The tree’s way of being

treeEight or so years ago my late father planted this redbud tree in our front yard.

The tree went on to house several American Robin nests over the years, provided shelter to the birds that visited the feeders, and gave me shade as I sat under the tree and read or worked on the laptop. It was a faithful tree friend.

Unfortunately the last couple of springs took a toll on the tree. Early warm weather followed by a cold spell resulted in fewer blossoms and leaves. This spring the tree had no buds at all. It died the same spring my dad died.

“I would like to believe when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows seeds every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not loss, it is adding to future life. It is the tree’s way of being. Strongly rooted, perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind.”

tree-May Sarton, Recovering: A Journal
(my youngest daughter drew the tree in the margin of my book)


Monday Morning Inspiration: Bird Happy Hour

bird torpedoI very much enjoy this time of year when the bird happy hour begins around 5:15 a.m., usually with a Northern Cardinal kicking things off. May Sarton describes it well in The House by the Sea: A Journal:

I am in an ecstasy of birds and their plummeting flight past the terrace. It is very thrilling when a bird closes its wings and shoots along like a torpedo through the air. The elusive oriole is everywhere now, in and out of maple flowers and apple blossom. But I rarely catch sight of him. I miss the white-throated sparrow…has he not returned? The mourning doves settle under the bird feeder, half a dozen at a time, and when disturbed make a lovely rustling whirr as they fly off. But it is now no single bird but the sense of congregations everywhere in the air and in the trees that makes the thrill. Out in the field the killdeer give their sharp peep, and the tree swallows go scooting around in the evening. The air they inhabit with such grace is intoxicating in itself, cool and gentle. What days!”

Sunday afternoon reflection on irises and plastic pink flamingos

mailboxToday neighbor Tom posted on Facebook this photo he took of our mailbox a few years ago. It is nice to see the irises (yes, those are irises painted on the mailbox too), because this year these irises aren’t blooming. It seems I inadvertently mowed over them while mowing around the mailbox earlier in the spring to try to mow down weeds. Oops. Fortunately the backyard irises are doing fine.

The irises in the photo are from a batch of iris bulbs we acquired from the parents of my high school best friend after attending her high school graduation party. At all the residences both my parents and I and my family have lived since then, even including one of the college rentals I lived in, we have planted iris bulbs that are descendants from that original batch. The irises have lasted longer than that friendship, but they still symbolize friendship for me, and bring to mind what David Whyte wrote about friendship in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words:

All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

..Friendship is a moving frontier of understanding not only of the self and the other but also, of a possible and as yet unlived, future.

…Friendship transcends disappearance: an enduring friendship goes on after death, the exchange only transmuted by absence, the relationship advancing and maturing in a silent internal conversational way even after one half of the bond has passed on.

…the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

We planted these irises back in the early 1990s in Madison at the flat my husband and I lived in at the time. The wife of the landlord saw the irises in bloom one May and told me that irises are the national symbol of mental health. Their son was bipolar so irises were meaningful to her. After she told me that I started looking at her son more compassionately (he was a neighbor that wasn’t always easy to get along with) and it also gave me a greater appreciation for the irises.

V__ADE7Finally, these irises remind me of endurance. The mailbox irises will show “tolerance and mercy” and bloom again next year, so I don’t have to berate myself for this year’s sloppy gardening. In the meantime, these pink plastic flamingos my daughters gave me for my birthday today will pick up the slack.



Saturday afternoon at the library: the May 30 haul

One of the biggest perks of living in Monona the past 16 years has been Saturday afternoon visits to the library. Such visits always lift the spirits, especially when there is a book (or three) on hold waiting for me.

Today’s haul:



An author in a recent New York Times Open Book column said this was the funniest book that he has read recently, so I figured I’d give it a try and end the spring on a light-hearted note.

And this:

I normally don’t read popular novels like these, but I want to try the book club at work and this is the one they are discussing next. I was going to take a pass on it, but then I noticed the author is a professor at UW-Whitewater and the book is set in southern in Wisconsin, so why not.



A fitness room of one’s own

yogaThis morning, after a two week hiatus, I went to Anytime Fitness, which forced me to ponder yet again one of those ironies of middle age: not having any fond memories of gym class as a kid, yet now paying money to, essentially, go to gym class.

Immediately after I walked in the door I was confronted with the #1 thing that makes going to the gym tedious. Sartre said that “hell is other people.” I would rephrase that to say “hell is other people at the gym.”

I instantly noticed that there were far too many people at the gym, including people I’ve seen at the gym before, which reminds me that a more accurate saying might be:”Hell is other people you know at the gym.” This also explains why I can’t exercise at home, given that there are always family members around, plus exercise ruins the fun of being at home.

The only time I was at the gym when no one else was there was on a weekday morning with blizzard type conditions 3-4 years ago, a memory I still cherish. This past Mother’s Day there was only one other person at the gym in the late morning, which was a Mother’s Day gift of sorts. One would think a Saturday afternoon around 5:30 would be a time you could have the gym to yourself, but when I tried that a couple of months ago there were several young men there doing show off things with weights; two men insisted on doing vertical jumps onto a platform next to the machine I wanted to use.  I desperately wanted to say, “You are all reasonably attractive men, why aren’t you home getting ready for dates?”

WP_20150523_14_31_34_ProBut, Saturday morning it had to be today, because I had no excuse not to get in some exercise, because the rainy weather made it impossible to be outside mowing the lawn.  Last Saturday my hamstrings got a workout as I cleaned out the hall closet, which had become a purgatory for stuffed animals. The kids later had to do a “sheep and the goats” type of routine and choose which ones to save.  The Saturday before that my quads got a workout from the base running I did at the parents vs. kids softball game to celebrate the end of the girls’ softball season.

