Look away from the invisible dog

What is your invisible dog?

You might be asking, “What do you mean my invisible dog?”

I’ll tell you a story.

When I was growing up in Illinois, we had an amusement park not far from my house. I used to have a summer pass. In the 1980s when I was a girl from age 10 to 13 or so, my parents used to drop off me and a friend at the park and we spent the day wandering around. We didn’t have cell phones. We had quarters that we used to call from a pay phone when we wanted to go home.

One night my dad came to pick me up. It was always a little miserable for whatever friend was with me when he came because he drove a Camaro. Camaros are many things. They are powerful. They are fast. They are not made for anyone to ride in the back seat. It’s an exercise in folding your body.

At the park, I saw people walking invisible dogs: empty harnesses with a stiff leash. They held the leashes out in front of them as if an invisible dog was pulling them along.

It was the most amazing thing I had seen. It was funny. It was attention getting. I loved dogs! This one was invisible! And you could walk it in the park! What could be better?

I told my dad all about the invisible dog and how cool they were. I expressed how much I wanted one.

I couldn’t wait for my life to change with the fame and fun of the invisible dog.

My dad was a smart man. So smart that he invented medical devices and toys and got patents for them. He made good money in the 1980s, which he spent on shiny things like new Camaros and gold necklaces.

How could he refuse his beautiful blond daughter? Of course, he said to me, “No. That is stupid.”

I sulked. He didn’t notice. I went on with my 11-year-old life.

At some point, my mom picked me up from a day at the amusement park. She had no problem buying junk so she got me the invisible dog on our way out. I brought it home.

It was really stupid. My dad was right.

It sat in the basement for a few years and then my dad threw it away.

What is your invisible dog?

We chase things that seem to offer what we want. These new clothes will make us feel professional and in control, or sexy and young. Can fabric give you confidence?

If we buy this toy for our kid, we’ll be good parents and our kids will turn out smart.

We see shiny cars in the commercials: people going fast on empty, curving roads, having adventures. This new car will give us a sense of freedom! Except we only drive it back and forth in traffic to work.

  • A big diamond ring
  • A fabulous wedding
  • Luxury makeup
  • Gourmet restaurants
  • Frothy $8 drinks

We want the feeling of being famous, loved, fancy and successful.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes.

All the hard work of humans is for the mouth, but the appetite is never full. It’s better to enjoy what’s at hand than to have an insatiable appetite. This too is pointless, just wind chasing.

Sweet is the light, and it’s pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

Even those who live many years should take pleasure in them all. But they should be mindful that there will also be many dark days. Everything that happens is pointless.

Ecclesiastes 6:7,9; 11:7-8 Common English Bible (CEB)

Research shows that old people are happier than younger people (article). How can that be possible? Our bodies grow frail, our minds fade and we have fewer friends because they’ve died.

One theory is that older people know how to enjoy the present.

Older people know what matters

This summer I got to spend the last three days of my dad’s life with him. He was there for my first days and I’m grateful I got to be there for his last ones.

During those last three days, he gave us a single smile. One smile. I remember that smile.

During those last three days, when I squeezed his hand, he squeezed mine back. A soft squeeze. I remember the feeling of his hand in mine, day by day growing cooler, as his heartbeat grew fainter.

During those last three days, I sang songs to him. I sang the songs from his own childhood in the 1930s and I sang the songs he sang to me during my childhood in the 1970s. I remember those songs.

What is your invisible dog?

I’m here to tell you that this is your day at the amusement park. Enjoy the rides. Feel the sun. Laugh with your friends. Taste the food in all its goodness: salty or sweet.

When you see an invisible dog, let it go. You don’t need it.

You already have what you need.

Give a smile.

Squeeze someone’s hand.

Sing your song.




Wingin’ it with baby chickies 🐥

Day One

There’s a famous saying that goes,

If you have a dream, collect all your scrap wood from the barn and make that dream come true.

OK, maybe that saying is not quite famous, yet…but I will tell you more.

