Gerard Manley Hopkins and Pink Highlights

The first day I got back from Whidbey Island, the sun was shining after a long winter, and so I took Hadley and Harper out for ice-cream and to the park. The girls jumped out of the car and ran. They didn’t need me to help them with their seatbelt buckles, or to lend a hand as they leapt out of the car. They ran ahead of me over woodchips to the slides, and I sank onto a bench realizing they had this park thing down.

It’s what I wanted – to read a book or look at a magazine in the sunshine while they played. It was nice, but it felt like the last few minutes of a meal when all that’s left are tannins in the wine glasses and bread crumbs on the table. Everyone’s stuffed and just wants to go home.

Another mom, who was significantly younger, sat down next to me. Her blond hair was in a cute top-knot that boasted pink highlights and there was a tattoo that outlined her earlobe. I tried not to stare at it but I really wanted to know what it said and also whether one was allowed a strong drink before submitting one’s ear to be inked.

We said nothing for a few minutes, and I assumed, happily, this is how things would go. She was scrolling through something on her phone, I assumed Facebook, when she sharply pivoted towards me and asked if I knew anything about the little girl that had gone missing in early March. The child was eight. She was last scene with the janitor of the homeless shelter she stayed in. I’d heard about the report as I was coming home from Whidbey at 2 am the previous morning. I told her I hadn’t heard anything about it, and I tried to be as polite as I could but I was afraid to talk about it because hearing things like this loosens a sadness and a fear inside of me that I don’t know what to do with.

“They think she’s dead,” the mom said, and she was leaning even closer to me, and I could see that the pink stud in her tongue matched her sunglasses. She wasn’t crying, but she spoke to me with desperation; like she was expecting something from me. Was it because I was older? Did she think I looked like I might have something wise to say about an eight-year-old girl who lived in a homeless shelter and was abducted by someone who worked there?

“I don’t….how could….I can’t,” she stammered. “How do you even deal with that?”

Less than forty-eight hours earlier, I was sitting in a discussion on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, barely keeping up with what his poems are about. I still don’t think I know enough about his work to annotate it, but it was on that bench with this young mother that I thought of his poem “Carrion Comfort.”

It’s one of Hopkins’ dark poems, and it is addressed to God. The narrator is wrestling with, questioning, and it seems as though he’s even being devoured by his Maker. It’s beyond unsettling to read, just as unsettling as when a stranger with pink highlighted hair sits down next to you and forcefully but desperately demands you to think about a lost, probably murdered little girl.

In the first stanza, the narrator is looking at what he has left of himself, “these last strands of man” (L2), and he’s wondering, pleading really, what it is he can even do. “I can;/Can something, can hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.” (L4-5) Here is the will at work, scouring the mind trying to find some comfort: in hope, in a new day, and most haunting, in contemplating suicide but deciding to continue to exist. This last consideration is most startling because the narrator could probably end his life and end his suffering but instead he’s going to cry out to God, name what it is he’s going through. In his lecture on Hopkins, Greg Wolfe said that the artist is one who doesn’t look away and that is what Hopkins is doing here. It’s what I think the young mom at the park was doing, and what I didn’t think I had the strength to do. But she wouldn’t let me off the hook. She wouldn’t leave me to my introverted self because she couldn’t look at this by herself. Who can?

The second stanza is filled with questions. The narrator wonders why God would give him this cross to bare: “But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me” (L5). He asks why God looks at his “bruised bones “ with “devouring eyes” (L7) The poet is confronting God, and while most consider God’s great works as good and life giving, here, the narrator ruminates over the works of the Lord that are painful, and that cause suffering.

When I was a little girl, I was talking to my mom, crying really, because I was angry at God but I was afraid to admit it. My mom, without a moment’s hesitation, said, “You can be angry at God. He can take it.” Like Hopkins, I think my mom was showing me not so much how to wrestle with God, but that a wrestling will happen, and quite possibly this is when I will feel His presence the most. The last line of “Carrion Comfort,” Hopkins writes, “Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.” (L17) This line harkens back to Jesus on the cross crying out to his Father, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” And it is here the narrator sees that in the moment he is most alone, God is the most present.

I don’t think Hopkins wrote “Carrion Comfort” in the hopes to show us how to ask the tough questions, or fight with God. I don’t think Jesus as he was dying on the cross called out to God to show us that even he got scared. I think these were terrified, agonized responses to horrifying situations, and I think that is why I write: because motherhood – my life – makes me so happy, so sad, so angry, so excited, I have to attempt to name it, but I have no intention of finding an answer.

