Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sea Tree

     It's a sea fan anchored to a rock. More of a summer decoration, I suppose. But I live so far from the sea, and at this time of year I look out my kitchen window on a cold, rainy day and see dozens of shapes just like it anchored to the soil of my back garden, with copper-scaled leaves swimming through currents of wet wind like fish beneath the waves. So I bring it out in the Fall, this barren sea tree. I imagine this is what its dreams are made of:

Friday, September 8, 2017

To Read or Not to Read

     I found this in a catalogue that came in the mail:

     "Cultivating the mood of a well-read household, beautifully crafted faux books provide the rich colors and the gilt leather spines of a treasured collection of antique books. Carefully made to deceive the eye, these facades of hand-tooled leather feature spines of various sizes."

     And the price for a set of 24 of these real leather, fake antique, fake books is less than $600. What a steal. Emphasis on the word steal.

     No doubt the book covers are beautiful, but what happens when one of the friends I am attempting to deceive takes a volume from my shelf to look at and discovers it is sewn shut? The gig is up. My cover is blown. April Fool! I shout gleefully. Then I order a faux friend from the catalogue who doesn't read but will, nevertheless, admire my bookish facade.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


     I notice it has been wet in Scotland this summer. And woefully wet in parts of Texas this week. Here, it has been dry, especially in our village. It is difficult, sometimes, to strike the balance between conservation, the cost of water, and protecting my garden plants. The birch trees are stressed. The front lawn has gone dormant. I've been thinking a lot about dry. It turned into a poem.


Dry as a bone
The limbs of trees dripping yellowed leaves on the ground,
ribs of mountains veined with parched streams
and fists of knuckled stones,
the supine spine of vines panting in the sun
limp with exhaustion

Dry as dust
The pool of dust in the garden where the birds bathe,
thirst in the throat of the drainpipe
and the tongue of shade that laps the crackling grass,
a coil of barren soil curling around a finger of air
blowing smoke

Dry as death
the tinder
the match
the aftermath of ash and sooty bones

                                                            ~ Nib of Nib's End ~

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Gray Bed

     After a storm destroyed much of our garden five years ago, we have spent every summer since restoring a portion of it. With my husband so often abroad, we have a short window in which to get projects done. Now that the garden is in order, we have moved inside to tweak a few rooms. The first project on the list was to paint our pine bed and nightstands. My husband wanted to try chalk paint, which turned out to be a mistake. Just breathing on it made the paint chip. Three coats of paint, three coats of finish and three days later, however, we had a lovely gray bed. The only negative was that it was supposed to be taupe. We have a long history of not being able to match the paint swatch in the store with the color in our heads.

     Still, I like my gray bed...

     The natural, yellow pine was a warm look, but the gray feels peaceful to me. I like to lay in bed and think quiet thoughts. It is a lovely way to start and end the day.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fine Day

To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.

                                                                              ~ Jane Austen ~

     We did. It was. More, please.

Monday, July 24, 2017


by artist Tony Staroska

     We spent a portion of our summer holiday in Door County, Wisconsin exploring artist's galleries. Outside the Juddville Clay Contemporary Studio Gallery where artists Tony Staroska and Rebecca Carlton display their creations, we were shown this sculpture. My photo doesn't do it justice. As I examined the sculpture from different angles, it felt like a piece I wouldn't want to keep in either my house or garden. It's sudden impact is too unsettling, too disturbing. 

     But it does provoke a response, doesn't it? The skeletal fetal form, backbone of rebar, clutching hand and iron fist. I wish I could see it at dusk with a candle placed inside its hollow body and light filling the empty spaces. There is hope in the presence of light, and I long to give this man and all of his kind a glimmer of hope.

     Art, in my amateur opinion, is often something one feels first and thinks about later; it is evocative, visceral. It isn't divorced from intellect, it just isn't dependent on it. And art begets art. I already have a short story half-formed in my mind with this figure at the crux. This is the kind of sculpture I would visit over and over again in a museum. Why isn't it in a museum? Who would have thought despair could look so distressingly beautiful?

