29 April 2011

good friday

Yes, I am aware that Good Friday was last week, and it's not like I'm trying to live again Jesus' crucifixion.

But this poem—I like this poem. It was printed in the bulletin {or to be fancy, Order of Service} for the Good Friday service last week, and I have been re-reading it throughout this week.

As I mentioned on Palm Sunday, I enjoy—probably not the correct word here—Holy Week because it helps guide me through emotions. You wouldn't think I would need help with emotions about the death and resurrection; it seems like there should be plenty in there to cling to.

But it can all become so rote, so known, so accepted. After all, I celebrate his death and resurrection every week, and as someone raised in the church, I can easily, I must admit, gloss over the shocking details that form the heart of faith.

Sometimes, I stand in front of the cross and think the very same thing as Christina Rossetti in this poem: "Am I a stone... / that I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross... / And yet not weep?"

Good Friday
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.

Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

28 April 2011


A quote for the day {or, in truth, for many days}:

It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.
{President Truman, smart man that he was}

This quote should be printed in every board room, on the doorframe of every CEO's office, on cubicle walls, and in break rooms.

We, as a working people, tend to preen. We point out what we've done well; we draw attention to ourselves and those to-do lists and all our checkmarks.

We are peacocks when perhaps we should be more like peahens, and I, for one. need to remember that this life isn't about accomplishments and accolades and having my name tied to all of those.

Not that I know what this life is all about, but for today, Harry's words {we're on a first-name basis since I went to a school named after him} are humbling and good for me to remember.

26 April 2011

what i miss about running outside

It has been raining for approximately 40 days.

This is an exaggeration, I know, but it's starting to feel true, and it felt especially true this morning.

It's light enough outside by 6:00—maybe even earlier because there's a zippy thrill in running in just-barely light—for me to run out there.

However, and this is perhaps me being a running wimp, I don't like starting a run in the rain. If it starts raining while I'm out there, fine. It's an adventure, a challenge, a joy: it's however I want to spin it that day to make myself keep running. {Usually the logic that works best is: If you stop, it will take longer to get home.}

So I've been running inside, and today, on my 20th lap around the track at the gym, I thought about what I miss about running outside.

Sure, there's the sun. The breeze. The crunch of gravel. The smell of barbecue {okay, that applies later in the summer and not at 6:00am, obviously}.

There's seeing the shadows lengthen and watching my own shadow stretch away from me.

Yes, there's all that to running outside.

But what I miss most about running outside is being able to spit.

There is nothing quite like that rush of spitting while you're running, although I do not under any other circumstances advocate this. In other circumstances, spitting is disgusting. Think tobacco or insulting someone by spitting on them or teenagers spitting off bridges.

But in running, you're free. You can spit and it's part of the sport.

Unless you're inside on your 20th lap, and oh, how I miss spitting.

19 April 2011

an unexpected night off and pie crust

Tuesday nights are taken nights. I have a rotating schedule of evening activities, and Tuesday night is small group.

But it's Holy Week right now, and my small group decided to take a holy break, leaving me with a somewhat unexpected night off.

Does this happen to you? You find yourself with a few free hours—hours you didn't expect to have to yourself—and you suddenly feel like you've found a weekend oasis in the midst of the week. You start planning restful things to do, but then you realize that you're trying to cram too much into your oasis.

With all your thoughts of cleaning and writing and reading and phone calls with far-away friends, it's getting a little crowded, and you can't seem to reach the refreshing water in the oasis. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I'm familiar with my crowded oasis challenge, so with tonight's unexpected night off, I decided to do one restful thing, not 12.

And to limit the temptation to do more, I made that one restful thing a multi-step project, which may sound like the opposite of restful, but here's how my mind works: if I do one thing that takes a long time, then I won't be tempted to do many things that take a little time. I'll be focused.

Multi-tasking is not always good. One multi-step project is sometimes better. {And at other times, no project, no agenda, no schedule is the best.}

My multi-step project for tonight was a goat cheese tart, and I needed the process and the method and the structure of cooking to help me relax.

Mostly, I needed the crust.

There's something so astounding and reliable and forgiving about making your own crust.

Throw a cup-and-a-half of flour, a stick-and-a-half of butter, some salt, and some cold water together and you get this...experience.

