Dipping the Toe

Thoughts on life and faith and faith in life

Author: Tamara Belanger (page 1 of 21)

Sit Still

I sit across the room, music narrating the early morning mood. Rabbit Room 2018 is playing on Spotify and I perk up when Mr. Rogers’ theme starts playing, sung by JJ Heller. I bought myself a small jar of pre-brew cinnamon coffee spice and a bag of Michigan cherry coffee beans yesterday and saved it till today to grind up a small cup of joy to sit with and savor. I smile to myself at how much gratitude I feel at buying myself such a small thing. It isn’t lost on me, those small graces that are completely superfluous in this world of need versus want; that I can reach up and take it off the shelf and buy it. I start to think this morning of those who have no shelf to reach to. It stirs me up inside, as I look out the window, and think of the world on the other side of the glass.

The chair in my view catches my attention. I found it in a small antique store across the street from my house several years ago. It used to live in a downtown hotel in Cincinnati, the Vernon Manor, which has long since disappeared; the same hotel in which part of the motion picture Rainman was filmed. Somehow, this little chair wandered into a small shop in a small town in Kentucky and now sits here with me keeping quiet company, it’s memories held silent. I want to interview it but I can’t figure a way to get a chair to open up and speak.

Empty chairs make me wispy. I think of all it’s eavesdropped on, through no fault of its’ own; who has sat in it, who isn’t sitting in it now, who will never sit in it again. It’s remembering standing and looking me right in the heart. And it’s longings still to be fulfilled, holding up a hand to pull me towards and past the window. I want to carry that chair with me so that, wherever I go, someone will have a place to sit and catch their breath from a life race they’re running. To be able to sit and whisper the scary thing they’re afraid to say out loud to the world in case the thing hears them and gets scarier. To show me pictures of the birthday party or the vacation of a lifetime or the child who graduated when they thought they’d never make it out of school. To laugh at the time they tripped and EVERYBODY saw it. To hold their heart in their hands because it’s falling apart and feels like it’s out of their body. To be a person who is seen and heard. To sit in a comfortable chair. Just for a minute, if that’s all the time they can spare.

To wonder aloud with them….how the matter will turn out. And to watch and wait and keep company together to make the wondering less alone.

Ruth 3:10

“Sit still, my daughter, that you may learn how the matter turns out.”


Coram Deo

I was awake earlier than I needed to be on this Sunday morning but I was ok with that.  It gave me a chance to talk, this new day and I, to our common Creator.  I moved slowly in my kitchen, the year-long white Christmas lights strung around the ceiling simmering warm hues.  The girl slept upstairs.  The snap of the glass carafe told me the water was heated and I poured it over my coffee and breathed in the steam.  I have my grandfather’s chair in a corner of my kitchen.  I got it for him at a yard sale in his neighborhood in Illinois years ago when I was visiting him.  He replaced it with the one he already had in his living room because it was easier for him to get out of, his arthritis making his thin frame stiff and uncooperative.  It sat in the same spot for years.  I have a picture of my two oldest children, one still in diapers, sitting on it.  When he died, it was the one thing of his I wanted.  There is not a single time I sit in that chair that I don’t think of him.  Not one.  This morning was no different.  I sat in silent memories, content with the sound of silence, grateful for the heritage I have in grandpa.

Right about then, I heard a sound that I couldn’t recognize outside and I pulled the curtain aside.  My eyes surveyed the yard.  Nothing to see.  Curtain dropped.  Then, there it was again.  I peered beyond the curtain again and saw a black choreographed whoosh of black in the sky and grabbed my camera and ran for the front door.


I stood in the center of my yard, overwhelmed by the symphony of birds in every tree I could see playing tag, swiring and dancing in the sky, calling to one another and, it felt like, to me to join in.  The noise level rose as other flew in to join them on posts and pillars.  And then the Conductor of it all stepped up to the podium to usher in the magnificent crescendo.  The sun illuminated the clouds with cotton candy colors and the bells in the church steeple down the street began to gong, gong, gong……!  I felt like Cinderella at the ball.  I tore myself away to run in the house and up the stairs to tell my sleeping girl to wake up, wake up, wake up!  I didn’t want her to miss it!  LOOK!  LOOK! I gasped to her as she came to the door, half awake and nodding compliantly before she turned and crawled back under the covers.  I felt disappointed.  I wanted her to seize the moment,  this moment that would never come again, to get that, really get it and hug it hard so she could remember later when this morning’s creation performance is long gone and she may be sitting in my grandpa’s chair remembering one day without me and smile.  But, she’s a brand new 19 and sifts things through youth and hormones and morning sleepiness and seemingly endless days.  She hasn’t fully grasped the gratitude moments like sprinkles on ice cream.  She hasn’t seen the first scrapings of the bottom of the dish yet that tell her to savor it slower and more intentionally.

