Frost Cracking

It’s been so very cold here recently that my dear tree cracked from the extreme drop in temperature.

It’s good to find this now, so we can patch up the wound and support our tree. We’ll see if it survives. Sometimes extreme situations break apart the sturdiest of things!

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Scheduling the Writing

It’s that time again! A new book will come your way just as autumn artives. This means I have a manuscript due mid-March.

This means that every other day (when I’m not on campus to teach and hold office hours) is a writing day. 

You schedule it like an appointment you will not miss. You sit down, and you write. Some days feel great, like you’re at your creative peak, and you slog through other days when nothing arrives to the page that you love.

It doesn’t matter; you’ll be back here on Friday morning.

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Sitting and Thinking

Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard several people talk about when they think. 

I hear two different people talk about how, when they gave up their phones, they had so much time to just think. They thought about what they needed to think about. I also heard about a man who devotes an entire day for “thinking.”

I’m thinking about thinking today. I’m thinking about not distracting myself when I’m waiting in line, walking across campus, or relaxing at home. I can allow myself to think.

It seems so old-fashioned, like from another time gone by, to think and not always do in the form of communication, information overload, and noise.

I sit in the yellow chair and gaze out at the icy weeping cherry. I watch my neighbor take her little daughter out to put a hat on the snowman they built together. I think about when my girls were so small like this. I think about what the mother and little girl will do next, and a whole story emerges in my mind about this little one, her snowman, and her 3 year old life.

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A New Semester in Unusual Classrooms

I journey across campus to peek into my new classrooms for this semester, as I often do, to imagine my new students in a new space before the first day of class. I always pray for the semester and for my new students, and visiting the empty classroom remains a ritual I love.

But this time, I’m making my way past a museum of large rocks and a tornado simulator as I find my classroom in the Earth and Mineral Science department. I’ll be here, teaching vivid verbs and semicolons in a laboratory and research setting, and the juxtaposition makes me chuckle. My next classroom sits up high in the Civil Engineering building, which feels just like what I’d imagine a military bunker might be like.

Sometimes, you find yourself teaching in odd locations, and you press on. Pray for us!

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Just Cold

Things the -20 degree cold weather brings: a deeper appreciation of

the warmth of a cat purring in your lap

the kitchen heat of a roasting dinner

the gathering of blankets and the warmth of daughters curled against me

the shutting the door when the neighbors come in, as if pushing the cold out as an uninvited guest

the embrace of a steaming bath when evening falls

the sunlight

the way we come together with candles and warm beverages to watch movies

the way we stay here, right here, because there’s nowhere to go in this cold.

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A New Favorite Soup: Chicken Corn Chowder

Fill the crockpot with a few large cans of chicken broth, a bag of frozen kernel corn, and the pulled chicken from a cooked rotisserie chicken (without the skin). Meanwhile, chop an entire bunch of celery and one onion, and sauté in a pan with a little olive oil and two tablespoons fresh thyme. Cook until celery and onion soften but don’t turn brown.

Add the celery and onion mixture to the crockpot, and season your soup with salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes for a little spice! You can cook this in the crockpot for a few hours (or on the stove), and then enjoy soup for your lunch or dinner all week long.

Enjoy!

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Mostly Cutting It Out

I’m amazed at just how much writing never makes it to the final product. Writers often compile massive amounts of material. The manuscript comes about through paring down, cutting out large sections, and then trimming even more.

Having too little to say isn’t ever the problem; it’s having too much. 

The reader doesn’t need to know everything you know or experience everything that brought you to the project. That’s what makes you a writer: you’ve sorted and discarded, you’ve distilled and refined, you’ve narrowed everything down till it’s a beautiful little gem for your audience.

You’ve cut, cut, cut to make the diamond.

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Blessed Meals, Blessed Housework

I know it doesn’t have to be me. It could be someone else—a paid housekeeper, a spouse, or children trained to do the work of meal preparation and cleaning, but it’s me.

Someone must keep the home. It might not be you, but it must be someone. Maybe it could be you.

As it turns out, I love it. It’s sacred and blessed. It enlarges me, and I’m thankful for the daily work of it. When I’m not working in the classroom or involved in ministry settings, I’m here at home. It’s richly blessed.

Today, for example, I loved the smell of fresh thyme in the chicken and corn chowder I made for a recovering neighbor. It simmered all day, fragrant and warm as the bitter wind blew against the house. I loved chopping bacon for the spicy bacon vinaigrette on the salad we’ll have with dinner.

