Sunday, February 28, 2010

After the Rain

I took this picture on the beach at Brooks Street Saturday afternoon, after the on-again, off-again rain finally stopped. The late-afternoon sun on the water was so beautiful.

Iridescent sand
clouds of gold and silver, air

so clean it shimmers

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Last night I dreamed
that a friend who died nearly two years ago
walked into the dingy, brown-boothed restaurant
where I was sitting at a table
with some people I knew and some I didn’t.
He strolled up in a rumpled plaid shirt, smiling,
hands in his pockets (as he would)
as if to join us, as if he’d never been gone.
Then he said,
I think my parents might be at that table in the back;
I want to go say hello,
and kept walking.

I knew he was a ghost
but I was so happy and amazed
to see him in any form
that I dropped my sticky, faded menu
and jumped out of my seat.
I said to his wife, who had walked up with him,
When did he come back? And how?
And what did he say to you first?

Are we the only ones who can see him?
At a loss for words,
she just shrugged her shoulders, laughing
and I kept asking questions:
Should we follow him to make sure he doesn’t disappear again?
(as if we could)

I woke up with the word how on my tongue,
with a mixture of joy and confusion
and the dizzying sensation that past, present and future
had collided

and which, if I had to describe as a flavor, would be that of
a not-quite-ripe persimmon
I once tasted as a child:
sharp and sweet with a strange fuzzy bitterness

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Night Lights

I was waiting in the car while Schuyler was finishing a tennis lesson, and noticed that the twilight view from my parking spot was especially pretty.

Houses on the hill

light up one by one; a pale
moon shines through the clouds.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dentist

My dentist is probably the coolest dentist ever. Not only does Dr. Ken Garcia have an immaculate, modern office and a TV for every patient, but he is also a surfer and a musician, with long flowing hair and a Jimi Hendrix plaque on the wall by reception. And he's just the nicest guy. I’ve never had an unpleasant experience in his office, and was just in today having my teeth cleaned. All good.

But what is it about sitting in the dentist’s chair—even though I have been blessed with good teeth and the coolest dentist ever—that makes me squirm and sweat? It’s not even the scraping of the dental tools, I don’t think. There’s just something about lying on my back, with a ridiculous paper bib on and the dental hygenist’s hands in my mouth, that makes me feel completely helpless and triggers a primal sense of uneasiness. From the dark recesses of my brain comes the thought: this person could help me, but then again she could just as easily kill me.

If you turn out to
be an evil dentist, I

will probably bite.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Heart and Torch

Today I was looking through some photos and posters that I want to frame and hang, and was struck again by how much I love this picture of Rick Griffin, taken on Easter in 1971, at (I think) his place in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights district. (I have a poster-sized version of it, signed by the photographer, John Van Hamersveld. Definitely a keeper.) The tiny jpeg I posted above really doesn't do it justice; you can't see the eyes, but never mind. If you want to see it full-sized, come over to my house. Anyway, Griffin was an artist who became famous for his psychedelic posters in the 1960s. He designed some of the Grateful Dead’s most iconic posters and album covers, and became well known in the surfing subculture of southern California for his illustrations and comics for Surfer magazine.

In 1970, Griffin became a Christian—a self-professed “Jesus Freak”—and changed the focus of his art to religious themes. His most significant works from this period were the hundreds of paintings and drawings he produced for an illustrated version of the Gospel of John. He died in 1991, at the age of 47, from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident in Northern California.

A few years ago, the Laguna Art Museum held a retrospective exhibition of Griffin’s work called “Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence.” David and I took the kids, who loved the colorful, comic-book style of much of the art. I personally don’t love all of Griffin’s work, but there is a current of hope and longing that runs through even the darker-themed pieces that is compelling.

I think I love this particular photograph of Griffin because he looks like a wild but gentle prophet, able to see things the rest of us might miss.

Your drawings of
breaking waves,
flying eyeballs,
swirling colors
and sacred hearts
tell me that even when you were here,
you weren’t really here.
You were never of this world
and left it a little early.
I look at your eyes
in a black and white photograph,
your hair and beard as wild as John the Baptist’s
might have been,
and wish you could tell me
what you’re seeing now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baby Emmett

David and I have a new nephew, Emmett Joel Vanderveen, and he is exceedingly cute. He was born Sunday, February 21, and is a peach-perfect, 7-pound 10-ounce bundle. His parents, Joel (David’s brother) and Katie are two of the sweetest, smartest people I know, and they produce the most darling children. As I always say, Prada just can’t make a bad shoe, and Joel and Katie just can’t make an un-adorable baby. Well, this might be the first time I’ve actually linked those two concepts together, but there you have it. Emmett joins his sisters Ava (3 years) and Leah (18 months).