The girl goes back to bed and I go back outside and the sky’s canvas was waiting on me.  It had another parting gift before the day took hold.  I stood and looked, the colors and clouds forming a visual surround sound.  Coram Deo, I said out loud to the Lover of my soul;  living before the face of God.

My Dad and the Man on the Moon


I was wearing mint green “baby doll” pajamas, the kind that have the matching shorts and flowy, crepey short top that shows them off.  They were popular then, like the Brady Bunch and harvest gold kitchen appliances and shag carpet were popular.  I was 5 days into being 11, all gangly legs and cats eye glasses and still growing into my teeth.  Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James was number one on the radio.  I knew that because my babysitter loved it and I always wondered what those words meant and thought they sounded very grown up and mysterious.  And love was the answer.

We were at my grandparents in Springfield, IL celebrating a family birthday trifecta; mine, my mother’s and my grandfather’s.  We did it most every year.  I was an only child so I loved the feeling of being more surrounded by family than usual.  My grandparents’ house was simple, earned from the hard, steady work of my 6th grade educated grandfather and his wife.  Every summer I’d walk behind my grandpa as he tended to the small garden beside his house.  I can still smell the tomatoes and the soil and see his gnarled up hands from arthritis reach out for the smallest of weeds.  It reminded him of his early days, a husband and a father, working on another man’s farm to make money.  These summer visits, I’d sit under the big tree in his yard on the cheerful colored metal lawn chairs that felt cold on my skin.  I’d listen to his stories and run my toes through the thick grass that felt like carpet and wonder how he got it that way.  And I’d imagine what he was telling me in pictures in my mind.  The screen door of the kitchen hissed open and shut as my grandma came out to join us, tucking her ever present kleenex in her house dress pocket.  These times felt like childhood and it filled me up full.

July 20th was on a Sunday.  We’d been to church that day and I sat next to grandpa and listened to his shakey voice belt out the hymns he loved.  We’d had relatives over in the afternoon.  I went to bed that evening content.  And only marginally aware of what else was going on in the world.  At 10:00 p.m.  my daddy burst into the room to wake me up.  The first man on the moon was about to step out of the lunar module and he wanted me to see it as it happened.  I went into the living room, chilly from crawling out from under the covers and curled up sleepy on the couch.  My dad was so jazzed, so excited, so present in the world.  He stood amazed at life.  I barely remember going back to bed or if I fell asleep and was carried back.  But I woke up the next morning and smelled sausage and coffee and looked forward to the day.  And the beat went on.

Yesterday, I took my daughter to see First Man; the movie telling the story of Neil Armstrong.  We gripped each others’ hands tight and thought we couldn’t breathe when things went wrong in the rocket.  We learned that Mr. Armstrong had lost a little girl a few years before, and he thought of her as he stood in the moon dust.  And as I sat in that dark movie theatre, a wave of emotion washed itself up onto my shore and I was surprised by my tears.  The memories flashed and disappeared into the next with that whooshing sound from the movies when things warp by in your mind too fast to hold onto.  My July 20th, 1969 collided with Neil Armstrong and a silent snapshot abruptly halted my mind.  It’s my dad, standing in front of the t.v., dressed in his black pants and white undershirt, turning from me to the t.v. screen and back again, excited to share the man on the moon with me.  And I suddenly realized what a treasure that night was for us all.

Thank you,  Mr. Armstrong.  Thank you, dad, for waking me up for that.




