Entries in Deep Thoughts (38)


Armistice Day

Photo courtesy PaulHP, Flickr


"The Dead"

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
   Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
   And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
   Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
   Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
   Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
   Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.

--Rupert Brooke, 1914



The Milk Run

Every other week, I pick up 20 gallons of fresh raw milk at a farm up in Ulster County, NY--10 gallons for us and 10 gallons for my friend Melissa and her family.  (Melissa goes for us both on the weeks I don't.)  It's a 90-minute round trip to and from Gardiner if the weather is nice.  I think about a lot of stuff as I drive; here's a little sampling of today's run.

8:45 Fueling up in Cold Spring.  Anne is in her car seat playing happily with her baby doll.  I love free Full Service, which means I don't have to get gas all over my hands; I love our little village.

8:47 Music or not?  My options are many: XM Vinyl or Rewind or Spectrum or Classical or Public Radio or Bluesville or Quoi de Neuf; Vaughan Williams or Les Choristes or Pride & Prejudice or an iPod mix on CD; or silence. 

I choose to be alone with my thoughts; I can't mull over plot problems or character issues with music on.

8:58 I reach the outskirts of Beacon, the site of my first and only speeding ticket, earned about two years ago.  I experience a frisson of PTSD and make sure I'm driving 30 mph.

9:01 Oh, how I adore the ever-changing sign in front of the Beacon Reformed Church.  There must be a book or a website where pastors get those pithy little witticisms.  Today's reads, "Try God's economic plan: store your wealth in Heaven."  Excellent.  It's almost as good as my all time favorite, "This church is prayer conditioned."

9:07 As I take the exit for Route 32 off of I-84, I realize that Jacques expected me to go another way.  He's now busy recalculating as he sits on his little beanbag. 

Jacques is our new TomTom GPS, just like the one the French family lent us on our vacation.  I have the voice set to the French male option, hence "Jacques."  

But what can Jacques be thinking?  I've been making the milk run for almost eight years; I'm pretty sure I've figured out the fastest, most direct way to and from the farm.  Does he think Route 300 would be faster?  If so, mon ami, you've got some learning to do. 

Can Jacques learn?  Somehow I doubt it, and anyway, all the Asimov I've read makes me think that I probably don't want my GPS to have that skill set.

9:10 I hate strip malls.  Fortunately, Newburgh's only go on in this direction for a couple of miles.

9:12 A sign informs me that eggs are 99 cents per dozen at the Arnold bread outlet.  I am reminded of my favorite quote from the fantastic movie Food Inc.:  "You insist on two-dollar-a-gallon milk, you're gonna end up with a feedlot in your backyard."  I wonder how many of my friends would see Food Inc. if I begged them.  Maybe it will be on DVD by Christmas, and I can give it as a gift. 

But maybe it's an annoying, preachy-type gift.  I imagine one of my friends giving me a book by a noted Republican, hoping I would read it, see the light, and convert.  And how awkward would it be when that just didn't happen?  Hmmm.  So, even though it's a non-partisan movie, maybe ix-nay on the ood-Fay DVD as a gift idea.

9:15 Jacques has finally given up on trying to get me to make a legal U-turn.  Hah, yes: see, Jacques?  You finally realize that Route 32 will cut a good 10 minutes off your projected travel time. 

9:21 Passing the Cherry On Top ice cream stand; their sign announces that there are only 15 days of ice cream left.   I love the theory of Cherry On Top, but they don't make their own ice cream anymore--they sell some down-market regional brand like Hershey's or Blue Bunny.

I think about my friend Lynn Miller in Cold Spring and her fledgling business, Go-Go Pops.  She and her family have been selling these mouth-watering, homemade popsicles at the Cold Spring Farmer's Market all season.  They're now trying to open a coffee-popsicle shop on Main Street.  I hope she can make it happen!  I need to start doing Jen's Local Love Fridays so that I can write a post about Lynn.

9:28 Passing the Maplestone Bed & Breakfast.  SO gorgeous; I'm sad I couldn't convince my sister Angie and her husband Dave to buy this place a couple of years ago, but I love how the new owners have fixed up the farmhouse and kept the well out front.  Must figure out a way to schedule a little getaway there with Patrick.  Maybe sometime soon, before all the apples and leaves are gone....

