Monday, September 30, 2013

Firewood Production

Does everyone love the seasons as much as a New Englander does? 
When I was in elementary school I wrote a poem called, “The War of Winter” and submitted it to a contest where it received honorable mention.  I loved that poem.  I wish I still had it... I guess it is a little funny that I regard the height of my literary career to be 2nd grade.  But don’t worry I haven’t given up writing poems about the seasons.  I mean, I am a New Englander after all.
This is a poem some of my favorite memories from childhood.  I wrote it as an undergraduate but that I still return and tinker with it every fall.  

Firewood Production

Opening Night begins 
When it is too dark to haul anymore.

Once a cord of wood is stacked,
The man removes his splintered gloves,
And slaps the wood chips 
To welcome

The dispossessed spiders  
Who rearrange themselves within the logs. 

The moon polishes the axe,
Like spectacles.
At last, he waxes
His philosophical introduction.

The stump sings ballads,
Accompanied by 
The moan of  mushrooms 
Mingled with decomposing leaves

Applause from squirrels,
Seated in the skunk cabbage,
Rises to the box seats.

From a fire lit window, I call
As the curtain of snow falls.

Friday, September 27, 2013

James River Crab Cakes (Part 4)

Painting by Marion Rose

The boss gave me an earful when I came runnin’ in five minutes after my shift began.   As a punishment she sent me to bag for crazy Ann Marie, who, I swear, had perfume for blood and Chiclet gum for teeth. I hadn’t been there but two minutes before Mr. Williams and Trent walked up. “Lord, have mercy,”  I thought.  Ain’t nobody in Hampton County can git under my skin like them Williams.  I looked down but I felt Mr. Williams’ beady eyes bore into my downturned head.

“Well if it ain’t Rooster’s boy…My oh my ain’t you a skinny rail of a kid...  just like your daddy.  If he ain’t ugly I don’t know who is.  I used to think he had some sorta brains behind his ugly face but turned out he’s not just as cocky as a Rooster and he’s as dumb too.” 

I bagged up those groceries as hasty and as hard as I could, I hoped to break everything inside.  I wondered if the name Rooster was a simple as that, an attempt to insult my dad’s intelligence.  Mr. Williams’ knowing voice grated against my ears.  I slammed the last bag of beer and bread into his cart and cursed under my breath.  Right across the lane was Big Al, staring mouth open in stupid contemplation.  I could’ve jumped over that cart and pummeled his dirty white face into the linoleum flooring.  Ann Marie snapped her gum as she ripped the receipt. “Will that be all Mr. Williams?”  
“Yes, that’s all.”
“Have a good day.” 

I wished for the courage to spit on that man’s new white sailing shoes.  But, instead I simply looked down and when I looked back up he was gone.  I glanced around and Big Al had vanished too. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Peace of Art by Jane Dietrich

      It is Wednesday, so I again have the privilege of introducing you to an extraordinarily gifted individual who has changed my life.  This week’s post was written by my sister, Jane Dietrich, a gifted artist and writer.  I think Wednesdays are my new favorite day of the week...

