Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mama and Claire

My beautiful mother

Ready to ride, but lipstick on point. Movie star beauty with a no-nonsense expression. She was a mother to be proud of. 

I wish I could have seen her ride. I know it gave her so much joy, but she left that part of her life behind when she moved to California and started a family. Every now and then, these pictures would surface and she would get that far away smile that told me she was reliving memories of freedom, of dusty Colorado trails, of the wind in her auburn curls.

It is now seven years since Mom's death. I usually do very well with the day-to-day missing, but right now we are preparing for Claire to head out on another adventure, and I cannot help but think how much she would love to watch the flurry of leaving and to be here to cheer her on. They really understood each other, Mom and Claire.  

Claire lives in the granny flat now, and she has made it her own version of beautiful. But now her eyes are looking elsewhere, as she leaves Saturday for three months in Europe. She plans to write and see new places and meet up with old friends. I will miss her, but I have known for a long time that she was going to travel as much as the realities of life would allow. As one who has wallpapered her bedroom with maps, she longs to see the world, to live in France, to GO! 

So my heart stretches from Madelaine in Nova Scotia, to Zack in Washington, Rex in Sacramento, Claire in France, and Brennan in Chico. Stretched in the best possible ways. All those years of us smooshed in our little house, schooling, and living and always, always cooking and cleaning, have brought us to this season. I want to live this one well, too.

Bon Voyage, beautiful Claire. I know your lipstick will be spot on. I know you will take your no-nonsense expression into cafes and churches and homes, bringing your joie de vivre to those you meet and reunite with. You are deeply loved. See you soon.

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy

never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come,
knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we
can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

~ Book of Common Prayer ~

Kindred spirits in 2009

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Confessions of a hover mother

It was the end of a lovely five-week visit from our college freshman. He was home during basketball season because he is red-shirting this year and also recovering from a knee injury. It was great to have him here, especially because chances are we won't have long stretches of time with him during the holidays for the next few years. I hear they get "a few hours to go home for Thanksgiving dinner, and a few days for Christmas."  So we soaked in the five weeks.  He worked hard on our property, and the clean hillsides, the absence of dump piles and the rearranged bookcases are evidence that it was not all Netflix and parties over break. But suddenly he was confronted with something he missed: a scholarship deadline.

Bren's athletic scholarship covers tuition and fees at this point, so he is in need of housing/food/personal expense funding. His generous Nana set up a college account for each of her grandchildren, and that is helping. But it will not last long at this rate. The athletic scholarship could change, but we have to look at financial plans based on what is and not what could be. One of the ways he can get additional funding is through the school's general scholarship application, open for applying starting in January. He and I had one of those, "UH OH" conversations last weekend, thinking that it was the scholarship deadline. He could have done his writing and submitted his portion,  but there are letters of recommendation required. Was it too late to ask for letters? Brennan thought it was.

Enter Hover Mother. I came home and started working magic with my google searches. I discovered that the due date was actually three weeks away, and if he acted quickly he could request letters of recommendation without begging and apologizing for the urgent time frame.  If I had just texted him that fact, all would have been great. It was VERY welcome news for him.

But no.

I had to go to full Charlie Brown Teacher "WAH WAH WAH" mode in my email. Lists of what the scholarship providers are looking for, why, and how the future of the human race is dependent upon worthy recipients. It was a full-blown Hover Mother Moment.

And so I get an email response the next morning. He was REMARKABLE in his kindness and admirable in his firmness. The basic message: thanks so much for finding out about the due date and for your suggestions for letters of recommendation. But, Mom! Context!! Not the best method for the message. And the future of the human race? Really?

His response was spot on.

He didn't just go dark (and I would have understood if he did.) He didn't return the favor and go OFF on me (and it must have been tempting.) He just said thanks...and no thanks. And ended his text with a love you.

Thanks, son. That was just what a recovering hover mother needed to get back on her own two feet. Love you, too.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


For the last few years, I have chosen a word to focus on. 2015's word was mercy, 2017's was hope, and no one remembers if 2016 even had a word. It was kind of a tough year.

2018's word is COURAGE.

I have realized more and more over the last year how many things frighten me. That is hard for me to admit, but there you have it. I was a very fearful child. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of roller coasters, name it.  I thought that was not true of me anymore, but I think what is more accurate is that I had stopped doing things that frighten me. I had started playing life safe.

Another realization I have had is that fear is the driving force behind my battle with procrastination. It is so much easier to not do something if it scares me.  But the sad fact is that as I put off things that scare me, those fears sit in the back of my mind for much longer than they need to. If I can face my fears instead of putting them off, I anticipate it making a huge difference in my state of mind and my productivity.

So 2018 is the year of courage, the year of doing scary things. I have made a chart and each and every day I am going to write down the scary thing I have done. It is only January 13th, but I am already seeing a change in my way of thinking about what frightens me. I am searching for the scary things so I can do them and be excited to have faced the fear beast.

Bring it on!

Just three days into the new year, I was looking at Instagram, and this post from Evy's Tree showed up on my feed. Right there, in fabulously bright green, was my motto for the year. It's good to know others are out there, facing fears in their businesses, with their families, in their ministries.


