Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas book lovers!

I stole this from Amy's blog and though it's a time suck to load up, it's a great tool. See my widget lower left though I've only just begun to add books. The process made even more enjoyable as I scan by listening to new downloads by Angela Desveaux, Summer Hymns, Joseph Arthur, The Be Good Tanyas, Ray LaMontagne, A Girl Called Eddy, the Weepies, Sufjan Stephens, and the Decemberists. Merry Christmas from Merry Rocheport! See you next year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Same curtain, different peek

I suppose I am allowed to quote an excerpt from an essay of mine, “Double or Nothing” appearing in the current Gettysburg Review (and hopefully you’ll order one and read the rest):

--I began to feel a distinct deja vu. Suddenly I was transported back to Boston where I lived fifteen years or so earlier. At that time in my life, I practiced a fervent faith that led to serendipitous encounters on a regular basis. God sometimes seemed to lift a curtain on His infinite, overlapping plot lines and let me in on the act. It kept life lively and expectations of the unexpected high. Uncanny occurrences, or “divine appointments,”, as the group I was associated with called them, served to increase the belief that we were participating in a grand tale on a cosmic scale. The “supernatural” intersected the “natural,” which was a totally reasonable occurrence to people in thrall to God.--

A week ago, someone named Stacy posted a comment to my blog. She had just read the above mentioned essay and took the time to google me, find my blog and post her reaction. Nothing pleases a writer more, or this writer anyway, than having someone other than your husband, mother or best friend not only read but give feedback on something you’ve written (not to diminish the responses of spouses, parents and friends but they’re liable to be just a wee bit biased.)

Anyway, that night Anthony (my good friend from my Houston writing group and the one who pioneered our moves to Columbia) and his wife Dyan were over. Anthony had been one of the first readers and critiquers of that essay so I mentioned Stacy’s comments. Come to find out, he knew Stacy. He’d not only met her at the Calvin Conference in Michigan last April but he’d bought her new book there and she’d signed it! Stacy and I have been emailing back and forth ever since.

Then, this morning, I got a new post from Amy, a long lost friend of mine from my Boston days (which are the context for much of my essay). Amy had been at a blog, seen a link to Stacy’s site and gone to check it out. The current post at Stacy’s site linked her to my blog! Amy’s subsequent post was entitled, “Divine Connections or Coincidences...” which, unbeknownst to her, was the subject of my essay. Did you follow all that?

December 21, 1996 (posted a day early)

If you waited a long time, if you waited all your life for the love of your life to come along, then December 21st, being the longest night of the year, is the best possible date to marry the one you love. So I did and I did and I do.

Happy 10th Anniversary, my one and only double you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Oh, Santa, one more update

moon sand
gift srtifercit
candy baskit
stuff animal
two gowld fishes
mayc up cit
a wener dog with clos (real)

Oldest ______ West of the Mississippi

A refrain we've heard repeated almost everywhere we've stopped in Missouri. Seems every little town in this state has its claim on something being the oldest of its kind "west of the Mississippi," whether it's the oldest "continously running" hotel, bar, plank road, school, or restaurant (which leaves you wondering where the oldest non-continously running versions are scattered and what the heck all the other western states were doing in the meantime besides watching now extinct prairie grasses grow). On Friday morning, in anticipation of our upcoming tenth anniversary, I shoved a cup of the freshest coffee west of the Mississippi under my husband's sleeping nose and shouted, "Pack yer bags! We're off to the oldest town west of the Mississippi!"

And so we rambled down the road to St. Louis where we took a hard right and ended up in St. Gennevieve which was, by US of A standards west of the Mississippi, very old (1740's). Almost a hundred years older than our own little old Rocheport. We stayed in the cozy and romantic carriage house of the Inn St. Gemme Beauvais (circa 1848) and from there wandered historic streets settled by the French. Although the town was/is? French, the restaurant offerings were reminiscent of Boston diners I've declined so we resorted to bread, cheese and fruit in front the glow of our little fireplace and, as the town shut down at 5, an assortment of videos from the authentically antique front desk.

The shops (apart from the lovely one pictured above) held more promise, mostly "antique" shops that we poked and scavenged for usable junk. I have started a collection of what I've learned are "Frozen Charlottes" which I picked up for 2 to 10 bucks when I was lucky. I passed on them in other places that charged 15 or 20.

Also of interest was the museum, where all information was hand written or hand typed and attributed to this citizen or that, so that the articles described felt like they had actually been used by real people as opposed to having been made for museum exhibits. One of the things I found strangely fascinating were the intricate "hair wreaths" and "hair jewelry", (yes, items made from human hair though you would not guess it) which are now, sadly, a lost art form. The town was surprisingly devoid of Christmas (or any, for that matter) shoppers which made for pleasant browsing and strolling about.

On our way back to Rocheport, we spent another day in St. Charles (left of St. Louis) which was settled by the British and is also old, but not as old, and tres charming. There were plently of shops here and we walked the brick streets till I got shin splints. It was all lit for Christmas, carollers strolled, costumed Christmas characters (the Town Crier, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Father Christmas, etc.) spread good cheer. A lovely winter weekend away, west of the Mississippi.

Monday, December 04, 2006

These are their Those Were The Days

My neighbor (her child is in the middle) took this on Thursday before our foot of snow accumulated. With a day off school, how could anxious kids with a new sleds wait any longer? I hope you lived somewhere that offered you this thrill as a kid. Memories of my own childhood winters in New Jersey before we moved to Texas were part of the reason I wanted to move somewhere that had seasons. Enjoy, my lovelies!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

No school today!

It's like Houston before a hurricane--people out buying snow shovels, propane, salt, etc. in preparation for the big snow expected later today (20 inches!) Old hat to Midwesterners but an adventure to us city slickers. I'm about to go out for supplies which probably should include a snow shovel but how are we going to shovel .2 mile of drive? I just hope our power doesn't go out which is a not uncommon occurance in a storm. Without a storm, it went out on Thanksgiving Day. Maybe too many turkeys in too many ovens? Candlelight is always fun but it could get a mite chilly in here. Stay tuned for snowfall photos! Unless the power goes out...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Incubation Station

Ever since The Glen conference last August, when I was taken with the stunning assemblages created by the visual arts workshoppers, I have been collecting bits and pieces with vague ideas of how I wanted to use them. That, and having recently read A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit which set me spinning over the idea that parts of ancient maps labeled "terra incognito" are where I now sit and type. How that mapmaker would long to see what we have seen, how nearly or not things resemble his wildest imaginings. And that centuries from now my descendants will have intimate understanding of time and space in ways we now only inkle at. So I am gathering copies of ancient maps, birds and bird cages, old wooden boxes, dolls, and other assorted bits to grapple with all this visually. It's been fun combing old junk shops and antique stores, stumbling on things that you know will be the perfect whatever for whatever. I love the chain reactions all forms of art create and how no one can predict what their song or painting or poem will inspire in another. Nor can the one who will be creating it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Joy of a Dirty House

The Thanksgiving week has ended. The last visitors (my parents) disappeared around the bend in the drive this morning, headed back to Texas as we waved a final goodbye. We wandered slowly back inside and the state of the house gradually registered: there were dirty sheets on every bed, dirty towels in every bathroom, trash in every bin, the 100th round of clean dishes awaiting removal from the dishwasher, there were crumbs where no crumbs have been before, leftovers towering in the fridge, left behind items amassing on the dining room table. In a word, a glorious mess. Glorious because that mess represented a week chock full of laughter, squeals, meals, bonfires, gifts, journeys, hikes, neighbors, friends, chatter, burst frozen cokes, skinned knees, door slammed fingers, pumpkin bread, movies, recitals, country roads and sunsets. My sister and her family returned to Baton Rouge, my 101 yr. old grandfather returned to Florida. Our house is relatively quiet once again and in the morning we’ll return to work. We’ll slowly work on restoring the house and remember as we change the sheets who recently nursed a dream there. I can only hope, as you gear up for demands of the week ahead, that your house is half as dirty as mine is.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Self Portrait as a Bovine

I can only attribute that last post to the fact that my computer went down and after not having it for 4 days, had to reload all software and thus lost all my email, addresses, calendar, etc. which, theoretically, if backed up, should not happen but did, and then I got strep throat. So there.