The young mom I shared a bench with wasn’t looking for an answer either. Her question was the answer. She needed to release something: pain, fear, despair. I understand that.

“I don’t know,” I told her. Then I added in a shaky voice, “I think I’d lose my mind if that happened to my kids.”

“I’d kill myself,” she told me without skipping a beat.

Four girls ran into the park, laughing, probably intoxicated by the sunshine we hadn’t seen in so long. They ran to the swings; all but one was being used. Hadley was on that one. She had just figured out how to pump her legs so she can swing without being pushed, and she was practicing, but she saw the one girl standing alone while the rest of her friends swung. She hopped off the swing and held it steady for the girl. “Would you like this one?” Hadley asked her.

“That’s nice,” the mom said. “Is she yours?”

“She’s mine,” I said, and watched as Hadley ran to where Harper was, standing on a bridge throwing woodchips off of it and singing, “Let it Go.”

“I have terrible anxiety,” the mom said and I looked at her for the first time, but she was watching her kids. I tried to read what her tattoo said. “Stuff like this,” she said, “makes me so sad I can hardly stand.”

She asked me where my kids go to school, where they’d end up in middle and high school and I told her. “But I think we are moving,” I said, “so I don’t know where they’ll end up.”  We sat for a while and I said, “I’m afraid to move. I’m afraid to start over.” Now I was the one who turned towards her, towards this girl who is probably not close to thirty with accessories that match her hair. I can’t believe I was ready to tell her how terribly lonely I was when we first moved here, how hard it is for me to make friends, how I don’t want to find another library, another grocery store, another running route. She nodded and we stared at our kids.

“Carrion Comfort” isn’t going to provide any answers, and of course I didn’t bring it up to this women at the park. I don’t talk to strangers about Jesus, and I’m certainly not going to talk to them about Gerard Manley Hopkins. But I wondered, as our kids played if that is all I can do: look at what we are afraid of and maybe name it with the people we share a sun warmed bench with; searching for any leftover presence and maybe stretching it as one would spread dough in a pan for a pizza or a pie, so there’s enough for everyone.

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Author Interview: Hadley Feyen

Welcome to the very first guest on this blog, my daughter, Hadley Grace Feyen.  She wanted to take part in the blog tour on writers writing, so I asked her the questions that I answered last week.  For differentiation, my words are in italics.

Hadley is discussing her work on Super Girl, a comic strip/chapter book she’s been working on since she first met Calvin and Hobbes a couple of months ago.

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1. What are you working on?

I’m working on Chapter 3 in The Adventures of Super Girl. There’s going to be a bank robbery in it. In Chapter 2, there was a robbery in a house.  Do you have more questions? Because I’d like some more questions.

2. How does your work differ from others in this genre?

I don’t know what genre means.

It means the kind of book you’re are writing: fiction, non-fiction, mystery, fantasy….

OK, OK you can stop giving me examples. I get it. Mine’s adventure and in most of our books it happens outside in the jungle or in the ocean but mine takes place in lots of different places and it’s all on land. Only half of chapter 1 takes place in water. Like, somebody’s drowning.

That sounds really scary.

It’s scary because somebody’s drowning, Mama. Drowning is scary.

3.Why do you write what you do?

I chose to write this story because I like adventures and Super Girl is my favorite girl hero.

OH, so Super Girl isn’t someone you made up?

No, I heard about her.

Where did you hear about her?

Well, I heard she’s on TV but I’m not sure because I’ve never actually SEEN her. Also, she can save people but sometimes she might hire an assistant. Like the police.

4. How does your writing process work?

I kind of got the idea of a comic strip from Calvin and Hobbes, and decided to make it a little crazier.  Umm, can you pause this interview? Because I have a little more to say but I have to use the bathroom.


OK I’m back and I have to tell you about what I just made up. It’s an invention called “an old fashioned computer.”

(Hadley’s holding a pencil when she says this.)

OK, tell me about your old fashioned computer.

This (points to the tip of the pencil) is the “print” button. Get it?

I get it.

And this (points to the eraser) is the “delete” button.  Get it?

I get it. That’s clever. Should we get back to the interview?

Um, well, can I play computer games on the real computer because this one doesn’t have computer games.

You could make some up. Like Tic-Tac-Toe, or Hangman?