"Previously, Anna spoke to autumn being a time of change and processing. It struck a chord with me as I am currently changing and processing life during this season. 
In art and in life, process is important. Yet, at an art exhibit the process is rarely seen; only the finished product is judged. As I work on my art and my character, I must keep in mind that the work won't be finished today or even tomorrow. I can’t rush. But, I can finish a part today, and another part tomorrow. 
Sculpture, my favorite medium, begins with a process called pointing. During pointing you hit the corners and edges off the stone with a hammer and chisel. Then, you carve a shallow grid on the stone to make sure all loose pieces come off early in the process instead of when you're almost done. Without this process, I am an amateur. The work will fall apart without the structure of process. In life, skipping steps of development result in immaturity and needing to regress when hardship strikes. Avoiding the hard hits of life will end up having a good thing crumble when all seems almost perfect. Though it takes time removing the stone, when a piece is finished, you see how important the tedious, boring, and seemingly invisible parts really are.
In most aspects of my life, the process tears me apart. It’s so frustrating and hard that I want to give up. I want to know what’s next. I want to be in control. However, in art, the process, not the final product, is what gives me the courage to keep creating. I create because, ironically, the process removes me from my thoughts. I lose track of hours and love it. I am not escaping reality but processing it. I have control over the tools but have no idea where they will take the piece. I do what I can in that time and when I am done for the day I am drained, yet renewed. This phenomenon is how I know without a doubt that I am meant to be an artist. 
When I lose track of time, I truly find peace in where I am. The thoughts, anxieties, pressure of being the best all go away. For a person who is extremely concerned with what others think, deadlines, and perfection, THIS IS SAYING A LOT. But the process is what keeps me going when I do feel like the worst, or I can't see how it will turn out. This peace is how I know art is right for me.
This is all well and good to say about art but I'll admit, at times I've gone through the entire correct process and come out with works that are not great. Or, despite my following all the steps flawlessly, a finger falls off when I’m almost finished carving a pair of hands. What does this say about process? Was it not worth it? I've realized that the process is much greater than simply getting to a great work. There is process within the oeuvre, the artist's sum total of works, as well. A poor piece still teaches the lessons from its individual process. Though it may not be much to look at, the piece could be a huge stepping-stone in a greater discovery for the development of this oeuvre.
So, the age-old question arises once again: 
What is good art? 
With famous artists, museums keep terrible mess up works simply because they were done by this artist or that one. At one time these pieces were trash. Still, people look at them in awe because in the grand scheme of things, these terrible works are magnificent. They are a piece of history. We love to know that something terrible can be turned into something worthy. Yet, the difference between life and art is that in art we are usually admiring other works while in life we focus on our own. Still, the questions remain the same.
 Who really sees what happens in the process? How much should we let people see what happens behind the scenes? Does seeing the process make the final product lose some of its mystery and wonder? 
With what attitude are we admiring the works of our own and those around us?"  

- Jane

Monday, September 23, 2013

Obsessive Compulsive Woman Plays Paintball

This weekend my husband and I went paint balling.  I know it is ridiculous to imagine a mother of two traipsing around the woods shooting grown men and teenagers. Honestly, I am a little embarrassed to even write this post.  This is probably the final dot everyone needs to finally figure out that I am a huge nerd, and more than a  little crazy to boot. 

Having fun is not one of my gifts in life.  I am not like my sister who is just a one person whirlwind party waiting to hit.  I am more of the voice of reason, or more accurately, the voice of worry.  “Someone could get hurt” which, I have found, is always true but never very helpful.  

In any case we set out the perfect fall morning strapped with paintballs and guns and masks.  Thank God for the masks.  The fact that someone will intentionally get welts and war wounds is what makes adrenaline junkies flock to paint balling.  I think we have a little bit of thrill seeking in us.  As for me, I get more than enough adrenaline from the occasional panic attack. I don’t see myself as a violence monger either.  I mean I confess a vengeful streak where I like to see cowboys like Walker Texas Ranger take law into their own hands.  But really, I am into shooting high powered balls of rubber-like paint at one another for two reasons: 

#1- I LOVE to see my husband have fun.  Seriously, he is the most naturally athletic man I have ever met.  Since we have had kids he has really had to curtail his athletic activity so that the occasional leap over a shopping cart.  And though this antic shocks me every time and scares me to death I don’t think it really qualifies as an athletic event.  

#2- I love climbing trees and hiding.  When I was a kid, these were my two primary past times, which is why I assumed for far too long, that I would make a great spy.  Still, even now that I have come to grips with not being first female James Bond I love to be outside adventuring.  Yesterday, I felt free.  I felt no weight of responsibility or guilt on my shoulders.  Shooting and getting shot was enough for me.  I was in 7th heaven.  

In typical obsessive compulsive fashion I have been trying to tease out 5-10 steps that I can follow to have fun times more often.  

Here is what I have come up with:

Step 1-Take risks:  I was worried as we drove up north!  What if I got really hurt?  What if the kids were bad for my parents?  It is far easier to do nothing than to go out seeking fun.  Also note to self: don’t take yourself so seriously. There was a woman there for her bachelorette party and she and her bridesmaids (and mother) were dressed in the most fantastic and colorful salvation army castoffs that I have ever seen.  Seeing her laugh at herself was so refreshing.  

Step 2- Find people who make you laugh and let you be yourself and never ever ever take them for granted!  They are essential to your sanity and a rare gift from God. Being around people who are willing to take risks and follow you into imaginary battle is invigorating. 

