Monday, August 15, 2011

one last note from Eureka Springs

I ran out of coffee beans two days ago when I invited Chere for a lunch of mushroom/cheddar omelettes, in the culinary suite at DairyHollow. Her suite has a practical electric stove, whereas my KitchenAid Dream Kitchen has a six-burner gas stove, pans, and everything a cook could wish for. So we cooked and brewed coffee, and sat in the wicker chairs talking—like it was my fabulous living room.

So today, I found some old ground coffee in the canister above the KitchenAid coffee maker, and it will do. Made a big bowl of oatmeal as my final “hurrah” breakfast (hours ago) and now I’m cleaning up the fresh cherries and blueberries. In a few minutes, I will walk to the Grotto Spring down the road, and the lovely silence of morning will be broken. When I return, I must clean and pack and look at the instructions for checkout and leaving. I will need to go downstairs to the office and talk with people. I’m surprised how much I long to keep this silence for just a few hours more, even after eight very quiet days.

What this writing residency has given me is just that: quiet, for reading and writing and hearing myself think, and a quieting of the soul. I’ve written dozens of pages, and I’ve revisited some work from the past few years. I’ve enjoyed research about cooking writers MFK Fisher and Robert Farrar Capon—I hoped to come away with a draft of a book about these two, but I’ve only ever written much about me and my life, so I’m still learning how to approach a long project about other people’s lives and work. I’m certain this is a problem I WILL solve, over time, and meanwhile I’ve been nurturing my love of the two books I’m comparing.

(I picked up a biography of Fisher at the library, and it told me some of the details I wanted to know about her life, but these details were stuffed deep into a veritable encyclopedia of facts and family maps and awkward reading. Okay, I invested a day and a half in that fat book, to find out three or four important things, but I’m saying it was worthwhile research.)  

Some part of me wishes I could hold up a finished manuscript to show for this stretch of days, but the finishing will come later. This has been a time of renewal, a reminder of my calling to write. It’s been a rest, a Sabbath from my other kinds of work. A Sabbath from people needing me. Whatever I’ve accomplished or not-accomplished, I will return home restored by this quiet, clean temporary home, and restored by this vibrant little city in the hills.

I could tell you more about how much I love this town, but I’d better walk before the day heats up, and I’d better pack, so I can relax, read and write a bit more this afternoon.

Thanks for sticking with me, my friends. I will be far from the Ozark hills when next I write.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the long ride from Sleepytown

My father could lift me like a feather, with his whisper, “go back to Sleepytown” lulling me. I mumbled about my teddy. “Your mother has it in the car.” In the car, then. Vacation, worth a smile before dozing.

My bunk was the back window of the sedan in a nest of blankets, my back against the glass, my teddy shading my eyes from the streetlamp. Next he would lay my older brother Burl stretched along the bench seat, already dosed with Dramamine and gone to the world. My younger brother David fit in another nest of blankets in one well beneath the backseat, with his knees propped up over the hump. When my parents settled into the front, David would feel the rumble of the engine through him, and he wouldn’t hear another thing.

And I could choose, as we left our driveway in the true Sleepytown of Farmland, Indiana. I could choose a delicious sleep, with the sounds of late night radio drifting in and out, or I could choose to concentrate hard on my parents’ quiet conversation—I was an excellent spy. Or I could watch the night stars once we were away from the lights of town. Every option seemed almost too good to be true, in the romance of vacation driving.

The romance would break when the sun began to heat the car, our limbs unable to stretch. By then we would be miles away from our humdrum lives, navigating by the spiral bound atlas, looking for a breakfast diner. The first day’s goal: a motel in Effingham, Illinois. We would arrive too early to check in, but my father could park in a shady spot and sleep while my mother took us to the swimming pool. By the time my father hauled our suitcases in, we’d be sunburned and water-logged and ready for a nap in air-conditioning.

On some years, day 2 included a tour of the St. Louis Arch, which I loved. On some other years I watched the Arch from the distant interstate, and I pined to return to its heights. Either way, we were bound for the Missouri/Arkansas border, to visit my Grandpa Ruby and Grandma Mae, in a place even hotter than Indiana in summer, and we needed to arrive by the end of day 2, so we could avoid more hotel cost.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

for Chris Fredericks, wherever you are

 a sketch for the Farmland Elementary crowd.

