half of January, the Chinook, winter's own small spring break here in the Pacific Northwest.  A week or two of watery sun, a trembling warmth.  Illusory you could say.  Promissory you can hope.  Pleasant though, and I was looking out at the melting watershed when I suddenly became aware of her, the Soul, scrabbling desperately, doggedly, in the cold water foaming up over her wrist and forearms. She was out there just out of sight.  Before my eyes, the opening in the trees seen from the broad windows of the bus, clattering, chugging down the dangerous pass.  The deep-cut watershed full of brooding trees.  Ferns like green hands jutting up, signalling from the mist, the only bright thing in that dull wood.  The bright thought of water moving down the sharp cut rift. 
I thought I had found a new way to write, compelling at least to me, dragging me away from studying for stats over and over, because I couldn't get her , the Soul, out of my mind.  In the margins of my math notebook:
I want to bring her in, the Soul, to move her along.  I try giving her a companion:  He.  Standing a little back and watching her efforts warily.  His whites (cricket whites?  tennis?) but long-sleeved, rolled up above the knees, rolled up above the elbows, with white sweater vest, a little prissy, a little spackled near the hem with muddy water drops.  He says, "The flood's gone down," because I'm thinking of the snowmelt each spring that filled that other creek running down  the back boundary of my first remembered home, the same creek running later a little higher up past my grandmother's garden.  It was a house new to them, but suited to them entirely, whimsical, arty, cerebral but not quite logical.  They were fresh from Princeton where Grandfather had been a researcher and lecturer after a long career, and lucrative, in a well-known pharmaceutical. 

Little did I know, until pneumonia laid me out, gasping and weak a few weeks later, that my lungs were all that time slowly filling up with liquid.  This was not the Muse, but the Body, signalling.
The Soul ignores him, no matter what lines I give him.  Bends to the water, both hands now, thrashing in the turbulence, wriggling around under water with icy fingers feeling for the handle.  Is it a drain she's looking for?  Ridiculous. He shifts uncomfortably, knows he's not living up to his role.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

the truth

The truth is I don't want to write about family culture this month.  I don't want to think about motherhood.  I don't want to dwell on parenting.  I live in it already all the time and frankly I don't believe in it.

Any more than I believe in breathing. Why would anyone need to believe in breathing?

When I set out this year of renewal I left parenting out of my list at first.  Left it out of the list of areas in my life in need of or pertinent to renewal.  At first, accidentally.  And secondly, because I didn't want to spend a whole month focused on it.  And thirdly, because I have absolutely nothing at all to say about motherhood. Or parenting.  Or family culture.

I keep finding myself here though.  Passionately without anything to say about it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Family Culture: from V all the way to XYZ

V is for  
  • Avoid the vortex (emotional, nutritional, sleep patterns)
  • Violets go well with lettuce, in the garden, on the plate
  • Violets, candied on cake
  • Vehicular V-8 & almond packets
  • Vitamin S = our friend Sandy, & sunshine
  • Vitamin H = Hugs
  • Vitamin M = Mommy-time
  • Vitamin L = Laughing
  • Vanilla yogurt, with pomegranates, with mint
  • Vanilla ice cream, when you can't decide
  • Vanilla, real Mexican extract

W is for
  • White sheets, white towels
  • Whole wheat, whole fruit, wholesome
  • Washcloths wash bodies, dishcloths wash dishes, rags are only for the floor and fixtures
  • Walk it over
  • Wise = study hard = keep it in balance = seek the whole story
  • When it doubt, throw it out (food, stuff, busy-ness, material things, never people)
  • Whining never works
  • Wasting others' time wastes your own
  • Walk together to get closer together

X is for

[keep space open in every day, in every week]

Y is for  
  • Yelling yields only fallout and aftermath
  • Just Yea or Nay, Yes or No -- You don't have to give reasons and excuses to everyone (but you should know your own reasons)
  • "You are special today" plate for birthdays
  • It's not Your Show, but the Family Show and today you are not the star of this episode
  • Yard is all a garden