Step 3-Never pass up even a little taste of heaven.  I mean I don’t presume to know if there will be paint ball in heaven or not.  I’m guessing probably not, but only because there will be a real battle in which we will be the winners.  The things we love here are a muffled echo of the things that last forever: 

What is the most fun you have had recently?  When do you feel most free?

Friday, September 20, 2013

300 Students Who Changed My Life

Dear Students From My First Year of Teaching*,

There were three hundred of you that year (divided between the seven periods and the two semesters) so I can’t give each and every one of you a shout out, but I haven’t forgotten you.   In fact, I bet I’ve thought a whole lot more about you than you have about me.  At least I hope that is true.  

I hope that somehow the time Nathan pointed out the profuse sweat pouring off me- as I fumbled in vain to figure out the procedure for detentions- has slipped your mind by now...but it probably has not.  

I doubt that you have given a second thought to the time Jose stabbed Alex in the hand with a thumb tack; but I have replayed the scream, the blood and the ensuing chaos a thousand times in my head.  

I may be the only one who remembers that it was Steven who was found guilty of flinging an opened string cheese stick at my head after a prolonged “investigation” by the administration.  Don’t worry Steven I forgive you.  

It will be indelibly marked on my brain that the day I had decided I couldn’t handle this gig Dan handed me the most encouraging (and grammatically incorrect) note I have ever received and I decided to stay.

However, there are some things that I have forgotten and I want to apologize for those. 

I forget what in the world made me so angry that I took two of you in the hallway and allowed my face to turn crimson red as I screamed at you with no respect for your dignity as a fellow human beings.

It truly baffles me how I let you talk me into reading my own terrible short story about a shark attack when we shared our writing that first semester.  It was bad, I know.  

I have only the foggiest notion of who told Jay that I looked like the joker and who exactly kept the whole charade of my criminal alter ego going but I’d like to thank you.  It was you who taught me that to students a teacher is not a human, they are a life form that exists only within the confines of the school walls.  

I will probably never remember or recognize all of the mistakes I made that first year. 

But, there is one thing I hope you always remember.  I cared.  I really did.  I cried over you (in the privacy of the teacher’s bathroom).   I prayed for you, every day before you came into the classroom and when you left.  I thank God for you even now because we made it through that year together and truth be told, I learned more from you than you will ever know.

Thank you,
Mrs. S.

To the readers of this letter who were not my students...What do remember from your 7th grade year or about your 7th grade teacher?  

*(names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Autumn by Anna Paddock

My incredibly gifted friend Anna Paddock is the first ever guest blogger on this site.  I am so excited and honored to house her work here today.  

"The fall equinox is only a few days away.  Autumn is usually a sad season for me.  I get anxious to jump from summer to winter in one big crash - to ignore the fact that change is often slow - I try to create my own solstice where all at once, I'm different.  But it has struck me the past few days that I should let autumn rest in my bones and in my spirit.  Fall holds both the final secrets of summer and the doors to the winter.  It's almost hot, and then almost cold.  It's the last taste of life and the first bite of death.  It is a season of change, and I want to be seasoned and changed by it this time 'round...

As a songwriter, I feel this fall will be a time to form new ideas, new projects, and to write.  But then I ask myself: "What if I'm not inspired?  What if I let winter creep in, and I miss all the colors?  What if I just watch my leaves fade, then fall?  What if I don't find anything to write about?  In my opinion, my best songs are those that are sparked with inspiration and finished with process.  Inspiration and Process. Meat and Bones.  I need both: if I try to write a song that is 100% inspired, then it lacks precision, form, structure, and clarity.  If I try to write a song that is solely from process, it can only ever be a representation of the real thing - a skeleton - no meat!  This is why I am keen for inspiration this fall.  I want to gather and reap and store away, so that in the winter months, I will have meat saved - I will have substance to put on the carefully crafted skeletons.  

I had a summer filled with music, performances, friends, family, and travel.  It was a time to be in bloom, to show off, to be brave, bold, rich, and colorful.  I released my first solo album in June, and I spent July and August performing the songs off of that album and many new songs.  I formed a band, and we rehearsed, wrote, explored, collaborated, disagreed, recorded, and lived together.  It was fruitful. 
Now that season has ended.  Now, I need to harvest the memories and ideas created in summer.  Now, I need to witness the beautiful changes around me and within me.  Now, I need to be willing to fall and to die, to loosen my grasp.  I sometimes try to squeeze a moment or a day or a person for all their worth - in attempts to get 'the most out of them' - but in so doing, I risk strangling the moment, the day, or the person.  Now, I need to prepare, watch, listen, wait, save, write, store-away.  Now, I need to change. 

