Friday, March 28, 2014

The Green Ball of Gratitude

I was going to do a lot of other stuff today.   I had great plans, long meaningful lists, spellbinding, heartfelt stories.  Perhaps a retrospective piece hot-linking popular posts here, assembling a beautiful collage of whimsy, hope, dreams and tears.

You see, this is my 300th published post.  I was gonna drop some whopping numbers on you involving average word count per post, say a thousand, and how that would be about three good sized novels worth of words.  I was also going to self-servingly mention the novel I wrote, and, well, basically, I was going to brag, "humble-brag" I think they call it these days.

I would have, too, except today is a windy day.

I am sitting in the dining room, my candle lit, my swollen head ready to impress you.  I put my fingers on the keypad, look out into the yard to collect my deep thoughts and, well, this blows into view:

I stop typing, hang my head, sigh, and remember.  I bought it in a whim, I doubt the boys were even two.  They were with me at a grocery store, up there in front - in the double wide - and I wheeled them past, not even noticing the giant bin of "made in China" balls.  The boys heard the siren sound that is a ball to boys and I got two, this green one and a red one, which met an early death at the blade of a lawn tractor.

But this guy... I would say this was the first ball they ever kicked outside.  I know it was the ball I used to explain soccer and kick-ball.  I know it was an integral part of the first game the ever invented on their own which involved two plastic hockey sticks, this ball, a fence and, oddly enough, a hickory nut... or was it a feather?

This ball has been imagined into everything from a cannon ball - basically any weapon ammo, honestly - to a damsel in distress high in the pine boughs in which it was stuck, the tree they eventually climbed, enticed by this little ball.  I think I may have put it in the shed or the garage the first couple of years, but, for the last several it has been the only toy I have let just stay out.  One spring I found it safely wedged in the opening of a tunnel under the shed, where Woody, the gopher/woodchuck dude is alleged to live.  The boys imagined he used it as a door to keep out the wind and snow.

Imagine a back yard full of boys chasing, kicking, throwing this ball gallantly taking them all on.  I remember four boys once throwing sticks like spears at it and the falling down laughter that followed as it blew across the yard seemingly trying to escape their unheeded assault.  I've seen it fly over the fence and taunt a boy too little to climb a fence to, well, climb a fence.  I talked him through it with tears in my eyes as the metaphorical fences fell and the future seemed bigger, because of one brave little ball.

After the assault of memories that flashed in the instant I saw the ball, I knew.  I knew what I had to do.  I wander out into the yard now populated with three and five and seven and two year-old boys, dancing, running, singing, kicking, growing and learning, and I look down on it and take the a picture of it from above.  The color is off, there is no banana for scale, it seems lifeless, inert, and I know it is not.  I kneel down in the muddy yard and I snap the picture with the playset and the rope-swing and the fence and the maple tree in the background.  The ball is covered in a patina of dirt, slightly deflated, but somehow noble, decent, stalwart, proud.

I pick it up and it seems to sigh.  Instantly I get it.  This ball, over the years, through snow and rain and drought and mud and wind has done one thing, a sacred thing, an act of profound love - it has been available.  I realize, choking back the familiar sob of deep understanding, that that is precisely what I have tried to do for them.  I have tried to be available, weather the storms, be ready, be strong, be brave... be there.

So, there I am, standing in my yard of dreams, tears washing clean a dirty green ball and I do the most natural thing, the one thing the ball wants, the only gift of thanks I can give it... I kick it.  It soars up and the wind embraces it and it sails much higher and much farther than it should have, over the fence, into another yard.

I go get it...

Thanks for being with me here, on this journey, I appreciate it.  Be available for others today, everyday.  Be a green ball, be the hope that is in the eyes of children and the truth that is at the soul of every hard-working toy ever made.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beyond Bossy or A Thesaurus Of Sorts

Let's move beyond bossy and ban some really annoying words.  Nick brought his ideas home from school, I real place of learning - not the internet.

This thing, this, uh, thesaurus of sorts, is pritty pretty interactive, sort of gadgety.  I'll try to explain.

