30 April 2012

Z is for Z

is for Z.

There is a beginning - we are fresh, excited, and willing.

There is an end - we are worn out, empty, and dragging.

There was an A. Words flowed. Now Z. ...

We don't like to talk much about endings, do we? Trying to end a book well is not only difficult as a writer, but it's sad too. The experience with characters as they develop is one we want to continue. As a reader, a good book, one that traps me in its pages whether I'm holding it or not, is emotional to finish - I want to know what happens to Frodo and Sam, but I'd also like to keep reading perpetually. It's as though they die when the book is over!

Saying goodbye to people, especially due to a move or a death, is painful too. So much so it can seem unnatural. For the longest time after my grandpa died, especially after our first child was born, I would have thoughts like, "Oh, I've got to tell grandpa!" And for a moment he was still alive.

28 April 2012

Y is for Yes

is for Yes.

Yesterday I was fighting fatigue, and I found myself telling my boys no, or not yet, or maybe (just putting them off until I said no later). It's still bugging me.

In I is for Imagination I described a time when I came home and was immersed in play; it's not always like that. There are times, like yesterday, that I say no to something my boys want to do and I don't know why. I might have plans of my own, but even if I don't, it slips out. When I reflect on the fact that I've told them no to a game of baseball, or a trip to the park, I regret it.

Don't get me wrong, my boys need to get used to hearing, and heeding, a no from their parents - but there are different kinds, aren't there? Saying no to slapping a face is not the same as a no to a book because there's a game on TV, or because I'm tired.

27 April 2012

X is for Xylem

is for Xylem.

I am fascinated by the structure of a tree - and this may be cheating to talk about trees again, but I can't help it.

Xylem is basically wood, however, it's the part of the tree (or plant) that does the heavy lifting. Through the xylem, and the phloem, water is carried to branches and leaves.

Without this part of the tree, well, there is no tree. The xylem is why it seems trees can defy gravity by pulling water up from the ground. I remember doing science experiments when I was first learning about plants; we used dye and a young translucent plant so we could watch the water travel in what seemed like an impossible way.

26 April 2012

W is for Wind

is for Wind.

The obvious nature of this post won't be so obvious to everyone. My family and I live on the plains, and to go a day without wind is unusual.

My mind ends up personifying the wind, whether breeze or gale, and yesterday the boys and I played under a large cottonwood tree - the wind blowing hard. A few times I looked up and listened to the shaking leaves, it sounded like clapping hands. I'm looking forward to when that same tree lets its cottonseed go; if the wind is in attendance, it will seem like snow.

Not only does the wind seem to make human the things around us, it should also remind us of what gave us life in the beginning.

25 April 2012

V is for Vapor

is for Vapor.

Every once in a while I'll catch it on my way to work: the vapor rising over the green wheat. I want to stop and walk through it, but I'm usually late. I suppose it's one of those moments, a Robert Frost moment, "...The woods are lovely, dark, and deep/But I have promises to keep..."

Do you have those moments? Something of beauty calls you into it, yet heeding the call is all but impossible - or it seems that way. When the vapor rises from the ground, I've seen it in the early evening lately too, I want to melt into it.

24 April 2012

U is for Underdog

is for Underdog.

The underrated, the unlikely, the unable - why do we want them all to prove themselves? And it doesn't matter the event or the contenders, be it sport for team or country, or success in academics, or oppression thrown off in war - those who should not win, should not succeed, or couldn't possibly be free, give us the most pleasure when they do the unthinkable.

Perhaps there are so many underdogs among us, ourselves included, that we need to see the unbelievable. Perhaps it feels a bit like justice, like oppression lifted - even in athletics.

In sports there is no better example than the Dodgers of 1988 - at least, they are why I will always love to see the Dodgers win, and I will always remember their title run.

23 April 2012

T is for Trees

is for Trees.

This morning I'm struck by the fact that the T looks like a tree, especially the way it hangs over the r above. I can imagine the r as a shade loving plant, or a nap-taker rocking in a hammock.