Um, yeah. Can I just play on the computer for a little while?


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My Writing Process

I’m taking part in a blog tour of other writers who talk about their writing process.  Sarah Wells, a poet and fellow grad student who’s studying Creative Nonfiction, asked me to participate.  Sarah and I know each other from our blogs, but we also send each other our writing once a month, and this week I get to meet her for real at The Festival of Faith and Writing.

But first, some questions about my writing process:

1. What am I working on?

I am working on finishing up my thesis for graduation, which means I have about 100 pages of writing I need to put together for June. I’m doing a few essays and one large piece that I suppose could be a book someday.  At my last residency, I turned in everything that I thought was “thesis ready,” and in that packet I had two large pieces that I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete before June.  One has to do with Ivan Mestrovic’s sculptures, specifically at Notre Dame, Jesse’s work with hurricanes, and an incident involving a few football players that threw Jesse’s bike in the bushes.  My other piece has to do with high school and Drill Team and two friends of mine.  I decided to work on the high school story for the next two months.  I really hope I return to the other one though.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

At my last residency, there was a discussion about books being in dialogue with other books and I really like that idea.  I don’t think I know enough about my writing to say how it differs from others in Creative Nonfiction. However, I love thinking that I am in a conversation with the stories I love when I write. It’s not that I’m trying to write just like those authors, it’s more that I am showing what I learned about myself and the world because of their words, and hey look here’s how I see the world because of your story.

3. Why do I write what I do?

When I was in elementary school, there was a story that I told over and over again; for years.  It was a true story, though I embellished it the more I told it, and one day a friend of mine who had heard the silly tale for about five years straight said, “I swear Callie, that story gets better every time you tell it.” She was being flip, but I can remember the exact spot I was when she said it: at the corner of Jackson and Ridgeland on my way home from Longfellow Elementary school.  And I thought, “You know? She’s right. It DOES get better every time I tell it!”  I’m pretty sure she was the one who first pointed me to writing, even if it was indirectly.

That feeling is sort of the basis for anything I write. I like to sit with things. For a long time. I like to tell stories over and over again.

4. How does my writing process work?

Well, since I’m going to work on my high school piece, I’ll use some specifics of what I plan on doing for that, and then share some general things I do to keep writing.  First, I will have David McGlynn’s book A Door In the Ocean close by.  He was in Santa Fe last year and showed us how to outline a book we love so that we can learn from it and apply that to our own stories, and that’s what I plan on doing with his book. (An aside – my swimmer and water polo friends – and you know who you are, I think  you would love this book.)

Second, I will listen to a lot of dance music and probably watch a lot of old Drill Team tapes to try and capture some of the scenes I want to write about.  I also think it’d be good to take a notebook to the classes I go to at the gym because I get a lot of ideas about dance when I’m working out.  But that means I’ll have to stop working out to write notes and I don’t want to do that, so it’s probably not something I’ll actually do.

Ideally, I write for two hours every day. That’s about all I can manage before I want to throw myself out of the window.  I make myself sit in a chair and only allow myself coffee.  Sometimes I might eat gummy bears. Gobstoppers work well, too.  But no real eating because I cannot eat and write.  I try to stay away from alcohol when I write because even though he had substance abuse problems, Truman Capote said on the Dick Cavett show that you can’t drink and write so I don’t do it because I love Truman Capote. Or maybe it’s that I love Dill Harris. Either way, I don’t usually drink while I’m writing. Of course, Hemingway said it was fine to drink during drafting but not during revision.  He and I went to the same high school so maybe that should be my rule, because OPRF alumni have to stick together.

I write everything out on paper until I think I have some sort of working draft then I type it, print it out, and use a different color ink to begin revising. The way I write is a terrible waste of paper. It is bad for the environment.  I’m not looking for suggestions on how to do it more efficiently. I love paper and pens and weep when I hear talk of a paperless society. I’m sorry if you’ve been offended. Maybe this is a good time to tell you I don’t always recycle.

So there’s a little bit about how  I write and what I write.  Later this week, Wendy Besel Hahn will be answering these questions.  She is a fellow Listen to Your Mother cast mate and has written a book along with earning an MFA from George Mason University.  Be sure to come back here on Friday to read her thoughts on writing.  And make sure to stop by Jessica Rapisarda’s blog, Welcome to the Bundle another LTYM cast mate who also holds an MFA in Creative Writing.  Jessica is one of the funniest writers out there, so I’m sure you’ll be entertained when you read what she has to say (no pressure, Jessica).

