Monthly Archives: October 2013

Emerging from the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, for a while tripping and slogging along a rocky, muddy road, toward oneness in the end

Emerging from the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, for a while tripping and slogging along a rocky, muddy road, toward oneness in the end

“While one is yet only in love, the real person lies covered with the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, and through them come to the dreamer but the barest hints of the real person. A thousand fancies fly out, approach and cross, but never meet. The man and the woman are pleased, not with each other, but each with the fancied other. The merest common likings are taken for signs of a wonderful sympathy, of a radical unity. But though at a hundred points their souls seem to touch, their contact points are the merest brushings, as of insect antennae. The real man, the real woman, is all the time asleep under the rose leaves. Happy is the rare fate of the true . . . to wake and come forth and meet in the majesty of the truth, in the image of God, in their very being, in the power of that love which alone is being! They love, not this and that about each other, but each the very other. Where such love is, let the differences of taste, the unfitness of temperament, be what they may, the two must by and by be thoroughly one.”  – George MacDonald

I think it was when he was about the age I am now that my father was propositioned by a woman at a writer’s conference. Just came to his door, and offered to stay, he said. They had talked, perhaps had known one another in other from writing circles, I don’t remember. He managed to turn her away, and so told his wife and even his grown daughter the tale. It made me feel strange. Yes, I knew those were years of tension and conflict between him and Mom, but I didn’t like to hear about other women being in the picture. But I think he wanted us to know that his faithfulness was a commitment, a choice not based on whether one feels one’s needs are being met in marriage. It was a kind of dying to self that he hoped would bear fruit. And I believe it has, and will. It gave me a sense of security in the possibilities of covenant love, and a perseverance in difficult times that would have had to create out of pure conviction (and regard for the children) if I didn’t have it by example.

My Dad would win admirers. He is good to talk to, thoughtful, intelligent, able to help a person figure out what they want to say, and create a space of mutual learning and discovery. Bearded, fit, distinguished in an approachable way, he is not a flirt as such, does not exude male virility, but is very attractive to women longing to be listened to, respected, understood. And perhaps being a family man made him feel even safer to talk to. So they would respond, and he had to learn to deal with that. As well as the attraction he felt to those who seemed easier to be with than my mother at the time, less familiar, more mysterious.

Mom told me after the fact that he was partly in love with an artist friend for several years. My father and I paid her and her husband a social call once, and I liked her too. She found out I enjoyed sewing, and gave me a book about how to make soft toys, one I used many times and still own. Was it her of whom my father spent weeks painting a portrait? I can’t remember. An exorcism, my mother said. During that stage he listened to Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen a lot, maybe to explore some similar longings and the angst that accompanies that kind of poetic but desire-driven lifestyle.

Dad told me something he’s learned from seeing others go from relationship to relationship, that they always came to the same issues, the same relational dysfunctions in themselves, and would mistakenly try to solve them by starting fresh. This was part of my education about the nature of marriage, as one of the means God provides for us to get past get past ourselves and break through to something beautiful and until then mysterious.

What about my mother? I have tended to think of her as not having the opportunity to be tempted to be unfaithful, and it is true that the life of a homemaker did protect one from certain relational opportunities. She also lost her youthful figure in her childbearing years; after giving birth to and rearing seven children, she never really got it back. But I know no one is immune to unfaithfulness, at least in thought. There were signals–“crushes” she would confess to with a grin, a certain way she would speak of a fellow she admired, someone in my parents circle of friends or connections from our lives. She gave herself license to speak of these men even to us, who had no idea it had any real substance. And when some time in the late ’70s we finally got a television, she enjoyed the escape into the romances of the soaps, against her better judgment and the way she had helped bring us up. She longed for romance, closeness, attention, and love.

I watched my parents for signs that they loved each other, was always relieved when I saw signs of affection, reconciliation, companionship, mutual help. I could also see it was a lot of work figuring out how to love and accept another person so local, so specific, so imperfect, and to let go of the expectation that they meet all one’s needs. Even the sight of them doing dishes together would foster an inner sigh of relief for me. I saw one and then the other trying new ways to show love, and persist at it when the other would test it for sincerity, as people will. They were making their way to a new stage, a rebuilding of the fortress of love in stronger stuff. So they made it past the empty nest, I hope past the “Do you love me?” “I suppose I do” stage. But even that can be called an accomplishment these days.

I’m thinking of all this as I move into my upper 40’s. Thinking of it, hoping to make some use of the observations I’ve made, hoping my interpretations are good and will be useful as my husband and I press on, are tested and tried by difficulties and temptations, and purpose to grow less self-centered, more loving, more accepting, more mature. We’ve made breakthroughs throughout the years, and by God, we’ll make some more before we’re done.

