Friday, October 17, 2014


Royalty visited our garden this afternoon. After our caterpillar died, I figured our butterfly season was over, until this lovely monarch lighted down on the zinnias.

And we waited near the red carpet to get a picture.

The youngest confessed to having ill intent towards it (as he does with most bugs), so we sent him to the deck after he'd had a good look.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pumping Soap and Counting Mississippis

She walked into the locker room holding her bags and mumbling to herself. People mumble to themselves, especially when they've just walked across a rainy parking lot to the gym, but as she started unloading her bags to open the corner locker, she kept on speaking under her breath, not making eye contact with any of the other women changing around her, seeming to be conversing as her voice quietly undulated with indecipherable words. I'd seen her in the gym before, and thought of smiling to say "hi", but she was deep somewhere inside her own mind and didn't seem to be aware that anyone else was in the room.

Five laps into my swim, the lifeguard's whistle came screaming over the pool surface as I came up for each breath. He was shouting something I couldn't understand as my ears were full of water. "There is a lot of thunder. We have to close the pool. There's a really big storm." The pool would be closed for at least 30 minutes, so I went to shower off.

As I stood under the shower head, it sounded as if two women had just walked in and were having a quiet sing-songy conversation. But I heard the curtain in the next stall pull back and close again, and the talking continued. Then I knew it was the same mumbling I had heard while changing into my swimsuit. I heard her aggressively pump the soap.

pump pump pump pump

Then as she continued in her one-sided conversation, I heard more and more pumping.

pump pump pump pump

I started keeping count in my head.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five...

pump pump pump pump

"One Mississippi, two Mississippi, ...

And on it went averaging between four and five Mississippis. I reached over to pump some soap, but mine was empty. I wonder if she had used up all the soap in my shower stall earlier in the week.

There was a new sign in the locker room directing patrons to report suspicious people, and I wondered why that had been put up. What are suspicious people? I imagined her flinging open my shower curtain and throwing a punch at me. I pulled back the inner curtain to peek out at my bag. I wondered who was looking out for her. Who knew she was there?

Yesterday I put an old cd from college into the Jeep and played it on the way to the gym. The tunes were repetitive, the vocals a little bit whiny, the themes a little college-coffee-shop-meaning-of-it-all-esque, but the words "And the least of these look like criminals to me, so I leave Christ on the street" ground down into my soul, and as I stood in the gym shower listening to this woman endlessly mumble and pump soap, I knew she was the least of these. I somewhat feared her. She grabbed my curiosity. I didn't want to poke my finger into her bubble, because I didn't know how she would respond.

I finished up my shower after fiddling with the shell inserts in my tankini top, which had gotten folded and turned during their last spin in the washer. Another woman and I made small talk about the weather and dropping off kids at school, and by the time I walked out the door, it was drizzling, and the thunder had passed.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pottery and Pinguecula

About two months ago I tried my hand at the pottery wheel after not working with clay for nearly eight months. The next week my eye flared up. After a busy summer and fall at the wheel in 2013, my eye had given me trouble but had cleared up when I quit working with clay. Steroid eye drops helped during that season, but the flare-ups only went away after extended time away from the wheel. After having it flare up again at the end of this summer, I'm convinced the clay dust was causing the irritation. Not only that, I had a recurring sore throat, my left wrist lost all strength, and neck and shoulder pain frequently woke me up at night. I was happy to take a break.

This summer I only played for a few days, but it was enough to set off the pinguecula. The bump in the picture wasn't as bad as it got. Six weeks later, I went to the eye doctor because the whole inside half the eye was red, and my vision was blurred. My doctor had actually just been reading up on dust, silicosis and pinguecula. Due to her pregnancy, she decided to stepped back from some home renovation work with bricks and mortar. The pinguecula is in both eyes and isn't ever going away (and I've had it for years now), but avoiding irritants can help make it barely visible. We both agreed I'd have to only do clay as an occasional hobby or go full-on face hazmat protection.

So what is pinguecula? I'm happy to answer that for you.

"A pinguecula is a common, non-cancerous growth of the clear, thin tissue (conjunctiva). The growth is raised slightly from the surface of the white part of the eye (sclera). The exact cause is unknown. Long-term sunlight exposure and eye irritation may be factors."

Considering how much time I spend gardening, how much dirt I've flipped up in my face accidentally, how much time I've spent around clay dust, and that I spent a couple years doing graduate work outdoors in sun and winter wind, it's no surprise my eyes have experienced their share of sun and irritants.