Welcome to the world,
Little E! We’ve been waiting
for you. Wrapped in light
blue blankets and love, with your
mom and dad and two
sweet sisters close by, you’re off
to a good start. I
can’t wait to get to know you.
Let the adventure begin!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Del Mar Avenue

I dropped Willem off at soccer practice this afternoon at Moulton Meadows park and on the way back, driving on Del Mar Avenue, I got to take in one of my favorite views of Laguna. I love driving down Del Mar on a clear day because it gets so steep so quickly that, for a split second, it looks as if the road ahead drops directly off into the ocean. (I’m also partial to this particular avenue because my friends the Herricks’ house is on it; they’re living in Italy right now and I miss them.)

The road is so steep

and the ocean so blue I

may stop and dive in

Sunday, February 21, 2010


One of the lectionary readings for today, the first Sunday in Lent, is Psalm 91, which has long been a favorite of mine. It’s a beautiful, comforting poem. I love the psalmist’s use of vivid images to describe the trouble and fears we might face—flying arrows, deadly sickness, fearsome animals—and also the language of shelter and reassurance, with God as some kind of great majestic bird who gathers us under his (or her) wings.

When we were living in Napa and the boys were very young, David had to travel a lot for work, which wasn't much fun for him or me. I went through a difficult time—maybe it was post-partum depression, or a spiritual crisis, or probably both, but it was a period of several months in which I felt overwhelmed during the day and fearful at night. When the sun went down and I put the kids to bed, I felt like something dark and cold had descended on me; at night I was uneasy in our house and literally afraid to go downstairs. The verse “you shall not be afraid of any terror by night” resonated with me; I clung to this psalm as my mantra, and made it through those months (which is another story for another day). Some of you may see this as a purely psychological coping mechanism, but I believe there was—and is—something much more powerful at work.

O God
Whether it is a bright serene Sunday
like today
or a night in which the cold, corporeal darkness
comes and sits on my chest
like that one
Let me not forget
to seek your shelter
and stay in your shadow

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Slow-motion Saturday

Coffee, dog-walking,
lots of dishes and laundry.
Reading in bed: bliss.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Band Practice

My son Willem and a few of his friends have formed a band and are learning to play some of their favorite songs together. Today they had planned to practice, but were missing the drummer and guitar player, so Willem and his buddy Reed gamely forged ahead on bass and keyboard. I love listening to them play, and get such a kick out of hearing them attempt a classic song like "Dazed and Confused."

One boy on bass, the

other on keyboard, and Led

Zeppelin in the house

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The season of Lent began yesterday, and I didn't attend Ash Wednesday services because I was on a family ski trip. But I don't feel too bad about that, because I got stuck on a very steep run that I shouldn't have attempted that late in the day, and it kind of felt like the imposition of ashes. There was a lot of falling down and prayer and repentance going on. I felt duly chastened. Anyway, as we were packing to go home and watching the Olympics on TV, I had a few more thoughts on Lent. Note: this isn't intended to be a theological treatise, so please don't read it that way!

After the fat and
fun comes Lent: prayer, penitence
and self-denial,
which, today (even to those
who believe), can sound
like words in a foreign tongue
or concepts from a
galaxy far, far away.

Watching the winter
Olympics, I remember
that discipline and
preparation are what lie
behind all of that
beauty, the flashing blades and
flying boards and arms
raised in victory. And that
the point of Lent is
preparation, a kind of
athlete’s training for
the soul, except that
there’s no contest at the end,
no first, second and
third place medals, but rather
the joyful celebration
of Easter and its
empty podium.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Soggy wool socks and
damp parkas litter the room.
Rosy-cheeked, tired boys
proclaim that they have no more
clean underwear. Time to come
down off the mountain
and return to sea level.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thin Air Blues

Please, no more of this
falling off the mountain. Let's
get an espresso.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mammoth Monday

Blue sky gives way to
starry night, then fire, wine, friends
and drifted-snow dreams

Sunday, February 14, 2010


A shrink-wrapped human
bullet speeds through an icy
chute in what looks like
a child's red sled as conceived
by Ferrari. Why?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mojave, CA

Earlier today, we made the six-hour drive from Laguna to Mammoth for the kids' mid-winter break, aka ski week. We passed through a high-desert hamlet called Mojave, with the best billboards and retail signage ever. Here's a "found" poem (sort of):

Make your own cigarettes and SAVE!
Mojave Smog--Test Only
Guns4Us--Over 450 Guns in Stock!
A4dable HOMEs from $157,000

Friday, February 12, 2010

Loaves, Fishes and Laundry

I’ve never seen a
self-refilling jug of oil
nor a jar of flour
that never runs out. Neither
have I witnessed a
miraculous basket that
multiplies loaves and
fishes. But right here, in my
own house, there is a
magical laundry hamper
that is always full;
even if I’ve just emptied
it, I turn my back
and—Poof! It’s overflowing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dad's Baby Picture

Look at that, I said to my son:
Before your dad was a bad-ass—

skipping out on the Young Calvinists’ Convention,

busting his hamstrings and concussing his head

on a skateboard at fifty miles an hour,

getting kicked out of college
and showing up on the evening news—

he was a flaxen-haired cherub,

with cheeks so chubby and glossy

they might as well have been basted in butter,

wearing short pants and knee socks,

his plump hands folded in his lap.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Today I’m feeling like a real underachiever. I got the kids to their various activities and no one went hungry—so I’ve got that going for me—but I didn’t get much writing done, and my desk is a mess again. I got sidetracked by errands and a sudden urge to read the newspaper online and four individual visits by members of the city’s Design Review Board and and and…. I need to revisit my to-do list first thing tomorrow morning, in order to regain my focus and replace the scatterbrained me with the productive me.