Growing Older Faster

I spent the better part of this afternoon with a friend; we ciphered out 21 years we’ve seen each other through now.  All kinds of turns unexpected; sometimes the road has gotten pretty pock marked and the wheels under us needed new shocks.  But we’ve made it this far.  I got back in the car after our visit and turned on the radio already  tuned to Guy Raz, Ted Radio Hour on NPR.  He was interviewing someone on the effects of shifting time.  “You reach a certain point in life,” said the radio lady , “where you don’t meet new old friends because there just isn’t enough time to make them that.”  I smile to myself and my heart agrees.  I’ve just been with an old friend and I whisper a thank you to my heavenly Father for the gift of enough days piled up like rich soil to see the strong roots.

“As we get older, it turns out through a study done, we get measurably happier,” she continued, her voice obviously counted as one “older”.  She talked about speaking on the topic at a conference . Age puts a certain spin on things that makes the golden light glint off of life more keenly, the edges of things more outlined, focused. The “tear in the eye moments” when a new good beginning requires the ending of something before it….  the new job that takes away the financial pressure and a look back over the shoulder as you step through the door of your future suddenly makes the lean days take on a special nostalgia?  The thing is, as birthdays add up, the tear makes the ripness of the life fruit sweeter than the harsh bitterness of the fear and effect of the bruises.  You can just let go easier.  You decide to be here because you realize the “theres” will rob you if you let them.  “Here” is where life is happening.

I just this week drove the seven hours there and back to visit my daughter and her little family. My muscles draw up tighter than they used to  when the car holds me hostage for long hours and I have to walk slowly at first when I get out until my legs find their function again.   I look up and see my girl holding her girl waiting for me on their porch.   My granddaughter has reached the age where she knows who I am and what I am; her Nana.  I see her eyes light up with recognition.  Were my legs stiff?  I couldn’t remember anymore.  It didn’t matter.

The days spent with my girl, her man and little girl zoomed by slowly;  actual days on the calendar were faster than the moments I savored; my age affords me to move slower in my mind than the clock hands on the wall.  Leaving was hard.  It was the first time Little Bea registered that Nana had to leave.  Her whimper at the news threatened to take me down.  As I drove away, waving one last time at the faces in the window, I swallowed hard.


I didn’t want to leave.  It was the end of the sweet snuggles in person for awhile.  There was a tear in the corner of my eye as I looked away towards the road.  But, as I drove down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the miles between us mounting up, I warmed myself at what I took with me.  My 59 years had  wrapped up the simple times like little presents to put under my remembering tree.   I can  taste the seasoned squash slathered over my girls’ homemade sourdough bread and the treasure of shared food, all of us together, around their table.  I can hear the murmur of the voices between her and her man in the front seat as I sit in the back with Bea, comforted at the love being nurtured between them.  I can smell the heavenly scent of a just bathed toddler as she waddles from room to room, her naked little self wrapped up in a towel dragging behind her.   I can savor the memory of the setting sun over a corn field enjoying an evening drive to get ice cream.  I can sit on their back porch and listen to the crickets while I watched the day end drinking my iced tea and whispering a thank you to the God that loves them;  that He is watching over this little family.


I can let go of mistakes I made raising this girl of mine and know that all is well in spite of it; that we can forgive and love and seize the moment by the hand and walk on.  I realize I’ve stopped listening to the podcast on the radio until the last sentence.  The radio lady had finished her talk and a young man approached her afterwards.  “Is there anyway to get older quicker so I can be in that place you spoke about now ??”  I laughed out loud and nodded my head.  This getting older thing?  It’s no so bad after all, even with stiffer muscles.  I love the brighter outlines that light up the moments.

There’s no time to do anything but slow down.

God Writes Good Stories

The girl and I had planned for months to go back to Tennessee.  It hugged us close the last time we were there and we needed to feel it again.  I drove in the quiet of the morning and captured quick my view as it disappeared behind me.  The girl turned on The Great British Baking Show that she’d downloaded onto our tablet the night before and it lulled peaceful in our little car.  It was warm that morning but we’d brought a blanket and worn our sweat pants, each of us, because the cabin of our car filled with a cold, frosty wind pouring through the vents and neither of us wanted to turn it warmer.  We’d just been graced a new car the week before by people that loved us and people who didn’t even know us, a car with the luxury of air conditioning that we hadn’t had the past three summers before this and we just couldn’t quite get over it.  So we bundled up and looked at one another and laughed….being cold was a probem we didn’t want to fix just then.