Here is how I found it:

It opens onto this page:

And then, if you close it and open it from the middle (I'm not sure how that actually works, a sort of fold that goes one way and another way, Jacob's ladder it is magical, or cursed) a hidden list of synonyms behind each worn out word is revealed.  It's pretty very incredibly comprehensive:

Let's look a little deeper at this, I mean, why not?  It's what I do.

Behind the word 'happy' are "extstremley (extremely)  glad, joyous, bursting, joyful, cheerful."

'Sad' reveals "melancholy, unhappy, misrabel (miserable), gloomy, blue, depressed."

'Big' has some useful replacements such as "spacious, colossel (colossal), enomis (enormous), immense (immense), vast, hummingous (humungous)."

I use 'cool' too much, let's see, "amazing, interesting, spellbinding, spectauler (spectacular), inchanting (enchanting), fasanating (fascinating), stupendis (stupendous)."

I definitely overuse 'pritty,' I mean, who doesn't?  I should use "glamoris (glamorous), equesit (exquisite), enchenting (enchanting),  cute, butiful (beautiful), lovey, loveley (lovely), attrative (attractive), stunning."

The suggestions for 'small' are "littel (little), tiny, miniature, minute."

I need some help with 'verey,' too.  "exstremley (extremely), unushaley (unusually), gretley (greatly), apsalutley (absolutely), dredful (dreadful), affley (took me a second, but, awfully), marvalstley (marvelously)."

Finally, for 'great' he suggests, "remarkebele" (remarkable), wonderful, terrific, superb."

Listen, when I first decided to put this here today, I wanted to do it because I thought it was funny - the misspellings, the way it's folded and crafted, the whole notion of putting away worn out words - cute stuff, perfect for what I like to do around here.  But, you know what, Nick thought of all those words himself (I asked and it is pretty fairly obvious he didn't copy them from the board).  Honestly, I am impressed with his language skills.  He knows words, he gets words, he loves words - who cares if he can't spell them, that'll come.

I am extstremley glad he has a strong sense of words I am not misrabel that his spelling needs work.  His enomis vocabulary is spectauler.  His littel  heart is marvalstley butiful  and his soul is indeed remarkebele.

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

"My favorite onomatopoeia is clunk ... or kablooie ... but you don't get to say kablooie often enough."

It is very apsalutley true, kablooie is definitely underutilized...

Thanks, as always, for looking over my shoulder today.  This journey - everyone's really - can get lonely at times, I am glad you come around as often as you do.  Peace to you and yours.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Family Portraits, A Dog(Sled) and Faith Explained

This came home from school the other day:

It's a family portrait Nick did in Art Class.  That's me under the great green sun, sporting a inaccurately un-gray beard and a green sweater.  That was nice of him.  That's Marci next to me, smiling as always, wearing a scarf that matches her outfit.  I don't remember that flapper hairdo, but, it's nice.  Nick is smirking a bit there and his hair is the color of straw.  That's Zack there, far right, he doesn't look so thrilled, and his hair is also the color of straw.  I like his Reds shirt, it is red with, uh, a shirt on it.  Well, that's clever...

Zack did one as well, although he says he didn't have time to finish it:

I can only guess that the nerdy fellow is me.  Somehow, it looks like someone drew a face on the back of a bald man's head.  Man, I really need a new look...

And Zack made this:

The boys have been studying the Iditarod - I can only assume they know how to spell it, I just got it wrong, like, three times - at school.  It's pretty cool how they sort of link things all up these days in elementary.  They studied geography - Alaska and all that, and math - word problems and percentages and such, and science - weights and measures and the metric system and states of matter,  and reading - remember Balto, saved Nome by bringing the needed serum to thwart an outbreak of something or other.  It's all very well executed.  Zack distilled all of this knowledge into a dogsled - a sled, get this, with a dog image on it... with ears.  Isn't learning fun?

And then there is this:

Nothing pleases me more than the sight of a table strewn with supplies, works in progress.  It is a comfort to my soul, and a fodder for my blog.