Our dream was a coop.

Our necks are burnt. Our muscles are sore. Our drill bits are broken. But we made our dream come true! Here’s how we did it.

Reason for the coop-building season


First, the need. An impulse buy of seven cute chicks from Cackle Hatchery meant we needed to make housing for them. We got seven different breeds:

  • Houdan
  • Buff Brahma
  • Polish
  • Blue Ameraucana
  • Jubilee Orpington
  • Silver Laced Wyandotte
  • Barred Rock

Three of them will be hens. The other four are a gamble. I will let you know in a few months what we have if/when the crowing starts!

I love their little peeping sounds! They are all fluff and warmth in the palm of my hand.

Back to the coop building

I took all of our items out of the barn to see what we had to work with. As part of the coop-building process, we got the side bonus of organizing the barn.

You can see we had quite the collection of junk stuff.


Let the coop building games begin!

Using this book from our local library, Reinventing the Chicken Coop: 14 Original Designs with Step-by-Step Building Instructions, we started with the base. From that point, it was guessing and trying since we didn’t have the wood—or the tools—that the book suggested. Our coop also needed to be much bigger than the ones described.

At this point, we are five hours in and my husband is not yet sunburnt.


Next, we started to build the side. For the front and back, I wanted them to open so we could clean the coop and collect eggs as needed.

Mid-afternoon, my son brought new energy and some much-needed supplies: more screws and 2x4s. With his help, we got the back wall done.

We used an old storm door for one side. Then it was coop-raising time!


I felt happy when I saw that our coop was strong enough to support a person inside. For people with no building skills, that was a big accomplishment. We ended day one with hope in our hearts.

Day Two

Day two and I painted the base.


Cats are not good painter’s helpers

A certain naughty kitty explored the coop while I was turned around.

She loved getting her white kitty paws washed in the sink so much that she sang us a song while we cleaned them.


The we added the front gates and a little ramp.

IMG_20180429_183831 (1)

We attached 2 by 4s for them to roost. Chickens don’t grip with their feet well like wild birds. I read that they prefer a flatter roost pole. Plus, a couple of our breeds will be 10+ pound chickens. We need a strong roost!

I realized the noun, rooster, comes from the verb, to roost. Yep, seems obvious now, doesn’t it? But I had never really thought of it.


We will pick up some paint this week and get the fencing ready for the little chick friends. They will start living outside in a few weeks after they have their feathers and it has warmed up.

Hope you have a lovely spring week. May your dream—whatever it looks like—come true!

Can’t forget the horses!

PS: a couple bonus pics of our horse and pony, just for fun.

Pixie does not look impressed by our newfound building abilities


Miko loves the long spring front lawn



Christmas is not a plastic holiday

I was lucky enough to have my writing included in my church’s advent devotional this year (We would welcome you to join us at the Christmas Eve service! Ask me if you’re interested.) This is one of my offerings from the devotional. I hope this season will bless you. 


Psalm 139:13-14 Common English Bible (CEB)

You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.

Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.

In December 2015, a little Chihuahua puppy shivered and starved on the streets of Kansas City. Temperatures were harsher than average. Lows at night dropped to 13 degrees, even lower with the wind chill. Without his mother and littermates, and no human to care for him, the puppy grew weaker from cold and hunger. In desperation, he began to eat plastic.

Kind people rescued the puppy. He was unable to eat because he was so weak and his belly was so full of plastic. They removed the plastic from his belly. Then they fed him broth. As his strength returned, they rallied for him and got him the care his life depended on. Today this puppy named Mufasa is a lively, happy dog who lives with me and my husband. (We are so thankful to all the volunteers at Paws Crossed Inc. for their loving care and bringing him to us!)


During the holidays, I see how people can grow desperate. The puppy was hungry for real food but ate plastic because it was all he could find. In the same way, I believe people are hungry for spiritual nourishment and deep connections. They can’t find nourishment or connections, so they fill the holidays with plastic materialism. They buy into the commercial pressure and intensity. They try to buy moments of joy and happiness. Then come January, they look at their credit card debt with regret.