9:30 Turning onto the treacherous, pot-holed driveway at Everett's farm.  Everett, a cranky old Libertarian whose family has owned this land for over 200 years, comes out the sliding glass door of his house as I park by the milk shed.  "Not many eggs," he hollers.  "Weasel got in the barn the other night and killed most of the chickens!  I gotta start all over."

I give him my sympathies and he goes back inside.  Ramon and Marcello, Everett's farmhands, are nowhere in sight.  I take the empty milk pails out of the car.  I put the eggs that are in the egg basket into cartons and put them in the car.  I put our cash in the lockbox in the fridge.  Still no Ramon and Marcello.  I sigh.

A full pail of milk weighs over 100 pounds.  I can carry them and lift them into our Honda Pilot myself--heck, I've done it all the way through two pregnancies--but it's not my favorite way to work out.  Ramon and Marcello are always happy to load the milk for me if they're around, but they must be even busier than usual, since I haven't seen either of them in weeks.

Oh, well.  I load up two pails in the back, secure them with bungee cords, and get back on the road. Thank heaven for that plastic cargo bed liner that came with the car.  We've never had a big spill, but the liner gives me a little peace of mind.

9:38 Driving back, I mull over how lucky I am to have access to fresh, affordable, chemical- and hormone-free milk from cows who serenely amble about in the green grass and sunshine. It's not certified organic milk; there's no way Everett would invite interaction with any level of the guv'mint.  But I know these cows.  I've looked them in the eye and patted their flanks during milking time.  I've hauled their manure home for my compost pile.  I know how obsessive Ramon is about keeping the milking equipment clean.  I trust the cows and their keepers.

In New York, it's legal to buy milk at the farm.  Connecticut and California allow you to buy raw milk in stores, but in a lot of states, raw milk is illegal.  And that's a shame, since raw milk is far more delicious and nutritious than pasteurized.  Speaking of which, the same technology that makes pasteurization possible makes it easy to get clean, safe, raw milk.  I'll get off the soap box, but read here to learn more.

9:46 The Shawangunks are gorgeous today, their limestone cliffs gleaming white against the crystal blue sky.  I love how fall takes its sweet time; a few trees here and there are already aflame, but most are still green.  All the apple trees are loaded down, reminding me of my favorite Christmas carol.

My friend Tina and I get to sing that with a couple of other women in a few weeks; can't wait! 

I wonder whether I can find a day to go up to Greig Farm and pick raspberries with Tina in the next few days.  We had such a blast last year.  I only have one jar of last year's freezer jam left, and I can't imagine doing without. 

9:48 I also need to find time to stop and check out the Modena Rural Cemetery.  I do love me a good graveyard.

9:51 Passing Cherry On Top again.  The only things one can get in parlors any more are ice cream, tattoos, funerals, and massages.  Fascinating.

10:02 Anne is getting fussy; she knows it's almost naptime.  "Little Baby An-a-kin," I sing in my best faux-opera trill.  She laughs, so I do it again.  And again.  And again. 

I wonder whether Anne will spend any time in therapy someday over the fact that she is nicknamed for a Jedi who goes very wrong.  Though it all comes right for Darth in the end, so maybe she'll be fine. 

10:09 According to signage in many Beacon front yards, a person named Chris Bopp is running for City Council.  I realize how very long it has been since I had any decent Bi Bim Bap.  Must research a good Korean restaurant for an upcoming Date Night.  I start singing "Blitzkrieg Bop" to entertain Anne.  I can see her in my mirror; she's rocking right along with me, though I can see she's beginning to droop.

10:15 I'm home just in time; even my energetic covers of The Ramones can't keep Anne awake.  She's just about gone.  I'll put her in bed, decant the milk, and get on with the rest of the day.


Of Streaks and Slumps

I'm crazy busy getting ready for our trip to France, so I am recycling the following post.  I originally published it nearly two years ago on 10 August 2007, but the gist of it still very much applies to my life.  Let me know whether it applies to you as well. 

The Mets lost a heartbreaker to the Braves yesterday. (The fact that it was Thursday, and thus Date Night, kept my bad mood from lingering; an excellent dinner at Café Maya and a viewing of The Bourne Ultimatum brought me right.)

The Mets have lost every series they’ve played against the Braves this year—four in all. They are still three-and-a-half games ahead of the Braves in the National League East standings. However, the Mets have two more series against the those Georgia Boys before the end of September, and I’m worried about this mental block they’re having.