In November I'm headed back to Pullen Art Center to take a Continuing Wheel class, and am a little nervous. It runs one night a week for six weeks, and I'll go armed with eye drops and probably some safety glasses. As much as I want to wear a mask to protect my lungs and throat, I may only wear one while glazing and working with greenware. Pullen does a good job of keeping the floors clean, much better than I do in my own garage studio. For those who have wondered what happened to my pottery endeavors - there you have it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hanging Rock Nature Photos

This past weekend we drove up to Hanging Rock for a quickie camping trip. The very best part of the trip was watching the boys explore the woods and climb rocks and fallen trees. I found myself really wishing other families were with us to play with. Some of my best childhood memories are from camping with family friends at Fall Creek Falls.

On Saturday, the weather was perfect, and we somehow managed to make it to two waterfalls and up to Hanging Rock itself. The forest floor was covered in mushrooms of all shapes and colors, and sadly, I don't know my mushrooms and I didn't get a good shot of each of the different ones we came across. However the more I think about it, the more I realize I won't care that I photographed or didn't photograph mushrooms.



Monday, September 29, 2014

Wrinkles and Relationships

It's amazing what photo filters can do for wrinkles and relationships.

As I scroll through my instagram feed, I see one continuous incongruity - I rarely edit photos of plants and scenery, but pictures with my face in them have gone through filters, sometimes more than one. Photos with my kids go through another sort of filter, the one where they are presented as loving, creative, motivated, funny and kind. I rarely capture the tantrums, the boredom or the fights.

The scrutiny I apply to my appearance and my life is hardly fair. Sure, we all look a little better in the brighter light that softens the wrinkles and splotches, and pictures of a placid family are less likely to generate panicked calls from friends and family. But what is going to happen when it all falls apart and we are seen in truth?

Here we go.

Here's me, and here's me.

It's not really a big difference, right? For whatever reason, I feel the need to "jazz" up the one on the right. There were even more drastic versions of the edits, but I started looking more like a paint-by-numbers version of myself.

I suspect you may sometimes do the same, especially if you share your life on social media. This problem doesn't stop with images of our own face. We start to arrange our spoons next to the dinner plate, drape the blanket a few inches to the left on the couch, push over the pile of laundry just a smidge, wipe the rim of the coffee cup, crop out that stray twig... all before snapping the picture. We treat our lives and homes and friendships as if they were an exhibit to be curated.

And we can't keep it up. We become that person that always has to make snarly lips in pictures because we can't stand what our face looks like when it is in its natural, unaware state. We can't invite people over for dinner because our living space would take more than a few days to straighten. We don't take our kids out to a nice dinner because they might drop their shoe under the table and smack their heads when they crawl around looking for it.

We just might let the curated image of ourselves hijack real life. Either we end up in alienation or burn out trying to hold it all together.

I once had a friend tell me that she loved coming over to my house essentially because the messiness of it made her feel welcome. I'm not sure that I agree completely - I would think that tidying up a bit shows anticipation and honor of a guest - but I get what she was saying. I wasn't putting on a show. I let her see me in all my mess.

Real friendship is exactly that. It is us and all our mess. People who love me and my family know that we don't paint by numbers, and they don't ask us to. They love the filtered me, but love the real me more.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rain on Asparagus

Last night the sky dropped over three inches of rain, and the beads of water left glittering blanket over the plants in the garden. All but a few tufts of asparagus have been cleared from the beds to make way for spinach sprouts and cool season crops. Crouching over the plant trying to get my camera to focus on a select few tiny globes required a stillness that I don't find outside in the rest of the city. 

Sometimes guilt over having the of the luxury of stillness hits me. I feel unworthy of the quiet places I find and the time I make to dwell in them. But I think the only moments of these that are wasted are the ones where I refuse to listen, where I don't allow the calm to soak in past my skin and into my soul.

There are battles of will in these walls where small discordance rapidly escalates to tears and screaming, and the heat and anger of the moment leaves my head spinning. The words and my voice betray the goodness and patience of my Father, and I'm left floored at my shortcomings and the fiery insolence in those two tiny male bodies I've been entrusted to grow into men. My own vocal cords burn with having been rattled to their limit after attempts at calm directives were matched with clenched fists and a red-faced "NO!" from the third carpeted stair.

If only I could usher in the peace of the garden into these walls. The more I think on it, the less it seems natural to try to live in harmony with three other willful, intelligent, stubborn people (like myself), in a less than 2,000 square foot space. I don't think even a 10,000 square foot space would suffice because even as we clash and clamor, we are inexplicably drawn to each other like warm planets colliding into something with the playful warmth of a pile and puppies but with the bite of ash and rubble.

Before I know it, these little planets will burst like rockets from this house's foundation, fueled by the fire and love that lit them, and Joe and I will have that silence of a world where half the life has suddenly been stripped away and we have to learn what's it's like to carry a conversation where the only interruptions are the lack of interruptions, when we were used to dangling the ends of sentences in air to finish once requests for milk were done.

Fall will be ushered in, once again, in blankets of cool, glittering beads, and all it's eerie and soothing silence will embrace us as our fingers curl like leaves into and around each other's.


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