Monday, November 13, 2006

4 legged solidarity

I can only attribute this to the opening of deer hunting season.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Relief coming soon

Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression is a new literary journal set to debut in mid-November. My literary amigos Karen Miedrich-Luo and Mark Bertrand serve as creative nonfiction and fiction editors, respectively. The first issue of Relief will feature poetry by Scott Cairns, fiction by Al Haley and Michael Snyder and nonfiction by Luci Shaw and Anthony Connolly, as well as many others, including poetry by yours truly (though I'd submitted my work before Karen or Mark were twinkles in the editor's (Kimberly Culbertson) eyes--promise!) I have it on good authority that the first issue rocks. Full disclosure: due to the referral of a certain newly appointed Relief editor of the nonfiction variety, Relief approached me about designing their first cover. (Lest you think I traded services for publication, it happened after my work was accepted! I swear! I knew this would look bad!) Nevertheless, you may judge the quality for, order now! (This was NOT a paid political announcement...)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The forest sans the trees

For the last two months I’ve experienced the sensation of living within a Polaroid. We arrived here the first of June when to describe this place as green and verdant would be to expose a severe deficiency of superlatives in one’s vocabulary. Our property, unattended for a mere two weeks, was shoulder high in grass and weeds and hay and whatever else grows green and sky high. A machete, had we had one, would have been the garden tool of choice just to clear our front walk. There had been a big hill rolling up toward the western horizon, we’d even walked it in February, but it was nowhere to be seen. Instead, in every direction, thick peninsulas of trees enclosed us like a walled city. Lush underbrush filled in any chinks in the solid walls of green, a haven for the wildlife that regularly ventured from their protective cover: deer, fox, rabbit, turkey, snake, birds and owls, Bigfoot.

But for the last two months it’s been as if the woods are melting. Little by little, as the leaves fall, more comes into view. There’s that hill! Oh, we have neighbors! Look, a creek! In the night I look out the window at low slung stars that turn out to be lights on a nearby home. We’re not as isolated as it seemed. Day by day new vistas appear, a gift still being unwrapped.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Get Your Gettysburg Review

Although I have not yet seen the issue, the Winter 2006 issue of The Gettysburg Review is about to hit shelves and mailboxes. It contains an essay I wrote, my first, and I'd be grateful if you supported the journal by ordering an issue (and reading it!) The Gettysburg Review

Autumnal Landscape

If you do not consider yourself a poet, hang out in landscapes like this and you'll soon become broody enough to put Dylan Thomas to shame. Seriously. We're talking moooody blues here. Apparently the sun left for Florida some weeks ago.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Like a Pair of Old Shoes

We drove out of Rocheport at an hour so early on Friday we saw the other end of night for the first time since we arrived in Missouri. Headed straight into the first rays of sunrise topping I-70 east towards St. Louis. Along the roadside, in blue gray fields, thick mist steamed from warm ponds into air not yet warmed to above freezing. A nonstop 2 hr. flight later, we landed at Bush Airport, disembarking in Terminal B where waiting passengers filled every chair and lined every wall, all the way up the concourse. We had expected a bit of big city re-entry shock but this was extreme even for Houston. And then the further strangeness of catching the rental bus, picking up a car and heading to our downtown hotel. After a four month absence, Houston seemed changed in one of those vague and unidentifiable ways, like it had shaved its beard or gotten its braces off or colored its hair.

But an hour later we were sitting at our old table at Khyber Pass, enjoying Chicken Tiki Marsala, and the world had untilted and it was if we’d never left.

Friday night friends who’d come for the reading joined us at Last Concert Cafe. We walked the couple of blocks to the warehouse district to a restaurant I had not been to in years (not since the days when the Galactic Cowboys had rented a rehearsal space in a warehouse opposite), one in which you had to know to look for the red door and knock three times for entry. What could be more comfortable and comforting, more stimulating and gratifying, than sitting around a table laden with bottomless bowls of just hot enough salsa, still warm tortilla chips and familiar laughter of friends with whom you have trekked through the myriad ups and downs, the joys and the idiocy, the twists and turns and inevitable dramas of your one and only little life. Your friends/cast mates in the story you were plopped into, a story bigger than the sum of its actors. You become each other’s biggest fans, severest critics, most accurate mirrors. True friends are one of life’s most inadvertent gifts, and most necessary. We left there warmed and filled.

Saturday allowed us ample time to revisit places we’d taken for granted for years as just around the corner including the CAM, Harris Gallery, Brazos Bookstore, etc. as well as a bit of shopping at Rice Village and a nice long visit over coffee with Maleah at Solento. Maleah has been beside me, literally, at some of the most pivotal moments of my life: her desk was feet from mine as we worked on the 7th floor of the Worthem Tower on Allen Parkway, overlooking the bayou through floor to ceiling windows. She was there when I “met” Wayne; she was there when I got the phone call telling me I’d lost my brother. She was there, too, when our boss dropped his drawers and mooned the window washers. Now there’s some mileage for you.

Saturday night all our former neighbors/friends from Branard came downtown for a festive dinner at Mia Bella, only a block’s walk from our hotel. Through the years we’ve shared our lives, our kids, our porches and backyards. Fed each other’s pets, picked up mail, babysat kids, blown out candles. Had a lot of laughs, a lot of hugs. A great night.

Sunday, after getting in half a service at ecclesia and coffee and bagels at Brasil, it was time to head back home. A place we are making our own—softening the leather, acquiring scuff marks, achieving just the right patina for a still quite new pair of shoes.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Houston Poetry Fest

This weekend I'll be heading back to Houston for the first time since we moved in June, this time as a visitor. I'm reading Friday night at the Houston Poetry Fest, along with Tonya Foster, visiting poet from UH-D, and this year's juried poets at Willow Street Pump Station, 811 N. San Jacinto.

When I read last year, I had no idea that when the next Fest rolled around I'd be flying to it from a new home almost 1000 miles away. It will be strange to arrive as a visitor to a place I called home for 17 years. We have big plans for hitting old favs like Brazos Bookstore, Texas Art, Texas Junk and Brasil, some good Mexican restaurants and especially hanging out with friends. I must say I'm looking forward to conversations with people I've known longer than 4 months. A young cowboy who'd lead us on a trialride in the Grand Canyon years ago told my friend Sherry and I in attempt to flatter us, "it's not the years, it's the mileage". I say it's the years and the mileage. There's no substiture for an old friend.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Get Lost

Whenever I travel I like to find a good book to bring home as a souvenir. In that way I have a memento of my journey as recorded on its inside cover and can justify yet another expenditure in books to that category's over inflated bottom line. I bought the book I’ve just finished in Santa Fe this summer. Karen and I took the free day from the week long conference we attended to escape to nearby Taos, as well as the tiny villages along the way, all of which boasted some form or other of art gallery. We investigated an assortment of them including one that wound from the front patio of a small abode home and on through the kitchen, living room, hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms, every square inch of which held an oil painting created by the proprietor’s gray pony-tailed husband. It was a delicious day of wandering, lingering, chatting with locals and borrowing their restrooms, browsing and sampling New Mexican tamales on a brightly sunshined, tiled patio engorged with flowers and vines. We meandered about the historic square in Taos, drinking local coffee and perusing the local bookstore. I picked up a volume, initially drawn by its cover: melancholy blue grays of what could be conceived as skies over a texture of canvas or cloth or paper as backdrop to a shadowy image running along the bottom of the cover suggesting a mysteriously dark, fuzzy, landscape. The edges blur between light and dark. Is the light area absorbing the black into itself like a paper towel absorbs liquid or is the light area staving off encroaching darkness? Are the boundaries fixed?