Z is for
  • Zero tolerance for violence 
  • Zing! Zing! - what happens when excess combines with no sleep
  • Zest in cookies and French toast

Thursday, January 10, 2013

STU -studying the basics of our family culture

S is for
  • Speak with respect
  • Simple meals Saturdays and Sundays
  • Simple staples sustain life best
  • Stack the silverware
  • Showing up matters
  • Show up for what matters
  • Stand like a hero
  • Stand like you own your mountain
  • Sing a song
  • Salt-water soaks
  • Secret signs & silent signals for support
  • Scrub with salt or soda
  • Sweet talk

T is for
  • Trust your gut, intuitions, inner knowing
  • Trust your children's gut reactions
  • Trust them to do it themselves(even if they're going to fail first)
  • Tell the person themselves (as much as possible) -- for good or ill
  • Tell them the story over and over of who they can be, what these hands will do someday, how they matter to you, how they will triumph in the end
  • Talking takes time - everything takes Time - Take the Time
  • "Tyger, Tyger, burning bright"
  • "Traveller, traveller all around the world"
  • Taco Salad
  • Try again
  • Trust the process
  • Take turns - use the timer to keep turns even
  • To finish a task, just start - Give a task twenty minutes on the timer - Try to beat the timer

U is for
  • Understanding is as important as being understood 
  • for Use and not for show ("My life is not for spectacle") 
  • Until the last child is in bed 
  • Use it or lose it 
  • Use bleach (though it has its dangers) 
  • Unreligiously follow a regimen of unadulterated, unboxed and unprocessed

mind your PQRs

P is for
  • Prayer is the answer
  • Present your case
  • Put it in writing
  • Piggyback errands
  • Push-ups for impoliteness
  • People are more important than things, ___ than schedules, ___ than programs
  • Popcorn popper with peekable dome
  • Pomegranates
  • Pack your own bags (in every sense)
  • Pack light (in every sense)
  • Peapods

Q is for   

  • Quality time requires quantity time
  • Questions are encouraged
  • Quieter is clearer
  • Quince

R is for
  • Rewind, rewind
  • Resist the urge to always be right
  • Red - a bit in every room
  • Rather than repeat, resort to the Socratic method ("I already answered that. What did I say?")

MNO - elements of our family traditions

M is for   

  • Make room for more than one person to be right 
  • Always more truth than one mind can hold
  • Mending
  • Morning songs - made-up ones especially "Rise & Shout the Bedbugs are Out"
  • Memorize poetry 
  • Memorize scripture verses 

N is for
  • Never phone after 9pm and never before 9am
  • Nuts (but only some people like them in ice cream
  • Need peace more than sleep, need love more than food
  • Need sleep, need food, need water, fresh air and exercise
  • Not on my watch
  • Naps cure many ills
  • Napkins, cloth not paper

O is for
  • Oatmeal and all the additions 
  • Olive oil popcorn 
  • "Or" choices between two acceptable options
  • On the same side -- we're always on the same side

JKL - a joking matter, this family culture

J is for   

  • Joy = taking Joy = making Joy = looking for Joy
  • "Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, JOY!"
  • Jam not jelly (Spiced Grape Jam)
  • Join Jesus' side rather than assume He's joined yours
  • Just a little further every day
  • Justice for all
  • Jokes (quiet & long-running)
  • all Jokes contain a grain of truth - make Jokes that make Joy, rather than making fun

K is for
  • Kindness first
  • Keep confidences
  • Keep promises
  • Keep trying
  • Kitchen dances (also kitchen singing, talking, studying . . . )
    • "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of Him"
    • Kids listen when adults talk (kids should / adults should remember they often are)
    • Keep it tidy as you go

      L is for   

      • Learning, not failing 
      • Laundry in the mornings 
      • always Love to Learn something new
      • "my Life is for itself, and not for spectacle"
      • Laps - both cuddling type and running
      • "Late but clean" 
      • Lizard cakes, bats' blood & special medicine 
      • Let them fall, let them fail . . .  Let them succeed and move beyond you
      • Lion & Lamb bread
      • Lemon cakes with basil sauce
      • Listen to understand