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Girl Meets Lauren

This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for graduate school that sort of documents my interest in reading and writing.  I thought that since the Festival of Faith and Writing is coming up, this would be a fun part to post.  Some of you know my mentor this year is Lauren Winner.  This excerpt tells the story of the first time I met her.

            When I’m reading a book, I often daydream about how I would teach it. If I were teaching Girl Meets God, I would make sure to read the chapter “Albermarle Pilgrimage” out loud. I would suggest my students pair up and read it interpretively because the trip Winner and her mother take in an attempt to locate Jan Karon is delightful and hilarious. It would be fun to watch one of my students be the mother, explaining to Lauren how impossible it is to locate Karon’s home while another student plays Winner jumping up and down screaming, “I know! I know! We can go on a drive and find her farm! It’ll be like a pilgrimage!” (262) We would discuss why this is so funny: the mother calmly explaining why this is a ridiculous idea while her graduate school daughter exuberantly ignores her; the use of explanation points (you can hear the screaming); the confession that Winner regresses when she’s at her mom’s.

I’d have my students make tour guide pamphlets of Albermarle County using only what they read from Winner’s chapter in order to show them how well she knows the area: They could draw pictures of Thomas Jefferson, William Faulkner, and maybe Rita Mae Brown’s “feline sleuth, ‘Sneaky Pie Brown.” (261) They could put an ad or coupon in the brochure for Toliver House, one of Winner’s mom’s favorite restaurants, or Spudnuts, “the locally famed establishment that makes doughnuts from potato flour.” (264) I would point out how Winner’s ability to bring the reader into the setting enhances the story. We are not just looking for Jan Karon with Winner and her mother. We are wondering about Grace Episcopal Church and it’s Blessing of Hounds service. We are looking out the window from the car at “the estate from which Benjamin Franklin’s grandson executed his short-lived Virginia medical career.” (265)

I’d point out that this story isn’t really about Jan Karon, rather, it’s about Winner and her mother. We’d talk about what we learn from the quick rhythm of the dialogue: the two are funny,  and they riff off each other’s quirks. I’d point out Winner’s last sentences; that being with her mom driving through Albermarle County was what this trip was really about.

I’d give my students a writing assignment: write about a time you and a parent set out to do something, but reveal character through setting and dialogue so that the story ends up not really being about the thing you set out to do.

Finally, if I were teaching today, I’d tell them the story of the time I met Lauren Winner. It was at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. I was sitting in a lounge chair by the fireplace eating a chocolate chip cookie, and making doodles in the margins a piece of paper that listed the names of speakers and sessions for the day, when Winner sat down next to me. She sort of plopped down, actually, and looked my way because I was staring at her.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” I said back. And then I walked away to call my dad and tell him I just talked to Lauren Winner.

Nobody would ever know from looking at him or even talking to him that my dad is a Big Important Guy at a medical university in Chicago. I’m not even sure he knows this about himself. He is not charismatic. He’s not aggressive or loud. He’s slow to speak and has a quiet confidence that people assume is timidity and docility. But he is a Big Important Guy and you can’t just call him at work in the middle of the day and expect he’ll answer. He won’t. His secretary answers all his calls and rarely puts people through. Unless you are his daughter, a title I loved claiming when she answered.

“This is Callie,” I sort of whispered into the phone. I was outside, crouched behind some bushes. I must’ve thought I was relaying top-secret information.

When he answered, I shot up from behind the bushes like a groundhog, or mole, or one of those squirrely critters. “Dad!” I said breathlessly, and then realized I was standing and sank back down behind the bushes. Apparently none of those other writers and readers walking around Calvin College’s campus could know of the words that Lauren Winner and I exchanged.

“I just talked to Lauren Winner!”

“Ha! That’s great! What’d you talk about?”

“Nothing!” Admitting this did not squash my excitement at all. “She said, ‘hey,’ and then I said, ‘hey.”

“And then what happened?”

“I came out here and called you!”

We both laughed. I, at the ridiculousness of my non-anecdote, and probably my dad was laughing at that, too. But he knew my enthusiasm for Girl Meets God and he knew how much I wanted to write. I think he was laughing because he knew I was enjoying myself.

The tickets to the Festival were a Christmas present from him along with Frederick Buechner’s book, Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say): Reflections on Literature and Faith. On the receipt for the tickets, he wrote, “Have fun listening to your friends.” He always called the writers I loved my friends, a joke, I knew, but I also think he understood that their stories became a part of, grew with, and changed me, as the best of friends can do.