It's an experience of worrying if it's going to turn out well—as you try to get the butter into pea-size chunks, there are moments of thinking, 'Am I doing this right?'

And then you realize that you're doing the best you can. You started with the right ingredients and besides, regardless of what you do and how big your pea-sized chunks are before you roll the dough out, the butter and flour will combine. They always do.

I had this very peaceful moment tonight as I fit the crust into the tart pan. It was lopsided, so one side had extra hanging over the edge and the other side {not that there are sides in a round tart pan, but you know what I mean} was sadly missing dough.

I tried readjusting the crust, which caused a schism in the bottom, leaving me with a holy, no, I mean holey, crust.

That was not what I expected when I started this unexpected evening off.

But crust, as I said before, is forgiving. I pulled off some of the hanging-over crust and smooshed it into the bottom. I spread out the crust with my fist, giving it the look of gentle waves in a bay.

I know my crust wasn't perfect. I know I probably limited the flakiness of it by smooshing it down.

But I also know that when I go to bed tonight, my apartment will still smell like this goat cheese tart, and even though the bottom is wavy, it will smell just as I expected: like comfort and peace and calm.

17 April 2011

hosanna, hey-sanna, sanna, sanna-ho

At Palm Sunday, I always want to sing this:
Hosanna, hey, sanna, sanna sanna ho
Sanna, hey, sanna, hosanna
Hey, JC, JC, you're all right by me
Sanna hosanna, hey superstar!

But seeing as it's from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, I don't think it'd be the most worshipful beginning to Holy Week.

It's catchy, though, and that's why, as I watched the procession go past today, I wanted to belt it out as I waved my palm branch.

It includes that rather accessible way of praising Jesus: Hey, Jesus, you're all right.

It's like saying casually to him, "Oh, hey, Jesus, you're pretty cool, you know. Nice, friendly, good listener, really a giver. Yeah, you're all right."

And while all that's true, of course, it's not enough for me—not enough recognition of his kingship and how he is the Lord and how he was there when God created light and flowers.

But I must confess, that "Oh, hey, Jesus" is more how I live my life and my faith.

I say every week at church that I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light.

I profess my faith in that way on a Sunday, but come a normal Wednesday afternoon, Jesus is in the back of my mind.

We mostly have a casual relationship, Jesus and I, one where I usually think of him as a really good friend who does stuff for me when I ask and who also listens to me when I have something to process.

Oh, and he died for my sins and loves me despite my sins.

Although I'm well-aware of his sovereignty and although I often pause to marvel at his creation {oh, how a tiny bud on a tree can make me praise him for his goodness}, I don't take time every day to marvel at his kingship.

So that's why I like Palm Sunday. That's why I like Holy Week.

It is time to worship him for his sacrifice and kingship.

Sometimes, I need help being guided through emotions. Any emotions, not just faith-related ones—I'm not a natural crier, so if I need to cry, I will watch Rudy, which has the peculiar effect of making me cry every time I watch plucky Rudy run onto the field to play for Notre Dame. I don't understand this, but I will take what emotional release I can.

Holy Week guides me through the emotions of recognizing what Jesus has done for me and then worshiping him for that. It starts with the joy of Palm Sunday—and it's not hard for me to get swept up in joy when the procession goes past, banners flying, kids dancing, everyone singing about the King of Glory.

I like to say Palm Sunday is a pep rally for Jesus, the kick-off to Holy Week. That may seem a bit glib, especially coming after this "I need to recognize his kingship" talk, but it's true.

The whole point of pep rallies are to get you fired up, and Palm Sunday does that. It lets me dance with joy, wave a palm branch with abandon, sing hosanna to the Son of David.

It gives me the words to praise him, a deep praise welling up from knowing what will happen in just a few days, when we remember his crucifixion.

Hey JC, JC, you're more than all right by me: you're the King of Glory for me.

16 April 2011

the ducks in the puddle

The puddle in the parking lot is nothing more than a few drops of water and probably some oil, or maybe some other fluid that's apt to drip out of a car.

Okay, it has to be more than a few drops of water because a few drops don't a puddle make; they make a puddlette or a pudling.

But the point here—what I want you to envision—is that the puddle is small, very small. The size you could leap over in a single bound, even if you aren't Superman. Or Superwoman.