     Interestingly, next to the man in despair, on the front lawn of the studio gallery was a rock fountain. Placed among the rocks were dozens of small heart-shaped stones. Rebecca, a warm, charming and chatty woman explained to me that when she and her husband, Tony, met they discovered that they had something more in common than their love of art: they both collected heart-shaped stones.

     There is hope in love, too. Whether it was intentional or not, the juxtaposition between the sculpture of despair and fountain of hope was deeply moving.

Friday, July 21, 2017


     I blame it on my husband. He started it all by buying me an iphone and dragging me into the 21st century. I couldn't sleep my first night of ownership, overwhelmed by all of the technology I was going to have to learn to make the purchase worthwhile. I've always quipped that I wasn't smart enough to use a smartphone. Turns out I know more than I realized, and I've left the stress behind as I learn to navigate the apps. Yeah baby. I'm feeling my oats.

     See what I mean? That's not how I talk. It's my husband's fault for buying that iphone.

     I went to get my shoulder-length hair trimmed last Saturday and came home with it all chopped off. With my new iphone in my purse, suddenly, I was feeling like a modern woman. I have never worn short hair before, not even as a child, and now I have a pixie. When I went to change my bitmoji profile there wasn't a hair-length equivalent. I'm not losing sleep as I did with the iphone, but I have mixed emotions over the change, a moment of shock each time I glance in the mirror. The daily wash and dry routine is exceptional, but I've never been adept at styling or the use of mousse, gel and hairspray. Is there an app for that? Needless to say, my new do only remotely resembles Emma Thompson's in the photo that I showed my hairdresser.

     The long and short of it is that I have decided to grow my hair out to look like my bitmoji, rather than the other way round.

Friday, July 7, 2017


     What a delicious, delectable, mouthwatering, tasty, toothsome way to begin the month of July.

photo by little a

Friday, June 30, 2017

Going Green

     Text message from the Passenger in London yesterday: "Am sitting in St Martin-in-the-Fields listening to a string ensemble practice for a Mozart/Vivaldi/Handel concert tonight."

     I turned green with envy over my ironing board.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


     It has been over twelve years since I have ridden my bike. I was all set to sell it in my recent garage sale, but when my husband brought it up from the basement he persuaded me to keep it. He hung it in the garage beside his so that it would be easier to fetch. We had some lovely, cool and breezy days last weekend, so on Saturday afternoon we decided to take a ride on the Prairie Path.

     Remember, it has been at least a dozen years since I have pedaled anywhere, and I felt a bit wobbly; I wasn't sure, at first, if I would even make it out of the neighborhood. I don't have the easy balance that I had when I was a whippet. My bike is out of shape, too, and the gears were stiff and sticking. Once on the Prairie Path, however, the riding was smooth, and I gained confidence. So with the wind in my hair and my legs burning with disuse, we pedaled to the river.

      I walked to the river in April with a friend who was visiting from the Philippines. We sat on the bench beside the Path eating chicken salad sandwiches and drinking fresh limeade till we were rested. It is a long walk. But it is a quick bike ride.

     My husband and I stood on the bridge a long while watching the wind flighting through treetops and threshing the bulrushes and sedge. Watching winds thrash and dance and flutter is one of my chief pleasures in this world. A canoe with three passengers passed under the bridge and meandered around the bend. Far off, I heard children playing, their voices joining the cheerful chatter of songbirds. A hawk floated in the distance. A muskrat appeared at the edge of the river and dove beneath the cloudy water. I was reluctant to ride home.

     My bikefast is broken and it certainly won't be another twelve years before I ride my old blue bike again.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Treasured Book

      He gave me the Bible for Christmas the year before we were married. A plain, brown cowhide cover back in the day when leather meant something good. We were newly engaged and in our last year of college. I read that Bible cover to cover five or six times before it began to fall apart forty years later, going all loose at the seams with pages beginning to slip and bits of the leather tearing off at the corners from wear. Like the Velveteen Rabbit. Like me. Well-loved and well-worn.