The fall equinox is 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.  This is a day and a season of 'in between'.  I want to learn how to work, create, and live in the 'in between' this autumn."


*Thank you to Kate for asking me to be a guest writer on your blog!
If you are interested in purchasing my recent album, Feel Better, it is available on iTunes (search Anna Paddock and/or Feel Better).  It is also available on
For more information or to stay connected, visit: for more information.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

James River Crab Cakes (Part 3)

The third installment of my short story, which admittedly is in the nascent stages.  Still, it is fun to chop it into installments because it makes me look at each scene in new ways.  Thank you so much for reading.  
(click on the tag James River below if you want to read the first two parts...)
Saturday morning, I was out back of my house when Big Al moseyed up.  My dad and I had made a makeshift basketball court four years ago, hauling sand from the river bank and packing it till it was hard and even.  The basket was a five gallon pail nailed to a board we’d found and then attached to a tree nearby.  That court had part of me in every grain of sand.  My dad and I would play one-on-one when he’d get back early from the shipyard.  In the summertime I shot baskets out there for hours; I had never beat my daddy to twenty-one.  It’s hard to say who I admired most in those days, him or Michael Jordan.
That day, Big Al stood awkwardly at the edge of the court like a stray dog that won’t stop sniffing you ‘till you kick it.  I forced myself not to look but to focus on my shots.  But after missing three in a row, I got to thinking that I better kick him before he ruined my whole morning.  
 “What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing, my grandma just sent me to ask if I could have some of your mom’s recipes cause we heard she’s a pretty good cook.”  Thanks to the Annual James River Seafood Festival, my mama’s cooking had made us almost famous in the county. Her recipes were secret.   Her mama had gotten from her mama and so on all the way back to when grandmama’s grandmama cooked on the Perkins Plantation that was now the Yacht Club.  We weren’t in the habit of giving those secrets to white folks.
“She ain’t home.”  I answered. “You just fixin’ to stand there and watch me?  Don’t ya have anything better to do?”
“Okay, well I’m just gonna keep shooting.  I’ll see ya later.” I picked up my ball. 
“Ya wanna donut?” Al called.
And right then before my eyes Big Al produced two chocolate frosted donuts from the side pockets of his cargo short.  They were wrapped in napkins and some of the frosting peeled off with the paper.  Later, when I told my sister, Leticia, about it she couldn’t stop laughing for a good five minutes.  “Big Al and the donuts,” she’d say to herself and then start rolling with laughter again.  
“No thanks,” I said to him.
“Okay,” Big Al mumbled.  He shoved half of the first one in his pink mouth, leaving a smear behind.  He stood there a while more, taking huge bites of the doughy circles.  The way he chewed reminded me of the cattle we used to own, mullin’ over their cud till it makes you a little sick to imagine it.  Finally, he finished them both and lumbered off toward Whistling Plains and I got ready for work. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing Prompts

One of the greatest hopes in every teacher's career is that you will get at least one student who really listens to you.   They not only listen but they understand.  They understand on a deeper level than most and they do something amazing with the knowledge they gain.  I have had a few of these extraordinary students, one of whom I’d like to write about today.   Day after day she listened to me chant, “Write, write, write!”  She understood that I wanted each and every student to learn how to use words to advocate for themselves and others.  She realized her potential as a great writer.  

Over Christmas break she wrote me an email asking me to help her with her new year’s resolution.  She wanted to write one short story every week. They would be rough drafts of course but every single week they would be delivered to my inbox and I would give her feedback.  I also gave her the prompt at the beginning of each week.  I collected these prompts from Writer’s, teachers I admire, teachers’ blogs and websites, I take no credit for the prompts myself but I thought each week I might put a few out there and see which were your favorite.  Try them out and let me know what you think.  Please feel free to share your ideas and work here.  