Not only did he never give a straight answer, but Mr. Fredericks, my third-grade art teacher, could stun people to silence, send a shiver up listeners’ spines.

“Mr. Fredericks, are you married?” I only heard this question once.

“Her name is Captain Midnight. She is six feet tall and black as coal,” he ended with a whisper, eyes wide as when telling ghost stories.

The questioner was my bold friend Shelley, polar opposite of my shyness, but I witnessed the whole interchange. No one said, “So what do you mean by that? Are you really married? Is she African-American, is that what you mean? What is her real name?” No one said a word. Mr. Fredericks was perhaps five-foot-eight, but larger than life—or at least larger than life in my little town.

Up to that point I had not found anyone of the male half of the species to be even remotely interesting, with the possible exception of my dad, but that hardly counts, as dad was strong enough, handsome enough, and very smart, but very interior, so as a third-grader, it was hard to feel like I knew him. Dad’s a non-fiction kind of guy, an adult, and I thought all men were non-fiction kind of guys. Something about Mr. Fredericks spoke of a story, a mystery, an adventure. He would be a good pirate.

I will admit that it does not take much effort to “stand out” in Farmland, Indiana. No pirates there, under most circumstances. He embodied difference in a dozen visible ways— unkempt hair and a sense of style, beginnings of a beard—but on a deeper level, he was playful and funny, which added up to mystique, at least in the heart of a third-grader. My brothers admired him as much as I did, but I found Mr. Fredericks not charming, really, but rather fascinating like a well-written book. It was hard not to follow his every movement around the room when I was supposed to concentrate on my art projects.

Later, my brothers and I would try to fill in the back story of why such an unusual man chose to teach in a rural backwater—how did we get so lucky? One possible clue, better for a novelist than for a simple story-teller: Mr. Fredericks would kick the wooden benches in the art room with an imposing thunk when he felt he needed our respectful attention, and it sounded like the crack of a bat. He kept a psychedelic-painted wooden leg in the closet, a spare, with a funky dress shoe and sock. And he also had a temper, when provoked, and a bit of what we would call An Attitude Problem. On the other hand, if I was teaching creativity to the dusty children of farmers and factory workers in some poverty-stricken flatland town, I would develop an attitude problem on arrival. A missing leg, a temper, a country locale: I wonder if perhaps he was a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, an ex-soldier in the process of healing. The year was 1970.

When my mother, my brothers and I registered for classes and picked up our text books for the year, Mr. Fredericks was penciling lines on the huge art room walls, using an overhead projector with a stencil of a Mt. Rushmore for activists: Lincoln, the Kennedy brothers, and a face I found out later to be Martin Luther King. Note: he was drawing on the walls, as if people were allowed to draw on walls. Privileged sixth graders would assist in developing this Peter Max-style fantasy in vivid primary colors, beams of yellow light stretching over three walls. But I was in third grade, and I was in stunned awe.

Our art teacher could not actually draw, which is strange for an art teacher. He drew lollipop trees, a circle on a stick with no pretense of being tree-like. He was talented with graphics, block prints, large-scale projects. And he taught photography so creatively I still remember his crazy lessons, with characters opening doors and giving people black eyes to illustrate how film takes in light but actually turns black.

I do know Mr. Fredericks moonlighted as a freelance photographer, and that perhaps his real mission or real joy was to photograph children producing art. He offered my parents a candid Kodak slide of me, sprawling on a sidewalk on a warm spring day, tongue poking out of the side of my mouth in concentration, crayons strewn. The light was perfect that day, and we had started Art Class outside, Mr. Fredericks with a guitar singing, Ain’t a Gonna Study War No More. In the photo, strands of hair curled across my face, just as my mother would hate it, but just as it always did. There was a fierce look in my eyes, a force of will bending the page to some inner vision—I never noticed the sneaky photographer, never heard the click of the shutter.