And finally, this:

I've been carrying it in my pocket for a week or more and I realized today that it was about to become unreadable, so, I scanned it.  It says: "unquestioned faith" followed by "unanswered doubt."

Why would I write such seeming nonsense?  And why would I shuttle it about from pocket to pocket, not even reading it, through five or six changes of pants.  What point  is it trying to make to me, and why, you may be wondering, have I hung it on the wall of this space, this place that is present and past and future?  For whom is this message?

I know.  I just don't want to say.  Shame doesn't keep me from saying it, nor embarrassment, nor fear.  Mostly, I am think I will be misunderstood.

I am terrible at faith, honestly.  I doubt, and believe, and then doubt again.  I understand and then  misunderstand and then understand, better maybe, ebbing back and forth from piety to selfishness sometimes in the same hour, the same minute, the same heartbeat.

I was thinking and watching a fire late the evening I first jotted this note.  I was thinking about Lent and sacrifice, Paschal lambs and bunny eggs, and two opposing types of people came to mind.  Those I meet - strong and upright - who seem to have a faith so strong in their hearts that it appears, appears, mind you, unquestioned.  And, there are those, in whose trenches I imagined myself, who seem to have a doubt so firm - strong and upright as well - that it seems, seems, to go unanswered.

The piece of paper I carried in my pocket softened into almost tissue paper, it faded, and the lead smeared as the writing, words folded against words, rubbed a faint of echo of one over the other.  Today, when I looked finally looked at it again, it occurred to me that actual faith is between the two, in that upheaval of heart, that dishamrmony of soul, there, there is where God sits, waiting, understanding, forgiving.  For me at least.

So why put that here?  Someday, perhaps, the boys will need to hear that doubt and suredness, hope and despair, fear and comfort, balance each other, eventually.  There is a holiness in doubt, just as sure as there is a sacredness to faith.  I guess that is nothing new really, but, what I want you to know, now, later, whenever, is that your heart, my heart, our heart, can take the pain of that struggle, withstand it and even nurture it and that that turmoil and connection is indeed our very soul.

Instead of the usual backseat thingee, I give you:  " of our boys Marci put on her Face Book page..."  (It just doesn't roll of the tongue as well, does it?)

 Yes, our home seems very crowded sometimes, as full as our hearts...

Thanks for coming around again, I apologize if I got too serious there at the end.  I think too damn much.  See you again, right?

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Card (Or Two) For Mom

I so often find things I want to show you here and then I don't.  There is a temporality to them that I sometimes can't beat.  Sadly, they get lost, get played with to destruction, get buried in a pile, fade - colored paper in the sun - forgotten, I am ashamed to say.

So, it's Marci's birthday today and the boys made these for her and, well, uh...  I documented them before she even saw them.  I knew she would like to show them around and perhaps keep that at work.  Yes, a preemptive blog fodder strike.  And, yes, I should know better.

This is Nick's, he made a sort-of-report-card-not-birthday-partying-animals-card, uh, card.

This is the envelope:

This is the front:

This is the inside first page, that's a "loud Speaker" there in the corner.  Yeah, turn the page, if you dare:

Yes, on this parchment- no, vellum-like paper, erased over and over again, lovingly rendered, photo-realistic in approach are "Dancing Anamals."  The tiger is working a turntable, obviously, and "wicky wicky" is the sound a scratchin' tiger makes.  There is a little dancing egg just at the wingtip of the tap-dancing chicken.  Yes.  What's hard to express in a single moment is the sense of rhythm, but, that rabbi is really keeping time as hippo "stompity-stomps" and the turtles "wam wam" away.  It's a lot to take in...

(In the interest of full disclosure, it not really a piece of leather or parchment, but, a lowly piece of brown construction paper drawn on with pencil.  He really had erased nearly every square inch of the thing, and, when I set the contrast on the scanner, to read and see the pencil, it came out looking like parchment.  I do not ever underestimate children's cleverness, but, I don't think he could have preconceived out awesome this would look.)

Here is the final inside page.  Never in the long, checkered history of "dancing O's" have there ever been two more enthusiastic or professional than the two we have here.  "Clap, clap" indeed...

