Today the doorbell rang and the box the mailman handed to me was heavier than I expected. It was:



I hope it will get my creative juices flowing again, for this blog, among other places. I certainly am fully convinced that any art I make or text I write needs to be made and written “as if the world mattered.” It doesn’t need to matter to the world, as in, it doesn’t need to change the world.  But it needs to be in the service of the world. As for the “as if,” I take that in the sense of: I make it so, I make it the story. I take that in the same vein as the subtitle of the blog: Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. It is not (only) about how things are (however that is) but about my strong intention of offering beauty and story.

I’d been struggling to reconcile two insights: One,  that whatever I do I would do not to change the world, but to change myself. And Two, that I would choose not what I want to do, but what the world needs doing. Those two seem to me very admirable plans, but it wasn’t until I added something to the first that they became compatible: Act not to change the world but to change yourself in the world. Ah, there’s the connection, the hand shake, the hug that gets the blood flowing!

(I realize I am soon becoming the Queen of Grief, but you can always read the “Molting Chicken” entry after this one and restore some balance.)

Last Sunday Amie played in her Orchestra concert. This concert featured four Rivers Youth Orchestras, from Preparatory (that Amie is in) to Symphony. It’s absolutely riveting to follow the progress from beginners to as-good-as professional orchestra. The Symphony played Elgar’s Nimrod (Enigma Variation IX). This piece always brings tears to my eyes and they played it superbly, with great restraint and sensitivity.  It’s for the same reason that I prefer this version to, say, Solti conducting.

Nimrod is a tragic landscape: a gentle rise, dramatic summit, then the plunge off the map. As a story, it is sweetness, triumph and then, as for all music, all stories: silence, oblivion. All in under four minutes. It’s like the whole life of a person I would love to meet, beginning to end. You think, when it ends so quickly: wait… what?! It’s unfinished, unfinished. And it’s a species on a planet, taking billions of years to grow into its own, exploding in a matter of a century, then slipping away, quite suddenly, like a question. What happened? Where did they go? Those questions cannot be answered, but one thing is for sure: they will not be back. That’s what this piece is to me: a great goodbye.

The other night Amie didn’t want me to turn off the light in her room. She usually has no problem falling asleep without it, so I asked why.

– Because I don’t feel secure.

She used that word, “secure.” I asked what makes her feel insecure.

– The evil spirits.

– Evil spirits?

– Yes, the evil spirits that God sends when he is angry with someone.

Okay, it took me a few seconds to get my bearings.

– Why would God be angry with you?

– No one knows, Mama! No one knows the reasons God has!

I asked where she got this idea and she said an equally six-year-old friend of hers had assured her of this.  I said that I think that if there is a God, then that God has good reasons for everything he does, and that part of a reason being a good reason is that it is clear why it’s the reason. And even if she feels that she has done something very horrible that a God would feel needs punishing, then, anyway, I doubt that God sends evil spirits at all.

She assured me she hadn’t done anything really horrible. Still, she wanted the light on.

We are Universalist Unitarians. Or at least I am, and Amie goes to our Sunday School, but she is six so she’s not anything yet, and DH is an agnost. I understand she has some concept of God because we’ve talked about him/her/it before, she hears about God in Sunday School and from friends. That’s just fine. But this business of seemingly arbitrary or unfathomable punishment upset me a lot, or was it that she thought it was plausible? When DH and I make or enforce a rule, we always discuss with her the reasons for the rule. We’re big on rationality and reasonableness. I understand that we’re not the only influences in her life but this one, let me tell you, threw me for a loop alright!

Amie drew her family for school

(DH, Mama, Amie)


A: Water isn’t heavy. It’s just air that’s blue and wet.


I found her hiding behind a tiny notebook.  I asked her if hiding her face makes her entirely invisible. Incredibly, she did seem to believe this. Then she thought about it for a second and grinned at the silliness of it.


A: I’m going to marry Ben.

M: Oh? Why?

A: Because he’s the only boy I like. I know other boys but they’re icky. So I have no choice. But, Mama, can a girl and a girl get married?

M: Yes, they can. (Gives an example)

A: But. Look. Here is me. And here is E (her best friend, a girl). If E and I get together and comfort each other, then there will be four children, two from her and two from me. And then they will make even more babies and our house will break and we’ll need to build a new house and, ugh, it’s too much!

It took me a moment to realize how she came to this. First, I guess that’s what happens when your kid watches only Life of Mammals and other nature shows. She also knows that only women can have babies, so two women in a household will make twice as many babies. Simple math. But “comforting”? I have no idea where she gets that one.


We are reading a book together – she is loving Frannie K. Stein: she reads a page, I read a page, etc.  I asked what some of the words mean and she had no clue! DH has also observed this, that she is content not to ask what something means, and we’re confused because she seems to understand the stories pretty well. Of course this is how babies and toddlers learn: they don’t actively ask about details but get their meaning from contexts and let the details get filled in by experience.  But now she is five. It had never occurred to us that we would have to give her the tools and the motivation to make the transition into a more active role of questioning and searching. Parenthood is fascinating!


Amie was yelling at the trees to stop it!

I asked her what the trees were doing that they should stop.

A: They’re blowing away my leaf pile.

Me: You think the trees make the wind?

A: Yes.

Me: But how?

A: By waving about and making the air move, of course!

dead bird (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

In the evening Amie watched March of the Penguins. We had shown it to her about half a year ago but she wasn’t interested then. This time she was, going “oh so cute!” and so forth, but really paying attention when the little chick dies of exposure and the mother mourns over it.

– what happened to it?