It's early April, and a very small April shower has brought this very small puddle. What makes this puddle look even smaller is that two regular-sized ducks are sitting in it.

It's like seeing grown-ups sitting in kid-sized desks at parent-teacher conferences at the elementary school: everything else around looks even smaller because these giants have taken over a room that was, until they stepped in, just the right size. The scene is a touch absurd, and you half-expect the White Rabbit to wander through muttering about how he's late, he's late, for a very important date.

The puddle was just a puddle until these ducks decided to make it a lake—a very tiny, no fish in it lake. When they landed in it, the scene became a touch absurd when just a second before, it had been nothing but a dull parking lot in a dull, completely unsurprising and expected office complex.

There the ducks float—although how can they possibly be floating?—on a puddle the size of a football player's torso.

They are next to a Honda CR-V in the parking lot, which perhaps to them look like a mountain range rising out of the concrete and so maybe they think they're in the Rockies, Canadian or otherwise.

Driving past the ducks on my way home from work, I wanted to roll down the window and ask, "Excuse me, but don't you know that Herrick Lake, a beautiful, idyllic, actual lake, is just up the road? Did you not see it? Did you not know that if you flew just a little bit more, you could reach somewhere so much better than this?"

I wanted to ask, "Why are you settling for this puddle when you could have a lake, a real lake where you could dangle your webby feet in the water and dive for bugs or whatever it is that you eat?"

It would be absurd to talk to ducks, though.

As I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road that would take me home, I looked at the ducks in the little puddle and asked myself the same question: Where am I settling for a puddle when I could have a lake if I pushed on a little bit farther?

I don't know the answer to that, or even if that's a good question to be asking, but it came to me as I looked at the ducks and I thought I'd share.

15 April 2011

a long walk and then a reward

The old couple walks towards me, he with a cane and she in a green spring jacket.

They're familiar to me, and if you've read this, they're familiar to you, too. It's the older couple I see almost every day on my walk with my little pug in the early morning.

When I wrote about them before, she had a brick-red winter coat on. It was cold, but now, there are daffodils springing up and waving their cheery heads at us and so she's switched to her green jacket.

"Well, there's my Daisy!" he says to little pug, and she sticks up her squished-in nose for a pat just where she likes it best, under the chin.

He bends down—carefully, he's carrying a cane, you know—and scratches his Daisy, who then shows her appreciation by licking his knee. For some reason.

"Oh, I see you have running shoes on," he says to me. "Are you a runner, then?"

They both look at me expectantly and with smiles of pride already itching at the corners of their mouths. Even if I weren't actually a runner, I would lie to them, just to see them smile, I think.

They are the kind of people who make you feel full but at the same time hungry for more of the day, for more people, for more smiles, for more conversations. I don't know how they do it, although I think their secret is in old age, a life spent together, and a good walk every morning.

"Yes, I run," I tell them, and she claps a little.

She really does. She throws her head back and she throws her hands together, and she says, "Oh, that's so wonderful for you!"

I tell them about my 10-mile race coming up and we have a little moment imagining Daisy trying to run with me, and then she says, "Yesterday, we walked all the way to the school on Main Street. You know which one I'm talking about? That was like a marathon for us. But then we got to have a bagel."

And that sounds like a good day to me: a long walk and then a reward.

It can be a long anything, you know. A long day at work. A long run. A long conversation. A long to-do list.

And then a simple little reward: I like this idea.

"All right, we have to get to church now," they told me, and Miss Daisy and I turned, our shadows stretching long in front of us as we walked away from the morning sun.

12 April 2011

april in paris

Continuing my trip down memory lane, here's another snippet from my time in France. I guess I should say this is a trip down la rue des souvenirs, if I want to be all French-y about it.

I wrote this for my hometown newspaper, too—you can read another piece I wrote for The Hawkeye here—and it's the only piece my editor suggested.

"Write something about April in Paris," she said, and this is what came out.


Now it’s April and thank goodness I don’t have to live through the normal adage “April showers bring May flowers.” J’en ai marre de la pluie; I’ve had it with rain because it’s been raining since November. I want more of the sun, that brilliance of the day you can hear in Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong crooning “April in Paris.”

It’s impossible to be in France in the spring and not think of that song, even if you’re not in Paris.