Week 1-  At exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve you receive an email labeled “Open Immediately.” The really strange thing is that the email is apparently from your self at age 25. What does 25 year old you have to say to  you now that is so important?  Write a story about it:)

Week 2- A mad scientist captures you and tells you that he is about to change your life —he will heighten one of your senses, but it will make one of your other senses duller. It isn’t optional; he’s going to perform the surgery, but you get to choose which two senses.

Week 3 -Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." Write a narrative  about a time when you did something you thought you could not do. Be sure to include specific  details so that a reader can follow your story.  

Week 4- You have made a very important discovery–one that will make you famous throughout the world.  Write a story in which you tell about your discovery and how you made it. 

Week 5- Write about a time you or someone else lost something important. What happened?  How did everyone feel/act?  

Week 6-  Describe a time when you were ill or injured.  What did that experience teach you about yourself and your life?  Make sure to include the details of who was there and  how they reacted.

Week 7-   One day, while hanging out on the beach, you notice a boat slowly drifting to shore. It eventually lands near your spot. A person, draped in pirate clothes, yells to you from the boat, “I have a treasure map and I need help. Are you in?”

Week 8- Describe the most beautiful smile you've ever seen.  Be sure to include where and when you saw it and describe the person and the reason they were smiling.  

Week 9-  You decide to run for president of your high school class only to find that your opponent is running a smear campaign about you, trying to make you look bad so people won't vote for you. Worse yet, your opponent has been telling everyone that he/she will drop a bombshell announcement, revealing your darkest secret, in front of the entire school during your first debate. The debate is here. Write the scene where the bombshell secret is announced and describe how you react to it—remember, the entire school is watching. 

Week 10- Create a written snapshot of the moment in which you are living...for 15 minutes stop and listen until the silence is deafening...Look around you and notice every detail..  The stains on the walls or furniture, the labels on any boxes or bottles, stickers, magnets.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fifteen Dollar Decisions

Here is the sort of kid I was:  When I was 12 years old my sisters and I were each given $15 to buy whatever we wanted at the bookstore.  I distinctly remember debating between “Book of Virtues” and “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and it’s all Small Stuff.") I decided on the Book of Virtues.  One entry from that tome haunts me even today.  It was entitled “The Sin of Omission”  Here are the words I still have etched on my conscience, 
“It isn’t the thing you do dear but the thing you leave undone 
that gives you a bit of heartache at the setting of the sun.” 
 (Pardon any misquoting. I was 12 when I committed this to memory)

There is a great deal of truth in this, I do regret not taking opportunities to love, to laugh, to forgive.  However, I also regret unwise and unkind things that I have said.  And when I contemplate either type of regret I am bogged down by this millstone like weight around my heart.  The weight of failure. 

How do I accept the fact that I will mess up?   It depresses me to think that no matter how hard I try, one day I will look back and see a slough of sins and silly mistakes.  I believe that we only get one shot at this life and I resent the fact that I can’t get it right the first/only time.  Ok, so maybe that is pride, I mean only Jesus got it right the first time.  Still, I can’t shake that sense of feeling like I could be doing better, more, deeper things with each day I am given.

So what would I do differently?  Trying harder doesn’t seem to help.  I recently found a wish list from last year and of the many wishes that have come true (such as the birth of a healthy baby girl) none of them were borne of great effort on my part. Actually, giving birth is kind of a good example because it took every ounce of strength I had and more but it wasn’t like I had a choice... in the end it was totally outside of my control.  

Is it a sin to regret things?  I mean I know that we need to repent and let God change us when we sin but I wonder if we can truly regret anything.  I mean, isn’t God ultimately in charge of everything? Did Joseph (from the Bible) regret bragging to his brothers about his dreams?  If he hadn’t have done that they wouldn’t have thrown him in a well and sold him as a slave. But if they hadn’t have faked his death he couldn’t have saved their lives years later.  It gets complicated. 

What are your thoughts on regret? 
How do we let go but still learn from our mistakes?  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

James River Crab Cakes (part 2)

Even as I post this I see about a million ways it needs improvement.  Please give me comments and questions.  Sometimes I think something is clear and it really makes no sense at all.  It is good to know that sort of thing sooner rather than later, so please let me know.

See the post on September 3rd for the first paragraph of this story...

