Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Power of Language

 "Porch pirates" have cropped up in local news feeds lately: Facebook and NextDoor are full of complaints regarding theft and occasionally exult when  common culprits are nabbed by Ring cameras, and then by the authorities. Just twenty years ago we wouldn't have recognized the terms "porch pirates," "NextDoor," or "Ring." Our changing lingo moves as fast as our changing times. 

Even three years ago we could not have anticipated the word of the year for 2021 - "vaccine." We didn't know about "getting vaxxed" or "anti-vaxxers." The world seemed easier three years ago, before COVID took over our newsfeeds and everyday lives. Our heart rates and anxiety levels have gone up with the entry of "Delta" and "Omicron" into our vocabulary and perhaps you feel, as I do, that I am perpetually memorizing a spelling list that changes shape and length on the daily.

Which makes the holidays more welcome than ever this year. Not in terms of buying, wrapping and baking to-do lists, but in the way that "peace, hope and love" start circulating. Can we go back to "auld lang syne" and embrace the shepherds, the candelabras, the baubles and banter that unearth old feelings of wellbeing and timelessness? I don't know if changing my word list will change my frame of mind, but I'm excited to try.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Re-post of Thanks and Gratitude

 “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton 

I just read through Thanksgiving posts from the past ten years, warming my innards with recollections and favorite quotes, like this one from Chesterton. For our 2021 Thanksgiving we have two returning college students to cover the couches with tired bodies, long legs hanging over the edges as mom and two cats survey in bemused pride, looking for a place to snuggle in. Food items fly off the shelves in the pantry and fridge and the welcome voices of old friends echo from the basement and through the house. Being together and healthy meets my gold standard for happiness, and there's much to be grateful for this year, though the pandemic persists and mask mandates returned to our county today.

The post below comes from 2011 when our college junior was in fourth grade and our college freshman only in second. Daniel wasn't yet in elementary school and now he's studying for his driver's permit test. The passage of years sweeps me off my feet, but the guardrails of thanks and gratitude put me right-side-up again. Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Thanksgiving's here again, carrying its yearly reminder to be grateful for health, family, friends, and well-being. Each year I attempt to instill gratitude in my children, frantically wedging a doorstop of thankfulness in the revolving door of "but he got more!" and "when do I get one?" and "he looked at my cereal box!"  We have no crops other than cereal but there are other bounties to count and cherish, and I have recently found that opening myself to a sense of awe, wonder and mystery helps me to see our blessings in a whole new light. 

I've accumulated a short list of people and events that generated a sense of wonder in the past weeks: first, I am in awe at the patience of my husband with the children. On Saturday he played eight games of Candyland with the youngest in conjunction with a simultaneous game of Settlers with the oldest, followed by a series of football routes in the backyard with our older son. His focus on the kids and his ability to stay cool amidst temper tantrums, petty injuries and constant requests for his time amaze me. Yesterday he kept me from missing my one day of work per week as a teacher at the Science Museum as he worked from home in the afternoon to watch our sick child. 

My jaw hung open in wonder as my oldest child performed her solo in the fourth grade musical last week. Alone on stage with the plain curtain for backdrop, she sang the first eight measures with the microphone off, her voice all but muted in the large gym. The music teacher gestured for the music to stop, the microphone experts to correct the problem, and for my daughter to pause - all in front of a silent audience of more than two hundred parents, friends and relatives. Problem fixed, music re-started, she began again, her lone voice a bit tremulous but on key and supported by perfectly rehearsed gestures and inflections. I was amazed by her self-possession. 

I marvel at deep friendships and the commitment shown by those who constantly make me a priority in their lives despite pressures and problems of their own. I wonder at the perseverance of friends and loved ones who are ill, whose grace and humor and love for their own families keeps them going past the point of endurance. I wonder at the full moon, clean water, snow on the mountains and the sound of the choir in our new church building. Any of these can move me to tears with the sweet pleasure / pain of recognition that a golden moment must be fleeting. All the more to be grateful for sharing, touching, hearing and seeing those amazing parts of our lives that would be invisible except for wonder. Wishing everyone a happy and wonder-full Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Treasury of Trees

 "You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes..." - Richard Powers, The Overstory

I first learned of Richard Powers and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Overstory, while listening to Ezra Klein's podcast. When Klein interviewed Powers, I listened while dropping campaign lit for schoolboard candidates. I was fascinated by the optimism Powers projected and the connection he felt with trees. My mind promptly dropped the ball when I jumped back in my car to check off twenty more tasks, but when two of Aden's good friends recommended the book to her, I had to buy it. 

Powers' own website describes his 2019 book in this way: "There is a world alongside ours - vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe."

Unfolding catastrophe aside, the book so far has pulled me into each story, in awe at the connection between people and trees. It forces me to reflect on the relationship I've had with trees, and I've been fortunate to have a few tight-knit bonds with my leafy brethren. My longest-lasting and closest bond was with a willow tree in our backyard where I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I spent long hours setting up model horses in its sprawling surface roots, playing with my herd and occasionally with the (inferior) models that my friends brought over.