One winter night as we viewed a slideshow in my family living room, the carousel stuck too long at that photo of me, and it bubbled and dissolved before our eyes. I was heartbroken, my last trace gone, along with the nicest photo of me ever taken. Somehow it seems fitting, though, a self-destructing trail, for the mysterious Mr. Fredericks. He would be in his mid-sixties now, and I wonder where he went next. Somehow I bet he never taught elementary art again, or at least not in a small town. I wonder where he ended up, if he is happy with Captain Midnight, if he still has a box of Kodak slides labeled 1970, Farmland Elementary, or if his copies, too self-destructed without a trace, leaving dust motes in the light of the projector beam, a little disappointment, and a little puzzle over what on earth really happened back there, anyway. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

letter from the exotic faraway

Good morning!

Isn’t it miraculous how traveling peels back the surface of ordinary life? Every setting, every minute feels new like a freshly-cracked egg, and just as liquid. Anything could happen.

I’m writing from my studio, my three-room writing paradise at Dairy Hollow Writers Colony in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. While I’m still taking it all in, Eureka Springs feels to me like a mix of Rivendell (Middle Earth, Lord of the Rings) and Madrid, New Mexico—maybe with a bit of Farmland, Indiana thrown in there, too. Everyone greets one another. People talk to strangers. While the writers’ colony is located in town, the space between houses is wild and wooded. From my living room porch, I watched a fox cross the street this morning, and I saw a deer on the way to church. Neither of them looked too nervous about my presence. Public walking paths travel behind old haunted inns, past the towers of Victorian houses, right through the backyards full of cliffs and healing springs with mythical qualities. Everyplace is uphill, both ways.

My home for the next week is “the culinary suite,” a pale green and cream living room/office, arranged around a rustic fireplace of local stone. My suite also includes a KitchenAid dream kitchen, with a six-burner stainless steel stove and an array of cobalt blue appliances. Surrounding the dream kitchen is a patio. 

I arrived Saturday to an outdoor temperature of 104, so I unpacked and napped in the air-conditioning. (Folks here tell me this heat is not normal for this place—Eureka Springs is typically the cool and shady part of the state, a vacation hub in summer.) After walking through the crowded downtown in the evening, I found a small pub with a menu of “little bites.” The lettuce-shrimp wrap reminded me of Vietnamese summer rolls in Chinatown, and the olive tapenade reminded me of a favorite restaurant on Eastern Point in Gloucester, a restaurant my husband and I frequented many years ago—now long gone. Is it travel that knits all of time together into one story? Gloucester friends, one of the pub’s specials of the day was a lobster tail dinner for $65. What on earth can one do to a lobster tail to make it worthy of that investment? My little bites added up to $10.

St. James’ Episcopal serves Sunday brunch after church—eggs, fruit, and sticky buns from heaven. I met twenty new people who all love Dairy Hollow writing center, and they all wanted to know about what I am writing. I almost got to meet a retired author of Harlequin “super-romances,” but she was busy with the altar guild. (I am so NOT a romance-reader. This near-miss might be providential for her and for me. What is a super-romance? Anyone? Another of my writing companions enjoys a sub-genre called “cozy mysteries,” which include recipes. Who knew?) The church feels much like St. Mary’s Rockport, a place filled with artists and people who chose to live here instead of living anyplace else on earth. When I returned to my studio, I worked on research, journal writing and just catching up with myself. Went back to the pub for lettuce shrimp wraps and tapenade with my two colony compatriots—shared a bottle of wine and talked about our work. A nice introduction.

Then I hunkered down yesterday—all the world was waiting for rain to break this miserable heat wave. Spent the morning writing, reading, researching. Spent the afternoon finding a ride to the grocery store (good coffee, rice crackers, juice, pinot grigio). After my first Dairy Hollow dinner, more work and a little knitting. It took me a few hours to realize how silent this place is, aside from the cicadas, and to remember how much I love silence and solitude as a respite from my regular day-to-day life.

The rain came in the evening, pummeling, pounding, an all-night deluge. I woke to 72 degrees, outside—my online weather forecast said the cool temps would only last an hour, so I found the shortcut path through the woods and walked downtown. Most stores are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. So I’ll make a date for the yarn shop tomorrow. Meanwhile I returned drenched with sweat from walking uphill both ways again.

Later this week I’ll tell you more about the project I’m working on. For right now, the temperature is climbing again, and I’m watching the butterflies on the porch. I tossed this morning’s coffee over ice and I’m sitting with my feet up on the hassock, my stack of books, and my notes. This time is a gift, and I’m enjoying myself and enjoying my work greatly.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

from the corner of Birdsong and Windy River

Dear friends,

Happy summer to you!