     So he bought me another one with a black calfskin cover like he had always wanted to give me. Leather so soft it feels as if it might melt between my fingers. I find myself caressing it just for the pleasure it gives my palms, feeling the hint of grain beneath the softness. The pages are tissue thin like the skin of an old woman, but smooth as silk. The volume opens as gracefully as a dancer and lies flat on the dining table. The real beauty of the book, of course, is contained inside the cover. “In the beginning…” I read aloud the ancient words of poetry. Moses’ words. God’s words reaching down the ages through men to men…to me as well. Words that have, many times, lifted me out of a deep pit or carried me through a dark night. Words that have translated and transformed me.

     It is undeniably the most incredible piece of literature ever written. Dozens of authors telling a seamless story through multiple genres over hundreds and hundreds of years. A love story. And, yes, the most incredible story ever told.

     It comes with a lifetime guarantee, both the story and the new calfskin cover. Both are gifts I cherish.

To see the binding process:

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Passenger's Photo Album - Japan

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings,
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (Who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

                                                         ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~

Friday, May 19, 2017

Celebrity Mom

     I stepped onto the train on a bright, May morning with my hair looking like a birch broom in a fit. The frivolous winds had played tricks on me as I waited on the platform for the train to arrive. I was traveling into the city for a visit with Whistler’s Mother. Anna Whistler does not seem to be the sort of matron who would look kindly on a woman appearing in public all frowsy and blown. I combed my fingers through my hair and fluffed my artistically arranged scarf, even though I would have it to do all over again after walking from the train station to the Art Institute where Mrs. Whistler was staying.

     Nevertheless, it was a lovely spring morning with wooly white clouds grazing in blue meadows overhead and gray, feather-footed shadows skipping over the ground. The trees along the track tossed their green heads at me as I passed. I envy them. Trees never look frowsy with windblown tresses.

     I had a new book to read. My anticipation was palpable. Eleven stops later, I had only finished one chapter. The words in that chapter were like a May morning: bright and fresh above with shadows running along beneath. I had paused repeatedly to look at the beguiling, bittersweet words in the same way that I look out the window at each stop on the line to watch passengers board the train. Boisterous Cubs fans on their way to a game; college students freed from the constraint of study; a few old ladies like myself, alone and silent or in chatty pairs; a noticeable absence of commuters.

     Lunch came first because Anna Whistler is a genteel but frugal woman and would not be serving tea. I sat at a tiny marble-top bistro table in my favorite Belgian café eating tartine: thin, chewy brown bread; wholesome turkey; slices of avocado, cucumber and radish; a sprinkling of rocket; a drizzle of dressing and a triple cornichon garnish. Oh, so yummy without a gram of guilt. I paused between portions to read a paragraph or two from my book. No matter how tempting, one cannot hold a paperback and eat fully loaded slices of tartine at the same time.

     We met after lunch, Whistler’s Mother and I. She lives in France but American Gothic went on holiday to the Musée d’Orsay and Mrs. Whistler came to Chicago. I had done some pertinent reading before my visit, so I knew the painting was much larger than I had always imagined it to be. I am already fond of straight lines, order and neutral tones, but studying the piece has built in me an even greater appreciation for it. Whistler disliked the Victorian sentimentality portrayed in the art of his day and never meant for the painting to be viewed as a portrait. It is more an arrangement of items, perhaps as one would view them in a still life painting. He did, in fact, title the painting: Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. intending to reference the musical concept of arrangement.

     Whistler may have painted his sixty-seven-year-old mother without that sentimentality for either her age or widowhood that would make her seem other than she was, yet I cannot help but notice that the only colors in the painting are the warm flesh tones of her hands and face. And he gave her something to rest her feet on. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the painting has become an icon for motherhood and will always be remembered to the world as Whistler’s Mother.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Meanwhile... goes on for the robins nesting in a yew in the back garden.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mourning Dove

     A few days later, my Noble Dove was back on the nest, preparing to raise another family. My husband saw her lay the first egg.