God created us to be marvelous. We don’t need to buy anything to rest in the unconditional joy that we are God’s beloved children. No amount of plastic will fill the need we have for God. Kindness and mercy are free for all to give and receive.

When we give thanks for what we have, it liberates us to see how God is working in our lives. Jesus is not a plastic lawn decoration. Christmas is not a plastic holiday. Christmas invites us to know our Savoir, the heart of God and God’s love for us all, no matter who we are.


God who created us, give us eyes to see the hungry, the abandoned and the lonely. Strengthen us in this season of long nights to be havens of warmth for those alone on the streets. Make our arms strong to do your work, feeding your people and your creatures with nourishing food and your nourishing Word.

Thanks for the difficult family members

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, could be a grump. In real life, she tended to be haughty and critical. I don’t know if she was anyone’s favorite person.

She had icy, cut-crystal blue eyes, so blue they seemed too clear and bright to be real. She seemed to look through you. She was a beautiful, classy woman.

Her life started out rough and then she experienced disappointments where she wanted happiness and elegance.

My grandmother with my sister and me at my sister’s college graduation (side note: LOVE the 1970s fashion in this photo!)

My grandmother sat up straight and she didn’t hesitate to tell you to sit up straight too. In any photo I took with her, she always told me to turn my hip to the camera so I didn’t look wide, even as a kid.

At my sister’s college graduation where I turned my hip, with my aunt in the fabulous 1970s rainbow outfit and my dad in the back with an incredible tie. Happy smile on my sis!

Sometimes it seemed she saw the world split in two: there was her, and there were the others who could serve her, or disappoint her.

With one glance to her face, you could tell she didn’t approve. Of anything. She was someone who smiled with her mouth and rarely her eyes.

I didn’t spend Thanksgivings with her. My family had its own fractured, distant ways. Growing up, I had the holidays with only my parents until they divorced, and a few rare times, with my brother or sister.

My grandmother was difficult to deal with in real life but a fantastic penpal. She wrote me letters every month for a couple of years while I was in college. She wrote about her passions when she was a young woman and how she saw a great intelligence in me.

She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She only said it in letters but maybe that was the best place to say it. In real life, she questioned my clothing and hair choices. To be fair, they are often questionable.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I give thanks for difficult people who make a difference. Not always easy to love, but worthy. I am thankful for my grandmother, more so every year.

I am thankful for the family I have, different maybe from other people’s or the ideal, but they are mine.


At the table, I will take a breath and pray to become more forgiving and more grateful.

With grown-up eyes, I see how we are all still children, children of God begging for love.

This Thanksgiving, may God bless you with eyes shining with love to see the goodness always around you. May you recognize the little moments of sweetness that will grow sweeter as time passes. May you have colorful memories to last you through the winter of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

How a loser can win at the game of life

My speech from our open house at Downtown Toastmasters today: thank you to everyone for a fun event! You energize and encourage me! 😊😊

I have played the Game of Life only a few times. Today I am going to tell you about one of those times.

If you’re not familiar with this board game, it has little plastic convertible cars that you fill with blue and plastic pegs that represent people. You spin the wheel and get lucky—or unlucky—spins.


You travel around the board from pay day to pay day, trying to reach typical milestones: going to college, getting married and adding more peg-kids to your car.


The first one was in 1981. A neighbor girl owned the game. I didn’t know her well. She was a couple of years older than me, 13 to my 11.

Her house was two stories tall. Mine was only one.

Her dad was president of a company. Mine was only vice president.

Her mom was put together, one of those women who always had her hair done and her nails freshly polished with ironed clothes. My mom wore brown polyester…with stains.

The neighbor girl set the rules.

She told me what car I got to drive. I wanted the blue car because blue was my favorite color.

“No, you get orange,” she said.

When I got frustrated about the way she was playing, which seemed to favor her, she told me I was wrong.

“House rules,” she said. “This is how we play in my house.”

