March 2012



Yesterday, I posted the sad tale of what happened when my four men were left alone in the house with a dog who was in desperate need of a haircut.

Oh my goodness! When I came home from my book club meeting, my youngest couldn’t wait to tell me what they had done. I was ushered into the living room to see the creative results of their efforts. Mainly, I think, they just wanted to see (and laugh at) my reaction.

I’ve always taken Bella to a professional dog groomer. We are trying, though, to reduce our expenses and so haircuts for the poodle have been one of those things crossed off the list. One of these days we will buy a hair clipper for her, but it hasn’t happened yet, and Bella had become very, very shaggy.

So, the boys took it upon themselves to do the job the other night. With scissors. Which is very difficult and very time-consuming. Which means they cut the hair on her head, and that was it. Which mean that when I saw her, her head looked about four sizes too small for the rest of her. Plus, they’d decided to leave a tuft of hair (“It’s her crown!”, says Carter) on the top of her head. As if she didn’t look ridiculous enough!

Yesterday afternoon I took up the scissors myself, and managed to trim the rest of her. But I left the tuft. I don’t want my boys to think I don’t have a sense of humour, after all! And today, at nap time, this is where I found my sweet girl.

Dogs are such forgiving creatures.

Poor puppy. This is the result of four men, a poodle who needed a trim, and a pair of scissors.

They think they are so funny!

Don’t worry, Bella. You and I will spend a little time at Janelle’s Puppy Parlour this afternoon. I’ll get you fixed up.

We girls have got to stick together!

I am tidying up the living room, picking up all manner of the day’s accumulated clutter. Everything from discarded socks to scattered books to music paraphernalia. Including a violin case. And when I pick it up, I see the “note to self” that Colton has stuck to its side.

This is my sweet second son. The one to whom some things come so easily. And to whom some things are so difficult. It is a miracle this child learned to read. And now he is my voracious, can’t-put-it-down, stay-up-until-the-wee-hours-finishing-that-book boy.

I remember the struggle. He would try so hard and he wanted it so badly. And finally, with the help of a specialist, he got it. The gift of reading.

But the challenges he deals with show up every day in all kinds of ways. Math is a chore. Fractions, telling time, abstract concepts – its like a tornado of swirling, barely understandable numbers. Things that are in his brain one day are lost the next. Items that are in his hand one minute are lost the next.

His brain works differently than most brains work. He has to work harder than most people have to work.

But this unique brain of Colton’s is also why he is so creative and artistic. He sees the world from a special, gifted viewpoint. He loves beauty and nature in an intense and committed way. He is passionate about the things he loves, his art and his pets and his books.  He loves to learn, whether it is history or botany or archaeology. He is a devoted National Geographic reader. His Christmas list includes such items as books on medieval weaponry.

Colton understands what it means to work harder, to try again, to wake up in the morning and give it another shot. He’s had to learn it.

Which is why his little don’t give up note touched me so deeply. Because he doesn’t.

What a teacher he is.

Why a prostitute’s home? I mean, out of all of the Jericho homes, why Rahab’s? And, if the spies sent by Joshua were supposed to be, you know, spies, then why did the whole city of Jericho, including the king, seem to know they were there?

I read the story to the boys this morning, around the breakfast table. And it is interesting to me that my children don’t ask these questions? Are they just so used to hearing the words, day after day, that they don’t question anymore the wonder and weirdness and mystery of them?

I read the story, and I pause at the end, and I point out the admonition by God – to be strong and courageous. And I point out how the others are characterized, as melting in fear at the prospect of being attacked by God’s people.

I point all of this out to the boys and they nod, and then they go to brush their teeth.

And I think, when did this stop being awesome? How do I make this real for my children? How do I make it real for myself?

Because it’s not just dusty words in an old book. Not to me. These are living words, powerful stories.

When did it just become curriculum?


I know it is Tuesday and it is Dad’s turn to write for the My Dad and Me series on the blog. Dad is busy being a good guy! He’s helping my aunt fix her basement so she can get her house ready to sell. Hopefully he will be back next week with some awesome Dad wisdom.

I was on the train, traveling from Glasgow, Montana to San Diego, California the first time I read tuesdays with Morrie. It was during the Christmas holidays and I was traveling with my family, my dad, and another family. The train was packed, like sardine-can-analogy packed, and the trip was long. Almost three days, if I remember right. My dad had brought along some books, and tuesdays with Morrie was the one that circulated through our little group. Clint stayed up one night in the observation car and read it straight through. I read it the next day. That was almost five years ago.

Morrie Schwartz (source)

Tuesdays with Morrie was the book chosen to be read for our book club this month. I’ve read it more slowly this time. Because I know how it ends, you know, so I’m not in such a hurry to glean its wisdom. I’ve read it more slowly, and I’ve underlined, and I’ve pondered over the words and wondered how to make them part of my life.