     Everybody ‘round here called me Rooster’s boy, but my mama named me Joseph Paul Williamson.  Mama told me our family was slaves of  Mr. Williams’ great great great  granddaddy and that’s how we got our names.  I didn’t like that much.  Mr. Williams was the kind of boss who made my daddy’s shoulder’s sag at the mere mention of work.  His son, Trent, was in my grade and had the uncanny ability to torment all of us at Warwick Middle School without ever catching hell for it.  I turned fourteen that spring, finally old enough to work by Virginia law; fourteen and skinny as the corn stalks my daddy grew behind our ramshackle shanty.  
Our closest neighbors were the residents of Whistling Fields trailer park, who were mostly elderly.  That is, until Big Al moved in with his grandma.  It was three weeks before we got let out for summer break.  The first day he lumbered into Mr. Huffman’s English class I worried that Al would be a bully, being so big for his thirteen years.  As it turned out, he was worse than a bully.  He was a leech; the kind of kid who will latch onto you with an unnatural affection, thinking that you and him is just like Carl Malone and John Stockton when he is like a washed up waterboy.
The desk arm of his chair twisted unnaturally as he crammed himself into the seat without thinking to remove his backpack first.  This made it near impossible for him to escape once the bell rang.  He called out to me just as I was packin’ up and I felt obliged to answer which stranded me there, alone with him and Mr. Huffman.  
“Which way’s the lunch room?”  He begged as he shoved his weight forward rocking the whole desk contraption.  Figures, I thought to myself. “It’s straight down the hall on the left.”  I pointed.  With a monumental shove he launched himself free at last but I was already out the door.  Still, somehow he managed to overtake me in the hall, completely winded by the effort.  “Are you going to Warwick High next year?” he panted.  I shrugged and walked faster.  “I’m planning on getting into Hampton Sydney,” he bragged.  “I already passed the exam, I just have to come up with the money.  If not, my grandma says I should play football, be a linebacker or something.  I heard the team should be good next year with Vick at QB.”  
I was so absorbed in my attempt to lose Big Al before we reached the lunchroom that I forgot to be on the lookout for Trent Williams.  I remembered just as the palm of his hand smashed into my crotch.  I doubled over, the breath knocked clean out of me.  Trent just kept walking as Big Al pressed himself up against the lockers to make room.  I scrambled up and set to making my way to lunch without Big Al, no such luck.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Candlelight and Silence

This is a day for remembering.  I always forget first thing in the morning, and then it hits me.  

12 years ago I had completely forgotten too.  I had forgotten what it meant to be vulnerable.  

I was sitting in a narrow classroom, completely absorbed in myself, chatting about something I will never remember.  Suddenly, Mrs. H burst in.  Her face was awash with panic.  Since panicking wasn’t completely unusual for her it took a while for the reality to set in. 

My immediate reaction was to disconnect my heart from my head as best I could. I focused on walking, breathing, noticing details.  

We all gathered in the cafeteria to talk, to pray.  My body felt heavy, my stomach would not let me forget my emotions all together. Nothing we did felt right. I was angry that I didn't know what to do in the face of all this death and uncertainty.  

Our neighborhood held a vigil that night.  We lit candles and sat on the front stoop. Many people walked the neighborhood with candles in hand.  Some stopped to talk, but much of the time was silent.  More silent than ever with no planes roaring across the sky, not a single one.  In the candlelight and silence I didn’t feel angry at all.  I felt grateful to be alive. It was enough to simply be in that moment. 

It is strange now because most of my students were toddlers when 9/11 happened.  Their memories are filtered through their parents or guardians.  Every year, I feel somewhat sorry for those who do not remember at all.  I’m not sure why, but I feel as if they missed a moment of history that was real and that was pivotal.  Each year I remember what it means to be vulnerable and that sometimes simply being in a particular place and time will change your life.  It is beyond our control. 

What do you remember?  The start of a World War? The JFK shooting? The Berlin Wall coming down?  

*As for the future, I would very much like to dedicate Wednesdays to guest posts.  So many of you have art, music, writing that have enriched my life.  If you are willing to share it on this blog, please, let me know... I can't wait to hear from you. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Self Help

I spend a lot of money on self-help... not just counseling/therapy ( I actually highly recommend that)  I mean that I will frantically delve into a new regimen when the mood takes me.  When this happens, I buy books, foods, shakes, vitamins, exercise equipment, and more books.