Appropriate questions for a book entitled, “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebecca Solnit. I bought the book and stuck it in my bag until it was time for us to head back to Santa Fe. There was a party that night I wanted to attend. We had come out on the high road and as sun set we made our way back, curving around mountains and alongside a river on the low road, and tried to figure out which route we’d liked best. And then somehow as we approached Santa Fe we got lost and found ourselves approaching Santa Fe again, passing the same exit for Santa Fe Opera we had passed some minutes before, now in total darkness. It seemed we circled the town forever without being able to figure out how to get into it, at least the section we were looking for. When we finally got back I had all but missed the party. This happened repeatedly for the next couple of days, constant disorientation and wrong turns in what is really a small and manageable city, especially for one that had recently navigated Houston on a daily basis. I remembered then the book was still in my bag and I blamed it like a bad luck charm. I read only a couple of pages before it was time to pack up and fly back to a town that was not the one I had returned to after every previous flight for 17 years, itself a disorienting reality.

So it was only in the last week or two that I dug the book out again and really started to read it, finding it tremendously gratifying. Solnit writes extensively of New Mexico and of lostness, of wilderness, displacement, transformation, Terra Incognito, of how geography is so much a part of our interior landscapes, all things I have recently been exquisitely made aware of. A favorite motif is “the blue of distance” which Solnit, an art critic as well, tracks from 15th century European painters to contemporary Yves Klein. I made sure I had a pencil in hand any time I picked the book back up.

Solnit's writing is full of poetic leaps and metaphors such as this:

Movies are made out of darkness as well as light; it is the surpassingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that makes it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture. Without that darkness, there would only be a blur....It is the terra incognita of film, the dark continent on every map. In a similar way, a runner’s every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds, whose shadows crawl below them, caressing the surface of the earth....We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.

I recommend Solnit’s book and whether driving or not, plan on getting exquisitely lost.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Black is beautiful

I never thought I’d find myself, at any time or in any place, singing the praises of asphalt. On Friday, the chalky white gravel road I’ve tasted for months was steam rolled with black oily goo in preparation for some kind of hard surface. How my heart praised pavement! After four months of trying to orient myself toward the charms of dust, I confess total and absolute defeat. Perhaps I spent too many years dwelling in versions of Sonny and Cher’s paved paradise, perhaps I’ve regressed to my childhood Tony Randall-ish prissiness which spurred many a mud stained friend’s irritated mother to demand of mine how she kept me so clean, perhaps I fear a diagnosis of dust lung disease. But whatever the reasons, I have lost patience with drought induced road dust of Biblical proportions. Now I know why there are so many DUST references in the Bible and now I UNDERSTAND them. You could write the Gettsyburg address on our dashboard. You could plant ivy in the dust that falls on my counters when I unload the grocery bags from inside the car. You could achieve instantaneous gray hair for your Halloween costume by opening the air vent on the way to the General Store. This is not the dust born of human skin that lingers in curtains and carpets causing asthma, allergies and cute little dustbunnies under the bed. The Sisyphusian battle to conquer such dust explains perfectly how a band from neighboring Kansas could pen the lyrics, “all we are is dust in the wind” and “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky”. I would argue that nothing lasts forever but the earth IN the sky. But fortunately for me, just before I succumbed to certain dust ridden existential despair, the department of road paving stepped in to save my dusty soul. Sorry Sonny and Cher.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

And the winner is...

This weekend was rich with the kind of offerings that convinced us to take a gamble, pull up stakes and move a thousand miles away from everything we were familiar with. The weather provided a gorgeous backdrop for an assortment of fall festivals including Rocheport’s own charming annual Wine Stroll. We enjoyed mingling amidst now familiar faces and visitors who came to wander about our new town on Saturday, saving Sunday to savor the annual Art Show and Festival in Columbia.

The Art Show, held at the Boone County National Bank in conjunction with the Art League, had its largest show ever with over 300 entries. Wayne completed the first pieces he’d made since arriving in Missouri hours before the drop off deadline. Today we went to see the public display of his work as well as the rest of the entries which had hung over the weekend. I am so very proud to announce that Wayne’s piece, “Circle/Cycle I”, won the Purchase Prize, the one entry selected yearly for purchase by the bank for its permanent collection. When we first began looking at homes in Columbia, we were introduced to this bank by our realtor and given a tour of its quite impressive art collection which stretches over several floors. We were heartened to know that entities like the bank were such strong supporters of the arts and knowing Wayne’s work will be permanently displayed downtown assures me our new hometown has truly made a place for us.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Sneak Peek

The leaves are starting to turn and the air is tinged with ever so slight a chill. I'm trying to remember where I've stowed the fall clothes (we didn't own winter clothes in Houston). And Wayne is working around the clock to finish some pieces that will be displayed during the Art Fest this weekend. He's even recruited me to help a little with some detail work. It's the closest I'll ever come to dentistry or archeology--using small ceramic tools to excavate, bevel and refine every crack on this 4 x4 foot relief sculpture. This is a sneak preview. I'll post the finished piece after the show and after we've caught up on sleep.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Deer Friend

When it rains, it pours, unless it doesn’t. But we we’ve been getting wet, figuratively speaking. On Saturday, my good friend, writing comrade and fellow expat from Houston, Mark Bertrand, rolled into our little town in his little car on his way back to Souix Falls. By the time he winded down our drought stricken drive his normally pristine mini looked like it had been parked in the kitchen while Lucy and Ethel were baking. But what are friends for?

In this case it was for a night of LiT, the sequel. Anthony and Dyan joined us for dinner and then we all headed down to our home away from home, The Rocheport General Store, where Anthony and I now host the Columbia leg of LiT on Thursday nights. I’ll be posting about that gem (the store) soon. We sat upstairs in the loft while live music played below and various Rocheportians stuck their heads in to say hello. Somewhere in all that Anthony noted that one year ago we were all still in Houston, comfy in our little group, and none of us would have guessed that in one year’s time we’d all have left Houston and become Midwesterners. After we’d sucked dry the urn of coffee Kim the proprietor had deposited upstairs for us, we headed back to Lealholm where Wayne had a feisty bonfire blazing in minutes. Mark shared his fine cigars and we sat up chatting till 2:30 am. The one (only?) good thing about moving away from friends is that instead of meeting up for an hour or two here and there or lunch or coffee or a movie, when you do get to visit you really visit. And you can bet that whoever comes here to visit leaves here with plenty of dirt.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


We’ve been in our house now for just about three months. A couple of friends from Houston have slept under our roof—the first week we were here Ben flew up to help Wayne install cabinets, a sink, door, lights, etc. And neighbors from Houston stayed two nights as they passed through Missouri en route to their annual summer vacation in Wisconsin. But it was only this week, when Ben came back with Maggie for a few days followed by a visit from my parents, that our new house began to feel like home. Dad mastered the satellite remote and found a favorite place to perch while watching golf, Mom learned where the coffee is kept and Maggie which way to head for her outdoor strolls. And Ben got to enjoy the fruit of his labor.

