Miracles and the Familiar

I had a "Science and Religion" class where we discussed miracles: what constitutes a true miracle. My teacher said many religions believe that if you are able to explain something, it isn't a miracle: something's miraculousness lies in its very inexplicability. Thus, satellite TV, airplanes, meteor showers, sunsets, etc., aren't miracles [because someone can explain them---not me, necessarily]; the immaculate conception and the Virgin Mary's image appearing in a tree, are.

The trouble with this view is that the more you learn---the more familiarity the world acquires for you---the less miraculous your world becomes. Which to me seems exactly backwards.

[I've been thinking about this because of that "On Angels" poem I posted about yesterday. Sometimes I love poems/stories that are startling or unexpected or foreign to me. But often the reason I love what someone writes is because it's so familiar: because it makes me think, "YES! Exactly. I have had that same thought." I don't know why that recognition is so pleasing (okay, so, we had the same thought, who cares?) but for some reason it just is. Maybe I read enough things I don't connect with (Really? You wanted this . . . for your wedding . . . ?) that it makes the other things stand out even more?]

Anyway, what I've observed is that sometimes the familiar becomes the most miraculous of all. This is nowhere more noticeable to me than with my kids. I figured after we went through the first one---birth, first steps, first words, and so on---that the next ones wouldn't be quite as exciting. I mean, I knew I'd still like them and think they were cute, but I didn't think they'd seem as miraculous to me, because I'd be more informed/used to motherhood/prepared for what was coming/etc.

But in a lot of ways, babyhood only gets more amazing with each baby. Maybe I'm not as surprised when I find pen drawings on the wall or hear Ky attempting to say "fluffball" or make buffalo siren noises. But I'm still just as astounded that that little baby---the one that used to be a blueberry or a mulberry or whatever that cluster of cells is---is actually doing each new thing. And that he could have come from ME: Those cheeks! And those blue eyes! And his fat, biteable feet! I just can't get over it. I can't get used to it.

And I find myself being more and more amazed at each successive stage in my older boys as well. As I get to know them better, know more of who they are and what interesting thoughts are inside their heads, they become more and more miraculous to me. Which is good, because they also have moments (sometimes the same moments) where they completely baffle me and I have no idea what to do with them or how to figure them out. And I'm sure that such helplessness will only increase as time goes on. *sigh* But I'm happy that I at least get to watch the miracle of them growing up ("Creation going on before our very eyes," as I think C.S. Lewis said).


Day draws near/ Do what you can

That's me on our right, with the two pigtails and the beatifically outstretched arms

On Angels
by Czeslaw Milosz*

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe you,

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice---no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightning.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draws near
another one
do what you can.

*Here is a good article about Milosz. I have a special fondness for him because back before I got married I was planning to go to Oxford and study poetry with one of Milosz' former students, Seamus Heaney (the man who wrote this article--and who also knew my teacher, Leslie Norris, who is the one who suggested studying with Heaney in the first place). How's that for an obscure connection? :)

I love this poem because I've occasionally heard those same voices---had that same feeling of almost being able to grasp something important, see something I'm just missing . . . and then it fades and I'm left with the intangibles: feelings of hope and resolve and comfort: keep trying---you're going to make it---"Do what you can."

Here's a scripture that says the same thing (Isaiah, of course. He must have heard those angels too): "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee, O house of Israel. When ye are weary he waketh morning by morning."

When I'm weary, hope (and trust in God) can awaken me---one morning at a time. You've felt that, right? And when you make it through a particularly dark time, you can almost hear that whisper: "See? I told you. Morning always comes again."

Unintended Consequences

Because of this picture (from one of Abe's school books) . . . .
  • My boys think buffalos have flashing lights on top of their heads
  • My boys are playing "Buffalos" at this moment
  • They are running through the house yelling, "wee-oo-wee-oo-wee-oo, here comes the flashing buffalo!"
  • All of them. Even Malachi.
That's all. Thank you.

Wheatberry Salad

Here is a picture of what we had for dinner last night, and I must say, it was really good. Of course this is the kind of thing I tend to like anyway (I love interesting grains and salads), but I think the combination of the citrus flavor (orange zest, mmm!) and the olive oil and the feta was particularly surprising (and delicious).

And evidently people are calling them "wheat berries" these days. But it's plain old wheat, just grains of wheat, wheat before it gets ground up for flour. You could buy gourmet-looking, "
good-quality" "soft white wheat berries" at your fancy-schmancy Trader Joes/Whole Foods, or, alternatively, you could bring up one of the dented steel cannisters of 30-year-old wheat you have in your food storage because your aunt gave it to you after inheriting it from your grandpa (and finding Grandma's diamonds in one of the cannisters . . . but that's another story)---but either way you should be fine.