I guess this shows that I really do need help.  It’s not just on New Year’s Eve that I feel the pressing need to start anew.  No, I feel it every season, every month, every week, every single day.  I sense something is amiss in my life and I set up goals and objectives for myself. 

And some of this is not bad.  It’s good to take stock of where you have been and where you are going.  In fact, it was a super helpful trait in teaching because no one had to tell me twice to post my objectives, I would post and repost them obsessively.  

As I reflect I can think of several things I’ve felt the need to help myself achieve or attain:
  1. Peace...just the ability to breath easy and worry less
  2. Control...because everything seems wildly out of hand and it scares me.
  3. Beauty...because I feel like I’m a mess and not a hot mess, an ugly, gross mess.  

Here are some ways I have tried to help myself attain these characteristics (none of which have panned out with the great success I hoped for): yoga, drinking cleansing teas, spinning classes, drinking coffee, pilates, drinking acai juice, marathoning,  drinking pure water, cooking, drinking tequila, reading, writing, being really pious (for example, confessing faults I might have but am not really sure... just in case they are keeping me from being at peace) and the list goes on and on.  

I have found one sure fire thing always works, I discovered it when I was six years old and so very scared.  Somehow I always seem to forget about it in the heat of the moment...prayer.  Talking to God Almighty.  I think it is because He is greater than me.   He is peace. He is in control.  He is love.  He doesn’t need help.  I need Him.  I’m not really sure how one takes hold of an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient being but when I pray, I ask him to show me.  

Do you need help?  What is your story, your way to cope?

Friday, September 6, 2013

"You can't get there from here..." or can you?

Confession: I love blogs written by Farmer’s wives...The Pioneer Woman ( ...A Holy Experience ( , these are two (very different) examples of life stories/ blogs that rope me in completely every time I read them.  I am absolutely fascinated and terrified by farm life.  

Perhaps the fascination was sparked by reading Little House on the Prairie or by  the cover of an old book my mom had entitled, "True Women." Such a great title.  It chronicled the lives of several women who traveled out west and made their home out of the blank slate of land they found there.  I never actually read it, in fact I was a little traumatized by it because my mom reported that many of the women shot themselves out of complete despair.   Nevertheless, the women on the cover looked brave and strong, if not happy.  

So, back to the farmer's wife thing...I immediately wonder if I could make it.  Do I have the hutzpah to work the land sun up to sundown with my family... to live miles from the nearest hospital, police station, coffee shop?!  Would I be able to face everyday with joy and not succumb to the apparent temptation to go out to a field and give up on living?

Somewhat ironically, my husband grew up on a farm. I mean he isn't currently working on his family's land so I wouldn’t bubble in Farmer as his occupation but sometimes I wonder if it is his vocation.  That sort of thing is in your blood right?  Every time we get to some place with open space or large animals I sense he becomes a little more himself than he was before.   

I haven’t found that place yet, the place where I can breathe easy and just be me.  

So, how do you find that place?

Even as I type that I think of the verse from the Bible in John 14 when Thomas asks Jesus how they will know the way and Jesus says, “I am the one comes to the Father but through me.”  I’ve always imagined that wasn’t exactly what the disciples were expecting to hear. 

Not surprisingly, Philip asks a follow up question.  He asks Jesus to show them the Father.  Jesus doesn’t seem to be of the opinion that there are no stupid questions...or if he does, he chooses to answer them with questions of his own, “Don’t you know me Philip, even after I have been with you such a long time?”  He continues to lovingly explain that he and the Father are one which I can only imagine totally blew the disciple’s minds.  

I don’t pretend to understand the complete unity and yet distinct persons of the trinity.  Here is what I get from the encounter...Jesus is the way, that’s it, if you have him then any place can be that place of peace for you.  

Fortunately for me, who still feels lost most of the time, the next thing Jesus does is promise the Holy Spirit.  He refers to him as “The Counselor” which is exactly what I need when I contemplate all of this.  So, by the leading of the Spirit which Jesus elsewhere says is like the blowing of the wind, we find our place, our identity in Christ.  
Where do you find peace?  Are you a farmer?  A farmer’s wife?  A city slicker?  An urban hoodlum? 

Whatever you have been, have you found Jesus?  If so, would you share the way he changed your life and the world you live in?  I need to hear that today.  Maybe we all do.