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Ethics, Personal Growth, Relationships


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It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. But it is fun and games until then–let’s remember that.

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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Ms. Grumpy-pants

Ms. Grumpy-pants

Took my older dog for a run in the still, damp air to see if I could shake off what shook me up the other day. The dog is always happy to hear the leash jingle, but the whole journey away from the house, I have to tug every few seconds to keep him from being a literal drag. And there’s the problem of unpredictability. He’s bit several people without warning, several times puncturing the skin. Upsetting, not okay, even scary, but we can’t see our way to putting him down, only redoubling our efforts to keep him from hurting anyone. I cinch his leash toward me and ready myself each time a jogger approaches, and try not to release any stress pheromones he might interpret as a call to protect me. Meanwhile I wish good morning to the passers by. There are no incidents, no lunge attempts. On the way back he heels nicely from a forward position, eager to return to familiar territory. And I feel like dragging, because I don’t really want to go home right now. Wondering why things were so fine for weeks, and suddenly tense and hurtful so I’m responding from my reptilian brain, also known as bitch. I hate being grumpy, makes me grumpier still.

The main thing is I’ve been tense about for days is housekeeping and chores. Four kids, and I thought I’d put a lot of effort into teaching and training them to pick up after themselves and pitch in on general household tasks, but not one of them ever (it seems) does any chore without being asked, and even when they are asked (or told), I often end doing it myself, fuming. Busy, too tired, feel sick, “just a second” that turns into an half hour, didn’t make the mess, already did a chore, etc.

Part of it is that I take very little satisfaction and virtually no enjoyment from housework, laundry being the exception (especially using a clothesline). I’d rather be gardening, installing trim, sewing, painting, baking, doing finances, mowing the lawn, almost anything. So I think it’s only fair that the burden be shared, and when it isn’t, I take it personally. I too want my share in recreation, personal scholarship time, creative pursuits, and so on.

The other part is that I see a pattern of irresponsibility and insensitivity that could affect other areas of their life and relationships. Truth is there is no just escape from housework, and the sooner they get used to, and skilled at it, and learn to balance it with everything else, the more successful they will be at those mundane foundations of modern living. It’s for their own good that they should do chores. Why can’t they see that? I have explained it.

Finally, I feel guilty, and inadequate, because in this aspect of parenting, I feel a failure. I have neither been an effective teacher/motivator, nor dictator/disciplinarian, nor organizer/delegator, nor loving, merciful self-sacrificing person who people just want to help out.

Run, sweat, shower, breakfast, coffee, writing time. I feel a bit better. Now it’s time for me to re-read my housekeeping resolutions post, and pull myself together, with God being my helper.


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Today’s writing prompt: Take the title of someone else’s post, change a key word or two, and write a post to fit your new title.

This could probably be a serious and enriching writing activity, but it’s also a way of goofing around with the titles of posts you should probably read for your professional development or personal scholarship, but you don’t feel like it.

Original post title:

  • 3 Simple Ways to Start Using Smart Phones in the Classroom

Alternative titles:

  • 3 Simple Ways to Stop Using Smart Phones in the Classroom
  • 3 Complicated Ways to Start Using Smart Phones in the Classroom
  • 3 Simple Ways to Start Using Smart Moves in the Classroom
  • 3 Simple Ways to Start Using Smart Phones in the Bathroom
  • 3 Simple Ways to Start Using Imaginary Phones in the Classroom

Original post title:

  • A Survival Guide to Teaching with Technology

Alternative titles:

  • A Survival Guide to Teaching with Paint
  • A Survival Guide to Battling with Technology
  • A Survival Guide to Teaching without Technology
  • A Surrealist’s Guide to Teaching with Technology

Try it yourself–even the title-twisting itself can be fun, a humor break in your busy day online.

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Posted by on October 26, 2013 in How to, Ideas, Writing


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Here we go a-wassailing

I’ve come back this evening full of wassail and curried lentil soup from the midweek open mic night at a local wine and mead brewery and restaurant with my musical friend from the lakeside. We had rather lost touch with one another since our family was overseas, had tried to plan a coffee time but with work and kids and not living in the same area, didn’t happen. A second musical friend who lives just around the corner had been wanting to get together and play, eventually at the open mic. I invited the two of them to come scout it out first. That was last week, and the plan had slipped my mind, so when my lakeside friend emailed to confirm, I almost said no, since I’d just spent all day driving my kids around and thought they might need me for homework or food prep or something. And the idea of going out on the town is still, frankly, a novel idea, just not something I regularly think of. But my daughters insisted I wasn’t needed at home and should go, so off I went to get ready, my middle daughter in tow, so she could help me choose what to wear and because she said she just needed to be with me. She played with my hot rollers, advised me to get some brighter lipstick, then left as I addressed the finer points of my toilette.