I love the way wheat tastes when it's cooked like this: soft but chewy. The recipe is really easy to make, but the wheat needs to cook for an hour or so (I think I did 70 min.) to get soft, so plan ahead. (For me, anything that takes longer than an hour to put together constitutes "planning ahead," since I don't usually saunter down to the kitchen until around 4:45 to start cooking.)

Try serving it with a fruit/yogurt smoothie. Yum!

Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus, Pine Nuts, Feta and Spinach
recipe from this blog here
also from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking, evidently
2 cups wheat berries , rinsed
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, plus more as needed

Citrus Dressing:
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot (I used chives)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 generous handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed and well rinsed
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Combine the wheat berries, water and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until plump and chewy, about an hour or so. The berries should stay al dente, and the only way to be sure they're done is to taste a few. Drain and season to taste with more salt.

To make the dressing, combine the orange zest and juice, lemon juice, and shallot. Whisk in the olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Toss the hot wheat berries with the spinach, pine nuts, citrus dressing, then stir in the feta. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with a bit more salt if needed.

Good investment

I read someone's blog post recently that said something like, "In these tough economic times, we're all having to tighten our belts a little and cut down on spending, but one thing I refuse to do without is fresh flowers in the house every week."

As much as I, too, love to have fresh flowers around, I thought it was funny (and maybe a little socially tone-deaf) at the time, because honestly, if you can afford to "not do without" fresh flowers, how much "belt-tightening" are you really experiencing?

But . . . I do realize that we all prioritize things in our lives, and there's nothing wrong with spending money for what is important to us. Sam brings home flowers for me occasionally, and I also occasionally just get the urge to buy them at the grocery store and bring them home to make my own combinations. Usually I talk myself out of it, but this week I didn't, so I've had these lovely bouquets in my kitchen and living room to enjoy. Every time I see them, I smile. It's been particularly nice to have something fresh and cheerful to look at in the midst of all the gloomy grey world outside.

I also had some of my daffodils snap off in the wind, so I rescued them and put them inside in a vase, where they almost glow in the winter-y light of the windows. Beautiful.

Anyway, I don't know if I'd say I'm going to "refuse to do without" fresh flowers from now on. (Like the concept of "me time", the urge to indulge in something because "I deserve it!"---while probably okay in moderation---is likely something I should rein in, rather than increase.) But when I think about it, having flowers in the house IS something that often seems to increase my happiness and cheerfulness and I-like-being-here-ness disproportionately to the cost of purchasing them. So maybe they are worth a little extra money after all, sometimes. Maybe even more often than I realized.

An adorable jingling sound

We did lots of work in the yard on Saturday. (Work, in this case=moving dirt around in the wheelbarrow from one place to another.) It was actually quite fun. Isn't it odd what becomes fun when you have been cooped up in the house all winter? (And facing, as we were, the prospect of being cooped up again in a few short days: I didn't want to believe the predictions of snow, but now I'm forced to.)

I recently came across an advertisment for a toy that is not only organic, but also makes "an adorable jingling sound." Yes. Not one of those sullen, querulous, languid, or---heaven forbid---destestable jingling sounds. What a relief!

And: as one who likes to make lists, I like this notepad.

And also: my children (especially Malachi) need this doorstop. (On every door in the house?) His baby fingers get pinched by something or other at least once daily.

(1) sheets to the wind

Yesterday was perfect for laundry day: warm and windy.
All the clothes were dry in about 20 minutes.
My sheets and bedspread smell like wind and sun.

In light and truth

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a section in the Doctrine and Covenants (93) that talks a lot about "light and truth."

Verse 28: He that keepeth [God's] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
29: Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be . . .
33: For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;

34: And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy. . .
36: The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth . . .

39: And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
40: But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.

Here's how I diagram that out:

  • Intelligence=what we were made up of from the beginning=the ideal thing for us to be composed of=light and truth.
  • The more we obey God's commandments, the more light and truth we gain.
  • The more we seek light and truth ("receive"/obey/learn about), the more we become composed of light and truth---made up of it---like God is.
  • The higher the composition of light and truth in us, the closer we get to "a fullness of joy"--- because we're supposed to be, meant to be ("destined" to be? too dramatic?), beings of light and truth. Again, like God.
  • Then in that last verse, related to how God would like us to be "brought up," the phrase "IN light and truth."
What strikes me, in all of this, is the implication that "light and truth" can be a sort of climate or a condition. In other words, our spirits thrive best when not just introduced to light and truth, but surrounded by it---encompassed by it---engulfed in it. Cocooned in it. It reminds me of the way I used to (and now my kids do) seek out the sunny spots in the house and curl up in them, trying to soak up the warmth.