This is what I underlined:

When a colleague at Brandeis died suddenly of a heart attack Morrie went to his funeral. He came home depressed. “What a waste,” he said. “All those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it.” Morrie had a better idea. He made some calls. He chose a date. And on a cold Sunday afternoon, he was joined in his home by a small group of friends and family for a “living funeral.”

After the funeral, my life changed. I felt as if time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain, and I could not move quickly enough.

“Have you found someone to share your heart with?” he asked. “Are you giving to your community?” “Are you at peace with yourself?” “Are you trying to be as human as you can be?”

Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it. They’re more unhappy than me – even in my current condition.

“Which side wins?” He smiles at me, the crinkled eyes, the crooked teeth. “Love wins. Love always wins.”

He had created a cocoon of human activities – conversation, interaction, affection – and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl.

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

We’re so wrapped up with egotistical things, career, family, having enough money, meeting the mortgage, getting a new car, fixing the radiator when it breaks – we’re involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going. So we don’t get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying, Is this all? Is this all I want? Is something missing?

“You need someone to probe you in that direction. It won’t just happen automatically.” I knew what he was saying. We all need teachers in our lives.

… he was very clear about the important things in life. I wanted that clarity.

Here in Morrie’s office, life went on one precious day at a time.

“Everybody knows they’re going to die,” he said again, “but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”

“Well, the truth is, if you really listen to that bird on your shoulder, if you accept that you can die at any time – then you might not be as ambitious as you are.”

As our great poet Auden said, “Love each other or perish.”

If you hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them – you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid.

Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion.

Morrie always made good peace.

You have to find what’s good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now. Looking back makes you competitive. And, age is not a competitive issue.

You know what really gives you satisfaction? Offering others what you have to give. I don’t mean money, Mitch. I mean your time. Your concern. Your storytelling.

“Remember what I said about finding a meaningful life? I wrote it down, but now I can recite it: Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to you community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning. You notice,” he added, grinning, “there’s noting in there about a salary.”

Learning to pay attention? How important could that be? I now know it is more important than almost everything they taught us in college.

Instead of giving them the finger, you let them go, and you smile.

… there are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage: If you don’t respect the other person, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don’t know how to compromise, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can’t talk openly about what goes on between you, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don’t have a common set of values in life, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike. And the biggest one of those values, Mitch? Your belief in the importance of your marriage.

“Be compassionate,” Morrie whispered. “And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.”

Death ends a life, not a relationship.

Sometimes, when you’re losing someone, you hang on to whatever tradition you can.

He patted my hand weakly, keeping it on his chest. “This … is how we say … good-bye …”

None of us can undo what we’ve done, or relive a life already recorded. But if Professor Morris Schwartz taught me anything at all, it was this: there is no such thing as “too late” in life. He was changing until the day he said good-bye.

Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teacher, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head. Sometimes it is right alongside their beds.


I didn’t know him well. My husband grew up in the same community as the Floyds, went to the same church. But I knew him well enough to know he was a good man. A really, really good man.

Harold was a big man. A strong farmer. I’ve heard stories of his Bunyan-like strength, lifting multiple hay bales in one hand and swinging them up on to the bale wagon with ease. He truly was a gentle giant, words I heard used to describe him many times this past week.

I sat on a pew in a church in Moose Jaw yesterday, my husband and youngest son beside me, and I listened to sons-in-law speak tenderly and beautifully about Harold Floyd. About his concern for others, his gentle, down-home wisdom, his willingness to always see the good in people. About the people and things he loved … his beautiful wife of fifty-one years, his children and grandchildren, the land, a good team of horses, visiting with friends, church, and yodeling. I loved the facebook quote from Harold’s son earlier last week that let us all know that Harold was yodeling in his hospital room on the morning of his heart surgery.

I sat on a pew in a church in Moose Jaw yesterday, and I looked at Mr. Floyd, his body at rest in a blue casket, cushioned by fluffy, pure white pillows, and I thought of a life well-lived, of people well-loved. I thought of how quickly it goes, and of how we never know. And I was reminded that we only get this one chance, and the importance of doing the living and the loving, day after day, in the best way we possibly can.

This morning, over coffee in the kitchen, my husband leaned over and hugged me tight. I’m no Harold, he said, but I’ll do my best.

Thank you, Harold Floyd, for your life, your example, your beautiful heart. Rest in peace.

Last Tuesday, Dad wrote about women in honour of International Women’s Day, and he made a few points about what he respected and admired about them. He talked about women who lead, women who care, and women who overcome and succeed. It was a beautiful post. It made me think about some of the women who I know, and what it is that I love about them.

And it made me think about these women, and about myself, and about how women do things.