So that is the story of Nick's birthday card to Marci.

This is the front of Zack's envelope.  It's a new font, he still working out the kinks, and, uh, curlicues.

This is the front of the card, it's cut out, that's a black piece of paper behind it, so you could see what it is... oh, well.

But, when you open it up, it does this:

And says simply, "I Love you Mom Your Super."

An elaborate, elegant, well-designed, modernistic piece.

Pop.  A moment, a moment given, from Zack, to Mom.  One never-ending pink and red on white moment.

A story.  A song for mom, through time, from Nick.  One unforgettable story of a report card turned dancing animals card turned into memory.

There's a little more, do you mind?  Thanks.

When I asked them to make these cards they were playing on the Kindles, looking over one anothers shoulders, plowing through MineCraft and a loud hockey game.  I just asked if they'd like to.  They looked irritated as they reluctantly set down their devices and then, and then, they spent most of the next hour making these.  They had no warning, no notion of an idea and yet, they did this.  For someone else.  Because they know...

This, all this nonsense I write about, these words that pile up all over, are merely a place for me to hide while I shout, "I love you" and "I am proud of you" at the top of my lungs and hope you don't notice me doing it.  Please, understand that.

I wasn't prepared to do this today, but, the story sort of presented itself, so I don't have anything "from the backseat" ready.  I could make something up, but, I promised myself I wouldn't do that.

Instead, yes, instead...  I'll tell you one more thing about making these cards, when the boys first came in, they randomly grabbed the top few pieces on top off the paper pile: the card stock I'd put on top, a red piece, a pink piece, and a brown piece of construction paper.  From that, they improvised these cards, these pieces of themselves, these snapshots of their hearts in the spring of their ninth year.

Thanks for taking a look at these with me, it was fun.  I do this for them, I do this at them, and I try to do this by them, but, I am so glad you come along with me as I do all that, it's comforting.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Beauty Beheld

I watched the sun set over the fence the other day.  The snow was purple, the sky crimson pinks and reds, seen through the dark lacing fingers of the maples.  As I stood watching I felt a thin little boy lean against me.

"It's beautiful," he whispered quietly, respectfully, and then he screamed, "Nick, come quick, the sun's setting and it's really cool!"

Nick lumbered in, interrupted and skeptical, and his face lit up and he sighed.  Together they watched - two minutes, five?  I don't know, I don't think it was my Time.  As you may suspect, the sunset spread even more gloriously, more purples, pinks, and ink black trees.  It was the perfect few minutes to watch a sunset.

And I missed it.  But, it wasn't my sunset.  It was for Nick and Zack.  And I watched them watching their sunset, and it was more beautiful than any setting sun or rising moon I have ever seen.  I watched their cheeks blush in the reflected blazing light, I saw the branches and fence rails sketched perfectly in the bright shine of their eyes.  I sensed a momentary, uncommon, welcome calmness in them, a stillness.  It was like seeing a sacrament.  It is most holy to watch the face of a child as they come closer to grace.

And then Nick screamed, banshee-like, shoved Zack and ran away with Zack on his tail.  Balance.  I get that.

I've come to realize that I may do that more often than I knew.  For instance, when Zack left this on the table and I randomly looked at it before I sent it on its way, I didn't see what it is - an odd trading card sort of thing that the boys do... a lot - but rather, I saw what it represented.  Imagination.  Creativity.  Whimsy.  Hope.

Oh, my...  Do you ever inappropriately crack up when everyone is being serious? 

I just did.

He seems to be a nameless "Root Dragon" and his magical power is "Control weather Lokate hidden paths."  That's handy, and sort of obscure.  He can "throw voice" and, there in fine print, "See future."  Wow.  His battle cry is "AAiia" and his scared cry is the sad, elongated, "Eroobababa."  I pretty sure his carved from a burl.