This morning, due to the crowd at the gym, I sought refuge in a 20 minute fusion workout in the special private fitness room. It is only in recent weeks that I’ve started using this private room and I’m thinking it is the best kept secret in Monona. There is a projector and you choose which Wellbeats workout you want displayed on the screen and follow along. By yourself. With the door closed. No one else there to notice if your yoga pants are accidentally inside out, or if you can’t keep up. I could just sit and read a book or the New York Times and call it a workout and no one would notice.

This room is larger than my living room. Surprisingly it is always available even when the gym is crowded. It is a perfect hiding place.  This is the smallest fitness center in town (with the largest monthly fee), but it feels like the roomiest when I slip alone into this room, which is why I keep going. Maybe next Saturday I’ll bring along some stuffed animals and softballs and incorporate those into the fusion routine.




is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a-priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.

Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is privilege; that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.

To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks. To see fully, the beauty of a daughter’s face is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To see the dawn alone or later in the crowded evening to sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions; to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds all at once in this one world, to be a someone amongst all other someones and all other things, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything strangely, happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.

Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We meet the dawn or we meet others at the table as part of another or another’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.

from ‘GRATITUDE’ From Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
© David Whyte 2015

Happy Mother’s Day


Mother’s Day Shower

TrophyMomBridal and baby showers are all well and good. But it occurs to me that there is a glaring oversight in the shower industry: we need empty nest showers for mothers. The shower could occur on the first Mother’s Day following the youngest child’s departure from home.

There is more of a need to stock up after they leave home than when they are babies.

Here is a list of items the kids use almost constantly, and therefore I can almost never find when I need to use them (your list will vary, of course, especially if you have sons, which I don’t):

  • Scissors.
  • Nail clippers.
  • Pencils that don’t have orange or yellow lead. Normal pencils can never be found. Orange or yellow pencils can always be found because you can’t see what you’re writing when you use them, so they are useless.
  • Pens. There is light at the end of the tunnel for this one because I have started taking the kids to UW Bookstore a few times per year. You can buy individual pens there and test them out in the store. Passing on my pen addiction to them is one of my great joys as a mother. They love picking out their own pens and now don’t borrow mine as often. Whew.
  • Cloth napkins – when the kids were younger they were appropriated for all manner of uses, such as blankets for dolls.
  • Measuring tape – this was usually pressed into service as a leash for stuffed animals. Currently my daughter’s pet rabbit loves to chew it if he can get near it.
  • Hand trowel for gardening. When we had a sandbox these tended to get borrowed for sand play…and buried and never found again.
  • Computer paper.
  • Cell phone charger. In addition to constant borrowing pet rabbits love to chew these too. Argh.
  • Ponytail holder and bobby pins.
  • Tissues (especially travel size packets).
  • Lip balm.

This list is substantial enough that one of my ongoing fantasies as a parent is the surprise appearance of an overflowing box of all of the above items someday. When my imagination is really getting carried away I envision what it would be like to walk around my house during the course of the day and find each of these items in the exact spot where I last left them. A mother can dream.


Tree Friends


4585079045_5fdcfeb3d2_qFortunately it is easy to make the acquaintance of trees in Monona, thanks to all the mature trees here. My favorite is the huge silver maple in our backyard that has provided shade, counsel, and held my children in a swing when they were little.

“To make the acquaintance of a tree is to gain the counsel of a wise and compassionate friend.” – Kent Nerburn

“To understand and appreciate the message of an old oak means more for a good life than all the books of man.” – Jens Jensen


“No matter where I live, I always try to make friends with a tree. I find them so much like us in so many ways. They have their feet on the ground, their heads in the sky. They respond to the movements of the wind, the changes of the season. They have moods, aridities, joys. They like company.

“In scale they are perhaps our most intimate companions: their lives are understandable in years, not aeons; their size in feet, not miles. We can watch them grow, give forth their fruit, send forth their young…Like us their roots are unseen, and no matter how glorious the front they put up for the world, their true strength lies in the hard word that takes place unnoticed beneath the surface…And they have about them a deep compassion. They provide rest for the traveler, food for the hungry. They will even give up their own lives to provide warmth and shelter for others. They welcome weaker creatures without asserting their power.” – Kent Nerburn Visit-With-Max-At-College-autumn-2010-184


The birds have chosen us

wtsThis explains perfectly why I put far more effort into watching the birds in and near our yard, – we keep a family bird register by the picture window for jotting down the comings and goings of bird visitors – rather than into going out yonder to look for rare birds:

“It is afternoon — the time of gathering. The long shadows of the day stretch out behind us. I am watching the birds land on the feeder outside our window. Grackles, chickadees, songbirds, and jays. Why have they chosen us? Despite cats, squirrels, noise, human intrusion, they brave everything to return here. I marvel as they make their peace with each other and share this common space…

They take their turns. The songbirds flutter, alight, grab a few grains, and retreat. The jays strut and preen. The grackles swoop down with impunity, take what they will. Far in the background, perched in a small pine tree, the chickadee sits patiently…[and then] swoops in and takes a small grain of corn…The chickadee flutters upward and disappears into the orange glow of evening. She was the last, and now she is gone. But she will be back. They will all be back. Though they have the freedom of the air, they have chosen us.”

-Kent Nerburn, Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life

Photo credit: Mike McDowell

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