They met our new neighbors around a big bonfire lit by the moon and its reflection on the pond, not a bad way to start relationships. The folks in town welcomed them at our new General Store, Rocheport’s answer to Mayberry with a twist of Northern Exposure, where we had coffee and dessert after a lovely dinner on the back deck, the long, simmering days relenting, allowing us the sunset.

My planned birthday ride on the Katy Trail became a no go when we woke up to the rumble of thunder. It was just as well since a week later the Huggins were able to join us on our first ride from Rocheport to Columbia and it was a good fifteen degrees cooler than the week before. The trail from Rocheport featured a placid river on one side and steep wooded bluffs rising on the other. About halfway through our ride, we took a left away from the river and rode the rest of the way through open fields and meadows, over creeks and forests. The path at one point wound around the massive lagoons of a wastewater treatment facility. Hmmm. A dusty barnyard scattered with goats and chickens seemed a good place to stop for water and there we ended up chatting with an older British couple who were drive/biking from Virginia to Oregon. But for a few other passersby, we had the trail to ourselves. We arrived in Columbia after about a two hour ride and replenished ourselves with wraps at Artisan before we somehow crammed four bikes into our vehicle, new veterans of the trail, headed with old amigos to a place starting to feel very much like home.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


In today's Ovation section of the Columbia Tribune Sunday paper is a feature on Wayne. Not every fact is correct but the gist of what Marcia Vanderlip wrote about Wayne and his work really captures his intent. Needless to say I am very proud of him and after only being here for two and a half months I feel we've been given quite a generous welcome. I'll be posting more on Wayne and his work in the near future as he prepares for an upcoming show here in Columbia. After that's behind him we'll begin a collaboration, our first, as we conceive and execute Station Six, "Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus," for a Lenten installation at Xnihilo Gallery in Houston. We'll be combining my writing with Wayne's art and I'll be excited to see what working together will produce.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Grandad 101

I just had a phone call from my mother who is with my sister's family in Baton Rouge. While at the grocery store she received a surprise call from her father, my grandfather. He was calling from New Orleans to ask for directions; he'd driven over from Florida by himself. Six days from now, on Saturday the 26th of August, the birthday we share, my grandfather will turn 101. I can only hope that after he spends some time visiting with my sister he'll take a hard right and head up to Missouri in time to blow out enough combined candles to illuminate the sky from here to Texas.

Happy Birthday, Captain Everett. Again. And again. And again.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Home Again

The best thing about going away is coming back home. Wayne bravely held down the fort so I could go away and even grew rather ambitious in that he reportedly attempted to boil water and make toast while I was gone. I arrived back in Rocheport at 1 am after an 11 hr. (yes, another inevitable delay at DFW) trek from Santa Fe. My girls tried to stay awake to greet me, camping out in sleeping bags on the couch in the living room. When I finally rolled down the gravel drive and onto the parking pad after the last 2 hr. leg from Kansas City, Samantha and Wayne ran out to welcome me. Hayley was unrousable. After a joyful reunion on the driveway under the dusty stars (we badly need rain), I came inside to find this banner of love draped across the windows and flowers all over the house.
Thank you, Wayne, for your generous love and support. And for not burning down the house;) You're coming with me next year.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Beauty Will Save the World

Thus read the t-shirts many of us took home from our eight day workshop at The Glen. That our week was spent in Santa Fe made that declaration only more convincing. I left a monotonous string of humid, 100-plus-degree days that had me wondering if I should plan a trip back to Houston to cool off. Heading to the southwest I expected continued, if drier, heat but arrived to witness the downright biblical—the desert was in bloom. Lush and vivid color radiated from everywhere: the vegetation, the dirt, the hills, the sky. The sky. A constant, roiling canvas of myriad blues and whites, it never kept still, an inverted ocean over our heads. As I drove in Sunday, late as a result of the inevitable DFW airport delay (3 hrs. this time), lightning flashed on all sides and then off to my right I spotted a rainbow. A good sign.

I missed Greg Wolfe’s opening remarks but made it in time to enjoy a tie-died sunset reception on the balcony at St. John’s College. And so began a week rich in many things: fellow artists from around the country, or I should say continent as I met more than a few Canadians, inspiring presentations, insightful workshops, bad jokes, incredible music, outstanding art pieces created within the week, embarrassing moments, a landscape from my idea of Heaven (when I get there, I’m driving my U-haul to the southwest corner), a local artist's studio, the high road to Taos and the low road back, New Mexican cuisine at Coyote Cafe, El Santuario de Chimayo, Santa Fe Hemp, the Robert Parker Society, the Castillo Gallery in Cordova, rooming with Karen, discovering one day old friends.

Mornings came way too early after late nights of conversation and a dorm room directly across from the bathroom. I finally resorted to oiling all the door hinges with baby oil. After stumbling down the hill for coffee and dorm food (scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs) I sufficiently awoke for workshop. We had a group of 15 contributing poets and two others sitting in. Scott Cairns, my new neighbor in Columbia, led the workshop and I got quite a refresher course in form. By the week’s end, we were feeling like family. Sort of. Could you imagine living with 18 poetry lovers?

The final evening ended with concerts by Pierce Pettis and Over the Rhine and then a worship service in which we were all anointed with oil and sent out with a blessing. And the conviction that we would be back next year, whatever it took, to again savor this rare community, this unique and certain beauty.

(Thanks to Rosie Perera for the group shot)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

From the Boonies to Santa Fe

I'm not sure where the phrase "in the boonies" originated, but everything around here is named after Daniel Boone so after visiting some of the little towns that surround us, I have my suspicions. I live in Boone County, the next town over is Boonville, and Franklin, half a mile west of the Boonville Bridge, features a salt lick called Boone' s Lick which launched Daniel Boone's sons, Nathan and Daniel Junior, into the salt business.

And Franklin is where William Becknell and his party, in 1821, started out for Santa Fe on an extension of Boone's Lick Road, originating the Santa Fe trail. I'll be following that trail by air this Sunday as I head to Santa Fe for The Glen, a workshop for the arts put on by Image. I'm looking forward to spending a week in community with artists of all genres in a spectacular setting, having some good Mexican food (it's been two months!), catching up with my friend Karen, and learning from the poet Scott Cairns. The icing on the cake will be the music of a favorite, Over the Rhine, who I haven't heard live since Cornerstone in the early 90's.

I decided I needed a good dose of fiction for the plane, something trailblazing to go along with the timbre of this new/old landscape in Missouri, and picked up, "A Sudden Country" by Karen Fisher. Sadly, I think I'll be finished before I board as the book is a scrumptious read, full of gorgeous prose. It takes place in 1847 on the Oregon Trail and though I've never been overly drawn to historical fiction, I'm halfway through and already ruing the fact the book will end. If you like Cormac McCarthy, you'll love this. Walker, are you out there?

More posts post Santa Fe!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Sky from Here to Marfa

Although it's been a while since I've had time to write much more than posts to this blog, things have finally settled down enough, or I've been desperate enough, that I have made time to dive into some good books. One of the volumes I've enjoyed is a new book of poems by Linda Gregg (Graywolf Press) entitled, “In the Middle Distance.” I took a workshop with Linda in the early 90’s at the University of Houston and it has been a while since I’ve read her work. I keep coming back to this poem called “Marfa”, maybe because I'm homesick, and rereading these lines in particular:

...I keep thinking that if I go
alone into the size of this silence, we can
straighten things out. To know what to question,
and what to believe. How to let my heart
split open. To print in clear light
the changing register of this grand world.

I think coming here, stripped of all places and people familiar, we’ve entered another kind of silence. A certain conversation has not yet started. In some sense, I am still peeping out at this landscape from a train window, not quite knowing how to enter it.