What choice did I have? Her game, her house, her rules.

My little orange car seemed to go nowhere. Unlucky spin after spin.

Her car got filled with peg-children and her stack of money got bigger.

Between bad spins and her “house rules,” I fell further and further behind.

You’ve heard of gracious losers? I am the opposite. I am a hateful loser, a loser’s loser. I have a strong drive to win and a tendency toward envy.

Why don’t I have as much money?

Why is their car full of peg-children and mine is not?

Why is their career so good and mine is not?

She got more excited as the game went on.

I got angrier. I sulked. I scowled. I stewed.

(You can see why I only played this game one time at her house).

I’m not proud to say that I am the same as I was 25 years ago.

I look around at the people I know, in life and on Facebook, and I find myself asking the same questions.

Why don’t I have as much money?

Why is their career so good?

I only had one peg-child. If I could only have one, he was an amazing one to have. But like all like plastic peg children, my one peg-child grew up. Now he’s driving on his own road of life. I see the families with children and feel the pang of longing. My time is over.


The game the way I played it that day was not the game I want to play today.

I don’t want to live from pay day to pay day.

I don’t want to be on the losing end of a game because of someone else’s rules.

I don’t want to look at the people around me and feel like they got all the lucky spins. I don’t want to resent how their pile of money is bigger.

As a terrible loser, I have some advice for you if you too have known the pain of playing someone else’s game.

Make your own rules.

Decide where you want to go.

What does your personal game of life look like? This is important. Not society’s game, not your parents’ game, not the bossy older neighbor girl’s game. Your game.

You might not want to be a pink peg married to a blue peg with four peg children in the back of your convertible.

I don’t want a convertible. I want a minivan I can convert into a camper.

We will load it up with our two Chihuahua dogs.

We will drive to wild places and hike for miles.

My game of life looks like hot coffee on a cold morning with meadows and trees as far as the eye can see. My game of life looks like feeling grateful for the simple pleasures in my life: a bright sunrise, a good book, a kind partner.

I can win at this game.

Low points and high points

I have a special affection for 1970s design because that was the decade I grew up. I thought the 70s was how the world was. I didn’t know I was part of a trend.

I love the sensibility, the choice of color, the idea about what looked good. I relish movies done with accurate sets, cool outfits and macramé plant holders.

I collect 1970s crochet pattern books. I love to look through the shelves at thrift stores and stumble upon a new book I don’t already have.

A treasure found

This weekend, I went to Rosebud, a tiny town in Missouri, for a fun horse carriage ride with family and friends. We wandered through a few antique stores. I checked for books to add to my collection but found nothing from my favored decade. Either too early or too late (you’re on your own, ‘60s and ‘80s).

One building had a hand drawn sign outside reading: garage sale. I was going to pass by but my son stopped to check it out. I drifted in behind him. I ended up feeling glad he had stopped. On a plastic shelf, in a cardboard box, I saw old papers that looked promising. Most were quilting and cross stitch patterns but then, in the back, I found my treasure. 1974. It could be mine for 25 cents. That was 75 percent off from its original price 40+ years ago. Quite the deal considering inflation!

The sunset colors of the ripple afghan on the cover drew me in. That afghan with its rust and ripples made me think of the orange couches in my memory with these afghans flung over the back. I felt nostalgic.


Fantasy and reality

I thought about the last time I tried to make a ripple afghan. It was two years ago. I had found a retro pattern that won my heart. The pattern said, “it was sure to be a family heirloom, treasured for generations.” Who doesn’t want to make a family heirloom that would be treasured for generations?

I immediately ordered brown and blue acrylic yarn from online. I had some surgery planned in early 2015 and then weeks at home afterward. I imagined I would spend my post-surgery recovery crocheting a ripple afghan. I pictured myself in a hazy bliss of healing, making a gorgeous tribute to the 1970s that I—and future generations—would relish.

It was a fiasco.