I hesitate to write about baseball; I’m married to a walking almanac who is almost sure to notice when I get things wrong. But lately I’ve been considering the streak/slump phenomenon, since it seems to be an apt metaphor for the way I live my life.

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of hitters in baseball: those who are pretty consistent at the plate, and those who are streaky. Joltin' Joe DiMaggio still holds the Major League record for the longest hitting streak, having had at least one hit in fifty-six consecutive games in the summer of 1941.

Baseball experts agree that a streak or a slump is rarely a matter of mechanics; much more frequently, whether a player’s bat is hot or ice cold is largely in his mind. “He’s got to get his confidence back,” they’ll say when someone is defeated at the plate yet again.

In life, I am streaky. That’s a nice way of saying that I am inconsistent. I’ll be on a roll regarding any number of things, from running to baking bread to foot-callus-maintenance. Then something will happen to upset my schedule, and I slump.

And, as in the oft-caricatured commercial, I will feel that I have fallen, and I can’t get up.

Sometimes a slump can be disastrous. In the field of geology, a slump is a particular kind of landslide, one in which the surface of the moving mass of earth remains largely unchanged, but the interior matter is drastically deformed. The most famous slump of this kind will probably be known to many of my readers; it occurred at Thistle, Utah in 1983. It dammed up a creek and the Spanish Fork River, eventually flooding the entire community. Thistle is now a ghost town; only roofs of some of the buildings remain visible.

My slumps are often like the geological kind. The surface of my life will look great; friends will even admire different facets of it. But internally, I’m a mess, and it’s a long time before I can sort everything out. Hopefully I do so before any dams I’ve created are too destructive.

Sometimes I’ll slump in one area while enjoying a streak in another: I’ll have a clutter-free house but a weed-filled yard. Or for weeks I’ll make my 1,000-word-per-day novel-writing goal while ignoring the dreadmill the entire time. Or I’ll indulge in a genealogy binge while skimping on my scripture study.

Sometimes a slump can be a time of retreat and regrouping. When I started this blog almost a year ago, I thought I had things to teach. I’m pretty good at a few things; the blog format seemed ideal for dissemination of some of the wisdom I felt I had gained in various areas over the years. After exactly two posts (one of which I later deleted), I abandoned my new endeavor for three months. I’d had an abrupt and humbling realization that sent me into a regrouping slump for the entire autumn.

When I started posting again in December, it was as a changed person. My focus was no longer on teaching (although, as a Brocket wannabe, I still like to publicize my domestic successes), but on honest expression and learning from others in the blogging community.

Running my life the FlyLady way helped me with consistency for a long while. But I am in a FlyLady slump right now (though the house is pretty clean, and my gorgeous soapstone kitchen sink is a joy to keep shiny: it's a mental thing). Maybe I need to get back in her groove and focus on Baby Steps in the essentials of my life so that I can build up steadiness once again. But I wonder whether, as effective as her methods are, FlyLady can only address the symptoms, and is not a cure for the root disease.

In his excellent book Pure Baseball, Keith Hernandez writes,

When I first came up to the big leagues, pitchers had all too much success worrying me inside. Lou Brock, who worked with me a lot, sat me down one day and asked, “Where do you like the ball?

“Inner half-away.” That’s the lingo for the outer three quarters of the plate.

“That’s right,” Lou agreed. “But worrying about your weakness—the inside corner—is taking away from your strength. Don’t let it do that. Look into your strength.”

Baseball really is profound. The key to overcoming the weakness is not to focus on it, but to look into your strength instead.

I tell people on a regular basis what I believe my Strength is. Perhaps the real question is whether I truly live what I say I believe, whether I can apply the Word to the mundane struggles of my daily life.

And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of … prophets:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises
, stopped the mouths of lions,
Quenched the violence of
fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
(Hebrews 11: 32-34; emphasis added)

Minerva Teichert, Christ in a Red Robe


My First Svithe: Give Place

Two things: first, this post is all about my faith.  I treasure both my areligous readers and my readers of faiths other than my own.  If you fit into one of those categories and/or aren't in the mood for a religious post, feel free to skip this one and come back in a day or two.

Second, I recently met someone who came up with the portmanteau "svithe" from the words "seven" and "tithe."  He (and many of his friends) often post things of a spiritual nature on Sundays.  I think this is a lovely idea, and hope he doesn't mind that I'm adopting it, at least for this week.  I'm speaking in church today; the following svithe is from what I've written to say.