Just past Louisville we felt hungry.  I saw the heralding signs on the highway.  “Denny’s ahead.  I used to work there when I was just about your age.”  The girl wanted to stop and it turned out, Denny’s had dressed itself up as a 50’s diner, all silver like a train car on the outside and black and white checkered floor.  She wanted a diner version of a cup of coffee, in a glass mug, no fancy syrups or talls that were smalls.  We shuffled in with our hair a mess, no make up on, still wearing what we’d slept in.  Didn’t matter; we were together writing adventures on our hearts.


With scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy devoured right off the plate clean, we tucked ourselves back in our ride and headed south.  “Check in any time!  The place is ready for you!”  My phone dinged the message and made me want to drive a little faster.  We’d stayed here before, this cabin on 92 acres of Tennessee heaven, and felt a kinship with the owners and a sense of finding a secret that belonged only to us.   When we pulled into the driveway two hours later my girl breathed in and looked at me.  “It feels like we’re home.”   Our hands and our hearts unpacked and we sat on the porch just to listen.


I breathed in thank yous and breathed out praise.  Just a few days ago, it looked like we wouldn’t be able to get here.  No car, not enough money to buy one.  I’d decided to cancel these plans long held to get our money back and into our hands, clutched with a panic.  “No, mama.  Wait to see what God does.”  The tears welled up humble.  He’d wanted us here.  My girl had taught me to sit still and watch Him.

Up the road is a tiny little ramshackle looking diner with a big God story.  A woman named Marcy Jo had always wanted to have a diner and her brother and his wife saw this little place for sale just down the road from their farm.  So they bought it and dusted it off with love and there’s no place on earth you can get cinnamon rolls or fried catfish dinners quite like them.


We walked in the door four months almost to the day that we’d been there last.  Rachel had waited on us then and she met us at the door this time with the look that recognizes old friends.  “Hey!  I remember ya’ll!”  She asked us what we wanted and I told her to surprise us.  Without hesitation, she wrote up the order and whisked herself off to the kitchen, and minutes later brought us plates of goodness that tasted like grandmother’s cooking.  It was close to closing time and she lingered at our table and we talked about life and what she wants out of it.  I left with two pieces of cake for my birthday, compliments of Rachel.  She’s a friend now and we’ll think of her and whisper her name to the Maker of stories.


We went back that evening to the cabin and turned down the a/c and pulled up the covers and planned our next day’s adventures.  I slipped out quiet to the front porch while the girl read and let the cicadas in the trees sing to me as the last light disappeared.  “Thank you, Father, for this.  For all of this.”

The rest of the week was filled with unexpected finds like a scavenger hunt.  Franklin Theater was having an afternoon showing of American Graffitti on the big screen and we bought tickets right then and there and I introduced my girl to a memory from my high school days.  I felt a certain wispiness watching the familiar images.  We traced the back roads to Leiper’s Fork and sat in Puckett’s Grocery and ate fried bologna sandwiches, the meat cut thick and charred.  We bought little bags of herbs and essential oils and trinkets for those back home to let them know we took them with us in our hearts.



It came up quickly, the storm on Saturday late afternoon, a warm and heavy rain, and we ducked into Merridee’s Breadbasket and shook off the wetness in the cozy room with the wooden floors that creak under foot and baskets hanging over our heads.  We found a corner table and sat with our soup and sandwiches and read our books that we always carry with us, whichever one we are in the middle of, and the thunder serenaded us.  After it let up and the steam rose from the muggy, hot streets we grabbed our things and headed back to the cabin for a quiet night, our last night here.  I snapped a picture of the overall clad sign painter as we left.  It made me feel like a part of the fabric of this little town to watch him.  Signs being painted, bread being baked, families sitting around tables, life stories being lived out.


Sunday dawned foggy and thick.  We headed to Marcy Jo’s for a final meal before church and heading back home.   We’d worshipped at Crosscountry Cowboy Church last time we were in town and we drove into the parking lot and picked a spot; a man on horseback keeping watch over the cars.  That same feeling of finding home washed over us and we stepped inside.  We sat in the same seat we had before, like you do when you’ve been going to the same church for a long time.  Everyone knows where each other sits and our seats seem to have been waiting on us since last time.  The pastor’s wife had become my Facebook friend and she recognized me from my picture and greeted us with a hug, her soft southern drawl sounding like welcoming grace.  This church was more of a bigger picture than anyone had ever bargained for just two years ago.  A husband and wife had purchased the farm, the same ones who helped start Marcy Jo’s.  They wanted a place to raise their family and sing their songs and stay near home. They built a barn they could perform in and dreamed of growing old together and being buried out by the big trees in the field.    Along the way, the young wife got sick and and with a trembling heart and aching held out hands they looked up and gave it to God.  She went to heaven and her husband stayed here, still looking up.