Most of the books I’ve read or seminars I’ve attended about things like leadership or spiritual formation or success (and I’m guessing it is the same for you) have been written by men. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a reality.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get tired of theory and big words and this whole emphasis on new and different. New leadership techniques, new ideas about worship, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing. New words to describe the same basic ideas.

What I love about women, what I love at least about my women, is the enduring spirit that they hold deep within them. An endurance that accepts what is and that works at what needs to be done. I think that is kind of what Dad was talking about in his post last week.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m making something out of nothing. But for most of the women I know, it’s more about the cups of tea and the conversations than it is about any grand successes or accomplishments. Not that women haven’t had and shouldn’t work toward success or accomplishment. That is definitely not what I am saying. I’m just wondering if the working toward is different, in some basic womanly way, than it is for men. (Generalizations, I know. I’m just thinking out loud here.)

This past week I’ve spent some time online, looking for spiritually focused courses or workshops or programs on things like leadership or spiritual development or training, that are designed specifically for women. I found some good stuff. I read websites on training programs for people wanting to become life coaches or mentors or leaders within their organizations. But I didn’t find anything that was specific to or for or by women.

So what I’m thinking is that maybe there are too few resources for women out there. Not enough written or talked about when it comes to women and what matters to them in their lives. Not enough support or encouragement offered to women, in their womanly uniqueness, as they lead and care and overcome and succeed.

That’s what I am thinking. What about you?

I wake up this morning to fog and damp and a cold chill. No sunshine today, I can tell that much from the bathroom window’s view. Dreary is the word. Dismal, even. But I welcome it.

Dreary, dismal days are thinking days. Quiet and considerate, not flashy or sparkly like those sunshine days. Reflective, rather.

Dreary, dismal days are baking days. Pancakes for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch kind of days. Math and science at the kitchen table, good books and blankets on the couch and tea in the afternoon kind of days. Mixing up nutmeg-y scented muffins to fill battered tins, and hamburger soup simmering on the stove. And the earthy perfume of dampness and dirt and the possibility of spring whenever the door opens.

These are the days of communion, of subdued camaraderie, of chats and the sharing of dreams and concerns.

I love myself a foggy day every now and then.

My son showed me a website yesterday, all about making your own shampoo. He’s into that kind of thing, healthy living and such, and I kind of am, too. When I have the time, I mean.

So he shows me how easy it is to make your own shampoo, using this and that and maybe some rosemary or something, and he says, I think homemade shampoo is a great idea. I think you should do this, Mom.

And the article goes on to talk about all the unhealthy things that are in the shampoo that I buy at the store, and how some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, and I’m immediately overcome with guilt.

Because I’m already struggling to reduce the sugar content of the food I prepare for my family and didn’t I just yesterday make a double batch of my mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies. And even though I made them with whole wheat flour, it still wasn’t good enough, was it, because it wasn’t gluten-free or made with ground up beans or lentils or chick peas or anything like that. And I know I rely on canned mushroom soup way too much, because that tuna/noodle casserole is just so quick and easy to make. And when was the last time I made a salad?

Because some days it is all I can do to get the food on the table three times, never mind the schooling and the laundry and the personal bible study and the sweeping-up-the-crumbs-under-the-kitchen-table. And now I have to deal with the knowledge that there are mothers out there who actually make their own shampoo?

And I just know that we are all going to get cancer of the head and it will be my fault because I haven’t been making our shampoo from scratch.

Oh my goodness, I am such a mess. All those other moms … who make their own pasta and who glory in their homemade, healthy, chock-full-of-vitamins, well-balanced meals, whose kids willingly eat spinach and never eat processed anything … all those other moms who are doing it so much better than I. Those moms who I know only exist in my head. Why do I let them make me feel so bad?

So I sigh, and smile at my son, and I say, I think homemade shampoo is a great idea. I think you should do this, Son.

It is breakfast, and in the midst of the porridge and the teasing and the Carter, sit down and finish your cereal and the jumping up to watch the cat chase sparrows in the treetops outside the kitchen window, in the midst of life, I read from that book.

And these are the words that catch my ear, that make me pause.

But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

It’s the middle of Caleb’s story. A crossroad. He’s seen the promised land with his own eyes, and he’s stepped away from the crowd and shared an unpopular opinion, an opinion that almost gets him stoned. The others are chosing safety and comfort. Caleb is choosing adventure and God. Caleb is following God wholeheartedly.

I stop for a minute, my children at the table with me. And I look around at them and I read the verse again, and I tell them this is what I pray for each of them …

But because my servant Tyson, and my servant Colton, and my servant Carter … has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land …

Father, help me to raise wholehearted children. Help me to be the parent they need, to encourage them to stand against the crowd, to choose adventure and God over safety and comfort.

Help me to be a wholehearted mom.

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