“You should stop by the IMAGE table and see if they have information on their MFA program,” my dad suggested.

I told him OK but I’d never consider applying for an MFA.

I would call my dad three more times at work over the next eight years. Two of those phone calls would be to tell him that his granddaughters, first Hadley and then Harper, had been born. And one of them would be to tell him that I’d been accepted to Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program, where I’d be working with Lauren Winner.

“Maybe you’ll say more to her than, ‘hey,” he said, laughing.

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Things I Loved In March

Watching this reaction to a seventy-five cent video game ride in the mall on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

District 9-20140302-00756Watching my girl dancing.

District 2-20140312-00803District 2-20140312-00805Being the first to make footprints at the “Little Park” in the March snow.

District 2-20140304-00776This typewriter. How awesome would it be to bust this out at a Starbucks?

Central Whidbey-20140326-00828Greeting these guys in the evening and telling them to get out of the way so I can get into my house. I won’t lie. I just stood there wondering how I was going to get inside until my friend Laura stuck her head out of her house next door and told those deer to get back in the forest where they belong.

Central Whidbey-20140325-00827Playing some games in House #6 on Whidbey Island.

1507171_10152267115352319_1335127100_n1966961_10152267115342319_1168142377_nLook how stressed out I am, you guys.  I feel like that’s my face all of the ten days I’m at residencies.  Just shock and awe for the duration.

Fun was had in March, and I’m excited about April. This will be the month for flip flops, I’m sure of it.  However, it has come to my attention that I do not own a yellow pair.  I’ll need to take care of that, asap.


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Around Here – Whidbey Island Edition

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*The view from my bedroom window. Every morning I wake up to the best sunrises I think I’ve ever seen in my life.

*The block I’m living on this week.  These houses are so cute.

*Another view of where I’m staying, this one taken on a morning run.

*My walk down to class and meals each morning has me checking to see how much of the Olympics mountain range I can see.  You know me and my feelings on nature, but this place is pretty amazing.

*This last picture was taken from Sirens, a pub in Port Townsend.  It’s close to the best coffee place in the world and the best bookstore in the world.  (Dad, I should’ve graduated on Whidbey because I have found your happy place. We could walk back and forth from the coffee shop to the bookstore, to the pub, back to the bookstore, and back to the coffee shop – which is what I plan on doing today.)

I went into this residency with a goal to read an essay out loud and I chickened out when the sign-up came around. But yesterday, there was a cancellation so I signed up and got to read one of my stories.  I think it was one of my favorite parts of the residency so far.  Not so much that I got to read, but that I got to share a story with people who have shared their stories with me.

These residencies always stretch me, and for the duration of them I am usually confused and overwhelmed, but no matter how difficult they are, I am so thankful that I get to do this.


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Right Now

District 2-20140312-00790District 2-20140312-00808District 2-20140312-00809{enjoying} a ballet performance and a rainbow on the same afternoon. (Harper doesn’t usually dress like a Village Person but for some reason at this moment she wasn’t wearing pants so there you have it.)

{flying} to Whidbey Island today for my second to last residency. Next trip is to graduate.  As I type this, I’m looking forward to a trip to Port Townsend to that cool bookstore and coffee shop I spent some time in last year.

{thinking} about the essays I’m to turn in to my advisor.  My most solid essay took 10 years to write. The second most solid essay took 5 years.  I love everything I’m turning in but the stories are all just not ready to be shown yet. Do you think they’ll ever be ready? I hope I can share them with you someday. I hope they’ll be good enough someday. I mean, I love that I can share some thoughts on this blog. I love that I can craft a little something about my day, but I hope someday I’ll have essays and maybe a book for you to read.

{listening and watching} to the Frozen soundtrack and the Frozen movie.  If loving this story is wrong then none of us want to be right.  We are hooked.  The girls and I belt out “Let it Go” on the way to school everyone morning.  Hadley had to tell me some of the lyrics: It’s “that perfect girl is gone,” not “that other girl is gone.”  Yes, goodbye to perfection. Let’s create and clean up the mess later. I like that.

That’s all for now.  Here’s what was happening a few years ago:

Six Years Ago: Hadley tries oatmeal for the first time.  This video is one of my favorite’s of her ever.

Five Years Ago: Sweet Harper and tummy time. Lots of smiles and a funny video.