Today?  The farm is still where he lives, he and his little girl.  And the barn has become a church.  And God has written a story there that no one saw coming.  It has been baptized with tears and the doors opened up for others to share in it.  My girl and I took in the songs being sung that morning that reminded us of the unexpected turns of our own story, of the goodness found in all of them.  “God writes good stories,” sang the author of the song that day, “and He always has.


(begin at 8:40)

We stood out front on the church porch after the service and gathered around a simple, clean cow trough as people stepped in and dunked under the water to wash away a past and grab hold of the Truth.  My girl leaned in and whispered how much she liked it here.  I was glad that her faith had kept me from losing mine; that we had made the trip after all.  We got in our car and drove down the street and stopped one more time at the diner to grab a cold tea to take with us for the ride home.  Rachel poured it for us and saw us off at the door.  “Ya’ll drive safe and come back!”

God does indeed write good stories.  And He always has.

The Low Song of Gratitude

Two years ago, at this same time of year, I found myself with a terminally ill car and not enough resources to get another one of any better quality.  It wasn’t that I didn’t save my money.  It wasn’t that I didn’t live within my means.  It’s just that my savings and my means didn’t add up to much for a hit this big.    I required serious rescue of the air lift kind.  Friends, a term not near enough big to describe them, found me a car and wrote me a check and I had a “new” ride.  I was beyond grateful.  Five days later, to all of our dismay, I found myself broken down on the side of the road on the Fourth of July.  I’d been sold a lemon.  The man who took my money was enjoying a vacation in Florida with the spoils and wouldn’t answer my calls for days.  My friends, already having rescued me above and beyond, loaned me one of their cars while we figured out what to do.  And all the while, my heart looked up and I whispered aloud…”You’re a good, good Father.”  I was determined to trust Him no matter what.  The no matter what part was beginning to stretch me.

I finally got the money back, after finding my big girl voice and asserting it all shakey and tinny sounding in my ears; there is no time like car trouble to make my single woman status feel like a cold wind blowing lonely.  Take the money, my friends said.  You will need it.  See, the week before my car died, I’d taken ahold of what seemed like a wild dream and enrolled my girl in a private school.  “Trust Me.  That’s where I want her,” I kept hearing.  But God.  That’s impossible.  “Yes.  I know.”  But God……I say that a lot…..I have to buy a car.  “Yes I know.”  He says that a lot.  So, we waited to “hear” what to do next.  “Girl,” one of my friends said on the other end of the phone the next day.  “I had a dream about you in a cream colored car.  I’m believing for you!”

Day two aboard the waiting train dawned bright and clear.  My girl was sleeping in.  It was a Saturday.  “Will you be at home this morning?”, my phone dinged with the message.  “Yes?”, I replied with a question mark in my mind.  I hadn’t seen these people in two years.  They lived just a few miles away but life and work and busy makes a few miles feel like another state.  They’d be there soon, they said, and I scurried to vaccume and look prepared.  Within the hour they sat on my couch holding a piece of paper, clearly there for a reason.  Their girl was going away to college and they wanted to get her a new car.  They placed a key in my hand.  It’s not much but we want you to have her old car.  For a split second I couldn’t hear their voices, like the stop action in a movie when the main character keeps moving and everything around him freezes?  Is this real?  Did I hear them right?   It wasn’t a cream colored car but…..it was a car! I stood on the porch and watched them pull away as I waved. It was then that a thought blew quiet in my mind.  I now have a car and the extra money to put my girl in her school.  They moved to Florida weeks later and I’ve not seen them again after that day; two people who did a good turn with no expectation.

Two years go by.  It’s 4th of July week, 2017.  A few weeks prior, I’d had significant work done on my car to keep it healthy.  However, it had an underlying condition that had gone undetected and I waited nervously at work to get the call from the mechanic on it’s diagnosis.  “You should probably look for another vehicle,” I heard in my ear and I hung up the phone and cried.  I’d just drained much of my bank account.  I drove myself home that night in a borrowed car,  too tired to think about a solution, too worried to stop thinking.  My prayer that night was one word.  “God?”  I began another ride on the waiting train.