This weekend we drove country lanes and rambled past old and tiny towns and silent prairies. Sometimes a small town had a cafe of some sort and sometimes, actually once, the cafe was open. Cafe meaning a little four table room with hand sewn potholders and kitchen mitts for sale adorning every inch of the wall, serving tuna and pimento cheese sandwiches, iced tea, and coconut, apple, pecan and lemon pies baked that morning, the sewing machine idle in the corner. The town was old, the people were old and the landscape we traversed seemed suspended in time, like a nineteenth century American pastoral painting, despite the appearance of the occasional modern (somewhat) signage or building. Had I been only a tourist, I would have found the scenes charming and sweet with nostalgia. Being now a local to these parts, I feel a certain displacement. Only time can bestow belonging though this is now my home. So I’ve encountered a certain quiet, an absence of familiar chatter from my surroundings, which seems an apt place to investigate the changing register of this world and to entertain the hope for clear light.

Monday, July 17, 2006


As I write this, I am upstairs. I have a roomy study that looks out over our front lawn where I can partially see one neighbor’s house over the tops of some cedar trees, a log cabin home they built themselves three years ago. Usually there are bunnies all over the yard and sometimes a fox, and hummingbirds at the flowers outside the window. The room faces east and gets the morning sun which I rarely witness due to the fact that I am working downstairs and facing west.

Having a room like this, and the time to use it, is a big reason we shipped out of Houston. So far I’ve not spent much more time in this room than it took to unpack it. Turns out we’re still going to have to fight daily to achieve a slower pace and find room to unwind our souls. The phone rings as if we’d never left and clients can’t see that as they speak a deer meanders past the window. The clock ticks just as fast here as there. Still, we have an ideal we’re working toward—a balanced lifestyle in a world that requires we pay the mortgage and medical insurance and relegate any pursuit of higher living to our spare time. So it will be up to us to navigate our souls and bodies through the demands of corporate enterprise and come through not only unscathed, but whole and spiritually healthy. Meanwhile, whether I am downstairs working or upstair dreaming, I have my rooms with a view.

Friday, July 14, 2006

In search of nourishment

I’m sure my forebears would find it amusing that practices carried on for basic survival for thousands of years have become exotic accomplishments slated to allotted leisure time for many of us in the 21st century. When our neighbors told us they were going on vacation for a couple of weeks and for us to help ourselves to their garden, I was more excited than if they’d presented me with a gift card to a spa. Why does eating food you have yourself pulled from the vine, that you have carefully cleaned and prepared, taste so much better than anything you can buy in the supermarket, even from the high priced organic produce aisles? And why should this have become such a bygone activity? To plant and harvest your own food, to nourish your body through the work of your manicured hands, the sweat on your well coiffed brow? Though in my youth I picked apples from the trees in our yard and tomatoes from the fields where I rode my bike and the generosity of the earth was pervasive and apparent, I have lived most of my adult life oblivious to the fact that the food that sustains me has been culled from the earth, the earth buried so far beneath our asphalt streets and steel high rises we can no longer feel it under feet or detect its fecund scent. The food we eat arrives from factories in sterile boxes and plastic wrap, symmetrical, scentless, spotless, from who knows where or what. But always dirt free.

We came from the earth and to the earth we will return. When we fully succumb to a Jetson’s-like existence, disconnected completely from our relationship to the land, to the source of our sustenance, what will have been gained and what will have been lost? Having now left my concrete existence behind, I hope to eventually find out.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Last evening, actually it wasn’t even dusk yet, I was headed into town musing about the different rhythms of rural living, me a city girl or at least a townie girl all my life now navigating silence and dark skies, dwelling with foxes and deer and rabbits and snakes when a deer ran out in front of my car. We both panicked; my foot flew to the brake while the deer wheeled in place before darting back off to the meadow he’d sprung from. My heart did quite a tap dance as I proceeded down the road wondering which of two of us really belonged here. I confess I was homesick.

We’ve been here exactly one month, long enough to have settled all our things in, hung pictures, met the neighbors and gotten back to work. In some ways life goes on as it always has. Except. I still wake up wondering when this extended vacation will end, the new house is not yet Home. Last night I missed the familiar: the old streets and noise, the neighbors puttering in their yards or chatting on the sidewalk, the friends born of years of late nights, bottomless cups of coffee, laughter and tears. Home can’t be bought off the shelf, it is crafted and honed with love, with time, with sweat and shared hope, like this nest we discovered over the garage. Right outside my window now a baby rabbit nibbles the flowers. My family, where my heart finds Home, sleeps with open windows, in peace. There is abundant beauty at every turn and one day this house, without notice, having reached some unspoken quota of love and laughter, will have indeed become Home.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chez Bertrand

While shopping for sheets and drawer liners yesterday, I came across the perfect house warming gift for my friends Laurie and Mark Bertrand. Now they just need to find a house. As he has been blogging from the road regarding his search for the perfect roast, I thought this exquisite painting had his name on it and thought it should one day adorn his sometime future red study. Mark is the last of the four original LiT members to leave Houston. Perhaps we should write a mystery: And Then There Were None, except a newer member, Deeanne, remains in Houston so that would not be totally accurate. Last summer Karen lead the Houston exodus when she left for Dallas, Anthony left in the fall for Columbia, MO and then based on his reconnaissance we, too, packed up for Columbia, arriving about three weeks ago. Now Mark has sold his house and is planning a move to Souix Falls. What hailed this sudden suction to the Midwest? At this point, it’s still a mystery...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Frog joy

Sometimes things do turn out just the way you imagine it. Year after year and traffic light after traffic light, I watched our girls grow ever older without ever having been divested of the notion that what God scooped up in His hands and rolled into a ball to form into the world was a big batch of concrete. I recalled my own youth of such easy sweetness—lazy days wandering the ravine that fell off behind our woods in New Jersey, digging in the natural clay, capturing turtles and baby rabbits, running through stinkweed and “quicksand”. And then later, combing the creek down the street from our home in Texas, swinging on thick rope over water cut limestone and riding bikes to town in the heat of summer to buy the latest 45 from Gibson’s. I compared this to their “playdate” reality, typically a two or three hour visit to the home of a friend by car where, as at home, they would be confined to a bedroom or a yard on a busy street and would never be out of the sight of an adult. As these trips had to be coordinated between two sets of working parents, there was little room for spontaneity. They loved their time with friends and always delighted in these arrangements, thinking them a treat as opposed to a simple by product of growing up. So I imagined, for years, the girls in a place where they could run farther than they were able, where they could learn the rhythm of seasons, where they could pop over to the neighbors’ and knock on the door to play.

In making the decision to leave everything and come here, we sometimes wondered if we were nuts. We’d spent 15 long, hard years building up a business in Houston that was finally humming along quite nicely and we were pulling up stakes with no guarantee things would work out on the other end. I like what Buechner says in “Secrets in the Dark”, that maybe the voice we should listen to most is the vioce of our own gladness, that which leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north and of peace, which is much of what gladness is. So when tonight I sat, as dusk approached, delighting in the squeals of my girls running across the open meadow, catching bugs and grasshoppers with their new friend from across the way, the light playing on the clouds and tree leaves, the birds and bullfrogs providing the soundtrack, my heart was flooded with peace.

Hayley had been trying to catch a frog since we got here, frogs being the only bit of nature she could get her hands on in Houston so she had grown very fond of them, but found Missouri frogs to be much more adept at evading capture. She amazed us by snatching flies (okay, so there are, occasionally, flies in the ointment) with her fingers in the kitchen which she said would, in the end, make her better at catching frogs, with the added benefit that she could also provide them dinner. We knew she’d get one in the end. And we are all very, very glad.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On Little Pond

Last night at dusk we took bread out to the pond to see if the turtles would bite. Our small pond is stocked with bass, perch, catfish and a large goldfish that we’ve spotted only once. Hayley was tickled that I finally shoved aside my infinite list of tasks to take her outdoors. Not yet comfortable enough to brave it on her own, she pines to be outside catching lightning bugs, looking for frogs, chasing bunnies and watching for the mother and baby deer that frolic near the pond. They really do frolic—the mother and fawn play chase.