On the reverse side are some notes he took, before he made the trading card full-sized sheet of paper card the trading sheet.  In his character notes here, among other details, a Root Dragon "Does not understand leftes (lefties)," "forgits memery" and loves "exirsise" a good joke and pears.  And, there, near the bottom are some ideas of good names for one.  Zack is left handed and often feels misunderstood, an interesting insight.  Actually, after some thought, Zack is a Root Dragon.

Now, this is all very interesting and informative and creative, but what got me off track was that blocked out writing in the center.  It's Nick's handwriting and it says "Shockwave SuperCyborg livestock from outer space."  I can't imagine why.  But I think it's hilarious and silly and somehow perfect.

I really don't see how I can get back on track now.  Nick drew these two fish and, well, I wondered what they were doing.  He said they were "hugging" and they most certainly are.  My son drew a picture of fish hugging - oddly, that pleases me.

I was planning on talking poetically and deeply about this one.  On the importance of education, how Z seems to get that; about podiums and perspective; about pomp and circumstance; about...  Yeah, it's a "CYCLOPS Gradiation" and one-eyed-Groucho-dude got a cigar diploma.  Silly is as silly does.

And, the other day, this happened when I was splitting wood.

A piece of cedar split into the two halves above.  One had two knotholes...

...and the other had the stumps of two small branches:

The two fit together like, well, your imagination will do, yes, a yin and a yang.  I set them aside because I thought they were beautiful, elemental, worthy.

The other day Nick found them leaning against the porch woodpile, and, in seconds, had put the two together marveling at how they snugged together so sweetly.  He showed it to Zack and they both thought it was cool, as I had.

And then, I had the honor of watching Nick's face as the wonderful realization came over him, and I watched him say, "it's the colors of a snowy sunset."

Indeed.  Grace landed nicely I'd say.  Two moments of beauty linked, by a child.  My child.  Your child.  Every child.

From Marci's "...... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Well, too bad, you're going to have to live with me for most of my life ."

 That's just harsh...

It's nice when you stop by, even if I am chopping wood on the porch, I still appreciate it.  I am sorry it got silly there in the middle, these things happen.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Prayer For You

I am sad. I don't want to say why. In fact, I am pretty much afraid to say anything today. Sometimes, people take it upon themselves to to help bloggers out by, um, voicing their opinions in the comments of a particular post. Even worse, when a post gets shared on one of the bigger sharing sites, it can get attacked by the anonymous trolls who seem to thrive under the dank and rotting logs strewn across the fetid underbelly of the web itself. I hate them. That is the reason I will probably never be published on one of the megasites that republish blog posts and memes and all of that, without, I might add, compensating - and often not even giving credit to - the creator of the content.

This is also why, to be honest, I will never have more than a couple hundred followers and such a low volume of "hits" on this page.

Do I care? Not after this week, not after seeing a man I respect weep in frustration because something important he wrote was attacked. I've seen it a number of times. It's ugly. I can't tell you the details, because it would embroil me in the very fire of hatred I am so trying to avoid.

I came as close to closing this thing down as I have ever come this week. I mentioned it and then Jack - beautiful, irreverent, sacred, kind, prolific, tender, insane Jack - said this to me: "Please don't quit, part of how we hold down the fort is by being here and writing our stories. And we are all part of this community, if you quit because you feel like you have said all you have to say that is one thing, but not because of this."

Thanks, Jack.

I've mentioned in the past that I pray a lot. I guess this could certainly seem pious. I get that. It could also imply that I am a hopeless sinner. Yeah, I am. I could come across as holier-than-thou. I ain't. Do I pray so I can tell you that I pray? Maybe, a little.

Listen, I pray because the alternative sucks. You may think the alternative is not-praying, but, that's not so. The opposite of prayer to God - a god, the god, the gods, Her, Him, Them - the opposite of that is prayer to self. That don't work. Trust me. I am not my ultimate power; I am not my supreme being.

Henri Nouwen wrote: To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. All our actions must have their origin in prayer. Praying is not an isolated activity; it takes place in the midst of all the things and affairs that keep us active. In prayer a "self-centred monologue" becomes a "God-centred dialogue.