– it died because it was too cold.

– but no, it didn’t get dead. Look, it’s moving, like this. [makes sad little movements with her head]

– no, sweetie, it’s dead.

– what is the mother trying to do now?

– the mother is so sad she is trying to steal a chick from another mother.

– stealing isn’t nice.

– see, the pack doesn’t allow it and the chick is back with its mother.

When we went to bed she wanted to sit in the pile of blankets to keep her egg warm. Then she wanted to talk about the penguins.

– I especially want to talk about when the chick got dead. I liked that.

– you liked it? Do you mean it made you happy?

– no.

– so you mean you are interested in it.

– yes. It’s interesting.

I had to explain again why the chick had died.

– but I didn’t see any blood.

– it wasn’t wounded, it was just too cold.

– can I have a baby penguin? It’s not too cold here.

– it’s too warm here. Penguins like it cold, but not too cold.

Seconds later:

– promise me we will die next to one another? [this while holding my head, her nose nearly touching mine, her eyes locked to mine]

– I can’t promise that, sweetie. We don’t know when we’ll die. It’s mostly not in our control.

– we could die in an accident.

– yes, or when we grow old and it’s time.

– but we don’t die on the cross. Only Jesus died on the cross. What is Jesus’ Mama’s name?

– Mary – not the Mary we know. A different Mary.

– What’s her last name?

– I don’t know.

– Jesus died and then Mary died too. They went far away. As far as… Auntie R. That was a long drive.

A little later:

– Mama, can we have another baby? But I want it to be a girl. We can call it Amie.

– but you are Amie. So we couldn’t call her Amie!

– but what if I die? And I still want to pinch your arm? [arm pinching is a leftover from nursing: she does it when tired or sad and when falling asleep]

I was dumbfounded. A weird thing, that statement: “Amie” (II) would still be pinching my arm, and that seemed to make her feel better about dying. Such a strange concept of identity, such fearless exploration of what death is and what it means to her! She soon fell asleep.

I’ve written about how I want to communicate to my daughter about death here.

Spring is here! The first Robin arrived two days ago, along with a bunch of House Finches, and (I believe) one Pine Siskin (must be part of a flock). The neighborhood is full of bird song: it’s so good to hear! Our garden is home to many  new generations of squirrels but I haven’t seen the chipmunks yet. And the shrubbery is eating the house.

The lettuces spent their first night in the cold frame. It was a mild night, and in the last light of the day I had thrown a blanket and a tarp over the frame. The minimum temperature was 50F: well within their coping abilities. We have some colder nights coming up, let’s see how I do… I mean, how they do. Of course. (*)

Most of the veggie garden action is still in our basement, though. I sowed my 9 last Sweet Bell Pepper seeds. Don’t know if the 24 seeds I sowed over  month ago are bad: they are taking up a lot of real estate on my hotbox doing nothing.

Then there’s this:


Now what could this be? Mm… I sowed it with the Thyme, and it germinated and grew in pace with the Thyme, but it is not Thyme.

This, however:


… this I know is Borage. Big seeds, easy to sow, germinated readily, and grew huge and fat in no time. A great compost crop: I’ll be sowing more, but outside.

And this is a sweet sight:


It’s Sweet Basil, after only 7 days in the hotbox (soil temp 80F). We loves the basil!

But then there’s this:


It’s the one and only Burnet (salad) seedling, out of 24 plugs, 2 seeds per plug. What’s up with that? I now keep it wrapped in cellophane to force the seeds, a trick that worked for many others seeds, like the previously recalcitrant eggplant, but hasn’t so far for the Burnet.

Speaking of disasters…dscf2068


(Back to front: onions, celery, spinach)

(*) You should have seen me, it was like their first day of school!


Amie and Pooh Bear

It was our co-houser’s birthday so Amie and I baked some cookies and sang Happy Birthday while he blew out a candle. Then we sat down to eat, and we each had a glass of milk. Amie repeated that she had made the cookies for him and Rabbit (Amie picked the nickname) responded:

Rabbit: That used to be one of my favorite things: to bake cookies with my mom.

Amie: What happened to your mom?

Rabbit: (confused) She lives in Vermont. And I live in other places.

Amie: (confused) But what happened to her?

Me to Rabbit: You said “used to”. What happened that you don’t bake cookies with her anymore?

Amie: Yes. Why?

Rabbit: (confused again) That’s a good question! Ha! Why?

Amie (after some seconds): You grew up, Rabbit. That’s why you don’t live with your Mama anymore.

She said that last thing a bit sadly, very seriously: “You grew up”. She showed such insight, showing us, the “grown-ups,” so simply and with genuine sympathy, what we have lost.

Just like earlier today she said: “Mama, I wish we lived in the hundred-acre wood, where all the Pooh creatures live.” Sometimes she seems to realize that Pooh and co. are made up: “They’re only pretend, right?” But other times she writes letters to Pooh and asks “where on the Earth does he live?” and then for lack of words I point to the UK, on her globe.

It makes me melancholy, like the third of her three obsessions nowadays. They are:

  1. It’s not fair!
  2. I win!
  3. Forever (as in “I love you forever,” “we’ll forever be together,” “I love this book so much, I’ll read it for ever!”)

The first two are intriguing, her struggle with fairness and limits, rewards and disappointments (“You win, Mama. That’s okay. Well done, Mama”). The third is like Pooh, a fairytale. What does forever mean to her? It does mean “forever and ever” in that all-out childlike way. Oh, sometimes she is so convinced, and the prospect of her losing the belief is so sad, that she makes me believe it!