Christmas recap, etc.

First, a poem.

A reading from the book of exile

chapter four

there are some things too meaningful for talking

and even feeling leaves us full of grief

at all we touch and need and

can never speak of

we are living lives that we can’t state the name of

we are loving things that

we can never bear

we attempt belief in things that we can not explain

and we rest uneasy in this


and we rest with tension so


its heartaching

(by Padraig O’ Tuama)

I have had a very full week.  I took Tuesday off, made 3 loaves of babka and prepped 4 linzertortes and made about 4 dozen rugelach.  I cleaned most of the house, and wrapped presents.  On Wednesday, I went to Jeff and Tammy’s and was happy to see that family (especially Bill who I hadn’t seen in quite a long time).  After, I picked up Stephen and we went to Knoxville to see the Reeves.  Christmas Day was very typical – stockings, then breakfast, then presents, then naps and general lethargy, then Aunt Carol and Uncle Walter’s for dinner and more presents.  We headed back to Nashville and got back before midnight, because I had to work on Friday.  We were able to leave work early though – around 3pm – and I then rushed to Stephen’s and we left for Chattanooga pretty much immediately.

We got to Stephen’s Mom’s house a bit late because of post-Christmas traffic, but we were still in time for dinner and to see Stephen’s nieces before they got too tired (and grumpy).  Dinner was steak, gravy, sweet potato casserole (a la Aunt Carol), mashed potatoes, roasted root veggies, cranberry salad (served with mayonnaise which was surprisingly not bad at all)….and I think I’m forgetting something.  Brussels sprouts maybe?  Hm.  Anyway – after dinner there were more presents, and then soon after was bed – which was very welcome.

Stephen has been sick for about a week and the medicine his PCP prescribed before Christmas wasn’t really helping.  So we went to a CVS clinic on Saturday morning and he was prescribed an antibiotic, an inhaler, and some cough medicine – maybe one other thing too.  That used up most of the morning, and when we got back to his Mom’s we both took naps.  Later in the day we played Dutch Blitz with his mom and his sister (it was actually kinda fun, even if I came in 3rd…), and had leftovers for dinner.  Made that Kahlua-brie bake again, and I made the fourth linzertorte of the season, and we sat around playing Carcassonne.  I was exhausted by this time and didn’t do a very good job of being social at all.  But.

Sunday was also low-key; we had bagels and lox for breakfast (er, everyone else had lox – I had bagel and cream cheese and veggies), and Stephen and I went out to a coffee shop for an hour or two.  I’ve started Cold Mountain finally, and am very much enjoying it so far.  It’s making me want to find a secluded field somewhere and read for hours.  Or even a sparsely-crowded coffee shop with overstuffed chairs would do.

Actually I think the real problem here is that I’m just over-peopled right now.  By a long shot.  I had a tiny breakdown on Saturday evening because of several little factors that added up to too much stress.  I’m such a homebody sometimes.

Overall though, I had a good Christmas.  I was glad to see my family and I think they mostly all liked my gifts to them.  I was glad to see Stephen’s family, and glad that he wanted me to go with him and also that they seem to like me.  I was glad to see the Ralston/Rogers/Kings too.  Now I’m going to be glad to sit at home and avoid socializing at least until NYE.

I would put up some pictures…..but I’ve somehow reached 75% of my data limit and don’t want to risk going over this month.  So!  Maybe this entry is interesting enough without pictures?

Facebook and Reddit are full of depressing news today.  So ……


by Wendell Berry

I part the out thrusting branches

and come in beneath

the blessed and the blessing trees.

Though I am silent

there is singing around me.

Though I am dark

there is vision around me.

Though I am heavy

there is flight around me.

And of course, the Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake i the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I got and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light.  For a time

I rest int he grace of the world, and am free.


these passages are bringing me peace this morning.

Stephen is en route to LA and will be gone until the weekend.  I’m reading Hannah Coulter which made me cry last night – it describes love and grief with such raw beauty.  what would be my 4th anniversary is a week from tomorrow.  I feel discouraged and hopeful at the same time, which is a confusing mixture of emotions.  so …… I just thought I’d type up a few of these excerpts which I’m reading this morning, and which I should read every morning.

If you close your mind in judgments

and traffic with desires,

your heart will be troubled.

If you keep your mind from judging

and aren’t led by the senses,

your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.

Knowing how to yield is strength.

Use your own light

and return to the source of light.

This is called practicing eternity.


Fill your bowl to the brim

and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife

and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security

and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people’s approval

and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.

The only path to serenity.


Colors blind the eye.

Sounds deafen the eart.

Flavors numb the taste.

Thoughts weaken the mind.

Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world

but trusts his inner vision.

He allows things to come and go.

His heart is open as the sky.


Knowing others is intelligence;

knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength;

mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,

you are truly rich.