The pattern required counting stitches to make the ripple afghan work correctly. Between the pain, nausea and physical fatigue, I could not count to ten stitches. My zig zags that should have been even and sharp were lumpy and misshapen. My project resembled what it might look like if a cat vomited yarn. I grew discouraged. I grew sad. Then I gave up. The project represented disappointment and failure—my inability to count and my weakness. I gave the yarn away.

That was the last time I tried to make a ripple afghan.

Peaks and valleys

Saturday, I looked at the photo of my new treasure and wondered if I was ready to try again. I was stronger now. The pattern was easier. It was even advertised as EXTRA EASY INSTRUCTIONS with a 1970s flair font. I would only have to count to four with this one. I could try. It wouldn’t hurt to try again.


Ripple blankets are special because they have peaks and valleys. They look complicated to make but if you can count your stitches, they are not hard. Up and down the slopes your hook travels, never too long in one place.

I appreciated the anonymous designer (I imagine her as female). She directs us, “(it is especially important to start with a loose chain on an afghan; otherwise, the bottom will be tight, and as you work, the afghan will start spreading out but a tight bottom chain will never stretch. Disaster!)”

I love the way she punches the result of a tight bottom chain: Disaster!


Personal disasters happen, in yarn and in life.

Disappointment, depression, an unexpected diagnosis – these things happen.

Don’t give up.

Don’t give up on yourself.

Don’t give up on your future and the idea that it will get better.

It will get better.

Let there be valleys in your life. It’s OK to feel low. It’s OK to give away the things that represent failure, the things you don’t need, the thoughts that don’t serve you, the expectations that didn’t work out. You’ll be lighter.

Remember valleys only exist because of mountains.

Find your mountains and prepare to climb them again. When you reach the peak, you will see for miles and make sense of your life. You will see the valley and know it was only part of your travels. You’ll have a clear mind.

Try, try again

Pattern in hand, I was ready to try again.

I shopped for the colors to make the blanket. It called for three colors of orange and one of yellow. Modern day stores don’t sell dark rust so I had to substitute brown.

I knew how wrong an afghan could go, remembering my attempt after surgery on many pills. Disaster! You better believe I started this new afghan with a loose bottom chain.

I added a row of dark orange, then medium orange, then light orange.

I saw the hills and valleys for what they were: part of the whole, dependent on each other to define each other.

I began to take courage.

I might succeed this time. I might recreate a memory of the 1970s, the decade of sunset colors and a love of home.

I might embody that feeling of hope, hope that I’ll reach the end, wrapped up in warmth and coziness after my work is done.


Well-being and the woods

Fall is the time of reflection. This year, I have focused on well-being. As we enter the final quarter of the year, I reflect on how I am doing with this goal.

I use three main strategies for well-being:

  • Eat well for both mental clarity and physical health
  • Pay attention to how I spend money for my financial well-being
  • Walk at least 10 minutes a day, again for both mental clarity and physical health

What is it to eat well? I eat what I would like, but in smaller quantities than a year ago. Veggies are a much bigger part of my shopping cart and my plate now.

Every Sunday, I make a huge pot of veggie soup and then eat off it for my lunches.

Veggie eating is going well. I have never eaten so many vegetables in my life! 🥕

What is it to pay attention to how I spend money? I check my spending every day and consider if the spending seems worth it. Sometimes it is. A cup of rich coffee outside on a fall morning cannot be beat for sheer pleasure. ☕

Sometimes it is not. I had fantasies about how good the biscuit was going to be. I imagined it tender and warm, with melted butter. It was dry, at least three hours past its prime, not worth the cost both in cash and calories.

I have had mixed success with this part of my well-being.

I have learned about myself and money this year, so much that this topic is my next book project! You will hear more about this in the coming months — I would love to have your participation in this book.

Walking for 10 minutes

What could you do for 10 minutes that would refresh you?

With only a time commitment of 10 minutes, there’s no force and less chance of failure.