“Please don’t be upset with us,” read the message. ” We want to do this for you.”  My work friends had set up a funding account on my behalf.  I was struck by the joy it brought everyone to see the account filling up, the excited messages I got from people checking to watch the amount rise!   In three days time, a car was found and fully funded by friends in my town, friends from back in Illinois from high school that I haven’t seen in years and people whose names I did not even know.  I pulled into the driveway of the pastor who was selling the car.    Do you mind if I pray over the car for you, he asked, before I drove away.  He gently laid his hand on the car…”Father, let this car serve her long and well.”

I sat on my porch swing that night reading the words in Walking to Listen by Andrew Forsthoefel, a young man who felt listening to each other was a lost virtue and he aimed to find a way.  So, he strapped a “Walking to Listen” sign on his back pack and trekked from Pennsylvania to California with a tape recorder and a shakey, open heart to hear.  At the end of his journey, as he prepared to walk onto the beach near Half Moon Bay, he looked up to see a large group of people waiting for him, many of them he’d met and/or stayed with along the way.  He was washed over with emotion.

The people were like my footsteps; every one of them was necessary.  Each contributed to the movement.  We were inextricably bound together, giving and receiving, speaking and listening, seeing and being seen.  We were all walking, side by side.  We were the walk itself, all of us, every one.  What a way to walk, for us.  What a way to live, to live for others, experiencing light and dark and every shade in between so that the experiences might be an offering for someone else someday, so that my life might serve something greater than just myself.”

I know just how he felt.  Oh.  And the dream my friend had two years ago?  My car is cream colored.

“Forgive the song that falls so low, beneath the gratitude I owe.” – unknown old hymn




Communion With the Past

I sat in church yesterday and let the words of the songs run down my heart, the parts that felt raw like salt in a carpet burn.  I held the bread and juice of the communion in my hands and felt like the beggar at the tableside.    I’m just back from visiting my daughter and her beautiful family this weekend.  They are carving out, so intentionally, the landscape of their lives. The little girl she was, the lover of nature and beauty, the feeler of feelings deep, has become a keeper of her own home and it reflects those little girl lost qualities.  It’s lovely and gentle and strong and good and it warms me to see the good seeds being planted.

I gave her, early on, the job of decorating the table for family celebrations.  From my seat in Panera Bread, where I’m typing these words, I can see her run for the door in the theatre of my mind,  returning with hands full of pine cones and flowers and weave them  in with bits of lace or things found around the house that she found beautiful.   She still does that.  I walked past a vase where she’d kept a sprig of their first full sized Christmas tree from this year.  That is so like her to think of that.

I watch her with her own little girl now and I am transfixed.  She chooses toys, wooden and purposeful and lovely in their own right.  She reads her a bible story each day while Bea plays around her on the floor.  She makes oatmeal paint colored with natural food dye and lets her paint in the bathtub.  She feeds her good, whole food and makes most everything from her own hand.  She is a marvel to me.   So, it astounds me that I could have wounded her so deeply from my own hand.  The divorce, and my own subsequent slide off the track for a few years, cut her heart up in pieces.  Her pain comes out in quick, sharp comments from time to time; memories she carries.  She doesn’t mean to hurt.  I know that about her; but I  feel myself quietly implode when her scars become verbal.

It’s a difficult thing, sitting beside the scene of my own crime.  I can feel the bumpy parts where the scars grew on the  skin of her heart, see the lingering distrust in her eyes.  It’d hard for her, I’m thinking, to see me love her girl and remember the shots I fired into her world when she was a girl and not want to make me pay still.  It feels heavy in my gut those times when I want to explain but can’t craft anything to say that changes anything.

So, I sat listening to my pastor remind us that the Holy Spirit is about the business of eliminating barriers that keep people from hearing the truth.  I lock back tears as I stab at lies screaming at me and force open my clenched up chest to let Him breathe His truth to me.  I am forgiven.  I can allow myself to be forgiven.  I will look on the horizon for His freedom and freely take the bread and the cup offered to me.  And take up the basin and towel to wash the feet of my daughter.