It's going to be a great year.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Well, here we go...

My inspiration, on her way back to Halifax on New Year's Eve

Over Christmas break, my daughter Madelaine talked to me about blogging...why I stopped blogging, would I be open to starting again, how about a weekly post? You see, she lives in Nova Scotia now, and not only does it FEEL really far away, it IS really far away. We stay in touch with calls and texts, the occasional silly FB messenger video, but she suggested that a weekly blog post would add something of substance. Plus, we both love words, we both like to write, but writing for pleasure doesn't happen for us without some sort of external motivation.   So, here we go. Weekly posts. 

HI MADELAINE!!!    *Waving madly across the country to the frozen world of the Maritimes.*

Monday, June 23, 2014

The continuing adventure of Neville (the Lone White Duck)

I  wrote a post last September about a duck who had appeared on our neighborhood pond.  He continues to strut his spunky white feathers all around the neighborhood.  In fact, just a few weeks ago traffic was stopped right where I needed to turn onto our one lane road, and as I leaned out to see what the traffic issue was, I saw Neville leading a group of geese across the road.  I felt like I was sitting in the midst of Make Way for Ducklings! I am grateful everyone stopped to watch the show.  Neville is adorable, but he doesn't waddle very fast.  

Neville's charming approach to life has kept my mind spinning and I am in the final stages of re-writing, critiquing and preparing the story of his arrival for submission to an agent and publisher.  I am hoping it will be a lovely picture book for young children.

It is intimidating to venture further into the writing world than I ever have before.  I am amazed at how quickly fear can thwart creativity, and how much the need to make a buck can do the same. I finally decided to look for a "real" job and keep writing.  I have supportive friends who are critiquing for me, and their support helps me feel brave enough to push send on the website for the agent I have as my first choice.  I hope to do that in the next two weeks.

It has been quiet here, as I wrestle with my own inner demons and the demands of daily life.  There are a lot of changes, some very sweet times, hours of basketball games, and the completion of my homeschool teaching career.  Our youngest is headed to school in the fall, and our second-to-youngest has graduated.  It's been a great and rewarding job and one that I know I will miss.  But there are seasons in life, and this upcoming season will be something entirely new for our family.  We are excited.

Friday, November 15, 2013



It is one thing to let ideas compete with ideas, 
and it is one thing to argue and win in a dispute; 
it is something else to be victorious over one's mind
when one battles in the actuality of life. 
Soren Kierkegaard from Words of Love 
(HT: Gutenberg College graduation, 2013)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013 we bought a maple tree

My mother-in-law has just spent several days in miserable pain after radiation treatment for cancer. Knowing that she was hundreds of miles north, her children scattered from California to Colorado to Wisconsin, has put me on edge.  Fortunately, her husband (who has not felt well for months) is being amazing, and he is finding, within himself and his church community, the strength to go on.

But all the same, I am itching to jump on a plane.  I would love to make butternut squash soup and read Wendell Berry aloud, clean the bathroom or collect autumn leaves to bring joy to her bedside table.  I don't want Roger to have to worry about the trash or meals or transportation or anything but communicating to his wife the intense love and devotion he has for her.

We have not had a smooth and idyllic run of it, my mother-in-law and I.  My husband and I have been all about making a mark in our family different than the marks of our upbringings.  That she has managed to be so gracious to us is suddenly amazing to me.  She understood our need to be Us, and she has had to stretch her own comfort zone to find room for the ruckus that is our family.  Take our family size, as one small (or is it huge?) example.  For a woman with serious environmental convictions, this has created plenty of opportunity for her to stretch.

On a recent visit, she and I had a chance to be alone together in the car for a bit.  Roger had been having a bit of a health crisis while she was gone, and it brought to light the brevity of life. I asked her what her thoughts were about staying on the island where she lives if Roger died first.  She told me that she had entertained thoughts of living in our granny flat.  Oh, I cannot tell you the joy that brought me.  I would love a chance to live next door to her, learning and stretching and growing with each other.  I know the rich reward of that, and I was thrilled that she would even consider it.

Even when things are looking so fragile, as they are right now, it doesn't mean the whole jig is up.  There could still be those days.  But yesterday I realized that I had let that dream take root in my heart and it made me sad to imagine that it might not happen.  I can understand if she chose a different option, but knowing that she is so ill and could have a short time here on earth, well that just did me in a bit yesterday.

And so Claire and I got in the car and drove to the nursery.  It was wholesale day for the regular customers, and we found a few plants to add to the front yard beds.  But the crowning purchase of the day was a maple tree.  The price was right, the color is majestic, and it is a TREE, a grand and glorious tree.  Part of its beauty and grandeur is the autumnal display of red and gold, and soon those leaves will be gone.  But spring, ever hopeful spring, will come and the leaves, Lord willing and we don't kill the thing, will grow new and green and abundant.  The branches will reach for the sky and seasons will continue to change.  Time will move on.

There was something in my restlessness yesterday that was soothed by planting a tree.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Eagle Project (is all funded, thanks to so many!)