I am not making huge demands on myself to change. It is more of a gentle nudge toward better health, the same kind of nudge my pony gives me when she knows I have carrots in my pocket and I haven’t shared them. Even on the busiest of days, I should be able to get a ten-minute walk in. If I had set my goal of 20 minutes, that would have been easy to fail at. But 10 minutes is easy to do.

Best of all, the ten-minute daily habit means I actually enjoy walking now, more than ever. I have had a lot of success with this aspect of my well-being.

Most weekends, my husband and I find a spot in Missouri to hike. We have an incredible system of state parks. It gets us out of the house and it’s free. I experience a deep sense of well-being while we walk in the woods.

My walking/hiking goal is to do one big hike of 7 miles. The longest I have done so far is 4 miles. I hope to report back with success before Dec. 31, 2017! 🚶🚶

Until next time, here are a few of my favorite photos from our hikes this year.

May today bring you at least one moment of joy. May the path of your life lead you closer to love. May the green blessing of God’s earth bring you peace. ❤️🌿


Dare to be mediocre

This was my speech today for the Humorous Speech contest at Downtown Toastmasters. (We welcome visitors. Visit us any Thursday at noon!)

Success is not owned, it’s rented — and rent is due every day.
—Rory Vaden

This is great if you want to be successful.

But what if you want to be mediocre?

Mediocre: of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance:  ordinary, so-so, as defined by Merriam-Webster.

It was hard for me to find a quote that will inspire you to be mediocre. Instead, I will tell you a little about how I embrace mediocrity.

Contest Judge, Fellow Toastmasters and valued guests, I will tell you a story of why success is overrated.

In 2010, I got into knitting. Then in 2011, I got into crochet.

When I say, “got into,” I mean I created a pile of yarn in my house…in my car…in my purse…anywhere I am, you will find yarn.

I literally got into a cloud of yarn and I haven’t left since.

Why yarn? Yarn doesn’t care. I can make mediocre objects—or even terrible objects—and the yarn doesn’t care.

It’s the perfect hobby for me. Too often in my life, I was driven to improve. I wanted excellence. I wanted to get better at whatever I did—whether that was with my writing, my productivity or my public speaking, as shown by my presence in this club.

But with knitting and crochet, I don’t care. I don’t care that I am mediocre. Yarn doesn’t care.

Unfortunately, my hobby—or habit—does take a toll. On other people. Yes, I subject friends, family and the public to my mediocre skills with yarn. How many people here have gotten something with yarn from me? Poor friends. Now, how many of you still have it? Don’t answer that!

An example of my lack of respect for other people is with my forest floor shawl. [PUT ON SHAWL]

The majority of my work is freeform—I don’t follow a pattern. I just start crocheting. Sometimes I have an idea in mind.

For this piece, I wanted it to look like I rolled around on the forest floor. Yes, that was my original idea.

Can you see it, the forest floor?

First off, weird idea for a piece of clothing.

What’s worse, I wore this to work.

I don’t have a job as an elf at a medieval fair. I don’t have a job as a woods witch making love potions for people. I have an actual, professional, adult job working at the university.

Fortunately, I have worked with the same colleagues for years and they know me well enough to always be honest with me.

A few years ago when I wore my forest floor shawl to a staff meeting, my two friends looked at me and one of them said, “What is that?”

“It’s my forest floor shawl,” I said. I said this proudly.

I explained that I wanted it to look like I had rolled around in moss, lichens and twigs.

I could tell from their faces that it wasn’t having the effect I had hoped for.

I talked more about the benefits of the shawl. “This shawl is so soft. It’s great for hugging.”

Colleague Michelle said, “I will never hug you in that shawl.”

Flash forward to yesterday, when I mentioned to Michelle that I was going to be in the speech contest today.

“It’s about my forest floor shawl,” I said.

She said she wasn’t familiar with it.

I explained that she was, in fact, familiar with it. I reminded her that she had said she would never hug me in it.

“That checks out,” she said. “I can see myself saying that.”

We laughed and laughed.

In conclusion, I encourage you to do what you like and ease up about feeling the need to be successful. It’s OK to be mediocre if it makes you happy.