My writing desk faces north over the Eagle Hill River, where I see the clam-diggers are parked on the point this morning. I’m situated on the second floor, with large maples shading me to the east, with vistas to the north and west.

The marshes flourish, grasses of chartreuse-green along the river, a bright contrast to the deep green of our lawn and the trees. Sometimes the birdsong threatens to overtake me—beginning at 3:30 a.m. rising in slow crescendo through six a.m. Then we adapt to the ongoing symphony, and even the cat sits to watch the mourning doves on the porch rail. At the end of the day, I know I should get to bed early since the birds will wake me repeatedly, but I love the night sounds, too, and I wait for the summer heat to relent a little. The house is uniquely unsuited to air conditioning—odd windows, few doors. But we are uniquely situated to catch any breeze.

Breeze, birdsong, spectacular views: am I painting a picture, here? I don’t know if I need a larger writing desk in my corner perch in the master bedroom, or if I need to go hide in the basement to get some work done—like Annie Dillard covering the window of her cinderblock writing cell. So far, I’ve indulged myself in the beautiful world with only a little self-discipline for my writing. This past year has been so very hard (the move, the loss of hope about buying a house, the long wait to hear about my adjunct teaching position). I am soaking up the beautiful world like a balm, reading books to feed my writing life, helping kids adapt to our new neighborhood and our new town.

I pulled together a ragged story for The Glen East Workshops in early June, where I studied with Scott Russell Sanders and a room full of talented writers for a week. In a writing workshop, each writer brings 20 pages, and we discuss each story around the table: what works? What prevents the story from working as well as it could? Watching SRS draw out insights and form mini-lectures from the content of these stories—that was well worth the investment of time and money to attend these workshops. My stack of notes will help me root out any traces of self-indulgence, and to clarify some confusing sections of my story. I highly recommend Sanders’ A Private History of Awe, and you can find some of his shorter works on the website of Orion magazine.

While staying at The Glen Workshops, I roomed with Andi Schrader, a woman who is dear to me from a dozen different points in my life. We lived in a dorm, ate in a cafeteria with endlessly fascinating conversationalists. Throughout the week, I drank in the readings and lectures by SRS, by Brett Lott, by Gregory Orr and Sara Zarr. And by the end of the week, I was enjoying the artwork Andi created in her calligraphy class with TimBotts, and the galleries of art created by the fiber arts and figure drawing classes. I haven’t even touched on my phenomenal classmates—this post would go on forever—but I’ll say that Justin McRoberts was in the room, and AmyTimberlake, and Jan Vallone was nice enough to give me a copy of her memoir.

In the past, I’ve been lucky to attend four Glen West workshops in Santa Fe, in conjunction with my masters program, and it’s a delight to be a part of the very first Glen East. It does me good to take my writing vocation seriously, along with other writers who me seriously, too. I will continue to mull how “the Glen” --the community of people working hard in the arts, wrestling with questions of faith—makes my life sane and rich and solid. I’m not sure words can frame this yet. And I'm still asking myself how my picture of The Glen is shaped by people I didn't see this time: I missed the SPU MFA crowd, and the Overstreets, and the Huppert-Volcks and the Guslers. And Mary and Nancy and Ann and Allison. I send unending thanks to IMAGE for hosting the Glens, all of them.

During the rest of my summer, I will teach conversational English for three weeks. Then I travel to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to accept The Duncan Eat/Write Fellowship for 2011—my award is two weeks of writing time in a private studio, and I’ll tell you more about that, soon. When I return, I’ll be preparing for my professor-life and I’ll be traveling a bit more with my family.  A full summer.

I need a second cup of coffee, friends— the breeze is sweet and cool, and I’m so glad to emerge from the heat wave. Scott went to work hours ago. Kids will continue to be draped across their beds for another hour or so, and I must dig into my journal with a pen. I’m hitting send, and not editing. You have a good summer, too.


Monday, May 09, 2011

snippets from journals past

Hello, dear readers! 

We moved. I didn't forget you-- okay, I kinda forgot you in comparison with all of my other obligations. I've taken to writing by hand, as often as possible, which makes it more work to find my blog-post pieces. I am digging through journals, now, finding paragraphs for a long essay about moving. 