For a long while, a couple of years I'd guess, I carried a St. Joseph medallion loose in my pocket. I mention it again because every time I touch that medal, I remember what it is, I remember who St. Joseph is, I remember he and I are both fathers, I remember we both have sons and, in so doing, I say a prayer of thanks to him and a prayer of blessing on my sons, through the son he raised. In an instant, in real time. Now.

I wear that medallion around my neck now, its tarnished oval seems dull as it nestles against the shiny new silver cross I have on an endless chain around my ever vulnerable neck. I don’t touch it so much anymore, talisman-like, no... but the two - the silver cross and the pewter medal - ring together with a satisfying, beguiling, haunting note that holds for longer than expected. When I hear it I think of Zuzu, I think of angels, I think of my angel, your angel, I think of love, joy, kindness... hope, and, in so doing, I say a prayer of thanksgiving as pure and honest as any psalm or hymn. In an instant.

Just now. As in it just happened. I get up to go look out the window and it rings and then... and then, I stick my hand in my pocket and my finger gets tangled in a leather string which attaches to a wooden cross with a name on it, some one for whom I promised myself I would pray daily throughout Lent. And, each and every time I feel that warm rugged hand-hewn cross in my pocket or see it on my dresser or notice it when I look for my phone, I will.

The other day I was praying briefly in the morning, on my knees at the small home altar we have in the guest room - a simple candle, some holy water, a children's bible, and two hand-painted chalices, crafted by the sacred cherubs who bless our home. One of these angels walked in on me, which, embarrassingly, I don't like, and stood quietly, which is rare for Nick. I knew he was there - one senses cherubs - and I pulled my hands away from my face, which is how I pray to limit distraction, and smiled at him. He asked me what I was doing.

"Prayin'," I answered.

He took and long beat and looked into my soul, which was laid bare to him.

"Good," he said directly, with authority, with grace... prayerfully, in retrospect, and turned and walked quietly out of the room, which is rare for Nick.

In all fairness, I should tell you who I am praying for when I fumble across the wooden touchstone in my pocket. Yes, it is a specific person, a person I love deeply, so deeply I will pray always for them and it is you, and you... and you.


I promise.

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

A three-year-old Nick after getting ice cream:  "What flavor is God?"

Well, that's gonna add another year to divinity school...

Thanks for coming around and listening.  I feel better, back on track, like I feel after I pray.  Wait, was this a... naw, or, maybe?

" All our actions must have their origin in prayer."


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Wright A Country Song

Sometimes I'm not sure of the answers, answers to forgotten questions, I am getting.  Sometimes a certain theme or object or idea - I can't seem to get vague enough there - slides in front of everything else, insisting on attention.

Something like this.

I hope you remember that the boys have a sort of songwriting partnership happening and, the other night they debuted their latest tune for me.  With dancing and an odd rap thing and a howl or two and some truly inspired accidental harmonies... at 9:30, at night.  I was duly impressed.  They went away and then, a bit later, Nick scurried back out and asked if he could make a note and leave it on the table:

The next morning I took some notes for them as they tried to recreate the the song and dance number from the night before... at breakfast.  Later Zack opened the word-processor and a half hour later handed me this:

Yes, actually, that was a sticking point that nearly kept this song from light, Nick wanted to call it "I'm a Contrey Guy", as is evidenced in the note he made himself.  Zack liked "Country kid" even though that phrase is never in the song.

It's a great song, fast paced, with some creative, uh, previously unexplored symbology.

In what I can only guess was 1988, I may be a year or two off, my pal Kirby (the names are chaged around here, or are they?) and I took it upon ourselves to write a country song.  We wrote this:

It's trite and pedestrian and I still sing it every now and then.

What is the message I am supposed to understand?  Why on earth have I been asked to think about this strange coincidence, this curious synchronicity, this perhaps important lesson?

I wish I knew.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Well, too bad, you're going to have to live with me for most of my life ."


So, thanks for looking over my shoulder today.  I had more to say about this but I didn't, I just wanted to say that.  Also, "[I'll be] eating figs while slaughtering pigs" is beyond argument the best line in a country song ever.