     When I checked the next morning she was gone. Well, most of her was gone. A neighbor told us they had seen a hawk lurking around their birdbath. 

     The male stood at the peak of the neighbor's rooftop calling and calling for his mate. It was heartbreaking; we could hear his mourning from inside our house. He never returned to the nest.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Family Portraits

     I made several attempts to catch a glimpse of either the eggs or the hatchlings of my Noble Doves. Just once, I was present for the changing of the guard, and I thought my curiosity would be rewarded; but the instant I was seen by the mama and papa they froze. I tried to wait them out, but they are more patient than I am. I wasn't able to greet the squabs until they were too big for concealment.

     And then they flew the nest...

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Passenger's Photo Album - Australia

     On his way home from Papua New Guinea, the Passenger paused for a few days in Sydney. The iconic, shell-shaped roofs of the Opera House are meant to evoke the sails in Sydney harbor. They certainly do, but when I look at them I also see a cluster of upended fishing dinghies, or the thresh of wind in the waves.

     What do you see?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

These Hands

They drove the hammered nails into His hands,
His hands that shaped the hot sun overhead...

                               ~ from Sequel to Finality by Patrick F. Kirby ~

Friday, April 14, 2017

Tea and Coffee Down Under

     My husband arrived home from Australia just in time. I ran out of my favorite everyday tea bags two weeks ago. I can order them online, but the postage is too steep. So he brought me 5 boxes--that's 500 teabags--from Sydney.  He spoils me.

     My husband also bought a  Sunbeam coffee grinder in Australia to give to a colleague in Sulawesi.  Hmm. Interesting reading on the bottom of the box.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017


     As I walked down to the postboxes to retrieve my mail the other day, I noticed that hundreds of desiccating worms had been washed into the gutter by a recent downpour.

     I eat meat, wear leather shoes and go after the bunnies eating flowers in my yard with a BB gun like Elmer Fudd or Mr. why do I feel sad for these worms?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Noble Dove

     In spring and summer these pots on my front porch are planted with ferns. I empty them in the fall to grow stars in December. Come late winter they are empty again, awaiting the spring planting. Not so this year.

     This year a mourning dove has moved in. I often think of doves as silly birds. They build silly, impossible nests. This one is just a loose handful of birch twigs laid in a flowerpot. If not for the paper I stuffed in the pot to hold stars, what would prevent the eggs from falling through and smashing? Surely a sudden storm could scatter the flimsy thing to the twelve winds.

     When the dove and her mate first came to stay, the least bit of commotion sent them streaking for the garage roof or safety of the birch. Then, one day shortly thereafter, nothing could move either of them as they took turns warming the nest: not a delivery man knocking on the front door, a camera pointed too close, or a rude photographer trying to shift one aside with a twig to glimpse the eggs. Early in the morning or late at night, whenever I check there is a dove sitting stoically on the nest. Courage. Faithfulness. Patience. Not so silly after all.

Noble dove.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Reflection on a Bridge

     I took this photo of the reflection of a red double-decker bus in the windows of Parliment as I stood on Westminster Bridge in London. I was there. In that exact spot. And even though it was nearly two years ago, after the recent terrorist attack, one cannot help but think: "It could have been me..." 

     My heart goes out to all those who are unable to say that with me. 

     I am praying for them, for the suffering of the injured and the grief of those families who have suffered irretrievable loss. I pray for all those in authority who must respond to these unconscionable deeds with resolution, discernment and a measured calm. I am also reminded to pray for my enemies, for there is no more effective tool against terrorism than a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blind Optimism

It snowed last night.

Wishful Thinking: The elderly birch in our front garden isn't dying.

Optimism: I won't be shoveling the front walk because it will melt by mid-afternoon

I am in training to become a Glass is Half Full kind of girl instead of the other way round. Even so, I will be knitting mufflers for the daffodils.