Found this. Thought you'd might like it. I'll keep looking for more. 

Every day that passes brings a touch of nostalgia, not for this outgrown nest of a home, but for the ghosts of childhood past, for the images of childhoods fully lived, here. Already Brendan’s workbench sits abandoned, much of the time. When we bought it at a yard sale, how he loved it and how lucky we were, happy with our ten dollar investment, happy for a place to park his handsaw and his hand-crank drill. When we returned home, the workbench was wedged between the stove and the washing machine in the kitchen. I tacked a child’s apron to the front, to cover the storage area below and to provide pockets for cat treats.

When we move, he may find he’s outgrown the bench entirely. We will prop it up on blocks, to raise it to the right height, but I will miss its presence in the kitchen, where we kept one another company, each at our own work, him with his hammer and paint, me with the flour and the rolling pin.

A childhood passes. And one half of motherhood passes—not nearly all, and perhaps not nearly the hardest part.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


When I claimed Shelley Wallace as my best friend in third grade, it was because she was new, and somehow she never learned that I was considered a social pariah. She liked me, and we laughed, and it was wonderful. I didn’t care so much that she was popular, and she didn’t care so much that I was not. No one told me that basketball coaches move—along with their wonderful daughters—every two years unless they can produce a winning team. So at the end of fifth grade, Shelley announced her family was moving. I suggested that she lash herself to the bedpost and refuse to leave our town, but she shrugged. She’d moved before.

I didn’t move. I lived in the same house until my 18th birthday and my graduation from high school, when my parents put the house on the market and bought me a set of luggage. By then, luggage was exactly what I wanted. I would laugh with my college friends when they said they’d “go back to square one,” which meant going home. I had no square one, and there was no going back to anything, anywhere. My mother shared a trailer in the country with her new husband, the trucker whose company I loathed. My father had moved on to his new step-children and their teenage dramas.

I could form a homey room from the sterile cinderblock walls of a dorm cell.  I never traveled light—I carried everything with me. I became my own square one, forming my own path through college and summer breaks. And I was infinitely happy with my independence. Luggage: I was all about the luggage.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

back soon!

Hey! We moved! Sold the condo, packed up our stuff, hauled it to the new place-- all while enduring several blizzards, weeks of freezing rain, several high water warnings.

So the new place is full of boxes, somehow. The light is (once again) spectacular.

I'm writing about this moving process, and I'm unpacking stuff as best I can. I will post more, after we catch up with ourselves.

Blessings to you. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

sick house, take two

She hates to be sick, more than anyone I know. She tells me today that she secretly fears she’ll die, like Beth in Little Women, so she doesn’t want to rest in the dark, by herself. I wrap her in a big hug and assure her she will wake, but if she doesn’t rest, she’ll be sick much longer. Life—this very hour—is so hard to let go.

And she can never sleep when it’s daylight, she says. I remind her she is saying this at 8:30 a.m., and she’s often slept past nine or even ten in the morning.

But that was different, she says. And I suppose that’s true. Still I walk her into her room and set her up a little nest, pulling the dark curtain, kissing her on the forehead, and shutting the door.

Her brother is an excellent patient: he sleeps until the sickness is over, and he does not fight it. This illness took five hard days of recovery for him, with rest. I was unpacking and cleaning the house, and he was no trouble. I resign myself: she will require a week of care, too, and my work will be set aside. I wouldn't trade her care to anyone else, this morning.

The day is so striking, gorgeous blue and clear after yesterday’s downpour and gray. I slowly trace out the steps of my breakfast dance, knowing she hears me set the skillet on the stove, light the fire under it, gather the saucer. I'm still learning my way around, calculating where the cooking utensils should go. I don’t dare check on her—she will throw me a list of cranky complaints, and wake herself up all over again with protests.

After breakfast, my phone rings and I head upstairs to my writing corner. I listen for her footsteps, poor girl. She was just home for a week with February break, and she was hovering near boredom. She resents this flu for taking her away from her school friends.

I’ve written so little. Moving—I’d forgotten how this feels, how unsettling it is to un-settle from one dwelling, how long it takes to settle in another. I wake happy, every day, to look out the window and see for miles, or to examine the fog. I wake rested—the new bed is a good change. And I wake hungry for this hour or so of quiet.