Once Hayley was satisfied that the turtles had had a sufficient meal, she asked if I would come see the dinosaur egg she’d found a few days earlier. We ventured to the front of our newly mowed lawn, near to where the vultures had sent her skittering backwards on her butt, and walked behind a cluster of trees. We peered into the brush where, slightly visible between the leaf heavy branches, was a large, silvery, rounded form. “The dinosaur egg!” Hayley cried in triumph. We had stumbled upon our cleverly camouflaged propane tank.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The road ahead

I ventured again into Columbia today, which is normally a ten minute trip. Unless you are driving in someone's wake. The gravel road from our house to the main road kicks up so much dust you literally drive blind and I haven't eaten this much dust since I lived in Lubbock. How's that for a metaphor on starting life over again in Missouri?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hello Rocheport

This morning was the first time we awoke to our whole family, and our family alone, being here. I picked the girls up at the airport Wednesday in St. Louis. Things have been so hectic we’ve hardly had time to realize we’re here, although when Ben left yesterday morning to go back to Houston it felt like someone had taken the training wheels off my bike. We are on our own in Missouri.

Our new neighbors have done a lot to make us feel at home. One neighbor has had us over twice already for food and introductions to other neighbors. We live on the outskirts of a town of 200, in a “subdivision” of nine households. I imagine we’ll know everyone pretty well very soon. When we were contemplating a move to the mountains of Colorado last year we were told that many people moved there to be isolated from other people— not an attractive idea to us. The people who live here have come here specifically because they value community. Just as I had hoped, the girls can walk down our drive and over to the neighbor’s house to play. In Houston they never went anywhere outdoors without being in sight of an adult. They are still getting used to their new freedom and are skittish about walking down the drive alone. This morning Hayley ran down the drive ahead of me, anxious to collect her new friend to play. She rounded a blind bend and was so startled by two large vultures sitting there that she skidded, landed on her backside and came running back to me in tears.

We’re all adjusting to this, for us, new and exotic existence. Samantha, even in the house, won’t let me out of her sight, freaked out by every bug and sound she is not used to. Concrete never startled. We’re the city slickers come to town and the town, I’m happy to report, has welcomed us with open arms.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

And which box has the fly swatter?

We left Dallas a week ago by car. The movers arrived on our doorstep to unload at 8 am sharp Thursday morning and the five man crew punted the last box from the truck at six pm. In the last four days (and nights) Wayne and I have unpacked, stacked, put away, nailed up and unfurled almost 27,000 pounds of “and why did we bring this?”

Before we left, the movers advised us to set aside the coffee maker, bed linens, towels and personal items we would need immediate access to in clearly marked boxes and to stash them in a piece of furniture we could easily spot amidst the hundreds of identical cardboard boxes. They never mentioned packing the fly swatters. Our glee at escaping a mosquito ridden existence has been tempered by a new plague of flies. I’ve been driven to the edge of sanity by these buzzing, tickling, loathsome creatures though my aim has steadily improved to the point I’m close to equalizing the household birth/death ratio.

Apart from that and my hour and a half detour back from my foray to the grocery store which found me halfway to Iowa, we’ve had a lovely arrival. Neighbors have had us to dinner, brought us fresh baked scones and gifted us with coffee and scented candles. Saturday, former fellow Houstonions Anthony and Dyan (who introduced us to Columbia) dropped in with hot food, just ahead of a dramatic thunderstorm. We sat all cozy in the screened in porch, having supper and watching the storm sway huge trees while grape sized hail pinged off the deck like Jiffypop. Suddenly, surrounded by our friends and safe in our sheltered perch, we began to feel at home.

Yesterday, Ben, another good friend from Houston, flew in to help with some handymanning—our first overnight guest. Our girls will arrive tomorrow. I woke up this morning, after the closest I’ve come so far to a night’s sleep, startled by the quiet. I had a quick shiver of panic. We are far away. Ben will leave. There is no rumble of traffic outside, no city lights, no grocery store or coffee shop around the corner. This is not a camping trip where we’ll pack up our tents and head back to the “real world” after a refreshing break from urban hubbub. This is now our real world—I’ve bought if off the rack but have yet to try it on to see how well it fits.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Houston in my rearview

The weather is cooperating today. I was counting on having already endured many weeks of hot and sticky days so that our leaving would come as a relief. Instead, we’ve had a gorgeous spring and what must have been the lowest overall lowest temperatures in decades. Only a week ago we sat on the patio at Diedrich with friends after a dinner out and I was actually chilly. The mercury never got above the low 80’s on June 1st and in Houston, to make it all the way to June with those sorts of temperatures is nothing short of miraculous. If it wasn’t for the weather, who would ever want to leave the city that offers Art Car parades, rodeos, Mexican food and the Rothko Chapel? But finally, a couple of days ago, the true Houston June rang the doorbell. Wayne and I strolled through the Japanese gardens on Saturday afternoon and as I felt rivulets of sweat run down my back, I knew the world had righted itself and I could leave with the solace of knowing I would indeed escape a hot, cruel summer. Or at least one that is as hot and cruel as ours is, for as long as ours is, since we are told Missouri can get quite hot and humid, too.

I’m on our porch watching the movers run boxes to the truck, which looks as long as a football field. How did we ever accumulate so much stuff? When we renovated our house, we took it down to the studs. We stripped the crumbling brick and tore off the old plastered walls. We took out the stained tile, the busted cabinetry and the old wiring. We started over with only the original footprint and the shiplap that formed the basic structure of the house. That is what this move feels like: we’re stripping our lifestyle back down to the studs. Starting over with our family togetherness as the only starting point, as the foundation from which we’ll build a new way to live. Last night, we got home late after coffee with a dear neighbor. As we pulled up, I felt again, as I have every time I’ve returned home, deep comfort and cheer at the sight of our house. Wayne and I collaborated on every aspect of building this place and I think we did a good job. Every knob and fixture was chosen with love. This house has provided a lot of joyous times to our family and friends but it’s time to begin our next collaboration. The stakes are higher. But the foundation we’ll build on is solid and the love we’ll do it with is stronger than before.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Goodbye 2047

So this is really it. Box by box, our house as we have known (and loved) it is being dismantled. Tomorrow the moving company will come to pull the plugs. Literally. By Monday, we’ll be loaded up and headed north. Yesterday Wayne signed on the house in Missouri so there’s no turning back — next week we’ll officially be Missourians(?).

Last night folks from the two houses nearest ours walked over and introduced themselves to Wayne. That is a very good sign. And one of them has a seven year old daughter waiting to meet our two girls—an even better sign. We’ve been grateful to live on a friendly street where everyone hangs out together and looks out for each other, a rare occurance these days, according to impressed friends who visit. Lisa, who lives a few doors down and is always up for a laugh or a party, created a keepsake album containing photos of each house and the family who lives there, as well as their parting messages to us. So on the day of inspections we were able to introduce the buyers to all their new neighbors. I don’t know which is the better inheritance: the house or the people who come with it.