If you stay in the center

and embrace death with your whole heart,

you will endure forever.


The Tao is always at ease.

It overcomes without competing,

answers without speaking a word,

arrives without being summoned,

accomplishes without a plan.


If you realize that all things change,

there is nothing you will try to hold on to.


That last one is going to probably take my whole life to master, and I doubt that will even be enough time.  However – I feel so much more peaceful right now than I did when I started this entry, so the words are doing me good.


So I ate a chunk of Gruyere last night while watching Curb Your Enthusiasm in bed, and I do not recommend this or plan to repeat it.  I’m blaming my weird mood on the cheese.  Totally legit.

Found this poem (below) this morning.  Liked it a lot.  Reminded me of this quote.


I Am Afraid

(Elizabeth Jacqueline Mpanga)

I am afraid of myself,
afraid of opening up to show my true colours
i am afraid of myself
afraid to put myself out there and let loose

i am afraid of the unknown
afraid of how people might react to the real me
i am afraid of pain
the pain that is caused by the rejection of a loved one
the pain that is caused by being judged toO harshly for one’s mistakes

i am afraid of my past
afraid that it will catch up with me and expose my ills
i am afraid of my shortcomings
afraid that they will come to light and ruin me
i left it all in the past, am a different person,
yet i am still afraid

i am afraid of forgiveness
afraid that if i forgive my past mistakes and people,
i won’t have anyone to blame for my present failures
i am afraid of loving
afraid because i refused to love when i should have loved

i am afraid of my own shadow
afraid that i can not trust myself with another’s heart
i am afraid of being kind and good
because it opens me up and exposes me to other people
i am afraid because i might get hurt

i am afraid of the present
afraid because i have no idea what my actions will result in later on
i am afraid of my fear
afraid because it will lead me to fail

i am afraid to ask forgiveness
afraid because i do not forgive easily
i am afraid of being alone ‘
afraid because loneliness hurts

i am afraid of rejection
afraid because deep down i just want to be loved
i am afraid of the night
afraid that my nightmares will come and get me

i am afraid of myself
afraid that i might not be good enough
i am afraid of being judged by others
yet i judge others

i am afraid of death
afraid because i don’t know where i’ll end up
i am afraid of myself
afraid because i do not trust myself


It’s so odd that I can be convinced that fear of this sort is detrimental and selfish, and yet I still cling to it somewhere in the back of my mind.  I’m reminded of the chapter from the Tao that I have tacked up next to my computer monitor — “Because he believes in himself, he doesn’t try to convince others.  Because he is content with himself, he doesn’t need others’ approval.  Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.”

Why do I harbor fear at all?  Why am I not able to let it go – let it flow away from and out of me, and be content with the knowledge that “the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao”?  Why do I let other people have such a huge impact on my moods and attitudes?  Is it good to be mindful of my shortcomings in this area, or does that just make me feel worse?  How can it both be simple and complicated to answer my own questions?

one more, sorry —


The Master keeps her mind

always at one with the Tao;

that is what gives her radiance.


The Tao is ungraspable.

How can her mind be at one with it?

Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.


The Tao is dark and unfathomable.

How can it make her radiant?

Because she lets it.


Since before time and space were,

the Tao is.

It is beyond is and is not.

How do I know this is true?

I look inside myself and see.


Will try to refrain from posting more — at least today….  

29 & 30

talking to my friend Cathy this morning and remember that I should be reading the Tao before work.  it gives me a sense of peace and of belonging, somehow.  here are two of my favorites.



Do you want to improve the world?

I don’t think it can be done.


The world is sacred.

It can’t be improved.

If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.

If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.


There is a time for being ahead,

a time for behind behind;

a time for being in motion,

a time for being at rest;

a time for being vigorous,

a time for being exhausted;

a time for being safe,

a time for being in danger.


The Master sees things as they are,

without trying to control them.

She lets them go their own way,

and resides at the center of the circle.




Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men

doesn’t try to force issues

or defeat enemies by force of arms.

For every force there is a counterforce.

Violence, even well intentioned,

always rebounds upon oneself.


The Master does his job

and then stops.

He understands that the universe

is forever out of control,

and that trying to dominate events

goes against the current of the Tao.

Because he believes in himself,

he doesn’t try to convince others.

Because he is content with himself,

he doesn’t need others’ approval.

Because he accepts himself,

the whole world accepts him.



this poem

Read this last night and was going to just email it to Anna Laura, but then I decided to put it here instead with specific instructions (for her anyway) to not ignore it. Also – the first couple of stanzas in this poem are why I have a tattoo of kudzu on my wrist.

The Thicket

The tangle of it all, the briar curve perspective,
the entrance to places you could not go
without being tugged at the edges, caught
by tiny infractions of wool on the sweater,
brought to a twisted halt to unhook.