I think of it almost every time I look out my window of my room here at lycée Jeanne d’Arc.

April in Paris
Chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the tree…

Although I have to confess that I don’t know what a chestnut tree looks like, I’m convinced that I have one just outside my room. Chestnuts in blossom, as the song says. I open my big windows first thing in the morning and lean out to smile at the charm of spring, saying, “Salut, France!”

Because it is only April, the early morning air still catches in my throat, that briskness you know will grow into the fullness of a spring afternoon.

My tree has sweet pink flowers that cluster as a palette: light pink like a girl’s Easter dress, rosiness like a blush, mauve like a glossed-lip grin. The flowers hang on a blue canvas, the colors so delicate and whisper-like that I hold my breath against all this spring explosion.

But April in France is a taunt.

The weather goads you to not carry your umbrella, your constant fashion accessory, but those blue sky days are quickly followed by mean days of rain that you hoped had gone away.

In Normandy, they have a saying: En avril, ne te decouvre pas d’un fil: In April, don’t take off even one thread of clothing.

It may seem like spring, but don’t believe it until June. When I came to school in a skirt and flip-flops, my natural response to sunny days, I was lectured by many French women at lycée Jeanne d’Arc who think they are my French mother and therefore have the right to nag.

The world over knows that you can’t trust spring weather and that you have to enjoy it while you can.

So April in France is an excuse.

Wear a kicky new skirt with a spring pattern of flowers that you bought at full price because you had a weak moment. You walked by the shop window on a sparkling Wednesday afternoon and lost a little self-control in the immense possibilities of spring.

Looking at the sun’s rays highlighting the cathedral spire and listening to the accordion man play “La Vie en Rose” for the tourists, you were grabbed by the feeling that life is—is—isn’t it too much sometimes?

You had an urge that didn’t come from inside you but more from the sun, spire, flowers, cobblestones, sky: skip along the Seine with your arms held wide to hug the spring, a city-tied Maria from The Sound of Music.

But that’s silly, an urge to repress just like the want to scream in a very solemn place.

And so instead—

10 April 2011

men working in trees

Men Working in Trees: I drove by this sign the other morning on my way to work, and I laughed.

It's so straightforward, this description of a job, but why, I'm left wondering, do we get warned about the men in trees?

And who else is thinking of The Sound of Music? You know, the part with the Von Trapp kids hanging in trees in their outfits made of curtains. I will sing the solfege and a little something about edelweiss, if that will help you remember.

I'm guessing the Men Working in Trees are not wearing curtains. {Who except the Von Trapps and Scarlett O'Hara really wear curtains?}

Away from curtains and back to my original question: why do the Men in Trees get signs? What about the Men on Telephone Poles? Or the Men on Lawnmowers?

Or—let us not forget—the Women in Trees?

They have to be up there somewhere, up there working away while a sign down below calls them a man.

But again, I'll go back to the question: what's so special about these men? Is the city concerned that people will panic when they see a man climbing a tree?

"Oh NO, NO, NO! That man is displaying childlike wonder at the world and he's forgotten to go to work today! Instead, he's swinging on a branch to re-capture his boyish charm! Stop him! Get him in a tie!"


"That man thinks he's an ape. Perhaps the world has turned into Planet of the Apes. Panic panic panic."

This seems unfair and biased and peculiar and antiquated, this Men Working in Trees sign, and that's why I laughed.

Also: I want a Girl Working in Cubicle sign.

06 April 2011

electricity {a poem}

In this spot by the man-made
stream gashed into the ground

In this spot by the banks of the
expressway where cars flow by

In this spot by the power station,
electricity sings hums buzzes trills:
is it the most alive thing here?

The air near dances with the noise
coming out of those thick black cords
wires running overhead
slicing through the trees—incisions of division in the sky.

The air near dances with
electricity sprinting away from this spot,
wires carrying the ability to
read in bed, to
cook a pot roast, to watch the evening news, to
run the dishwasher, to
iron out the wrinkles

to make a life in the darkness.

04 April 2011

to a frustrated poet

On Sunday night, I couldn't sleep in my recently re-arranged bedroom.

I thought about beginnings of poems, and I thought about my work to-do list. I thought I should start writing my work to-do lists as poems.