I leave you with this quote by Albert Schweitzer:

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

PS—Guess who hugged me in my forest floor shawl today??


Rainy days were racing days

179035_1262898108768_7505390_nWe loved rainy days because rainy days were racing days.

On rainy days the water ran next to the curb in a strong torrent. The twins and I found little eucalyptus boats, the pods from our tree homes, and hurried to the top of our street in Los Gatos, a little Californian town in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

At the count of “READY? SET? GO!!!!!!!” we dropped in our seed racers and watched the rushing current sweep them down the hill. We yelled and encouraged them as they swapped places. If one of ours got caught by debris snagged at the side of the curb, we were allowed to loosen it with a stick.

At the bottom of the street, the water rushed under a grate. We called the race right before the grate. With a good racer, we would try to scoop it out so it could race again. We let the seedpods that were losers go away under the grate. We wanted a fresh start.

The twins were my best friends. They were identical. Adults couldn’t tell them apart but I could. One was bossy with more freckles and her hair had more copper. One was quieter and sweeter. She was paler and lighter haired. It always surprised me that adults couldn’t see the differences. Were they not looking at the twins? It was obvious to me.

We were next-door neighbors. Our neighborhood had long skinny lots and the houses were nestled next to each other. My bedroom and the twins’ bedroom were so close that I could to read to them at night even though we were in different houses. We opened our windows and I would read from my big collection of books. I read about horses and strong girls. Despite the tall wooden privacy fence between us, I could hear them shift in their beds and I could tell when their breathing became even. Then I stopped reading and spent time thinking until I finally fell asleep. I envied their ability to sleep easily. I thought they were lucky to have a sister in the same room. So much had happened by the time I was eight that I was already an insomniac.

We spent all our free time on the street. We didn’t have any organized activities so we made up our own games. Sometimes the teenagers at the top of the street let us play with them. I remember a teenage boy taught me to play Frisbee.

The twins and I roller-skated on my deck. The wheels ka-clunked, ka-clunked as they bumped over the boards. In the 1970s, it was popular to roller-skate. I wore white socks pulled up to my knees, with blue stripes at the top. We put glitter gel on our cheeks. We weren’t weird little kids clomping around in a small mountain town. We were glamourous disco queens and we tossed our hair as we skated. We were fabulous!

Across the street from our houses were empty lots with tall eucalyptus trees. Each of us had a tree home that we called our own. We spent hours with our trees. I loved my tree with all my heart as only a lonely little girl can love.

When they started to clear the lot and build new houses, the twins and I welcomed the adventure. We ran around through the construction and collected odd pieces to bring back to our tree homes. I had a little pile of bent nails, colored wire twists and splintered pieces of wood.

Then the day came that one of the huge eucalyptus trees was chopped down and left as a stump. Four trees next to it had spray-painted Xs on them. My own tree home had an orange spray-painted X.

I stood and looked at my tree with its orange death sentence sprayed on. The twins stood on either side of me.

“It’s going to be OK, Gen,” the quiet one said and put her hand on my shoulder.

“We can stop them,” the bossy one said. “Let’s take the X off.”

We peeled the paint off. I let myself be a little hopeful. We played close to our tree homes that afternoon, never venturing over to the construction site, the source of my tree’s reason to be chopped down.

The next day after school, I ran down the hill from the bus stop. A new orange X marked my tree.

It was over. My tree was going to die.

I started crying. I cried without making a sound, weeping about the imminent loss of my tree home.

I came in and told my mother. She said, “You’re crying already and it’s not even dead?”

But I knew it would die.

They sawed it down on a day that my family was at home. From my room, I listened to the sounds without any tears. I had already cried for it.

My dad came back from across the street with a large chunk of my tree.

“Here’s a piece of it,” he said. “We can use it as a table on the deck.”

It felt like offering the bones of a friend to me.

I was this sensitive as a child before I grew up and learned to live in the world.