We will miss both. We used to live in the house next door to this house. In 2000, three single guys lived in this house which sounded like a frat house but looked like a crack house. One day, over my protests, Wayne decided to make them an offer. In less than five years we’d met, gotten married, started a business, bought a house and had two children and I was in no mood to take on renovating a house that needed demolishing and yet another move. They accepted the offer. A year and a half later, after narrowly avoiding divorce, nervous breakdowns and committing homicide over our contractor, we were scrambling to move in before Wayne’s family, who’d scheduled their visit months out to ensure the house would be ready, arrived from England. We began frantically moving things in on Thursday and worked around the clock until we picked them up on Saturday when everything but the pictures were hung.

Wayne’s mum had moved to Houston five months earlier and offered to take Wayne’s aunt and uncle to Old Town Spring on Tuesday while we got back to work. I awoke on September 11, 2001 with Wayne bursting into the bedroom exclaiming his mother was in the hospital and the World Trade Center had exploded. Or something along those lines. I rolled my eyes. I’d been married to Wayne long enough to never believe a thing he said.

I stumbled from the bedroom in my robe and entered my new living room to discover a crowd: our employees, Wayne’s family, assorted neighbors, the electrician and the general contractor were gathered there. Fortunately, all eyes were rivited to the TV and not the state of my undress. The rest of the day proceeded to unfold in a surreal haze. While I watched the towers evaporating, I learned Wayne’s mum had gone into the ER in the night, unable to breathe. When we eventually made it to the hospital late in the day, the doctor pulled us aside. The TV above the bed replayed the horrific images of the day’s mayhem as more news pounded its way into our overloaded skulls...lung cancer...six months...

This is how the house we’d spent so many months fretting and battling over—with contractors, with floorplans, with budgets, with every doorknob, drawer pull and switchplate—introduced itself as home. The witness of our worst and our best; our joys and our grief. It’s been a haven to our family and the place we’ve welcomed, enjoyed and annoyed (in a nice way) many friends and family. We leave with fuller hearts and bigger souls.

It’s hard to think of someone else living here. If the new owners find half the riches here that we did, they won’t have done half bad.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Goodbye ecclesia

When you believe things happen for a reason, that there is a design to this narrative you call your life, you can end up spending a lot of time scratching your head. So I’ve worn out a little patch on my scalp over this one. When the writing group I’m involved with formed two years ago we set up shop at Taft Street Coffee, a place provided by a church called ecclesia. The space, a converted church building, housed a bookstore, an art gallery and a recording studio among other things. Depending on when you showed up, you could find open mike poetry readings, a concert or an organic farmers markets going on in the gymnasium.

It was confusing: a church building owned by a church that borrowed another church for its own services while offering the use of its property to various entities to benefit the surrounding community. Although I’d come to feel quite at home in the Taft space and appreciated the hospitality offered to the likes of us by ecclesia, I couldn’t quite get a handle on just who or what ecclesia was. I just knew that 2115 Taft Street represented a unique display of spiritual and artisitic community that floated all my boats in its ambitions. Then over last summer and fall ecclesia renovated the gymnasium/performance area and for the first time since their inception in 2001 (I think), began to hold their weekly services in the building. Meanwhile, Image had scheduled their yearly conference to be held in Houston and ended up utilizing Taft as one of the conference venues. As part of the four day event last October, a worship service was held at Taft and that was how I inadvertently attended an ecclesia service.

I’ve been attending ever since. Which is to say my time there has not been nearly long enough and is the reason I have been scratching my head ever since our move to Missouri began to gel. I love the community they have fostered; I'm moved, challenged and inspired every time I walk through their doors. In a time when it seems many Christians believe “when two or three are gathered in My name, we’re at a Republican convention,” it’s deeply heartening to see people focused on putting hands and feet, their own hands and feet, to the gospel. I wrote a benediction for last Sunday's service based on the lectionary readings for the week which addresses something I else love about ecclesia–how they embrace the world in all its forms, its beauty and its brokenness, and yet strive to be not of it, how they inhabit the world within the world, addressing the unseen within the seen, and seek out the essence of what really matters. I will miss the community, and it truly is a community, greatly, though I find solace in the belief that no goodbye lasts forever. Thank you, ecclesia.

Benediction for the 7th Sunday of Easter

You who have known the name of God
who have received the word of Christ
You who Christ has presented to the Father as His own
Go out into the world as One
as Christ and the Father are One
called to the world, yet no longer of it
turning from every evil way
and delighting in the truth that He is
and make known that everything in this world
came from Him
and will return to Him
to bring Him glory
Relinquish those things that will blow away like chaff in the wind
and persevere in that which will bear fruit and remain
while you walk between the world that is
and the world that is to come
keep His word
as He has kept you for the Father
and so bring Him glory
that His joy in you would be made full.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Goodbye Taft Street

This is a “last” I’ve really dreaded. Last night marked the culmination of one of those perfect amalgamations life occasionally bestows on you that proves the universe has not only made a place for you, it has pulled out your chair, unfurled your napkin and set a plate for you. Such was the case with my sojourn at Taft.

We showed up like iron filings to a magnet. What started for me as a trek to a mysterious bookstore advertised in a tiny ad in the Houston Press ended up bringing me into what was to become a unique and vibrant community of writers. Each of us winded up at Taft through a series of serendipitous occurrances around the same time, converging over shared passions of faith, literature, writing, service and community.

It was a combustible mix. Mark and Jenny Johnson, founders of Strange Land Books and Literacy Foundation, provided their space at Taft to pave the way for Anthony Connolly, Mark Bertrand, and me to offer our abilities as writers to a community. Karen Miedrich-Luo joined us on the night of our inauguration and a core group formed with only vague ideas of what we hoped we might accomplish together. Over the course of the two years or so we’ve been together at Taft, we’ve hosted a weekly critique group, held workshops and readings, produced an anthology, and taught high schoolers. We’ve encouraged, provoked, challenged and strengthened each other. When some obscure literary journal that no other friends or family members have ever heard of accepts one of our stories or poems, we know the journal and appreciate the accomplishment. We’ve become each other’s biggest fans.

It’s been a rich time, charged and productive, and the enthusiasm has been contagious. We’ve recognized ourselves as beneficiaries of something that feels bigger than any of our best intentions could have conceived and no one counts it incidental. We don’t know exactly what we’ve started but whatever it is, our impulse is to share it.

When Anthony’s wife was transferred to Columbia, MO and Karen’s husband was accepted into law school in Dallas it seemed our little Camelot might end. Unwilling to let such a fruitful venture wither away, we put heads and hearts together and conceived LiT: Life in,Though we’re still working out the logistics, we hope to set up a virtual writing community and export our literary bounty to all the places we’ve since scattered to and then to points beyond.

Our impetus to create a literary community connected by faith has already begun to bear fruit, even prior to the launch of LiT. Many connections have already been made. We’ll soon have LiT groups going in Houston, Dallas and Columbia and we’ll take it from there. The dominoes have started falling.

But I’ll miss my seat on the couch on Thursday nights at Taft. The music spun by Ash. The coffee brewed by Jason. The titles that line the shelves like familiar faces. Most of all, these writers, these friends, who, in all I understand about the art of life and the life of faith, have seriously upped the ante .

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Star Deprived

In a couple of hours, a few dozen friends from over the years will begin drifting in for a last “party on the patio”. We’ve had many of these over the years and we couldn’t leave without a last hurrah. Based on past experience, the party will go on til the sun is long gone and the chatter of many voices will distill into the few; the conversations will stretch and deepen into the sort that linger long after a party ends.

When I hopped into the car moments ago for a final ice run, the CD player was queued to Robbie Seay’s “Go Outside,” his contribution to the first CD offering from The Voice, which then got me thinking about stars. Which is not hard to do. “Go outside, praise the God who mapped the stars up in the sky...gather with those you love” which would be a perfect soundtrack for tonight’s gathering if only you could see the stars from our patio. And this is a big reason we are moving to Columbia, and not even to Columbia but to a tiny town outside it, because in Columbia, as in Houston, the stars have been scrubbed clean from the sky by city lights. We’ll be lucky to spot one or two steadfastly twinkling, unappreciated, on the periphary of the horizon.