I'm kind of taken with that image right now. My kids walking around in this cocoon of light that can lessen the darkness around them. And as it surrounds them, it begins to soak into them---until they are actually glowing with the light themselves. It reminds me of a
poem* I love that ends "He walked, himself at last, a man among men,/With such radiance that everyone looked up and wondered."

I'm not sure of all the ways to create this kind of all-encompassing climate of light and truth for our family, how to make it so pervasive that we begin to radiate it ourselves. In the usual ways, I imagine: music, kindness, learning, scriptures, prayer. But it sounds lovely, and I'd welcome any further suggestions.

* "A Journey," by Edward Field


You'll never make a monkey out of me

I've been mulling over how to approach various things I feel like writing about, but with little success.

So here is a picture of Abraham instead. What IS the boy doing?

P.S. Have you noticed it's Spring?


Care Package

You know how for the last several years the church has allowed missionaries to communicate with their families through email? Well, I wish there was email to/from heaven. It seems like a good idea. Not the same as seeing someone, of course, but you could still communicate if necessary. (Also, email seems sort of magical in the way you'd want something from heaven to be.)

If I had email to heaven, I'd write my Dad to tell him that Abe keeps referring to Dad's funeral as "Grandpa's concert." I think Dad would like that.

And also it would be nice if there were a way for my mom to send him the rest of the Hershey's kisses they had been rationing out carefully to make them last longer. ("Now I wish I had just let him have at the whole package!" she told me.)

Fwuffballs: a new era

Malachi has discovered fwuffballs, and Sebby is his supplier. (Perhaps now that he has a whole box of them, Sebby feels he can afford to be generous.) Ky seems to know just what to do with the fwuffy little things. My only concern is that I will now find them in twice as many places.

Marching on

The inevitable march of time. And the inadequacy of words to explain it.

That's what I've been thinking about. Too depressing? Too dramatic? Not the best topic for a blog post, maybe?

Still, sometimes a grey March day calls for some melacholy, doesn't it? Don't let it get you down, but I feel like indulging in a little Dylan Thomas.
The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

---Dylan Thomas
The language here is so strange and beautiful. The way he uses forceful words for normally gentle images: the fragile flower's stem is a "fuse" through which the explosive life force, or life cycle, will come---and ultimately, bring the flower's end just as certainly as it brought its beginning. Or the image of a greedy mouth "leeching" from the "fountain head": conveying the fact that, even at the "fountain head" or source of life; that is, at the very moment when life begins; time has already begun its inevitable draining of that life, its countdown to the end.

I guess you become more aware of this as you grow older. As you see others grow older around you. But I heard people say things like this all the time when I was a kid: "Time moves faster as you get older!" "You wouldn't believe it, but it seems like just yesterday when I was a kid myself!" I didn't believe a word of it. The words themselves were not enough to make that truth feel true to me. I guess there are some things that only experiences can bring home to you. (I'm sure I have just as many blind spots now: things I'm convinced I understand, but in twenty years, I'll think, "Wow, I had no idea!")

Still, if any words can capture that feeling of helplessness against time, that sense of being so small and fragile and stupid amid all those swirling forces around us, wouldn't they be these?:

And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars

Who am I to try and explain this with words, anyway? You've felt it, though: how moments can be both endless and fleeting. How the mundane can feel so all-consuming and yet so unimportant. How you can feel like life has brought you to some new understanding---and it's important---and yet it's so much less than what you want to know. How the prospect of eternity can be simultaneously so appealing and so terrifying. How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.


Here is something I miss about the days before I had 3 children constantly attached to my limbs. I used to carry around a notebook and write things in it (Don't worry. Not a moleskine notebook)---just odd details about people I saw, or little funny conversations I overheard, etc. Nothing that would make a great contribution to anyone's knowledge of life or anything, but I loved having those things recorded so I could think about them later.

Now, I never have time to notate---or often even notice---such things, and I feel like I'm missing out a little bit. I have pictures of the kids, I have this blog where I write down what I can, I have my scripture journal, but I don't have the TINY things, the forgettable details that you would only remember if you wrote them down immediately. But as I read through my old notebooks, those tiny details bring back memories with an immediacy far beyond what you'd think such trifles were capable of.