A month without tea


As the first few weeks of Lent end, I have lived a month without tea. Can you believe it, that I, renowned tea addict, can live such a long time without tea? Other than when I was a toddler and still drinking milk, I have never gone without tea.

My grandfather came from Darlington, England, to America, and he brought a deep cultural devotion to tea that he passed on to his wife, my grandmother, and his daughter, my mother.

When I was growing up, we had it after church with sugar and cream. As a child, I had shortbread cookies we dunked in tea for an afternoon snack. We had tea as a comforting hot drink after ice skating on the pond outside my house.

My favorite tea was a black tea with essence of orange and spice that I called Constant Comet. I didn’t know why a tea would be a comet but there were a lot of things about the adult world that were beyond my comprehension. (Later I learned the name was Constant Comment. So many things make more sense with age and reading ability.)

As a teenager, I drank tea iced at the horse shows, when the Illinois summer was near 100 and I had on black leather boots and a black velvet helmet. I drank it hot in the red plastic cup that was the lid to my thermos and brought the thermos to class with me on the University of Minnesota campus.

Tea was my answer for everything. Friend coming over? Make tea. Bored? Make tea. Feeling sad? Make tea. Can’t sleep? Make (herbal) tea.

You might wonder why I gave up tea.

The seed was planted last year, without my knowing. I had the good fortune to get staff advisory council funding from my work, the University of Missouri, to take a graduate class for free.

I chose Positive Psychology as my class to take. We are nine weeks in. I have learned a great deal about myself and how we can influence our own happiness and well-being.

The class reinforces my focus for this year. I decided 2017 would be the Year of Well-Being. Leave it to me to make a commitment to growth that actually requires work and change. I could have made 2017 the Year of Embracing Absolute Laziness and Eating Crunchy Things on the Couch. But no, I said I would focus on my well-being.

Every week for class I practice an aspect of positive psychology and write how people can flourish. Our assignments have included meditating, humor, love, positive health and ways to cope better. Now here I am, aware of all the places I need to improve. I can’t claim obliviousness anymore.

One week for class I wrote about my addiction to tea.

Previously I laughed about my need for tea. I have a true story some of you know. I saw a doctor for my check-up. She told me I drank too much tea. I found a new doctor.

How could it be so bad to drink tea? I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I’m kind to animals. Can I not have one vice, the vice of tea?

I always pray about what I should give up for Lent. This year I prayed for weeks and one Sunday during communion, I got my answer. It was a particular kind of fast. I was excited to get my answer. I put a hold on the book about the fast at the library and waited. Then I got the book. I read about how it was a strict fast with a lot of limits. I wasn’t too happy but I figured I would make a go of it.

Then I got to the part about nothing but water. No coffee. No juice. No tea. NO TEA!!!!!!! I got mad.

I was miffed for days, angry that the answer to my prayer wasn’t easy. It would be so much more convenient to be spiritually enlightened while continuing to act and think in the same ol’ way.

Why did I really have to repent?

(Note to self: when praying for guidance, be ready for guidance.)

Lent is a powerful season—a time of purification and preparation. Through my prayers and through the reflective writing exercises for my positive psychology class, I knew giving up tea as part of the fast for Lent was the right thing to do. I had supportive friends who had faith in me and my ability to give it up despite my doubts.

Ash Wednesday came. Withdrawal was bad. I had been drinking 400-700mg of caffeine a day. Parts of me hurt I didn’t know could hurt. It felt like my bones didn’t fit together right anymore. I had sciatica. I couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit. I couldn’t sleep. I felt both flattened and bloated.

Then a week passed. The day came when I didn’t feel bad. I felt OK. I was alive and living without tea.

Now it’s been a month, a month without tea.

Who am I without tea?

I am who we all are.

We are God’s beloved children who can do anything with God.

For Lent, I gave up more than tea: I gave up an addiction and an identity.

You too can be someone new! Pray and ask God to surprise you.

Give up what you don’t need to carry anymore.

And let’s celebrate Easter together with a cup of decaf Constant Comet!