Archives for March 2014

Love Idol 4

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which released on March 25, 2014.

The other night I ran into Cindy (not her real name), who was walking her two chocolate Labs. She called out my name, but I didn’t recognize her until we were face to face, right in the middle of Austin Street.

Did you catch that she was walking two Labs? I walk two tiny terriers that together weigh only one-third of what each of Cindy’s Labs weighs. She’s a woman of unexpected strength.

But I didn’t know that when I first met her. I misjudged her.

Cindy asked me how we’re doing. Usually, I hate that question, but I don’t mind when she asks. Even though she’s not a close friend by any means, even though I go months without talking to her, even though she is the last person I  expected to care about our situation, much less to be an ally. It turns out, she’s a true friend.

Over the last year, I’ve found support from unexpected sources. The supportive folks usually have a story of their own — like Cindy. The woman going through a divorce has been supportive. So has the friend who’s dealing with an alcoholic mother. The lady at the gym whose son was on drugs, ditto. Those people have been wonderful.

It’s the one percent who haven’t been wonderful who have absolutely killed me. The man who turned away from me at the frozen yogurt shop, the woman who avoided me at the donut place. The people who pretend I’m not there. I didn’t think I had a huge need for approval until I was suddenly  on the other end of crushing disapproval.

And I hate to admit it, but if I hadn’t been in the midst of my personal yuckiness at the same time Cindy was going through hers, I might have judged her, too.

Instead, we stood in the middle of the street and talked about giving up control of those we love. We  stepped aside for the random truck meandering its way down the road. (It’s a small town.) We took turns petting her Labs, who got a little restless and tied Cindy up in their leashes, but she wrestled them free. We hugged. Then she walked to her home, and I got in the car and drove to mine.

A found poem from one cousin to another



Well, today I made a project at school

I made one for me and one for Mom

It’s a Sam Patrick’s day hat


Well, I’ve really missed you

I hope you are safe

And none of your toys or anything broke


My teachers and some of my kids felt it

And some of my friends felt it

I really wish, like,


You need to have a earthquake

Just freak out about it

Maybe the earth broked every city


Hope you’re okay if you had the earthquake

Well, I’m really sad because we had the earthquake this morning at 6-firty

A teacup broke



You know our dog Ace

Ace stayed up all night and was so worried about the earthquake


I was so, kind of, I was like, “Wha—? What was that?”

Well, I just can’t wait to see you.

I will never ever ever ever ever leave you behind


When you want to play with me, you can be invisible

I can make you invisible

I have invisible powers to make people come to me and be invisible.




See ya on summer vacation!

Love Idol 3

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which releases on April 1, 2014.

It’s evening. I’m sitting on the couch, reading “Love Idol.” It’s our first free night in a week. My husband is in Dallas. My daughter is sitting at the piano, playing “Amazing Grace.”

Wait, what?

It’s been years since that hymn was played in my house in any form. It’s been two years since my daughter played piano at all.

She’s playing tonight because this weekend, she’ll be visiting a nursing home with my mother-in-law, and the director mentioned that the residents like to hear hymns. She looked through her old piano books and found a version of “Amazing Grace.” Gosh, she was a little kid the last time she played from “Piano Adventures 3A.”

“Are these the chords to the ‘Lord’s Prayer’? I’ve never really heard it,” she says.

“I don’t know, hon. I can’t read chords.” I try to sing it, but the version she’s talking about is totally out of my range. We sing a much more friendly version at St. Mary’s.

She gives up on my attempt to sing a song she doesn’t really know anyway.

I sit back down with “Love Idol.”

Then she moves on to a song she does know — “Jesus Loves Me.” She sings the words just fine, but the notes on the piano aren’t matching up. She looks more closely at the sheet of paper she printed off some random hymn site on the internet.

“These are guitar chords. They’re all wrong, Listen,” she says, “this is not ‘Jesus Loves Me.’”

“Not quite,” I say.

She starts to pick it out by ear — something I could never do in my piano days. Now I’m totally pretending to read Jennifer’s book, and I’m typing a version of what I’m writing now into my phone.

My daughter leaves the piano and goes to take a shower. I hear her singing but I’m not sure what. I turn back to “Love Idol,” to the chapter called “Preapproved” and read these words Jennifer wrote from seat 12A on a Delta flight: “And I am learning, and relearning, to open my eyes to this wonder — to open the shade even when it looks dark outside.”

It has been oh, so dark here in my house for oh, so long. It’s not quite as dark as it was, although it’s still not light enough to see. Kind of like Lent, which means “lengthening.” It feels like the light is gathering, waiting.

After her shower, my daughter goes to her room and then comes back out a few minutes later. She sits back down at the piano and plays “Jesus Loves Me” again. This time, she ends it with a little flair.

Rumi and Topo Chico

What does a 13th century poet have in common with Topo Chico?

Not much. But I wrote about it anyway over at Tweetspeak.

Love Idol 2

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which releases on April 1, 2014.

Take a minute and look at this photo Mark Osler took and posted for Ash Wednesday:

I adore this photo — so much that it’s the subject of my post.

Through the windows, we see winter. (Osler lives in Minnesota.) Jennifer Dukes Lee, who lives in Iowa, wrote on her blog on Ash Wednesday, “I won’t be able to look at my reflection until the snow melts, until the daffodils bloom.”

Our Ash Wednesday did not include snow, but it was cold and gray. With Lent so late this year, we may be past the bluebonnets by the time Easter comes. It all depends. You never can tell with wildflowers.

Osler’s photo features three people: a man, a  preteen-ish boy and a teenager-ish girl. I don’t know if they’re a family, but let’s pretend they are.

We can’t see their faces well. The dad has his back to us, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He’s looking out at winter, probably waiting for the Ash Wednesday service to begin. The teenage girl — I’m sure she’s a teenager because of her hair and because she’s wearing a sleeveless shirt on a snowy day — is looking down. You can see the boy’s face a little. He looks very middle-school-ish, when the body grows tall faster than it can keep on weight, so all the clothes look huge, especially sweatshirts, like he is wearing. He seems to fiddling with the railing. No cellphones in sight.

The scene is quiet. We don’t know anything about how these three people feel about each other. They could be filled with love, yet bored, or filled with hatred. Who knows? They are together, waiting.

Someone somewhere told me to look at the center of any piece of art. With the rectangular windows, the center of this photo almost but not quite narrows on the boy. He’s standing slightly apart from the dad and the girl but not so much apart that you’d notice.

Where is the mom?

Is she on her way and they’re waiting for her? Is she working during the service? Is she working in the service? Is she sick in bed? Is she gone?

Even when a mother is not present, her absence is its own kind of presence. If you have a family without a father, you have America. If you have a family without a mother, you have a Disney movie.

For Jennifer’s Love Idol movement, I’m contemplating parenting as an idol. Frankly, an idol is too small for what motherhood is. I am part of my family’s picture whether I’m in the actual picture or not, whether I’m doing a good job or not, whether I’m down with a migraine or doing an interview in Waco or sitting in the audience at the theater. Motherhood is so big that it’s there even when it isn’t.

“If someone challenges our parenting today, what does it mean?” Jennifer writes in Love Idol, “Very little.”

She’s right. But I needed this photo to believe her.

A Clover poem

“that everyone here can read and write,

the dogs in poetry, the cats and all the others in prose.”

Billy Collins, “The  Revenant”

No, Clover.

I am not walking you today. Didn’t you notice?

It’s 5:26 p.m.


Yes, Clover.

I should have walked you at our normal time

but I didn’t,


Clover, I just didn’t.

No real reason.

(although it did start to rain)


Why are you still begging  twelve hours later?

Did you have a date?

Did you and Polo make secret plans?


She’s been out all day

doing mysterious things with a hole. She seems surprised

most morning that I even remember


to show up faithfully, six days out of seven, for our walk,

while you, Clover

jump on me with  nails like claws


you bark before my coffee

slides down my throat to my feet

which only awake when I walk


you, Clover.

I’ve stumbled through fog

this whole long day.

Love Idol 1

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which releases on April 1, 2014.

If you already know Jennifer Dukes Lee, you’ll know that she’s inviting you to participate in a slightly different Lenten observance this season. Instead of asking you to give up something like dark chocolate, she’s requesting that her readers give up a “HEART indulgence,” a place where we look for approval anywhere other than God.

I read Jennifer’s post announcing this whole Love Idol Movement thing right before I went to yoga. For the next hour, I focused on my practice, but as the time wound down, I found myself thinking about the argument I’d had in the car with my daughter that morning.

“My love idol is parenting,” I thought. Followed shortly by the thought, “Couldn’t it be something else?”

Jennifer wants us to identify any areas where we’re finding our identity other than God alone. I especially don’t like admitting that I want to find my identity in parenting because I’ve never considered myself a great parent. I can’t tell you how many of my monthly columns are based around the premise of look-how-I-failed-as-a-mom-this-time.

Only, I can’t talk about the big failures. Not anymore. Not now that my kids are teenagers.

Hello, all you mommy bloggers out there. The day will come when you can no longer write about your kids. You won’t even be able to write about the good stuff, like when they win second place at a robotics tournament, and you sure won’t be able to write about the bad stuff, like when they screw up.

When our teenagers screw up in 2014, it’s all over social media.

I was talking with a friend about my age (I’m 43), and she said that when she was in high school, she partied a lot.

“My parents still don’t know,” she said.

“They would now,” I told her. “The pictures would be all over Instagram.”

My friend’s kids are little. I’m not sure she’d thought about how things have changed since she was a rowdy teen.

While I was winding down that yoga class, thinking through that morning’s argument with my daughter, I realized that she’ll be leaving home very soon. As in August. That same month, my son will be moving from a dorm at one school to a dorm at another. My role as a parent is shifting. Those days of arguing in the car on the way to school are numbered.

I think Jennifer’s challenge came at just the right time. And I get to keep my dark chocolate.


A little poetry for Mom

“And you stay just as you are,

lying there in your beautiful blue suit,

your hands crossed on your chest

like the wings of a bird who has flown

in its strange migration not north or south

but straight up from earth

and pierced the enormous circle of the zodiac.”

by Billy Collins

from his poem “Horoscopes for the Dead,” which also includes this fabulous line: “though that sounds like a lot to get done on a Tuesday.”

On a Monday, too, Billy. Especially this Monday, which marks four years.

Missing you, Mom (and yes, I know you didn’t wear a blue suit, but I needed that part of the poem for context). love you!

2 March 2014

Here’s a fun fact about Polo and Clover. Most days, I leave the back door open between the garage and the backyard so they can go back and forth. This arrangement requires that I either a) remember to close the back door when I leave in the car, or b) park in the driveway.

Sometimes I forget. I drive up and open the garage door, and they come running out, full of glee. Clover actually has all four feet off the ground, like she’s doing a jeté.

This could be a moment of extreme danger, and I promise, my heart stops every time I make this mistake. But I’ve discovered the solution: open the car door.

Oh, my doggies! They love a car ride! Even one that’s only 20 feet from the driveway into the garage. Then I push the button to close the garage door and wait until it’s all the way down before I open the car door.

Then they run into the backyard. A fabulous ride in Mom’s Hyundai? Mission accomplished!

(This just happened again, only this time it was my husband, who came home early. Now Polo and Clover are lying side by side in the sun.)