Before we had children, I knew I wanted to find a way both to write and to be a attentive and devoted wife and mother. I confided my dream one day to an older, wiser, very accomplished woman. This was a person who had pursued a Ph.D., taught at the university level, and written many scholarly works--all while raising six children, supporting a busy husband, and participating actively in the Church. I knew that if anyone had the secret to reaching my goal, it would be she. I’ll never forget the advice she gave me, though I regret to say I have not always followed it.

She said, “Once you take on a new project—a degree, a book, a quilt—don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll just ‘fit it in somehow.’ Assess exactly how much time, attention, and energy it will take. Then decide very deliberately what you will give up in order to fit the new project into your life. Once you start, don’t look back and flirt with what you have left behind. When your sacrifice is well-informed, conscious, and non-negotiable, success in your endeavor is assured.”

We all have been called to the discipleship of Christ, and we all have responded to one degree or another. We can look at the task of developing a Christ-like attitude as a project, and we can approach that project either with the “just fit it in” strategy, or we can do as my friend suggested: assess, decide, commit fully, and stay the course.

An attitude is a position, a manner, or a posture expressive of an emotion or state of being; therefore, a Christ-like attitude is a position, manner, or posture expressive of Christ-like emotion or state of being. Having a Christ-like attitude means we see as he sees, we feel as he feels, and we choose to behave as he chooses to behave. Developing such an attitude is a life-long endeavor of consecration, and we cannot assume we will just fit it in somehow. However, we know that it is a worthy project, one rich in rewards both in the process and in the result.

It is also a project that we cannot complete on our own. In fact, I believe the bulk of the work will not be ours but the Savior’s, and that a Christ-like attitude is largely a gift of grace. We, though, are granted the privilege of participating in its creation and development. Our part of the work consists of three actions: awakening, arising, and giving place.

The first two are often linked in scripture. Lehi tells his sons:

"Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust." –2 Nephi 1:23

Moroni, Nephi, and Jesus himself all quote Isaiah’s exhortation:

"Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion." –Moroni 10:31

Though they are companions, awakening and arising are two distinct actions, as I realize often when lying in bed in the early mornings, wishing to put off the inevitable. Let’s consider them one at a time. First, awake.

Sometimes we go through life on autopilot, allowing the urgent to eclipse the truly important, being merely busy instead of anxiously engaged. Sometimes instead of turning to the Redeemer with our sorrows, griefs, and inadequacies, we seek to anesthetize our spiritual pain through addictive behaviors, turning to excessive food, exercise, television, the computer, or other pursuits.

Note that all of these sources of potential anesthesia are good and important things when used properly. But when we set them up as gods, looking to them for escape, we are not hearkening to Jesus’ quiet request to follow him. We are spiritually asleep. And those who are asleep often mistake their dreams for true consciousness. Have you ever had that happen, have you been in a dream and been convinced that what you were experiencing was reality? Likewise, when we are spiritually asleep, we may assume we are awake, when that is not actually the case.

We need to awaken to the heightened awareness the Holy Ghost will afford us (if we allow it) and focus on what we really want. Examining our habits and how we spend the bulk of our time and mental energy reveals to us what is truly important to us, as opposed to what we say and even believe we want.

We may be shocked to realize that our desires for the things of eternity are not as strong as we thought they were. But being awake and aware of the state of our souls is not enough. The good news is that our weak, conflicting desires can be redirected and magnified. But for that to happen, we need to arise—arise from the dust, as the scriptures exhort.

The dust is a metaphor for our earthy and carnal tendencies, the Natural Man or Woman in each of us. The dust is good; God organized it and created our bodies from it. However, it is not meant to be our permanent state; we are not to wallow in it. We are asked to arise, unite our agency with the Lord’s, and become something more than dust—something eternal and incorruptible.

"To arise" in the gospel sense means to take action, to stand and go forth. We must shake off the chains that bind us—and our chains are unique and custom-made—and make use of the gifts the Lord has given us. Taking the journey from testimony to conversion means to build on the spiritual impressions we receive; merely receiving them is not enough.

So—we have awakened and arisen. Having done so, we must guard once again against mere busy-ness, or “zeal without knowledge,” as Hugh Nibley called it. This is where the third part of my recipe for a Christ-like attitude comes in: we must give place.