      Wednesday, January 9, 2013

      GHI - alphabet soup of family traditions

      G is for   

      • Gentleness wins 
      • if there's a Garden it's Guaranteed we're Going there 
      • Glass goblets for everyday
      • Greens! 
      • Greens for breakfast
      • Gargle with salt water 
      • Give space, give time 

      H is for
      • Hold hands
      • Hugs
      • Hills are your Friends
      • "He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help"
      • Hydrate or die
      • Honey
      • Homemade salsa
      • Homemade hummus
      • Hot hot water gets out berry stains
      • Hot herbal tea

        I is for
        • Invest early, invest often
        • Interrupt only if! blood or smoke!
        • (encourage each to be an) Independent eater
        • "It was intense ( 'like camping')"

          DEF - the odds and ends of a family tradition

          I hate letting things go to waste.

          I realized this making dinner last week from leftover braised chicken and potatoes which became chicken stew: the chicken bones thrown back in a pot with celery tops saved from Christmas feasting and a quartered onion. One delicious meal Sunday was now another delicious meal Tuesday with only a small addition of water and some chopping action.

          So how can I let the lists of traditions go that I gathered from my grown and growing  children?

          I don't know what I will ever do with this now that it's collected.  Maybe just to have a snapshot in time of what our family thought it was right on the cusp of our shattering, scattering, and remaking.

          is for 

          • Do what you can do now
          • sometimes we have Do things we Don't want to Do
          • Do things that are hard to do
          • I Don't let anybody Downtalk my children (especially my children, especially about themselves)
          • Do your Duty faithfully ÷ choose your Duty carefully (Dad's rule ÷ Mom's rule = a balance somewhere)
          • "Developing a taste for this still" is better than " rather than "Don't like"
          • Devilled eggs made with mustard and little dash of vinegar, sprinkled with paprika
          • Dish soap for oil stains

          is for 
          • Eat breakfast (sitting down together, or at least together, or at least sitting down)
          • Eat a rainbow
          • Eat a little bit of everything
          • "Enough is as good as a feast"
          • Emotional lexicon allows emotional fluency
          • Exotic fruits & vegetables!
          • Eye-to-eye speaking
            • Eucalyptus oil eases breathing

            Fis for
            • Faithful = loyal = true to those who trust you = live what you believe = believe in Jesus Christ and believe in His promises
            • Family before friends
            • Flowers - Flower gardens - taking pictures of Flowers - looking at books naming Flowers - Flower hikes
              Faith & work are more like bread & flour, than like bread &butter 
            • Find your true path (let them find their true path)

            the ABCs of family culture and other forms of bioactivity

            What I was going to do this month of January was explore our Family Culture, a phrase that struck me when I first heard it as ridiculous, but then it quickly burrowed under my skin.

            Like a tick, I suspect.  Or some other nasty thing with teeth and self-absorbed intentions.

            In the midst of this faintly ominous striking and burrowing, I happened to walk past a classroom whiteboard asking in its plaintive, earnest, whiteboardly sort of way:
            What is the definition of culture?  Is one culture ever better than another?
             To the latter question, of course, in the world of the whiteboard the answer is,  
            Of course not.  Every culture is unique and as everyone knows unique = wonderful.  Everyone (except skinheads, the NRA and other hateful bigots who constitute, if anyone does, bad cultures) -- everyone knows all cultures everywhere are equally valuable.  Once you get to understand them.  Except maybe this rich and materialistic one we live in, which we (think we) understand all too well and feel a little guilty for enjoying with all its ease and convenience which is really* exploitation and alienation of/from the natural world and other people.
            At least, that's what the whiteboard seemed to say as I stood there, communing with it.  As I stood there, thinking about cultures where I, as a woman, would not be able to read what it said.  Cultures where questions and their answers are usually more dangerous and openly ominous than just ridiculous.

            I think now it was, in fact, my chance to interface with Whiteboard that actually prompted the burrowing in of the sneaky idea that there might be different Family Cultures and some value to looking at what made them different.