I'm struggling to write this post because I know it will be inadequate; there are too many things to say about trees, and not a day passes that I don't admire them no matter the season.

Even though I can't get enough shade, and the warm months are easier for me, I am learning the raw beauty of bare branches. And when those branches begin to warm in the spring air and sap runs to their tips, the color change is in motion before flowers have a chance to win my imagination - that is good for the eyes.

21 April 2012

S is for Student

is for Student.

I teach the 7th grade - I'll just let that settle in for a moment.

Plenty of my students refuse to carry out their basic function: to learn. However, there are others who have the hunger, the curiosity, and the work ethic it takes to be a good student.

What I go for is to make lifelong students - those funky kind of people who never stop investigating, never stop asking questions. These are the truly beautiful students, these are the readers and the conversationalists. And with the technology we have these days, it's difficult to make a child a reader.

20 April 2012

R is for Reflection

is for Reflection.

One of the reasons I began this blog was to give myself a platform for thinking. Writing is a passion that I see as a way to digest the world as it comes at me; it takes a lot of reflection to digest well.

Our world may be a better place if more of us took time to sit and think, yet we rarely see value in think-time. If I sit at my desk and stare out the window and a student or another teacher comes in, I will most likely feel embarrassed that I was caught doing nothing.

And I'm guilty of accusing my students of wasting time during an assignment if they're sitting idle, sometimes they're thinking, sometimes they're not. Why is it so hard for me to let them think through a question?

Well, reflection takes time.

19 April 2012

Q is for Questions

is for Questions.

(The first thing that went through my mind was, how do I start this post? Great question.)

My children have taught me, or retaught me, that questions are innate; the past two years have been filled with the question why.

About everything.

"It's time for dinner, please come to the table."
"Because it's time to eat."
"Because we're hungry."
"Because our bodies need calories to live."
"Because that's the way God made us."

The last phrase is used at the end of many "why" sessions. However, I do believe it's important to answer as fully as possible any question my children ask. Why? Because they really do want to know the answer, and they're learning language every time they hear their mom and I talk.

18 April 2012

P is for Poetry

is for Poetry - you knew that was coming, didn't you?

At school I'm in the middle of teaching a unit on poetry, and let me tell you my students jumped up and down when I first told them we were going to spend at least two weeks on it!

No really, they threw their books on the floor and jumped on them repeatedly.

And so I had to begin with this statement: everyone likes poetry. The cries of agreement were never stronger. Then I asked them, "How many of you like music?" Only the students who like to disagree with everything said they didn't. Then I said, "You just proved me right - everyone likes poetry because the majority of the world likes music."

That goes for you too - you know you like music, at least some kind of it, therefore you like poetry because music is poetry!

17 April 2012

O is for Ocean

is for Ocean.

Most of our planet is ocean, and we have explored very little of it. The other day I heard a story on the radio about James Cameron's adventure to the deepest part of the Pacific. He dove seven miles and filmed what I can only imagine to be incredible footage - I can't wait to see what is actually produced from it.

I grew up within driving distance to the Pacific, and I have vivid memories of exploring the beach and the water. The power of the waves is still with me; wiping out on my boogie-board was sometimes painful, but after a while I figured out it's best just to let the tide take over. Being rolled by the waves in this way is actually a fond memory, like wrestling with your dad - he may throw you around a bit, but that's what you wanted anyway! I love diving under water too, so I didn't mind if a couple waves held me down.

16 April 2012

N is for Names

is for Names.

Well, what's in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Perhaps.

Yet there's a phenomenon when something is named, especially in people - they tend to become what they're called, they grow into that name. It could be the name they received at birth, it could be the name their friends give them at school or in play, or worse, it could be the name a bully has crafted for them.

There are exceptions to be sure, but we will become what we're called if we believe those who are naming us. It helps, too, to know what your name means before you believe it.

14 April 2012

M is for Marriage

is for Marriage.

In the world of relationships, marriage is the most beautiful.