Alma teaches us about giving place when he gives us the parable of the good seed in Alma Chapter 32. Once we have planted the seed, or the word of God, in our hearts, we need to give place, or in other words, make room. Think back to my friend’s plan for successfully completing a new project. A crucial part of the plan is deciding what to give up in order to make room.

Giving place shows we are actively concerned, it means we are consciously surrendering. We realize our priorities must change, and we put our heart where our mouth is, if you will excuse my adaptation of a secular proverb. If we do not make room, Christ will find no place to put the gift of an attitude like his.

Elder Neal Maxwell said, “We ‘cannot bear all things now,’ but the Lord ‘will lead [us] along,’ as we ‘give place’ in our thoughts and schedules and ‘give away’ our sins, which are the only ways we can begin to make room to receive all that God can give us. (D&C 78:18; D&C 50:4; Alma 32:27, 28; Alma 22:18.) Each of us is an innkeeper who decides [whether] there is room for Jesus!”

There is a scripture from Isaiah that I love, one that is so well known that it is difficult not to sing:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. –Isaiah 40:3

The Lord amplifies and clarifies this passage in the Doctrine & Covenants:

Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound. –D&C 88:66

We often interpret these verses as exhortations to do what it takes to build up the kingdom of God—we see our service in our communities, ward, and families as paving the way for Christ’s millennial reign. And this is an appropriate interpretation. But we can look at these scriptures on a more personal and intimate level as well, and perhaps find new meaning thereby.

What if the wilderness is my soul, and the desert is my heart? When I put myself into the metaphor, I hear the Spirit crying within my soul from time to time, asking me to make straight in the desert of my heart a highway for the Lord—a path for him to travel, a place for him to abide.

Preparing the way for the Lord in our hearts means doing what needs to be done. It means showing up, even if we don’t feel like it sometimes. When our daily routine consistently includes the small and seemingly inconsequential things God asks us to do—praying, studying and pondering, practicing kindness and patience and unselfishness and forgiveness—we show Him that He can trust us. Our behavior is a manifestation of what our covenants mean to us, and it helps us give place within ourselves for the riches of heaven.

The quest to develop a Christ-like attitude—the vision, emotion, and behavior of the Savior—is not the easy, broad path of the world. But as Catherine Thomas says, “We set aside the lethargy of the Natural Man. We cultivate enthusiasm, even when we are tempted to be too tired for spiritual things.”

Brothers and Sisters, as we heard in the Sacrament Prayer today, to begin, all we have to do is be willing, and even with that, God has promised to help us. We have everything that is needful to awake, arise, and give place.

Let us gather up all that impedes us from doing so and set it on the altar at Christ’s feet; let us make the sacrifice the Lamanite king was willing to make, that of giving away all our sins in order to know, to see, to feel, and to behave as Jesus.


It's not you; it's me.

"Oh, no," some of you are thinking. "I've heard those words before. I know what they mean." And you're partly right.

I've just gotten back from a ten-day trip Out West. I'm still re-adjusting to Eastern Daylight Time, not eating in restaurants at least once per day, and being a mom to more than one child. As I do so, I'm mulling over all I learned.

David Farland's Professional Writers' Workshop was worth every penny and minute invested. Dave is a guru, coach, talespinner, and incisive yet kind critic. I acquired much information that will improve both the quality of my storytelling and the quantity of my output. I got to know a group of writers whose skill sets, needs, and goals are very similar to mine, and I look forward to extensive interaction with them in the future. I left Saint George burning to closet myself and write, write, write. But of course, things are more complicated than that.

The garden needs to be planted (and weeded, oh yes, my precious). Baseball and lacrosse seasons are in full swing. We have concerts and recitals and birthdays, oh my! In other words, my real life is full and runneth over. How to fit in a bit more fiction writing time?

It's time for another round of streamlining of my daily schedule. Clearly I can't cut back on kid time or Patrick time or scriptures or exercise. The calling and the yard won't tolerate much skimping, either.

That leaves you, dear blogosphere. Both my reading and my posting have been erratic since Anne was born, so you've already gotten used to much less of my time and attention. I won't be gone forever, but don't expect a whole lot in the near future. This will be easier for you than it will be for me, I'm sure. I'm betting you won't even really notice.

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