Last summer, while our kids were away on extended family vacations, Wayne and I jumped into the car for an impromptu road trip west. I wanted to take him, my English city boy, to the Grand Canyon. There are few things on earth that live up to their hype and the Grand Canyon is one place that never disappoints, no matter how much you’ve talked it up or how many times you’ve seen it. It still boggles the mind and short circuits your preconceptions. I stood on the rim of the canyon, in virtually the same spot I’d stood on exactly 15 years before, and wondered how long you’d have to stand there to notice the mountains move. God wears a different wristwatch.

That night we pitched a tent under the tall pines of the north rim as the sun was rapidly setting. By the time I headed for the restrooms, I needed my flashlight to navigate my way through the trees. When I cleared the trees and branches and emerged into the open, I almost ducked. The stars hung so low and close and plenty it kind of spooked me. I had forgotten.

What do you lose when you lose the stars? More than we can know. I’ve been working on a translation of Psalm 97 for The Voice and pondering how the heavens “declare”. And funny enough, Mark was doing the same, brilliantly, on his "How Do the Heavens Declare God's Glory?" post of May 12. Oceans and mountains "declare" but we don't all have oceans or mountains. But no matter on what corner of the earth, what desert, what river, what jungle, what hill or what sea, we all have the same stars and in that way, we share a language. Stars don’t just help us sail our ships or find our way through the desert. They are constantly speaking and when we turn the bright lights on, and the stars off, we lose touch with something we need not only to see, but hear, to rightly navigate our souls through this blink we call time.

We’re going to go get our stars back. And tonight we’re going to celebrate it. I’ll sign off now, it’s time to go outside.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Signs and Wonders

If you ask me where I live, I'll tell you Houston. If you live in Houston and ask me that, I'll tell you Montrose. It's the part of Houston, the town within the city, where I've lived almost since I got here. I've gone down Montrose Blvd. by car or bike, oh, maybe a gazillion times. But only today did I notice this. Call me Mr. Magoo.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Accidental Town

It’s three weeks from today that the movers will arrive, load up the truck and lead us out of the town I’ve lived in for the past almost 17 years. It’s occurred to me these last weeks as we go through the leave taking processes, that somewhere along the way I stopped being a visitor and became a resident. I’d never meant to stay in Houston; when I arrived here I was still of the mindset that I never intended to stay anywhere. There were too many places to experience. I gave myself two years tops to absorb whatever the city might have to offer before I moved on.

Later, I couldn’t figure out if my perpetual restlessness here was the result of arriving with the notion that being here was temporary or if I just never quite clicked with the city. I resented the seeming disregard of esthetics by city planners, if there had ever been any planning, and the willful unattractiveness of so much of the place. A year after being here, I quit my job, gave up my garage apartment (dubbed “Rickety Shack”by friends), put my meager possessions in storage and decided I’d head out west and wander around until some city or town tugged on my sleeve saying, “This is where you should be.” At the last minute, my college friend Sherry, who’d become a flight attendant and had the liberty to visit often from NYC, decided she’d go with me. We ended up camping from Texas to California, with me dropping her occasionally in one city where she had to make a flight and picking her back up in the next city or state to continue our journey. When we finally U turned at the Pacific Ocean and made it to Colorado six weeks later, I realized I was headed right back to Houston. Maybe I’d had too good a time to pay attention to any particular town calling out to me. Regardless, I got back to Houston, enrolled in grad school and decided to freelance rather than take another full time graphic design position.

I kept the thought of the next place in the back of my mind. As I approached what should have been the final year of my slow trek through the MFA program at U of H, I met my husband to be. Wayne came for a visit and never left. We married eight months later and not long after that, he took over the business side of my barely profitable graphic design business and we slowly morphed into a real design firm. But he, too, suffered wanderlust and frustration with Houston’s lack of esthetics. Every time we’d leave town, we’d consider not coming back. But we always did. It’d taken us years to build our business up—many long, difficult and unappreciated days and nights. When each of our daughters was born, I was back at work within the week, Wayne within a day or two. With my first, I was talking with our print rep when my water broke; he quickly excused himself, we jumped into the car for the hospital but first stopped to drop off a job that was due and then drove to the bank to make a deposit, both of our mothers in tow.

We finally have it running on auto pilot. We no longer have to pound the concrete for business, it comes to us. In that sense, we have it made. We could cruise. But. This nagging thing.

Christmas before last, we went to Colorado. The girls saw snow. They saw mountains. We thought: yes, Colorado. We came back to house hunt two months later. There were maybes, even almosts. But it was like snow that doesn’t stick—each possibility melted for one reason or another and soon enough, again, we found ourselves living life as usual in Houston. Then Anthony and Dyan, Canadian friends of ours who shared some of our sensibilities, were transferred to Columbia, Missouri. Anthony (read Anthony’s online essay, The Thin Place) had helped initiate the writing group I’d become a part of two years earlier and I was going to miss his contribution to our close knit circle. After returning from their house hunting, Anthony described what Columbia had to offer: the cultural amenities afforded by college town living, four seasons, hills, trees, rivers, natural beauty, quality of life, good schools, clean air, etc. Enough to make us want to investigate. They graciously hosted us as we looked around the area and convinced ourselves this move was doable.

We decided if we were going to do this, we would go all the way. To find a property where we would be able to see the stars and be unable to hear the highway. We bought ten acres outside of Columbia. We’d have the city close enough when we needed it (albeit a "city" of 4 million less than the one we’d be leaving) and far enough away to experience semi rural living. Although our kids would attend Columbia schools, our address was in a town called Rocheport. It was not until we went back up for inspections a couple of weeks later that we went to visit the town we would technically be living in. We’d brought the girls with us this time, to see where they’d be living and to visit their new school. My parents also met us up there. All of us piled in the rental for a tour of Columbia. Then we decided to head 30 mins south to Jefferson City, the state capitol, and V back up to Rocheport along the Missouri River. It was February, probably as uninviting as the place will ever be, and yet we were thrilled with the landscape. Nothing dramatic like Colorado, but a quiet, lolling beauty. We followed the winding, sparsely populated road all the way up to I-70, where we crossed the interstate and went another mile into Rocheport.

We were stunned. The town of 200 sits on the Missouri River, a trailhead for the The Katy Trail. The over 200 mile long rails to trails path on which you can hike or bike, crosses the state. It links Rocheport to Columbia. The tiny town center features several bed and breakfasts, gourmet restaurants, a winery, galleries, antique shops, and even a blacksmith shop. An old pharmacy is being renovated as a coffee shop and is slated to open just as we are due to arrive, complete with internet hookup. The town was voted the favorite day trip destination for people from St. Louis to the east and Kansas City to the west. Frommers named Rocheport “one of the ten coolest towns in America” the following month. We are moving to a postcard town! Accidentally.

In the meantime, I’ve come to realize that Houston has gotten under my skin. Leaving will not be as easy as I had imagined. In spite of the man made eye sore the city must endure, the scents of jasmine and magnolia blossoms, the hot pinks to reds of the hibiscus and bouganvillea, the pastels of the crepe myrtles, break out everywhere; the Art Cars parade, the traffic bleats, the patios and plazas fill. Somewhere along the way, this place became home. A home made beautiful with family, friends and neighbors. And I now know I will always love Houston.

I’d mentioned in Tuesday’s post the myriad events and decisions that must conspire to bring about any wonderful thing in your life. This next move has been a long time coming. I think the last domino just got in line.