So far, no sound of stirring below. I will sneak around quietly and make coffee, and see if I can dig into writing a little more.  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

two months of cardboard, transition and joy

On December 23rd, I found an ad for a house rental on Craigslist. I was looking for something else entirely, but I knew the name of the realtor who was showing the house. I phoned at 9 p.m. and set an appointment to see the house at 9 in the morning, on Christmas Eve. As soon as we opened the door, we said yes, and drove home hoping our deposit check wouldn't bounce. We celebrated Christmas, saying nothing to the kids. We signed papers to sell our condo, three days later. And I started packing, first, and buying stuff on Craigslist: bookcases, a sofa, a bed that can fit up a spiral staircase, a five -dollar push-reel lawn-mower, a four-drawer lateral filing cabinet, a free skee-ball game.

Our lease began on the first day of February, after weeks of heavy snows and storms, after my weekend with the stomach flu. I painted for the first two days. Scott rented a truck for the weekend and hauled furniture and boxes through the snow, while I fed children and helped keep them to as normal a life as possible. Snow days (three), and kids home with fevers (five days), and then me, down with a respiratory flu and 104 degree fever. Then an out-of-town speaking engagement in Pittsburgh, February 17, 18, 19.

I returned to February break and a blessed mix of moving-in and laziness. We have ROOM!

Each day I wander around with a box, finding the right home for objects I may not have seen for a decade or so. Today I found my poster collection from my days as a college residence director—20-some years ago. Concert posters from Dan Fogelberg, John Micheal Talbot, and an opening-night poster from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Prints from museums, of Tiffany windows and Monet paintings. Another life, all of it. I will take photos, then most will go to the burn pile.

After the poster box came a box of doll-house furniture, all rejected by my children now. Somehow with this move, we have left an era behind. We are in the teen years, now, and I don’t know where the stuffed animals will go.

I noticed yesterday that I’m itching to get my writing desk set up. I’ve built a homework desk for everyone in the house but me, and I will need to concentrate on my own little nook, soon. While I don’t have a dedicated writing room, mine is a nice corner with a view.

Not bad for eight weeks of work! We have a burnt orange living room with purple furniture (it looks GREAT!), and a purple kitchen with cabinets worthy of a bonfire. We have a red woodstove in the den and Bonanza-style wood trim from the 1970s. We have a whole-lot-of HUGE in all of the rooms.

I will tell you more as we go. For now, we’ve made the move and we are charmed by the wind, the views, the sunlight, and this funny-enormous house on the marshes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

the new view

We will be trying to snap a photo that does justice to our view from our bedroom window. So far, the beauty remains ethereal, but we will keep trying.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

winter rose sky

A pair of boys are playing nerf basketball in the bedroom, and I hope no one gets a concussion from all the possible hard surfaces. The dryer drowns out most of the thunderous footfalls, and I’ve not yet looked to see if my downstairs neighbor is home. Me, I’m sitting in my comfy chair watching the last-of-the-last of the sunsets over Gloucester Harbor. Pink winter sky paints alpenglow on the snowy rooftops and house fronts across the water, and the windows across the way flare with gold. The prettiest light, today.

More than ever, the condo is full of things that need repair or cleaning or sorting or just packing. My hands are spotted with white latex paint from my morning move-in project, and I need to a) figure out dinner and b) figure out what to wear to a play tonight, with a gaggle of 7th graders.

Pink turns to that blue-lavender, periwinkle edged with magenta. Why is there only one grey gull out there tonight? The rest must be napping.

Tomorrow, I paint again. Then I lead my last class on “recycled wool garment design for sixth-graders,” then I throw myself back into The Big Move.

The sky is still beautiful, though the light will go fast, now. I wish I could sit here longer.

The next place is beautiful, too. Nothing like this view I’ve been watching for 13 years. But truly, truly beautiful. I’ll write you from there.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Book Club at

I can’t offer a close read of five chapters, today, though I may do so later in the week. For now, I want to quickly paint for you the difficulty of discussing four or five stories per week from The Spirit of Food:

Chapter 2: I’ve eaten October tomatoes at Brian’s house.