Our son Brennan is getting ready to begin work on his Eagle Scout Leadership Project. It will be here, on this hillside overlooking our church, and will involve several steps.  He will expand the area by eight feet, he will change the surface from a rough bark to decomposed granite, and he will build and install a pergola.

We had been brainstorming with friends and had been looking through books, trying to find a plan for what Brennan wanted to build. Then we went to a dinner party and at some point in the evening our friend Dave looked up and said, "Hey, John. THIS is what you want to build." Voila. We had our prototype.  Thanks, Pat and Becky!

 My favorite part of this project is that it will be done in memory of my mother.  Mom was a little worried (maybe appalled would not be too strong a word?) when I gave her the news that a fifth child was on its way.  So many children, so much work!  But then Mom moved to our home when Brennan was only 3, and he became a source of great joy and pride for her.  Bren would go have a visit with Mom every afternoon, and those visits quickly became a favorite part of her days.

And now there will be an outdoor worship area at our church, built in her honor and in her memory.  I am so pleased.



The project is now fully funded, thanks to the generosity of so many.  The work will begin soon.  I am very grateful.


The estimated cost of the project is $567.00, and we currently have half of that money raised.  I am hoping to do my part in helping Brennan raise the remainder of his needed funds so that we can get the project started.  If you are interested in donating to his project, you can do so with this paypal button:

If you do not feel comfortable using paypal, you can email me at acircleofquiet(AT)yahoo(DOT)com and I will let you know where to send a check.

We really appreciate your consideration of this project.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hollyberry pond and the lone white duck

A white duck appeared on the pond about four or five months ago, all by itself, and it is waddling and paddling around whenever I drive by.  There are dozens of mallards, some wood ducks and coots, but just this one white duck.

Did the neighbors who recently moved leave him behind?  He does sometimes cross the road and go wandering through their yard, looking more at home there more than he does in the big pond.

He has caught my imagination, and I find myself making up stories about the little white duck as I am driving.  He is always mingling with the Canada geese, imitating whatever they are doing, and I have him pegged as a very earnest, somewhat insecure little fellow who would love nothing more than to belong.  He is most carefree when he is the middle of the geese crowd; it is then that you can see him diving down, his tail feathers wiggling above the water line, while below the surface he is fishing or playing or whatever it is ducks do in the water. As the geese move along, he quickly catches up with them and slaloms in between the larger, darker birds.  When swim time is over, and the geese somehow signal it is time to march single file up the hill to the kind neighbors on the left, he knows the secret code and pops out to get in line with them.  He waddles along, and he seems to be saying, "I am so happy to be here."

I need a name for this little fellow (assuming that he is a he...I am only guessing.)   Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

~ Collect for the nation in The Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, September 07, 2013

On the porch with Liza

Every Thursday at 1:00.
Unless we forget, of course,
Or grace needs to be ladled out
For some embarrassing reason.

The porch rockers sit ready,
Perhaps a little dusty,
But nothing that a quick sweep of the hand
Can't brush away.

Cars trundle by
As the heat sneaks onto the shaded porch.
We sip our cold drinks
And settle in for a slice of heaven.

Angst might be confessed
Or hurt shared or advice sought.
What ifs and whys rise to the surface with
Dreams and worries and almost always laughter.

As we rock, the little girls
Tumble and giggle, fuss or jabber,
Parading new outfits
Or splashing in the stream the hose has carved.

Hannah Coulter opens to the next chapter,
And the gentle cadence of Wendell Berry
Takes us to another time and place,
Making this time and this place deeply ours.

A song bird splashes yellow across the sky,
While Gordon barks gruffly to protect his turf.
The wandering hen cackles and pecks,
And this humble hour steeps in wonder.

We feel Hannah's heartache
And healing and passion,
Returning to a particular word or phrase
And marveling at a man writing what a woman feels.

A chapter is all we read,
And when it is over we sigh
Over the beauty of it all,
And we take one last, deep breath before moving on.

Every Thursday at 1:00.
Another chapter, a dear friend.
I return to simpler days,
And share an hour on the porch with Liza.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013)

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

It is hard to remember who I was when Brennan Manning came into my life.  I know I was pregnant with our fifth child, and I know where we went to church. I can recall the messages about effective parenting and women's roles and the Right Way to Do Everything.  I can almost remember the recoil in my soul on Sunday mornings, and  I know well the work we've done to unravel the falsehoods from that season.

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means.”

Into this rich soil Brennan Manning was planted.  I could digress into the value of manure to help seeds grow, but let's not get crass.  Manning's message of Christ and His grace was gruffly honest; it was not about neat and tidy living, and it was fresh air and clean water and sweet music to my weary heart.  Brennan Manning's way of speaking of God's love for His children could very well have saved my life.

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” 

And so we named our baby Brennan.

"There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

And this last Friday, Brennan Manning found his eternal rest, at last.  Rest in Peace, kind sir.  Thank you for speaking to a weary and earnest mother; God used you to breathe the words of grace back into her heart.

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery."


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will whether or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

~ Mary Oliver ~

From The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem