New and Old

This afternoon I’m going to the Salvation Army with stuff to donate, particularly clothes that Joseph has grown out of.  He’s probably in the middle of a growing spurt right now, currently in the last days (or months) during which he will be shorter than me.  I’m great at getting rid of things, giving things away.  I’m almost too good at it.  Sometimes Silas has to keep me in check and save things before I donate them.  I could just donate it all.  Less things that have to be dusted and fixed and kept track of and washed and put back where they belong.

So I thought I should do something new to this blog as well, and put a different picture as the header.  I considered the Christmas picture that we took of the four of us, but it wouldn’t crop to the right dimensions.  So I looked back at old pictures.  The kids when they were little.

It makes me think about how our whole lives are always part of us.  That’s something we can never clean out or give away.  Every moment of our lives is something that stays with us, and we are an ever-expanding garden of all the different moments that have been planted over the years.  So I chose an old picture, of my little children.  The littleness and innocence of their past is not something that goes away just because they are bigger and more complicated now.  Our own childhoods are still with us too, the good and the bad. I’m trying to help Julia see that too, gently, that the pictures of her looking like a boy are still part of her, not something that she needs to shut out or avoid.

And so we go on into the new year, and whatever things it will bring.


Recital Pieces

Joseph and I recorded his recital pieces, after he recovered from his cold.  Here they are, not perfect, but beautiful and human, even with Jasmine, our dog walking through the Pavane as we played it.


One of my great fears in life is of moments when everything difficult converges.  It happened yesterday.  It was the morning of my student recital, the long-awaited time when the weeks of lessons, of plodding through mistakes and repeats and practicing with my young musicians finally blooms into a beautiful performance in front of their parents and grandparents and everyone gets tears in their eyes and claps and everything is good and right and beautiful.

Joseph and I had been practicing a recorder and guitar duet for months.  It was so beautiful.  I was so happy and proud to play it with him, every time we practiced.

He woke up Saturday morning with a cold and a not-so-great attitude.  “I can’t play,” he said. I encouraged him to get up anyway, take a shower, maybe he’d feel better, please please please.  Maybe you can play anyway. “No.”

Julia woke up with an existential crisis. “Being transgender is against God. I’m going to hell.”

One hour to go before the recital. I’m sitting with Julia discussing theology in very frustrating circles that go nowhere.  Joseph is in the bedroom moaning.

But the recital happened anyway.  Without Joseph.  I clapped for my other lovely students who had not woken up with a cold or an attitude.

And one of my greatest joys in life are moments when everything good converges.  That happens too. For my family, it seldom happens in the moments when you think it should.  It probably won’t happen on Christmas eve, or any of those special times.  But it will happen.  Which, I suppose, is appropriate for the season, since even the birth of Christ didn’t converge under festive circumstances, but out in a stable during a hectic government census. And that was the greatest convergence of all time.

Autumn at last

During the summer in Fresno, the sky glares down at the dusty ground and seems to say “I dare you to grow, or live, or even breathe!”  And most of the plants, and the people, by long habit, simply put on sunglasses and, (in the case of people) stick to the air conditioning, or, (in the case of plants) wait for the end of summer in a near-death, drought tolerant sort of way.

But now it’s November.  The air is cool.  Rain has cleared the air.  The summer has burned itself out, the plants have said “Ha!” We have very patient plants, here.  Huge eucalyptus trees, rosemary, sego palms, things that wait. And now they are drinking in the rain and breathing and feeling pretty good.

It’s the time of year when people come out of the air conditioning and enjoy the company of the plants again, and the sky and the air.

So my creative need to arrange the things around me has spread to the front yard.  After three Saturdays, the shovel and I have improved the front yard just a little bit, I think.  I have endured the comments of passersby.  As I was digging up dead bermuda grass on the first Saturday, an old man walked by and said, “You like your yard dry, huh?”  I smiled politely, and said silently “No, I hate my yard dry.  What kind of silly comment was that!”  On the second Saturday as I was digging up more dead bermuda grass, a young couple walked by and the man said, “Nothing like good old fashioned home improvement!” I smiled politely, and supposed he said that because I was using a shovel, and not some noisy power tool that would have chewed up the sod a lot faster. But I was happiest, later that evening, when I saw an old man pushing an old woman in a wheel chair, and they stopped to look at the flowers I had planted.

There is always something that can be made better around us.  In my case, almost an endless amount of things.  But that’s okay.  It’s the doing of it that is important.  The doing.  Not the finishing.  And not the relative quality, the question of whether someone else might have done it better.  Just the doing.






El Nino?

In the mountains east of Fresno the Rough fire is burning.  It’s now at 100 thousand acres and only 30 percent contained.  For a month or so we were hearing about it in the news, and it sounded bad and all.  But yesterday the smoke hit Fresno.  Oh my goodness.  It’s really rough.  I don’t know why it’s called the Rough fire, but it’s really rough in Fresno now.  You don’t even want to look around you, or breathe.  It’s not a pretty picture.

They keep talking about El Nino in the news.  It’s supposed to be a big El Nino this year, with lots of rain for the drought-stricken West.  Putting aside the fact that it’s going to cause landslides and flooding, and not even end the drought, couldn’t it just hurry up and get here?  Put out the fire?  Pound the smoke out of the air and into the ground, or wherever smoke goes when it rains?  Please?

I’ve lately been in the mood to write again.  The old irresistible urge has been pushing me toward my neglected notebooks, spinning ideas in my head for the plots of children’s books, and even a short story.  I’ve hardly ever written short stories, and this one seemed to be clawing it’s way out of me, refusing to be ignored.  It was set on the coast, and involved waves and fresh breezes and cello music.  Not hard to imagine why.

No one seems to be predicting when the rain might come.  Or commenting on the smoke.  Maybe we’re all pretending it isn’t happening, holding our breaths, going about our business, trying not to think about it.  Doesn’t it just make it worse to say, “Man, this is awful.  When do you think it will finally rain?”

But man, this is awful.  I hope it rains soon.


School has started.  That doesn’t make as big a difference for me, now that I’m not a public school teacher.  But it’s a huge difference for Joseph, who has started out at a new school for 8th grade, and a slight difference for Julia, who is plugging on with independent study work in order to graduate in the spring.

And we’ll pretend that it’s Fall already.  School starts in the Fall.  We’ll pretend that the weather is cooler, and the rain is coming, and just hold on to that thought for a couple more months until those things actually happen.  We’ll ignore the dead grass out front, seeing in its place the beautiful xeroscaped garden of wildflowers that I would have there if time and money allowed.  Maybe I should put a sign out front, “Imagine wildflowers here.” But I suppose that wouldn’t help much.

Maybe I should actually plant some wildflowers.  The thing is, I’m afraid of doing it wrong, and making the front yard into a mess of awkwardly dug up grass and struggling plants, rather than the smooth expanse of dead grass that it is now.  And one feels so public, working in the front yard.  A lot of people walk down our street.  It’s a sort of exercise strip for the surrounding area, due to it’s exact one-mile length and it’s central grass strip (dead grass strip for the present).  Even if I go out to rake leaves I generally get 1) offers from indigent people to do the work for me for money 2) offers from the neighbor’s lawn service to do the work for me 3) incredulous looks from seedy looking men walking by, which I interpret as meaning “where’s your man, lady?  Why isn’t he doing the yard work?” to which I silently reply “he’s at work.  Why aren’t you at work?” and 4) looks from nice-looking passers-by walking with their dogs which I interpret to mean “You’re doing that all wrong.  I could tell you how to do it right, but I’m just going to walk by with my dog and not say anything.” to which I silently reply, “Okay, you do that then.”

It’s much more comfortable to just stay in the house and play the cello.  Much much more comfortable.

But I really love wildflowers.  So maybe I need to leave my comfort zone and dig up some grass.  Dead grass.  (Although it will come back to life, zombie-like, and attack any wildflowers that I plant.  I know that already).  I could just put up a sign that said, “Work in progress.  Please just avert your gaze and enjoy the Better Homes and Gardens yard of the neighbor across the street.”