Apparently I’d led my friend to believe it was karaoke night, and she was ready to go onstage, with or without a preparatory glass of mead. But I insisted that it was only a spectator night and that open mic in the future could be our plan. She on piano and vocals, I on vocals and guitar, and our other friend vocals and fiddle. We needed a mandolin, she said, for something different (almost everyone was singing to guitar), to which I heartily assented. Meanwhile, we settled at a table, ordered a wassail and cider, and caught up on news of each others’ families while we enjoyed the musical offerings. Several college-age singers, one high schooler even, several fellows of our own generation, and an older timer with younger sidekick who sang a country folk song, all soulful and talented. It was a small, comfortable and casual venue, a good one in which to break into the amateur music scene in town. Sign up just after five by phone, said the fellow serving the drinks.

The host of the establishment was a very comfortable person in the way he came up close to hear what he could do for you, and invited further acquaintance (while preparing drinks) without being overly familiar. On top of everything going on, very in tune. Turned out his family hailed from my neck of the woods in a very roundabout way, the clan of Cameron being a veritable pillar of Nova Scotia culture. The open mic host, a tousle-headed, bearded blond with an argyle vest and a winning manner, introduced the performers and brought on more applause for them as they moved off stage.

My soup was getting cold and so was my mead, and Mr. Cameron offered to reheat it for me, and in the last half hour I consumed the rest of the soup and the final three quarters of the mead. Conversation got merrier, the music louder, and then it was time to go home, what with it being week night, and with kids to wake and feed in the morning. I bought a bottle of wassail to share with my husband some cold evening by the fire. I confessed to my friend that although I wasn’t of a drinker and preferred coffee, my husband liked it when I had a few drinks. “So does mine!” she replied.

There was a time when my man would have been hurt that I’d consider going out without him (even if he couldn’t or didn’t want to go), I’d told my friend over mead. “And why not now?” she asked. “A different stage, I guess, more confidence in each other, more secure in ourselves, so we’re happy to see the other go have a good time with other friends,” I answered. Interesting that some couples give one another that freedom from the beginning, some grow into it, and others never venture to even desire such a level of independent enjoyment. For many years, it wasn’t really an issue; there were duties, no money for the level of child care that we would have needed, then fatigue. Friends or relatives would periodically arrange with us so my husband and I could go out together, but we never got in the habit. Visiting with my friends at my place or theirs during play dates for our kids or coop homeschooling was sufficient for my social needs, and if I came across a concert or lecture I wanted to attend, I usually couldn’t think of anyone who was both willing and able to go. Now my cohort is mostly past the years of caring for small children and wanting to branch out, as I am. Even hanging out with our grown-up children is becoming an option, where tastes run along the same lines. It’s a good place to be.


“Every wind that blew was His breath, and the type of His inner breathing upon the human soul.” – George MacDonald

“Every wind that blew was His breath, and the type of His inner breathing upon the human soul.” – George MacDonald

After several days of waking up with a headache and going through the day with a strange feeling in my gut, wondering if it’s a new virus or something in my diet, I decided to sweat it out. Can’t do that by housework alone, so I left one son to watch over the other while I hit the road and trail. I took my old dog to trail along. He’s always eager when I jingle the leash, but when we get going, trail he does, out of an ingrained fear of sound and movement of any kind. This time it was a distant chainsaw at work, then a dog barking behind a fence, then the usual cars passing. He’s a shelter dog, somehow sonically traumatized as a pup, and he cannot enjoy life on the trail as, even so, I can see means to.

My feet started to hurt on the hard road section, and I tried to get my momentum more forward rather than down. At the bottom of the hill I entered a fog bank, which cloaked my movements and cooled my skin. I detoured into the park and onto the more foot-friendly trail.

Everywhere the colors came and met me. Then, as if someone had blown soap bubbles into my mind, descriptive words materialized and drifted along my mental convection currents, grouping themselves in beats. Yellow-brown, yellow-gold, hanging in the cold. Evergreen, sage green, grey sky between. Punching red, frothing red, not yet dead. Orange blushing, orange burning, world turning.

If I start to think hard, I automatically slow to a walk until I can untangle my mind. But this time I was free to go on, playing with words as I took in these visions. My steps felt clumsy as I tired, but I don’t remember the gravelly sound they must have made, only the papery rustle of bigleaf maple leaves I ran through. Once when I slowed to a walk save my knees on a down section, a dozen birch leaves suddenly released themselves, without wind, as if a latch had been pressed somewhere: latch release, piece by piece.