January 2nd, The Year of Intentional

I’ve been reading a lot about being minimal; in diet, possessions, technology,  mind set.  What do I really want, really need that adds the most value to my life?   It’s quite personal, the answers to those.  My body, my thoughts, my emotions nudge me to pay close attention these days.  The future doesn’t seem endless like it used to.  I’ve gone past my “hunting and gathering” days and I find myself shedding what has hung off like barnacles.  I wonder how I’d have chosen differently, had I thought to ask this question more urgently in my younger years.  I throw even that  off, though, and walk on.  I don’t have time to harness myself.

I live in a 150+ year old house, the rooms built all in a row.  I’ve created sort of a first floor “attic” in my living room, where the shedding has begun.  I’ve piles of books, trinkets, and furniture that seemed like a good idea at the time.  They’re in there together now, mingling  like a roomful of old men smoking cigars and slapping each other’s backs, reminiscing.  I’ll wait for spring to set them out on my front lawn and invite others to peruse.  I’ve pushed and scraped things into place, emptied out shelves and drawers.  I start to feel differently.  The tether to things is loosening.  It is easier to let go than I thought.

I got up this morning, and sat in company with my coffee.  I have right now.  What shall I do with it?   It’s these thoughts that often bind me up.  I can’t think of anything that seems important enough, big enough to matter.  I’m reading The Oregon Trail, A New American Journey by Rinker Buck.  A desire bigger than a dream pushed him into action and he and his brother recreated the trek that so many other brave and deliciously reckless souls before us saddled up for.  I picture them in my mind; nameless, faceless, lost to anyone’s history, doing every day chores, thinking every day thoughts.  And one choice at a time formed a life lived.  Whether I know about it, whether anyone remembers?  It mattered then.  It matters now.  And I decide to lay my fretful notions of grandiose in the same room with the old men relics.



I decide to decide, one choice at a time.  I grab my camera and go for a walk.  Outside fills my lungs and my mind with oxygen.  My world becomes bigger, bigger than me, and there’s room for joy and bird songs and the beautiful in the every day and I take notice and snap it quick so I can remind myself.  I wonder what the Oregon Trail “ghost” people would have left behind, had they had cameras.  I wonder if they would have thought we’d have cared.



I pay attention to the colors and sounds around me, I notice the smallness and the big, in equal measure.  It all weaves together, color blocks, life quilt.  I take my fullness home and make more choices, small decisions.  I read to my girl and stop to look up things we wonder about to find answers.  We gather up Christmas gift cards and go to hunt some tennis shoes for walking, shoes I could not afford, save the blessing from a friend.  I need these shoes.  My feet are beginning to feel age and wear that younger years betrayed me into thinking would never happen to me.  The pain, though, reminds me.  Nothing taken for granted, nothing too small to be grateful for.  I slip into my new kicks and wear them the rest of the day, floating on a cloud of relief.  It is good to be loved, to receive, to feel the ripple of kindness with each step I take.

The girl and I make lunch together, all chopped onions and spices and we pile our plates high and look across the table from one another.  Time spent eating, simple acts.  “I love this day, mama.”   My heart warms to her words.  We’ll forget this particular lunch, this particular moment.  There will be more of them.  But this choice to sit and savor?  A good one.  I wash up the dishes clean and leave them to dry.  We walk to the feed store down the street, the Mayberry flavor that makes you look to see if Aunt Bea or Sheriff Taylor is just behind you.  We gather up suet cakes and cages to go with them and take them back home to hang on our Christmas tree, now relocated to the back yard, to give it new purpose, a new kind of living.

The day is ending now, the “doing things” part of it, and I find myself feeling on purpose.  Intentional.  And I decide I’ve found my word for the rest of this year.  I will look for the value in what I am doing, saying, thinking, reading, eating……how I consume the currency of my time.  I will live on purpose, content with the lack of grandiose, and take the next step.  I will decide to live to enrich and be enriched.

I will walk without barnacles.





What My Father Taught Me About Breakfast

I never get tired of it; the mornings when I can savor quiet and move slower, when the calendar and the clock aren’t my dictators.   I take the time to make my scrambled eggs fluffier and more flavorfully complicated, all spices and Tofutti.  I pour myself a fancy glass, not the everyday mason jars, with organic juice I found marked down enough so I can have it and still pay my light bill.  The ingredient list has beets and pineapple and carrots and turmeric and I feel very grown up and I light my candle and sit down at my speckled kitchen table.  That’s when my dad always shows up.