I loved noticing how blackberries look against fresh cut pineapple in the fruit salad.

I loved the smell of fresh laundry. I loved folding each load and moving on to more tasks.

I loved wiping counters and then the warm dishwater on my hands.

You don’t ever sit down; someone or something needs your attention: a cat to feed, a floor to sweep or scrub, the next meal to plan, a table to set, an activity for the family to enjoy, or someone needing a ride.

Everyone and everything scatters throughout the day, but the one keeping the home eventually gathers it all back together to nourish and comfort in the predictable rhythms of eating dinner, resetting the home, turning down beds, and extinguishing candles.

Sometimes we’re taught to resent the work of keeping a home, but more and more, I find the work is good and peaceful.

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Another Kind of Sixteen: Celebrating My Daughter

My firstborn turned sixteen today, and it turned out nothing like I might have pictured from my John Hughes movie upbringing featuring boys, parties, and some misunderstood teen just wanting to escape from her family.

It turned out nothing like anything you’re imagining at all.

And this is good. This is so good that, if you’re a parent, you’ll rejoice with me. If you’re worried about our nation’s youth, you’ll rejoice with me.

(My wise neighbor told me that when my children became teenagers, it didn’t have to follow the script you’ve read: rebellious, angry, boy-crazy girl who hates everything and everyone. It could be different. She was right! She was right!)

On the eve of her Sweet Sixteen, Sarah was exactly herself, requesting exactly the things she loves:

She chose a family movie, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle since it was 5$ movie night down the road. I laughed so hard. We ate popcorn and teased each other.

For the birthday breakfast, she made her specialty, Eggs Florentine.

For her birthday dinner, all she wanted in the world was Ina Garten’s Turkey Meatloaf. It’s cooking right now. And spinach and goat cheese salad.

Later, she wants to watch The Empire Strikes Back because she’s taking full responsibility for my Star Wars education, but we’ll probably watch her little sister’s show, The Goldbergs.

She lounged in her room with her dad as he custom-built a cork board / dry erase white board combination on her wall so she can “work out all her math problems” and hang her polaroid photos.

She went to test for her driver’s permit while her sister and I made celebration cookies. We’ll have cheesecake with cherry topping for dessert. In a week or so, she’ll have friends over for a sleepover party where I’m sure she’ll play Monopoly and Risk.

That’s it. That’s another kind of sixteen.

I’m so happy for her.

 

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A Special Gift from an Older Woman

While standing in front of her grandmother’s house in Williamsburg in November, my daughter says hello to a passing neighbor on her afternoon walk. This neighbor—surely another grandmother—stops to engage Sarah in conversation.

Sarah politely describes her studies as a high school student back in Pennsylvania. She learns that many years ago, this older woman was once a high school science teacher. I stand off to the side and imagine the woman younger and sturdier, with chalk in her hand, teaching with lively steps in a classroom of her past. How quickly our careers end. How quickly we age.

My daughter’s face brightens as she explains her love of microbiology, but then she shares a true dilemma: she loves both history and biology equally. How will she decide upon a future career?

It was a simple question to a new, older friend.

Weeks later, a strange present arrives under our Christmas tree back in Pennsylvania. The older woman that Sarah met just once (who I have since learned has no grandchildren of her own), sent Sarah a precious gift:

a book on the history of microbiology. 

With an attached letter, equally precious to Sarah, the woman explains that, with Sarah’s interest in both history and biology, she might love this book. She tells Sarah of its 1926 publication that quickly became a beloved classic that the woman read herself when she was Sarah’s age. The book, Microbe Hunters, by Paul de Kruif, captivates Sarah. Sarah reads on of how inspired the woman was about each chapter’s recounting of how some monumental discovery in biology and medicine was originally made. 

The woman writes, “this book may have some influence on where your future studies take you.”

My daughter felt so loved and so seen and heard by an older person other than her parents taking interest in her future. That single letter, that single gift, that single conversation might just set a young girl on her course; it might set her sail in the right direction to catch some new wind.

I felt myself tearing up with appreciation for this older woman who never stopped being a high school science teacher after all. I thought of her pulling the dusty book off the shelf and thinking of my daughter. Maybe she saw herself as that bright 16 year old, torn between two paths.

I felt aflame with love for her. She taught me something, too. I thought of how, in 20 years, I might one day be the kind of older woman who sends letters and books to young writers I meet on my afternoon walk.

 

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