            And by different here I don't mean different as in delightfully diverse in equally marvelous and exciting ways (though certainly there are different lovely and loving Family Cultures) but different as in there are differences that make a difference, that can be weighed and compared and chosen for or against, differences that may share some characteristics across otherwise differing family situations.

            Because part of the eye-opening process of going through an adoption is realizing there are official entities out there who, though they are careful never to say one type of "family" is better than another, are most definitely looking for particular qualities of parenting and family-making that their experience has led them to conclude allow better chances for the precious and endangered  young people they are hoping to help to recuperate, retool, and thrive.  Differences that may also be best for the nurture and cultivation of not-yet-quite-so-damaged young people also.

            In brief, Whiteboard, the answer is, I think,
            Yes.  Some cultures are better than others.
            I began to image I would explore which habits, customs, undergirding beliefs, attitudes, and expectations make this particular Ranch-Style-Daylight-Basement-Halfway-Up-the-Hill-in-the-Techno-Rural-Pacific-Northwest culture a valuable culture, a healthy culture for raising children -- which I and the State of Oregon's Department of Human Services, happen to think it is.  

            In pursuance of which, I began to collect ethnographic details from the members of this tribe, What do you think makes our family culture what it is?  And the tribe responded in detail which I then sorted alphabetically.

            Because I sort everything alphabetically.

            Because lining things up alphabetically allows the kind of random welter disguised as order that is definitely part of our culture here Halfway-Up-the-Hill.

            And thus, I came a cropper.

            Which is a phrase from the culture of British fox-hunting perhaps, or from the culture of historical novels definitely, and it means I am in trouble and can't see my way forward from here.

            Is our slightly CDO (a more alphabetically satisfactory way of saying OCD) insistence on alphabeticality (in the spice cupboard, for example) really all that essential to our Culture?

            But if it is not, what is?

            What is ephemeral fluff when everything is so of the moment, so small, so repetitive, so much like daily meals?  Isn't everything bringing some kind of trace mineral, some micronutrient to the table?  

            Is it condiment or main dish, if I take a day and admonish, January firstly:
            A is for  Automate it! - Assume the best - Act as if - Answer as accurately as you can - Answer by asking - Assume you will be overheard - Apples - Apple crisp!! - ABBA (though I hate to admit it) - Admit and apologize (all ages, even/especially adults) - Alliteration! - Alphabetical order!! - Apricots, unsulphured - Asparagus Risotto at Easter and Almond Pomegranate Thumbprint Cookies
            Is it well-balanced or mere garnish, if I bear testimony, January secondly:
            B is for  Be the parent - Behold your little ones - Beam out love - Better on a Bike!!! - Bring a book - BE the change - Be Kind, Be Wise, Be Faithful & Take Joy - Bollywood - Blackberries & Breyers - Beans - Beans - Beans - More ways of eating Beans - Bread - Barley and Lamb at Easter - Big brown chair - Baskets everywhere
            And if I campaign, January thirdly: 
            C is for  Cherish each for what each is - sudden Course Corrections - Corrective rather than punitive - Code words to stave off catastrophe - Christmas Cookies - Coconut beans & Chapatis - Cheerful goes further - Cook from scratch - Cinnamon - Chore charts - Cubbies for clutter - Cubbies for clean clothes - Carry your own calm like a candle within you - Courage more than safety - Clowning & charming rather than coming down hard - Carry through on consequences - Consequences common and commonplace - Count down from 5 - "Come, Come Ye Saints"- Carry your own coat (and sweet et cetera)
            If I trot out these ABCs, am I reading out the contents of my spice cupboard or giving some kind of useful recipe, reproducible in kitchens elsewhere?

            I ask you.

            Tuesday, January 8, 2013

            i saw a sparrow

            Probably I saw a sparrow.  A house sparrow, I'm guessing.  I asked my fourth-grader who's been studying birds and can identify dark-eyed juncoes, two or three types of sparrows, and four different kinds of finches.  Just to be sure.  He said it was a house sparrow, definitely.  But then he always asservates with utmost confidence whatever it is he says.  At any rate, another bird!