I would go anyway in old clothes,
free and happy through a necessary wounding,
my knees damp with the earth, the taste of blood
in my mouth like a richer earth.

In the ticket I could be free and observant,
surveying the tiny stages and the curtained dramas,
every further stage of vision leading me back
to smaller and smaller worlds, like a child’s
telescoping theater guiding the eye to a tiny backdrop.
In one, I still see the wren, pivoting straight up
on a branch end, in another, the sloes burn on,
calm and content in their soft black light.
I was never afraid in the thicket, never cramped
or contained and even the constrained scurry
of something close but invisible in the brush brought
home to me all the rewards of a sheltered, secret life.
No one knew me in my child’s aloneness
by any other names but the ones that called me back
to the quiet den I made in the hedge
and it seemed with this rich, impassable, interiority
all outer revelation was possible. From those shadows
I looked happily over great green spaces where
an open visibility would render me unseen.

All that summer I thought I could make it last,
never leave the branching world where, permanent
in my innocence, I could sit, a child abroad beyond
the house and call of waving neighbours,
a crouched pilgrim, an apprentice to stealth and silence,
still and sovereign at the center of my shadowed world,
a kind of enclosed womb-like eternity that could
end only with the annunciation that another wider
and wiser eternity was about to begin.

All of that summer as I changed unknowingly
from young boy to young man, as I went in secret
from undifferentiated shadow to clear edged caster
of a shadow, I looked and looked and changed
unknowingly by looking, afraid as it all began
of the strange impatience growing behind my eyes,
the wound of desire opening slowly at the center
of my sight, not knowing at first that that looking
was a new kind of looking, that that dry mouth
of anticipation was prelude to a different form
of speech, that that minute searching of the
stained glass light searching between the branches
was the knowledge of some immanence
I could not imagine, come to find me
until I half felt, half met, the guiding signal
telling me to leave.

Something fought and sought and found me
in the hedge, gripped me with a new intelligence,
arrested me and set me to motion,
brought clarity to silence, set me to grow
and take this body out of hiding,
made me see the shadows stir with new
and relevatory intolerance, the hooked briars
raw with dispensation and beckoning.

An opening in my world come to find me,
bring me out. Some guiding hand lifted
and shone on me, found me in outline,
illumined the way I shaped in the light,
passed on — the red haw of a new season,
swung like a lantern through the sheltering dark.

David Whyte, from Everything is Waiting for You

in love with my shampoo

(I spend an average of about 3 seconds coming up with these blog titles, if you wondered)

I was perusing my shelves yesterday for a new book to read (finished Good Omens and I highly recommend it), and instead of finding a new novel I decided to pull out some poetry books I hadn’t read in a while. One, White Horses by Billy Collins, had this poem – “Aimless Love” – which I had forgotten is my favorite Billy Collins poem. So here it is.

Oh but I also wanted to say — I splurged on some coconut milk shampoo and conditioner last weekend; every now and then I get a whiff of my hair and I’m pretty sure I’m in love with it. (Same goes for my tomato leaf hand lotion. Mmmmmmm.)


This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

– Billy Collins


I can now say with conviction that this day last year was worlds worse than today this year will be. Of course, there’s always the possibility that something worse than my husband dying could happen to me today, but it’s very very unlikely.

I’m back at work this Monday morning, and feeling kind of normal and blah. The weekend was very good, which was a surprise to me (given which weekend it was). I took Friday off, and spent all day with Katie and Ryan. We hiked Hidden Lakes in the morning, then got breakfast/lunch at Wendell Smith’s, then migrated to the Brewhouse and McKay’s after. It was a good day. On Sunday, I got up and hiked by myself at Beaman Park. It was wonderful. I’ve decided that solo hiking is one of the best things in the world.

The weekend was as full of distractions as I wanted it to be, but I also had plenty of time to think and reflect. I have no profound insights to offer from those times though – ha. Instead of my own insights, I thought I’d just share these two quotes.

I put this one on FB on Friday, but it’s just EXACTLY how this last year has felt. Actually, I’ll tack on a few extra lines, too.

Every day
I play in repertory the same
script without you, without love,
without audience except for Gus,
who waits attentive
for cues: a walk, a biscuit,
bedtime. The year of days
without you and your body swept by
as quick as an afternoon;
but each afternoon took a year.
(from “Letter After A Year” by Donald Hall)

While I’m at it, here’s another thing I keep meaning to share (but couldn’t remember where I’d read it until recently).

“The book also says that coping with difficult times is like being in a conical shell-shaped spiral and there is a point at each turn that is very painful and difficult. That is your particular problem or sore spot. When you are at the narrow, pointy end of the spiral you come back to that situation very often as the rotations are quite small. As you go around, you will go through the troubled time less and less frequently but still you must come back to it, so you shouldn’t feel when it happens that you are back to square one.” (From Bridget Jones’s Diary heh.)