Four Years Ago: I love St. Patrick’s Day and this trip was so fun.  If you’re in Montgomery County you should check this out.  It’s a blast.

Three Years Ago: A limerick for St. Patrick’s Day.  See? I love the Irish.

Two Years Ago: Here’s the post where I found out I got into graduate school.  I was in Target looking at lip gloss when I got the phone call.

One Year Ago: Creative Arts in DC.

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Snow School

We are all done with the snow, I know. I get it. I am, too.  I look at my flip flops everyday and wipe away tears.  But it seems like the good Lord is saying, “This is not Burger King and you can’t have it your way,” so let’s figure out what we’re going to do with our offspring today, shall we?

May I suggest Snow School?  Remember when I said you should try Reader’s Workshop but that you should CALL it “Reader’s Workshop?”  Same thing with Snow School.  Don’t say you’re about to have school at home.  Unless you’re a homeschooler, I just don’t think that’s going to work.  However, call it “Snow School” and you’re golden.  Here’s what you do:

District 2-20140303-00757Make a schedule.  The trick to the Snow School schedule is to plan activities that allow you to SIT DOWN. The entire point of Snow School is not to get kids to learn, people.  It’s so that you can STAY SANE. If the kids learn something, wonderful.  But what’s more important is that you can check Facebook, drink coffee, and catch up on Scandal.

Things that keep kids busy:

Play-doh – I know it’s a mess to clean up but for Pete’s sake you guys, make it into a game. “Whoever can pick up the most Play-doh gets to run outside in the snow without clothes on.”  Your floors will sparkle.

All Kids Network – Do yourself a favor and check this website out.  Everything is free.  More importantly, the worksheets and activities are excellent.  We did weather worksheets:

District 2-20140303-00762District 2-20140303-00763District 2-20140303-00764We worked on St. Patrick’s Day activities (because, like a fool I thought two weeks ago, “Well this will be the last snow storm in March,” and printed out all the Irish stuff I could find. An aside – I LOVE the Irish.  All of you.  I want to be Irish.)

District 2-20140303-00769District 2-20140303-00765District 2-20140303-00770District 2-20140303-00771District 2-20140303-00772District 2-20140316-00810Here’s Physical Education:

District 2-20140304-00774I told them it was interval training.  They needed to climb this “mountain” of snow, stand up and yell, “ADRIENNE!!!!!” as loud as they could, then run back down before turning around and doing it again.

Here’s recess:

District 2-20140304-00776We had TV and computer game time, too.  I may be holding out on getting an iPhone until Apple makes it with buttons I can actually push and not touch a screen, and I may be freaked out by the electronic way of reading books, but I totally embrace kids watching TV and playing computer games.  It’s when I take my nap.

So we can totally do this, you guys!  Snow day schmo day!  Have yourself a Snow School Day!  It’ll be fun! It’ll be great!

Now who wants to take care of my kids today?  I have a lot to do.

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I Think I Can

Two things about me: I’m not really a runner, and I’m not really a friendly person. I try to be both. Really, I do, but they are difficult and tiring.

I accidentally started running about five years ago. I signed up for what I thought was a spin class and, after sitting in the cycle room by myself for ten minutes, the instructor came in and said, “We start on the treadmills.”

I was too shy to say, “I don’t do running,” so I followed her out to the treadmills and began to run. I’ve tried to never miss a class since that first day. Somehow the instructor makes you believe that you can do anything. Like run. And so, on a warm spring evening, after my husband came home from work, I laced up my shoes and went to see how far I could run around Germantown.

My route consisted of running East on Father Hurley to Crystal Rock, down to Century, and around the library, through the townhomes I wish we lived in, back up Middlebrook, and back to Father Hurley. This, save for Target, was the Germantown I knew. The Germantown I felt I belonged in.

And then Hadley started Kindergarten. Perhaps you know my daughter, Hadley. I hear she dances at recess. She wants to be a rockstar and also an archeologist. And she calls everyone her friend. She is the opposite of me: she tries everything with effervescence and curiosity and she’s been able to work a crowd since she could crawl.

It was at the Halloween party in Mrs. Weinel’s classroom that my running route began to expand. As I was holding up the wall by the kids’ cubbies, watching Hadley eat cupcakes with a foot of frosting on them and wondering how long we all had until the sugar kicked in, a mother walked up to me and handed me an invitation to a jewelry party. She was friendly and funny and I was delighted to be invited. Quite frankly, she could’ve invited me to a chainsaw party and I would’ve said yes. I left wondering if I’d made a new friend. That’s the thing about people who aren’t good at being friendly: we don’t always know.