{They'd be sparse and full of acronyms that make sense only to me.}

Finally, I turned on the light and grabbed a book of poems. Short, easy to fly through. Anything to take my mind off work and I hoped that maybe the poems would help some of the poem fragments come together in my head.

I opened to this poem: "To a Frustrated Poet" and laughed. It's about poetry and work, exactly what I was thinking about.

I guess you could call this some sort of universe moment or kismet or a joke from God or sheer coincidence.

I just call it fun.

And now for fun: in the poem below, another, more famous poem is referenced. Do you know what it is {without using Google}?

{There is a prize for this, people. I will either a) mail you a prize, or b) give it to you when I see you next. And it will be cool, something better than a paperweight unless a paperweight is what you really want.}

To a Frustrated Poet
RJ Ellman

This is to say
I know
You wish you were in the woods,
Living the poet life,
Not here at a formica topped table
In a meeting about perceived inequalities in the benefits and allowances offered to
employees of this college,
And I too wish you were in the woods,
Because it's no fun having a frustrated poet
In the Dept. of Human Resources, believe me.
In the poems of yours that I've read, you seem ever intelligent and decent and patient in a way
Not evident to us in this office,
And so, knowing how poets can make a feast out of trouble,
Raising flowers in a bed of drunkenness, divorce, despair,
I give you this check representing two weeks' wages
And ask you to clean out your desk today
And go home
And write a poem
With a real frog in it
And plums from the refrigerator,
So sweet and so cold.

02 April 2011

a change in perspective

Today, I needed a change in perspective and so I re-arranged my bedroom.

I've heard it said that paint is the cheapest way to redecorate, but you know, just by moving around some furniture, you can feel like you're in a new place, a new room, a new room.

You can get a change in perspective just by moving your bed.

I thought of this in the midst of a 9-mile run this morning. I spent several miles re-arranging my bedroom in my head. Would the bed be better against that wall? Would the dresser fit there? What about the artwork?

Running is useful for all kinds of things, including physical fitness and a sense of accomplishment.

But I also use it as rambling thinking time.

Under other circumstances, I wouldn't allow myself 30 minutes to imagine moving furniture.

On a sunny Saturday morning, though, a few miles into a long-ish run and completely music-less {Lent and its lack of distraction apply even on the running path}, I let my mind wander over art options and so when I got to the end of my run, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

And somehow, my body wasn't tired enough from running, so I had the energy to move my bed. By myself. I thought of it as weight lifting to accompany my cardio exercise.

I will say: moving my bed and vacuuming was more fun than reps at the gym. If I keep this up, I could have constantly re-arranging furniture {new perspectives all the time!}; a home scrubbed so clean, there's no paint on the walls or sheen to the hardwood floor; and amazing arm muscles.

I am content with my change in perspective. The whole point of this was to make it possible for me to look out the window first thing in the morning. Without even getting out of bed, I can see the just-growing-light sky and the just-budding trees.

I can see my day before I even set foot on the ground, and I can say, "Thank you, Lord, for this day."

A chair for reading. Shoes for running.
And a curly pug tail because Miss Daisy wouldn't stay out of my picture.

A good good morning view.

01 April 2011

jane eyre: reader, i married him

Tonight, I'm going to see the new Jane Eyre, and the weather is behaving appropriately: it is gray and windy and cold.

It is easy to pretend I'm on a moor with a brooding Rochester.

This seems like an ideal time to say: Jane Eyre was my favorite book when I was 12. I read it and instantly connected with her, which is odd because I'm not an unloved orphan nor do I live in England nor had I ever seen a moor.

{Later, when I saw Othello, I got a little confused by that use of the word moor, and I had this perplexed period where I was convinced Othello took place on some windswept hill in England.}

But oh, how thrilled I was when Jane said, "Reader, I married him," and as a 12-year-old, I started imagining my own Byronic romance, although I had no idea what that would be and I was apparently ignoring the part where Rochester had a crazy wife kept in the attic.

A final confession: I didn't know how to pronounce Eyre when I first read Jane Eyre, so in my head, I said "Eye-ree."

Sort of like India.Arie but on a moor {perhaps with Othello}.

Clearly, I was a confused 12-year-old. Maybe this movie will straighten me out or maybe it'll re-start that longing for a Byronic romance.

{Oh my, I hope it doesn't.}


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