He loves making breakfast on Saturday mornings.  He has on a white undershirt,  gray sweatpants, brown house shoes;  stirring and scrambling and frying.  The bacon sizzle competes with his whistling.  My eyes gaze down at my breakfast and I realize I’m daydreaming.  Dad’s in heaven two years now.  But he’d have loved this cold, blustery Saturday.  I think to take a picture and look at it closely.  There’s lessons there.  Dad was vibrant and happy and made friends wherever he went.  He loved coffee and crossword puzzles and would find new places to go and sit and do both….and talk to people he’d never met.  He loved kids and would never fail to bend down and look them right in the eye when he was talking to them.  For some odd reason, he loved to look for four leaf clovers.  I can still see him now, out in my yard, looking down and walking slowly.  He’d come in the front door, my kids swarming all around him and hand me his discovery with a smile on his face.  He’d done it again.

Dad loved to challenge himself and learn something new.  He read voraciously and would send letters to the authors and let them know he enjoyed their book, many times receiving answers from them.  He wanted to learn to fly so he did and then bought himself a small plane and took me flying.   He was fueled by current events and loved politics.  So he entered the ring; sometimes he lost and sometimes he won.  He brought me along to campaign with him and meet others campaigning.  He’d always wanted to see the ball drop on Times Square so one New Year’s Eve he bought a ticket and flew to NYC.  He made his “always wanted to” happen.

My dad was life brimming over.  He’s the last person you’d expect Alzheimer’s to invade.  But it did; brutally, quickly, mercilessly.  It robbed him blind this side of heaven.   I sit looking at this breakfast and I take it all in, one bite at a time.  I don’t forget to remember that my legs walked me into the kitchen with no help from anyone else.  I know where things are; the pepper sits king  in it’s place in the cupboard, my favorite white plate perched on top of the pile at the ready;  waiting to be chosen.  I scramble and chop and mix.  I know how to.  Except whistle.  I can’t whistle.   It’s all familiar.   My home is not  a stranger to me.  I pick up my fork and I know what it is;  put it to my mouth and notice that I can, all by myself.  The tart of raspberries and hot of coffee taste just the same as they always have and they comfort me.

My father taught me that things that you think will always remain….don’t.  You can forget how, forget who, forget why, forget what.  You can stop knowing, stop tasting, stop seeing, stop hearing.  He taught me to grab hold hard and wring it out dry.  He taught me how to live.  He made breakfast mean something.


#alzheimers #lifelessons #joy #fathers

The Last First Goodbye

I love iced tea.  Straight up, no sugar, no lemon black iced tea; strong enough to make you sit up straighter.  I have a favorite place to get it, not far from where I live.  It’s worth it toget up off the couch and grab my keys and go through the drive through where I’ve been so often, I sometimes see a hand holding a giant cup out of the window, waiting for me to pull up.

My kids and I have this thing we do.  The day they get their license and we pull into the driveway, I get out and hand them the keys.  They grin at me proud.  It’s their first official voyage and they know just what to do.  It’s a short trip, one I can handle, and I act like I’m going in the house. But really?  I turn back and watch them drive away without me.   And they look forward, wearing freedom.  They’re soon back with tea I didn’t have to go get myself.   And they twirl the keys around their finger before they drop them in the dish by the door.   There’s always a swagger to their walk that wasn’t there when they left.  I take notice as they head up the stairs to their room a smile through a strange pang in my gut.

I’ve gone through this five other times so yesterday was familiar territory.  The girl passed nervous, having tried twice before.  She wanted me to drive home and talked all the way.  She could drop me off at work this summer instead of the other way around, she said.  I’d be the one waiting on the curb to be picked up at the end of the day.


We pulled into the drive way and I looked at her.                                                                                                                                                                “You know what this means.”                                                                                                                                                                                                           She smiled and I handed her the keys as I got out and started walking to the house.  That’s when it struck me.  I’d never have this first again. She was my youngest. “Wait!”, I called out to her.  I grabbed my phone and took a picture.  She drove off looking forward, wearing her freedom.  I leaned against the porch and swallowed hard.  It was the last first goodbye of it’s kind.

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