A couple of days later, instead of my normal running route, I turned the other direction and headed down Wisteria and then to Weingarten. Seeing another part of Germantown helped distract me from the difficulty in running. Plus, the other thing about running is it makes you bold, and as I ran past my maybe new friend’s house, I wondered if some of the friends Hadley made might have moms that would be friends with me, too. Maybe they lived around this part of Germantown.

It turned out there were. About seven beautiful and hilarious gals who didn’t seem to notice I wasn’t very friendly and that expanded more than my running route.

This story isn’t about doing things you can do. It’s about doing things you can’t do. And that’s what Lake Seneca Elementary School is about: supporting our children through the things they don’t know about, are afraid to try, or think they can’t learn.

The Cougar Dash is coming up in May. You may think you can’t run and you may be right.  I often stop and walk on my runs; annoyed and wondering whether I’ll be able to make my loop without ever stopping.  But I think you should sign up anyway. Sign up and run or walk with your child and show him or her that this part of Germantown supports each of the children getting out of cars, walking to school, hopping off the bus and heading into school: ready to face the thing they think they can’t do.

For more information, or to register for the Cougar Dash, click here.

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A Morning with George, Abraham, Thomas, Mozart, Hadley, and Flannery O’Connor

Last week around 6:15 one morning, I was at the table trying to think about what to write about Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal when Hadley struts in, fully dressed, swipes a piece of paper off a stack and says, “Dare me to draw something.”

She was going on a field trip that day, so I say, “I dare you to draw what you think you’ll learn on your field trip.”

“No, no,” she says. “I’m talking about the Presidents.”

“OK, draw a President.”

“Which one?”

“Draw Thomas Jefferson.”

“I don’t know him.”

“OK, who do you know?”

“George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Barck Obama.”

“OK, I dare you to draw them.”

District 2-20140306-00783“I’m going to draw Mozart, too,” she tells me.  ”You know about Mozart?”

“Yes, I know about Mozart,” I say.

“Yeah, I was reading about him in Calvin and Hobbes.” Hadley pronounces Hobbes’ name like this: Hob-bis. “Calvin said that Mozart wrote his first concerto when he was three years old.”  Hadley starts to giggle and then says, “And then Calvin says, ‘I don’t think I was potty trained at three years old!’  HAHAHAHAHA! Mama?”


“When was I potty trained?”

“You were around two and a half, I think.”

She keeps drawing and I keep thinking about Flannery O’Connor.  She told God that she wanted to do whatever it took to be a good writer, except, she told Him, she wouldn’t become a nun.  I loved that line.  I’d like to make a list of all the things I won’t do to become a writer and send them God’s way, but I don’t know if I’m brave enough to do that.

“Mama, what do you know about Abraham Lincoln?”

“Well, I know he wrote the Gettysburg Address that states all men are created equal.”

“Yeah, MEN not women,” Hadley tells me. She’s not happy about this.

“I think he meant women, too.”

“Well, he didn’t say it.  I mean, women couldn’t even go to the movies back then.”

“I don’t think there were movies back then.”

“You know what I mean. They couldn’t go to a play or a concert.”

“I think Mrs. Lincoln was with Abraham Lincoln when he got shot.” This is a terrible way to prove a point, I am thinking.

“Well OF COURSE, Mama!  He was the President of the United States! She could do anything she wanted because of him!  Who’s Thomas Jefferson? Do you think he looked like this?”

District 2-20140309-00788

Harper joins us. She is only wearing one slipper and I ask her why.

“I can’t find the other one,” she tells me. “I think I’ve been robbed.”

“Someone robbed you and stole one slipper?” Hadley asks, smiling.

The fire has been lit.


“But dear God,” O’Connor writes, “please give me some place, no matter how small, but let me know it and keep it.”

The three of us sit around the table. Harper takes a piece of paper and starts to draw.  She’s working on hearts and stars and rainbows. She plays with patterns and colors whereas Hadley likes to sketch and look at details.

“If I am the one to wash the second step everyday, let me know it and let me wash it and let my heart overflow with love washing it. Whatever it is, let me do it, and let me love it.”

To this second to last prayer in O’Connor’s journal, I say, “Yes, thank you, and Amen.”


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