High school, middle school.
Tennis team, music lessons.
Homework. Eat. Repeat.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sounds of Home

Let me always remember
these sounds of home
that wash over me:
The soft whir of the laundry room fan
and the electric hum of a desk lamp.
The music of my sons—one practicing guitar chords,
the other whistling intermittently over homework.
Faint voices on the radio downstairs,
the throaty diesel engine of the neighbor’s truck.
At this moment, all is well
and I am enveloped,
borne into the evening
by a tide of audible peace and contentment.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Brassica Oleracea

Today was a sunny, pleasant, uneventful Monday. Which is wonderful, as Mondays go. But I was feeling uninspired and couldn’t figure out what to write about. While I was preparing dinner it occurred to me that some of the foods I disliked as a child are now my favorites. The lowly Brussels sprout is a case in point: it turns out that extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a very hot oven turn this little cabbage into something to love. Who knew?

Your crispy, salty
outer leaves fall away to
reveal a mellow,
mild heart. Brussels sprout,
you’ve changed! I never knew it
could be like this with
you, you little wild cabbage!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


We fished all night but
caught nothing, nil. Go back out
to the deep water
and let down your nets for a
catch, He says. Really?
we tried that already, I
say. But if you say
so, I will let out the nets.
(here goes nothing, I
mutter under my breath.) Well,
I let out those darn
nets and wouldn’t you know it:
they come up so full
they’re breaking, I kid you not.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Corsage Queue

Teenage boys waiting
in line to buy flowers?!? Ah
yes: Winter Formal.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Let Night Come

One of my very favorite poems is Jane Kenyon's "Let Evening Come." For me, it has been a day full of rain and teenage moodiness, which kind of hovers over the scene like, well, a raincloud--not that I'm complaining! It's just been that kind of day, and I'm ready to let evening come. Only it's already quite late here, so my end-of-day homage to Kenyon refers to the night. Please do read
her poem; it's simple and lovely and just about perfect.

Let the rain patter against the dark windows

Let the lights on the hill fade one by one

Let the dog and cat rest by the flickering fire

Let night come

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hiking to Columbier Beach

Just over three years ago, David and I went to a beautiful, magical island in the Caribbean--St. Barts--with our close friends Mark and Sarah Metherell. It was the first and only time we took a vacation with them alone--just the two of them with the two of us. It was an absolutely perfect week, and a time that I will never, never forget. We miss Mark terribly. As many of you know, he was killed in Iraq on April 11, 2008. Tomorrow, February 5 is Mark's birthday. He would have been 41 years old.

We parked our boxy
rental car and hiked into
a kind of Eden,
traveling up a rocky
path hemmed in by tall
grass, flowering plants, cacti.
Up up up we walked
for what felt like a very
long time, then crested
the hill. Catching sight of the
pale-gold sand and deep
blue water we greedily
scrambled down to the
beach. Shedding backpacks, shoes, and
sweaty t-shirts we
raced into the placid sea,
and laughed and laughed, for no reason other
than that somehow we four were
halfway around the world, swimming
off a floral-scented island
under a warm December sun.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Breach of Contract

Kitty, you’re supposed
to take mice out, not bring them
in the house. You’re fired.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ann's Room

Earlier today I attended the funeral of Ann Frame, my friend Pamela's mother. Ann was a spirited, intelligent woman whose many accomplishments included being a skilled sailor and marine biologist. During the service the minister read from John's gospel, the passage in which Jesus says, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you."

The minister went on to describe what Ann's room in heaven might be like, based upon the stories of those who knew and loved her best.

A sunny window
facing the bay. The warm weight
of a sleeping cat.
Your favorite chair, deep and
inviting. Books at
hand and family close by.
It's all here.
Ann, come in;
your room is ready.

Monday, February 1, 2010

United Flight 162

I flew to Boston today to attend the funeral of my friend Pamela's mother, Ann Frame. I never got the chance to know Ann well--we met only briefly a few years ago. But Pamela is a friend who has at times dropped everything to swoop in with love and encouragement when I needed it most, so I would go nearly to the ends of the earth to try to do the same for her.

Air travel is a wonderful, amazing thing that also freaks me out if I think about it too hard.

"Watch your elbows and
knees, please, elbows and knees," chants
the flight attendant
in a sing-song cockney voice,
pushing the beverage
cart down the aisle. This strikes me
as funny. As I
hurtle through the air in a
metal shell, strapped to
a foam seat, going
six hundred miles per hour at
thirty thousand feet,
my elbows and knees
are the least of my worries.