Oh, how I wanted a notebook and pencil. But I remembered my father saying, as he looked back on many years spent photographing, painting, and writing moments and memories, that one must not value the recording over the experience. It can be about savoring and prolonging the experience, plumbing its meaning, and sharing, however. What if I had not read Annie Dillard, who reminded me how to see, for example, or seen the Group of Seven paintings, so I would long to go canoeing in the Canadian Shield? At times one cannot help oneself, thank heaven, or help oneself thank heaven.

When I got home, my older son asked how my run had been–had I enjoyed all the beautiful colors of the leaves? Remarkable that he asked in that particular way, as I had as yet said nothing. So I told him, and he declared he would start out early to his bus rendezvous so he could enjoy them too.

Before heading to shower off, I took a sheet of paper and jotted down a few words and phrases, hoping to make a few lines. I think tomorrow instead of table lessons, I’ll walk the trail with my naturally enthusiastic and poetic youngest son, with notebook and watercolors, and we’ll see what further savoring together will bring forth.


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Expansion and contraction of the universe of our domestic hopes

It seemed so right–house at a foreclosure price, out in the country, price dropped twice. Five bedrooms–one for each kid as well as a nice one for the masters of the house; enough room to finally have the family at our house for holidays; ten acres for the barn and horses the daughters longed for and for my sheep dairying trial; several decent-looking neighbor houses within strolling distance for egg-borrowing and possible deep friendships; a good commuting base for my husband (saving him fifteen minutes each way); good light for gardening, and no silly, expensive landscaping or fancy driveway added into the price. Finished within an inch of its life before the money ran out, so we’d get a break from sweat equity. Lots of trees, but not the kind that it would break my heart to clear for pasture;  same schools for the children. All the top requirements that were so hard to meet in one property.

Downsides seemed acceptable–ugly from the back, driveway that occupied the best gardening location, and an overly domineering garage door. Land that needed work, no outbuildings or fence. Drives to town activities ten minutes longer each way. But that would only be for a few more years, we told ourselves. Okay, maybe ten, but there would be sibling drivers to pitch in very soon, and college would be happening, and it wouldn’t matter as much.

The day before the viewing, our agent emailed us saying that the listing agent was wrong, and that the school demarcation put the household children in the next county’s district. Possibly negotiable, we thought. But when the agent met us at the house, she showed us the lot map, and my hopes dimmed. The developer had given the house its building site and a narrow strip heading down the valley, over the stream, and up the other side practically to the freeway. Not much hope of space for pasture before meeting wetland, and a weird shape for a homestead. For me that was it. Still, in we went, the younger children eager, unaware of any new reservations we had, dutifully removing their shoes.

It was clean, neutral, with a nice kitchen and lots of space, though with several of the soaring ceilings I tend to mentally split horizontally in order to create cool little lofts. I half-heartedly tried the closet doors, sketched the layout, looked out the windows, and listened to the agent answering my husband’s questions. My oldest son had already sunk to a seat on one of the two staircases and started fooling around with his smart phone  to escape the dread he felt at being so far from his friends, work, and school. And the hurt at my not wanting to hear him express it again.The other three were scurrying around upstairs, eager for me to come see the bedrooms they had already staked out for each family member. It had been a while since we’d viewed the inside of a house for sale, and they had become utterly captivated by the thought of living there. I warned them that there were problems, and that there were many lovely houses they would like as well (if we could compromise on certain requirements).

We left with the plan of double checking the property lines and land use restrictions as well as contacting our school district to see what could be worked out. I felt exhausted on the way home, not wanting to talk or listen. I felt stuck–here we are again, in a 1260 square foot house, unwilling to add on when we might find the right home, unable to settle as a family on what we do find. My husband was still mourning the last chance on a rare in-town house with acreage we looked at over a year before, which we couldn’t afford anyway at the time. I was wishing we could look further north where we knew all the good, affordable acreage properties were. All of us dreamed of the day that yellow farmhouse on the hill above the south end of town would go up for sale.

That evening I drove up past the yellow house on the hill, and back again to supper. I had written down the number on the mailbox that looked right, again. It couldn’t hurt to write a letter of inquiry, after all–something I’d meant to do for a long time. Perhaps the long-time owners are only waiting for the right type of people–people who will love the classic house, use the pasture for grazing, not sub-divide in their lifetime. People tell me no one thinks that way any more, that everyone just wants top dollar and will subdivide if the option is there. Still, no harm in trying. I’ll start the letter tomorrow morning.

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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Places & Experiences


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