            I have the kind of kitchen birds fly into.  I'd left the door open, carrying in groceries.  But they come in through the screenless windows, too, in the summer usually.

            Once we had a hummingbird on the windowsill.  Once a tiny wren flew down the chimney. Usually I open the cheap aluminum single-pane windows we have and the birds fly out again.

            This time I got my camera.  Maybe this could be the month of Seeing Wings.

            I can write about this.  As the bird frantically beat against the ungiving glass. What would I write? As the bird flew from one window to another, seeking light, seeking sky.  Flurry of wings against another window.

            I followed the bird, at an unhelpful distance, to the front room and the large windows there.  The glass here as hard as anywhere, hard as ice and deceptively bright.  Now the bird was tired, barely skimming over the swept floor, beneath the piano.  I followed it as it skiffed just in front of my feet into the laundry room.

            Where it hid behind the sorting thing, unbleached cotton bags hanging from an aluminum frame:  whites, lights, darks -- then sloped up suddenly and came to rest at the top of the shutters.  Oh good, sitting still enough now I can get a good shot.  The bird's mouth gaped and gaped.

            Its body tipped back.  That's weird.

            A little further the bird tipped back, its body tipping and tipping until its exhausted claws let go and it fell back against the curtain, catching itself at the sill, its sad skinny feet weakly grasping at the air.

            Oh my goodness!  What have I done?  And I finally put the camera down.

            Finally shooed the bird as gently as I could, almost sweeping it with my hands as it brushed over the floor, barely above ground, to the open front door nearby.   A near escape, it may live to tell its young.  If it isn't too worn, too traumatized to survive whatever dangers lurk outdoors.   I feel ashamed.

            A bird's life is maybe not the joy of flight it looks like from the outside.  I stood at the front door, seeing if I could see it, but it was hidden too well from my predator eyes.

            There may be a symbol in there somewhere.

            Saturday, January 5, 2013

            i saw an owl*

            Like October (Keeping Time), November (Binding up Loose Pages), and December (Learning to Dance), January has a focus.  But I don't know yet what it is.

            I did know.  I have known.  But here it is January and none of that knowing has stuck.   Maybe we will call this month Seeking Something or Unknowing or Keeping Things Open.

            Tuesday the new year dawned with a sun bright and strong.  There had been a light snowfall in the night.  Both sun and snow this early in the winter rare enough to constitute a holiday in and of themselves.  Either auspicious enough a beginning on its own.  I had no choice, of course, but to walk out into that snow and sun.

            And on the way home, I saw an owl.*  I stood in the middle of the road, halfway up the hill while the owl* swept out a perfect* circle around me.  Three times around like the hand of a giant clock.  Diving suddenly at some small thing in the short winter grass, some rodent, some running food.  Once and then again.

            It was chance probably that put me at the center of his circle, her circle.  I don't know how to tell the difference with owls, if it is an owl this time of morning.  With that big head, what else could it be.  I don't know anything really except what everyone knows.  That owls fly, usually at night, they eat mice, they say Who? Who?  They are a symbol for wisdom in some traditions, symbol of bad chance in others.

            It was chance that put me at the still eye of that circle spun around and around me.  Chance, or the bird's own hunger, or the lay of the land, open fields on both sides on a sunny hillside.  All I know is I stood and watched those huge wings, holding my breath, stood and watched the sudden dives as the owl fed itself.

            My daughters and I had made shape bread the evening before for our New Year's Eve guests.  On a whim: in the shape of an owl.  

            Which we ate.  But the gap between our yeasty floury owlet and the real bird in flight has left me feeling foolish.

            I saw an owl.*

            I've played with the idea of making this a month of getting back to basics -- daily bread?  my take on our daily family culture? more dedicated daily exercise?   

            Who?  Who?  

             Maybe there are basics more basic still than bread.

            Maybe we will call this month Seeing the Owl.*
            *Or not.

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