I could write about stability for children, the family unit, or even the benefits society gleans from marriage. And maybe, in a roundabout way, I will.

However, what I want to say is simpler than those and more vital: marriage was designed to first eliminate the extremes of solitude. Love and baby making are good offshoots, but lonely people are not whole people.

God's words were something like, "It is not good for man to be alone."

13 April 2012

L is for Lilacs

is for Lilacs.

This spring we've been the glad recipients of blooming lilac bushes. My wife and I were trying to decide whether it's been four or five years since we first planted our lilacs, but either way it's exciting to finally have flowers.

We dug a few plants from my in-law's garden, drove them to our place, and planted them immediately. Of course we wanted them to bloom right away, but we knew it may be at least the next spring before that happened. It was a bummer that next year when all we got was more green and no purple.

Yet we continued to care for them each year, and last fall I cut them back pretty hard.

12 April 2012

K is for Kite

is for Kite.

I have some wonderful memories involving windy days and handmade kites - you know, the ones with knotted rags for a tail. It was the best when we could make it to the beach and fly them over the water.

What a thrill it is for a child to finally see their kite off the ground, especially if they've had to do lots of running to get it done. I remember wanting to fly my kites on days without wind; I would run and run, trying to find the least bit of a gust - and it would lift off the ground for a moment, only to fall when I stopped sprinting.

Those days made the windy ones even better. A kite that flies almost immediately, as though it has a mind of its own and it wants just as badly to be soaring over your head, is thrilling to watch.

11 April 2012

J is for Jesus

is for Jesus.

(If you haven't read H is for Home, you may want to start there - this post will function as a part two.)

I suspect there will be many posts today about Jesus, and rightfully so. There are a million things to say about him, but I'll try and stick to one: this Man-God is what we ache for.

Throughout our lives we will try to fill that certain hole with whatever we can cram into it, and many of us even choose valuable things - like family and the idea of home. That idea is basically peace. We want to be at peace through belonging, security, and happiness. Yet even if we attain a wonderful house-full of family - loving family - that house is still only a house.

If we can't gain a home, a true home, why do we want one?

10 April 2012

I is for Imagination

is for Imagination.

As I stepped into our living room the other day, I didn't realize I was actually walking into Never Never Land; I was then attacked by Jake and Cubbie because, as I was informed, I was not only in Never Never Land, I was also Captain Hook.

But only for about 3 minutes.

Soon we were transported from Never Never Land to a baseball field where the pitcher is now called a catcher, the batter runs whether he hits the ball or not, and no matter how many pitches the catcher throws it's always strike two.

09 April 2012

H is for Home

is for Home.

Not house - home.

We've all made the mistake though, haven't we - mistaking houses for homes? My family and I are in the middle of remaking our house so we can move back into it in a couple months. It's easy to believe our happiness will be complete when certain improvements are done.

In fact, everything will be easier - parenting, work, marriage - all those things that are so complex right now will be simplified once we're back in our house. These thoughts clear up when I remember it's only a house we're going back to - and it will not satisfy the ache.

07 April 2012

G is for George

is for George.

More specifically, St. George, the patron saint of England.

And I suppose it's more his story, his myth that is beautiful - more so than his name (but have you looked in a dictionary lately under George? Depending on your version, there are at least half a page of Georges! And no Foremans either. A couple of my other favorite Georges are W. Carver and MacDonald, poke around a bit and you're sure to find something about them too).

The popular story about St. George portrays him as a dragon-slayer, the more historical account describes him as a martyr of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Both stories are good in their own right, but I'm a sucker for dragons.

06 April 2012

F is for Flame

is for flame.

Fire is a basic element, so basic we forget how vital it is. A fire draws people to it for warmth and light, it burns away filth, it cooks.

A few months ago the boys and I were in the backyard, they were playing ball or in the dirt, and I was supposed to be grilling. Instead, I was building a fire in the fire pit. The boys stayed around for a while because I told them they could help, but when the first few attempts to light it failed, they moved on to more active things.