I spent even longer hours reading in the branches, high above the pandemonium wrought by my four younger siblings. My next-door neighbor and sixth-grade crush  exchanged notes with me in a secret mail-basket that we could raise or lower with a rope, and I often followed the exciting discovery of one such note with a rapturous escape to the treetop to ride the flexible limbs back and forth in the wind.

All three willows on our property were climbing trees for the youngsters in our neighborhood. My tree, directly behind the house, was my favorite because its lowest branches were a jump for me and too high for my siblings and most of the neighbors to reach. I loved all the trees, though, and still hold the traumatic memory of my dad and the other residents of Carl Court chopping down the willow in the front yard and removing it when it was diseased.

We had a beautiful twenty-year-old cottonwood tree in the backyard of this house when we moved in, and its shade and solidity were beneficial for all of us - until it, too got sick and the danger of large limbs falling on the roof or on the children required us to cut it down. When the kind tree removal folks came with saws and ropes I cried, and the foreman, Griff, patted me awkwardly on the arm. "Lots of people get emotional when they lose a tree," he said, "and I totally understand why."

Of course I recommend Powers' book, but I wrote this post in memory of my beloved trees. Trees are the reason I chose our current neighborhood - our current house - and trees are a requirement for our retirement home. I wonder what stories my readers have of trees in their past, and what worlds you, too, have shared with our soft- or hardwood relations.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Spirit Circles

"Spirit Circles are a good way to positively connect with the other team and to resolve any conflicts. After a game is over both teams form a joined circle with alternating players. This circle can be used to highlight positives and/or resolve any issues that might have occurred during the game." - World Flying Disc Federation,

Teenagers sat in a large circle in the middle of an expansive green field, alternating by team, red jersey-white-jersey-red jersey under a cobalt sky. The captain of the winning team stood and went to the center, turning slowly to meet all eyes as he congratulated the second-place team on a valiant effort. Then he went to a white-jerseyed player, extended his hand and complimented that individual on a particularly strong game. The two exchanged small gifts, and then the player in white, a captain for his team, stood and gave a similar speech, extolling the hustle and sportsmanship of the winning team and giving a gift in his turn to another player in orange. The ceremony continued until many players were recognized and everyone who wanted to speak had had their chance.

That was my first ultimate frisbee Spirit Circle, and I marveled at the diplomacy of teenagers. My son's team was the second-place finisher in the tournament, and they played six games over the weekend, each concluding with a spirit circle unless the other team had to run to make their next start time. The players also officiated the game themselves, called foul or fair on tight plays, resolved potential conflicts and congratulated each other on strong plays, even when they were scored on.

"I wish our Congress could see this," said my friend, another first-timer who came to watch and was blown away by the ethos of the game.

Nothing's perfect and foul language flew when the wind picked up and long pulls (or throws) went awfully awry. Bodies slammed into one another a few times when avid players both went for the disc and injuries took four of our best off the field at different times. But the ethos, the sportsmanship, the lack of parental involvement struck us as elements both vital and missing from many youth sports. If only we could bottle the positive interactions we saw on the field, the self-determination and ability to talk without confrontation, our whole world would be better for it. Spontaneous Spirit Circle, anyone?

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Many-Layered and Multi-Colored

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." - Walt Whitman

A long time ago Rob and I planted a maple tree near the right front corner of our house. I can't recall the year of the planting, though it occurred  when my body was strong enough to help dig the oversized hole and help my husband lift the tree into it. The maple tree, unlike several others we planted, decided to thrive in our space and has always thrown a party in fall, but this year it's particularly brilliant. The tree is not only glorious red, but also orange/yellow, and at the bottom, still green. It's a phenomenon that my children have also called out, and we don't know how the tree has arranged itself in such a multi-hued state.

Google stubbornly refused to answer my query, "how can one maple tree be so many colors at the same time?" It's a clunky question, certainly, but I didn't refine it because I don't really need the scientific explanation to enjoy the tree. Mr. Maple has appeared in many snapchat photos to the kids and today I took another picture while returning from a walk. This time the tree made me think of myself, and of Whitman's quote, which tries to capture the multi-faceted, sometimes chaotic and contradictory nature of people.

The green leaves at the bottom of the tree easily symbolizes youth and naivete, strength and confidence, maybe a child before the age of 11. That girl lies deep within me, and I don't see her much anymore, though I am still in touch with my angsty teenage version, perhaps green with a shade of orange. In fact, the songs I put on a playlist for my workout group all matched up with some pre-arranged playlist called "Teen Angst." I may be stuck there permanently, flaring out periodically in all of my orange glory.

Then the bright yellows of my twenties and thirties meld into the fiery reds of my fifties, and all the feelings and memories from each decade glow and flare at different times. I've seen analogies of people as Russian nesting dolls, each version or age nestled inside the next size up, but I like my maple tree better. On those trees that refuse to be limited to a single glorious color, that claim a rainbow for themselves, I see an unapologetic uniqueness, a variety of self that makes me smile. Trees, like people, aren't simple and straightforward; they are challenged and they adapt to their environments, they show scars of early damage but continue to thrive anyway, and they embrace each phase of the year, and they contain multitudes.