When I first walked into Brian’s house, I spied a pan of steaming bruschetta, fresh from the oven: little rounds of bread topped with yellow and red tomatoes, smelling of olive oil and basil. We’d been eating at restaurants for days, on the road. My children and I were on a long October road trip, from Boston to Pittsburgh for a wedding. My husband Scott drove with us to that celebration, then he flew back home while the kids and I traveled further west toward my dad’s house in Indiana.

Sometimes a visit “home” tears me to pieces. “Well we’ll put you back together as much as we can, then,” Brian had said when I planned the trip. “And we’ll probably enjoy doing it.” We stayed for one night before visiting my hometown. And we stayed another night before the long drive back to the coast. I overheard an earnest argument between Brian and his wife over who was getting more time to talk to me. They played my favorite music on the stereo, just by guessing, and they plied me with wines from Wendell Berry’s vineyards. To be “at home” while traveling—I found myself near tears, eager to soak up their hospitality. It wasn’t my last visit. The next time I brought my husband Scott, so we all could be charmed.

I saw this essay in process, long before I knew of any food book. I can see Art, with the thumb’s worth of dirt above his brow. I love how beautifully-edited the story is, now. I suffer good-family-envy when I read the story. And I also see the marketplace, the faces of the people who greet Brian on the street, his vibrant wife, the backyard garden.

Chapter 3: Jeanne has a magical voice. Go listen to it on the Image Journal website!

I love how her prose sounds exactly like how she speaks. I’ve been through an ugly church breakup, and I’ve seen how some non-religious communities feel a lot more like communion than some churches. I feel like I’m with her.

Chapter 6: Robert Farrar Capon is one of the true loves of my life, and I say so later in the book.

Chapter 9: Someday I will tell you how I came to be a part of this book.

Chapter 11: When I met Alissa, she was just entering the health crisis that would challenge her way of eating, but you wouldn’t look at her and say “crisis.” I saw her shinny up a tall lamppost in the pouring rain—the lamp shone all night, and we’d all been complaining about it. She covered it with a garbage bag. While climbing, she wore a long knitted duster and her cat-eye glasses glimmered. She looked like a superhero to me, when she returned dripping, triumphant. Last summer I heard Alissa read this essay aloud for her graduation from the SPU MFA program.

Chapter 12: Nancy Nordenson read this story in a small circle of friends in a hotel room, after a day at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. I realized, then, that she’d experienced this disaster while we were both in Santa Fe—she, for her last graduate residency, and me for my first. I had been so wrapped up in my own life as a new student, I knew nothing of what she endured. I continue to admire how she weaves stories together. Such a rich thinker! See her story in Comment.

Chapter 14: Kirstin was the first editor who accepted my work without knowing me in person. She wrote such a glowing letter of recommendation for me—I carried it around in my journal for years.

This is how The Spirit of Food goes for me. I could keep numbering a paragraph or two for each of the chapters, each remarkable essay. I know exactly how lucky and blessed I am to have my writing included in this collection. I think Brian said something like, “I will hope to live up to this.” Yeah. The Great Cloud of Witnesses, that’s what I sense when I read the book. We are all—those who write, those who read, those who eat—so deeply blessed by Leslie’s editorial vision. 

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Thank God, Thank God, Thank God and without thinking too hard the words ring out through my condo, Thank God Almighty, free at last.

I step onto the chair and onto the kitchen counter. I grab one handful of cookbooks, and a second handful, dust the tops and place them into the box waiting on the counter. In goes the waffle iron, clean from our Christmas breakfast, and the ice cream maker ball.

I will not eat from you until you are in a new kitchen.

And the books are tucked in, and the lid is fit on: I have packed the first box. I take a moment to dance and sing.

Early on the morning of December 24th, Scott and I met with the owners of a rental house in the town where we hope to live. When the doors opened to a wide hallway, both of us grinned—the place is so NOT perfect, so different from the homes we’ve been looking to buy. And we liked the place. And it seemed huge, in comparison to our condo. We signed a check and left in a daze. We’ve leased a house with enough space for us to live.

My glee is tempered by the expense of rental, and what could be a free-fall into permanent status as renters, not home-owners. I can’t get purely excited without reminding myself of the risks.

On the other hand, it is morning of the first day, and I have packed the first box. We are moving. We are moving.