The truth was I just wanted to sit and stare at the burning wood. Fire, especially the solitary flame, is mesmerizing; when the wood burns down, begins to fall apart, the embers are still glowing, still emitting small flames that you can only see if you stare hard.

05 April 2012

E is for Earth

Flipping the image didn't seem right...
is for earth, that is, the dirt we all came from.

Even now we're shaking off the chill of winter. The gardens are still softening. Rain brings a new smell to things, a smell I've come to equate with a promise of color.

I still can't quite believe what happens when a seed is planted: a dead, dried up plant fragment receives water, light, and warmth, and produces another plant. No matter how many times I see it, the process is thrilling.

The earth embraces what is lifeless and releases what is reborn; it allows the fragile stems of pines and roses to poke their heads through its surface, then supports and grows them as long as they live.

In many ways, the earth is rightfully called mother.

The other day I was driving home and I drove through some dust; it was a huge cloud, and as I was in it, I wondered at our ability to trivialize the amazing - mostly because of our familiarity with it. Within that earth-cloud, I remembered - again - what I was crafted from.

04 April 2012

D is for Double-Play

is for double-play.

I was shocked when I realized I haven't written about baseball on this blog yet. This is far from a sports blog, but the great American game was a large part of my history, so I will remedy its absence today.

If you're not a baseball fan, first of all I'm sorry, second I think you can still appreciate the double-play. During my years as a ballplayer, I played middle infield - that is, either shortstop or second base - and the majority of that time at second. Any baseball fan will tell you that a team is as good as its middle: catcher, pitcher, short, second, center.

This game of ours, the American pastime, is beautiful in so many ways, but the play that is most like poetry in motion is the double-play - especially if Vin Scully calls it (D could just as well have been for Dodgers). If you don't watch or listen to any baseball this year, at least listen to Vin one time; he's been with the Dodgers since the Brooklyn days, and is a great storyteller.

But back to the double-play.

03 April 2012

C is for Coffee

We couldn't find the C.
is for coffee.


Some mornings I need it, others I crave it. I try and try to keep the "need" to a minimum, because the latter is a much better experience.

I know several people who love the smell of the chopped bean and the swirling steam, but the bitter taste keeps them away. Some have a sweet tooth, some like sour foods, but I gravitate toward the earthy - and coffee is the main attraction.

Our small town has two cafes and a shop that serves coffee; I have to drive 30 minutes to the nearest Starbucks. I'm never really impressed with restaurant coffee anywhere (the cafes, all cafes as far as I can tell, serve thin, watery stuff; I tell myself it's so the farmers can chat and drink five or six cups, but I know it's not cheap to make the strong stuff), and the result is: I like my brew best.

02 April 2012

B is for Boys

is for boys.

My plan was to write about books today, but those two rascals I hear sleeping in the other room just wouldn't let it be. They love reading enough to at least make a connection between boys and books, and reading is one of the few activities that will get them to sit still. Books are valuable, boys are more so.

And even if you don't have children, you know some boy who makes you smile - or grind your teeth. The dirt, the wrestling, the sprinting, the yelling, the questions ("Why dad?")! The phrase, "Boys will be boys" may anger me, but I know why it exists. If our boys don't get outside every day - I can't explain how thankful I am for spring - they're different creatures. B may be for boys, but boys are for the outdoors.

01 April 2012

A is for Acrostic

is for acrostic.

Let me start with a bit of a bellyache: the world of poetry has died, and we have killed it. The poet has lost the trust of readers everywhere - I blame free verse. Wait, I mean free prose...

The acrostic may not be the most popular form of poetry, but it is compelling when done well. And, to be honest, I haven't seen any English acrostics that are worth reading. I'm not counting Psalm 119 because it's not an English poem.

Psalm 119 is striking, and when you consider the form and the theme, it becomes more so: an acrostic made up of 22 stanzas, 8 verses each, with every verse beginning with that stanza's letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the theme is God's Law. Wait, God's Law?

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