Some of you have been reminding me about our time in London, and here are a couple pages' worth of what I wrote in my notebook during that time:

  • When he wants to make a comment, he raises just his index finger, and purses his lips like a Frenchman. After watching it only once, I feel that it is more than I will be able to bear.
  • A man and woman, hand in hand.
    The man: "Will you be my running mate?"
    Woman: "Running mate?"
  • A sign on a chalkboard: "This hallway is not closed. You just have to walk around these barricades."
  • All day I've been haunted by the irrational desire to say, "I've heard enough." Just that, in a tone of utter finality. But no opportunity has been afforded me (Frustration!).
  • A man: "This is a poem I wrote, in French. I don't speak French, but I have a French dictionary."
  • "Have you heard of Eugene Ionesco?" ---"No."
    "Have you heard of 'The Rhinoceros'?" ---"No."
    "Well, he wrote it."
  • Behind me, I hear the whirring of a man's mechanical hand.
  • Staring at her jacket, I experience a moment of elation at being able to identify the pattern: houndstooth!
  • A sudden sharp ache above my left eye. I wonder if I've been poisoned. (Why is this the idea that comes immediately to mind?)
  • Ah! Granola bars in my bag! (A sly feeling.)
  • He turns the pages of his magazine angrily: ("Why do I waste my time!"). Yet he still seems to feel obligated to go through each page.
  • A half-closed umbrella, like a bundt cake
  • Rubber feet that one can strap to the bottom of one's shoes to make misleading footprints (spy tool)
  • The lumpy-headed young woman next to me examines diagrams of a human brain
  • A man washing windows at an apartment building looks down at me and points to his hose conspiratorially. I pause. He sprays the hose up in the air like a rainbow, and then smiles smugly as though he's done a magic trick.
  • An old man with a ring of keys in his left hand tries to open the car door with the banana in his right.
  • "You always say the right thing."
    "I have to."
  • The streets are quieter than silence because, far-off, you can hear shouting

When I read through those things, the time comes back to me so clearly---even the sounds and smells, sometimes. And I just sometimes feel this kind of unreasonable frustration that these things are still happening all around me, and I am missing them! Not the most important things in the world, true---but valuable, in their way.

How do you manage to keep records of the small details? Or do you? Any ideas?


The Patriotic Leek

Yesterday was St. David's Day, the National Day of Wales, on which, I was fascinated to learn, "people wear a symbol of either a leek (spring onion) or a daffodil. The leek is patriotic, arising from an occasion when a troop of Welsh were able to distinguish each other (from a troop of English enemy dressed in similar fashion) by wearing leeks. An alternative emblem developed in recent years is the daffodil, used and preferred over the leek by the British Government as it lacks the overtones of patriotic defiance associated with the leek."

If you're willing to risk the wrath of the British Government, perhaps tonight would be a good night to make Leek Soup? It's Abraham's favorite, after all. And it goes wonderfully with oatmeal muffins. Just the thing for a chilly March evening.

Leek Soup

3-5 potatoes, peeled and diced
3 medium leeks, sliced 1/8-inch thick (you cut off and discard the tough dark green part of the leek---which is most of it---and just use the light green/white part at the bottom)---OR can substitute 3 medium yellow onions
3 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 c. cream or evaporated milk
2 T. butter or margarine
2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
chopped fresh chives

Combine potatoes, leeks, and just enough broth to cover them in a stock pot. (I always use the pressure cooker.) Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 25-40 minutes (or, bring up to pressure, turn heat to med., and cook 5 min. See why I use the pressure cooker?) until vegetables are soft enough to mash.
Remove from heat, mash up vegetables (or blend in blender).
Return to heat. Add rest of chicken broth and water, to desired consistency (can leave out some water if you like it thicker).
Add cream, butter, salt, and pepper. Heat, but do not boil, until butter melts and soup is heated through.
Serve with chives as garnish, and, if desired, a dollop of sour cream on top.

A start

What trick of the strengthening
light, what angle of the tilting world
to the sun, what is the alarm
that sets the trees to work?
Solitary in grazed meadows
or grouped in copse and hanger, trees
ripen their plump buds
at some green signal
of returning spring.

---Leslie Norris
(from Stones Trees Water)

This is the time of year when I first begin to believe that the winter is actually going to end. I know there will be more snow, probably, and many more cold days, but it won't be the kind of snow that languishes for weeks in gritty piles on the sides of the road, unmelted by the weak, pale sunlight.

And there will be warm days in between the cold ones. And the 8-o'clock patch of sunlight has reappeared in my bedroom. And we have daffodil and crocus shoots peeking through the dirt. And the boys can ride their bikes outside.

We're going to make it.

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