Saturday, July 31, 2010

Love, Grace, and Doing it All Over Again

My friend Susan Maynor, whom I met through David and his merry band of Wheatonians, and my brand new friend Todd McDonald were married this morning, on the sand at Diver's Cove. Susan lost her first husband to cancer several years ago, and Todd has been through a difficult divorce, so the occasion was imbued with an especially poignant sense of grace and gratitude. Our friend Cathi Falsani (yes, she truly is an ordained minister in addition to all her other talents!) officiated at the wedding, and she shared what Susan and Todd had said to her the night before. I paraphrase here, but Susan said, "I can't believe I get to do it all over again!" Todd's words were, "I feel like I get a do-over." I wrote a haiku which borrows from Todd and Susan's sentiments (and also from St. Fred):

thank you God for love,
second chances, do-overs
life itself is grace

Friday, July 30, 2010

People of Walmart

I feel kind of guilty admitting this, but David sent me a link to the "People of Walmart" web site that someone had sent to him, it made me laugh until I cried. In fact, I laughed so hard that afterward I felt like I had ingested a glass of really nice champagne, or had just returned from a short but relaxing vacation. Forgive me, people of Walmart. This wasn't a mean laugh. It was more of an amazed laugh. I just don't understand how a person wakes up in the morning and decides to go shopping in, for example, underwear and bare feet. It's stunning, really, and not in a good way. My poem is a rhetorical question to which I don't think there is an answer.

must some of God's children
shop in
(only) their (ill-fitting) underwear
in Daisy Dukes so tiny
that they wouldn't even have looked good
on Daisy Duke herself
for that matter
in any pants
that don't even pretend
to cover the ass
from either direction?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hit and Run

young skateboarder hit
red Mercedes, NV plates
wanted by police

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


A little verse for one of my favorite little people...

Catherine, bella!
Now that you are here, standing
on the beach, holding
the ubiquitous, much-loved
Dirty Kitty--now
I know it's really summer!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trepidation...and the Best Coffee

I parked between the lines
and not too close to the shop door,
because he hates the smell of exhaust.
I approached the crabby Frenchman
taking care not to make direct eye contact
or any sudden moves
or political statements
or anything.
I put down two-fifty
and got out with my coffee
It was delicious.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sli Dog's Surf Camp

I have such fond memories of the time my boys spent in our friend Sli's summer surf camp when they were little. I was running on the beach today and saw Sli pushing kids into waves at Hakama. Overcome with nostalgia, I took a picture.

Aqua Hakama.
Party waves and sand castles.
Adolfo's tacos,
Gina's pizza, and candy
aplenty from Circle K.
Reapply sunscreen,
and repeat.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ask Already

Sometimes I forget to ask for help--wisdom, inspiration, patience--when I need it. A propos of today's lectionary reading from Luke 11:

All who ask, receive,
He tells us. Those who seek, find.
So ask already.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Open a Vein

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."
--Red Smith

Have I mentioned that writing a poem a day is really hard? And when I get stuck, I end up writing about, well, how hard it is to write every day. This is one of those days.

“all you have to do

is sit down at a typewriter


open a vein”:

Easier said than done.


I’m afraid of the blood

but sometimes

I can’t even find

the vein.

Friday, July 23, 2010

At Long Last, Summer

Fog, June gloom, rain

Begone! Enough already!

Summer’s here to stay.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Senior Citizens, Skateboarders, Beat Poets

Tonight the kids and I attended a special meeting of Laguna Beach’s Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee. The issue being discussed was skateboarding, and the relationship of skateboarders to drivers. A few (mostly older) residents have complained to city officials lately about the presence of fast-moving skateboarders on their streets, and are calling for a ban on skateboarding on at least some of Laguna’s streets. Unfortunately for their side, the anti-skateboard crusaders came across as crabby senior citizens who don’t want to share the road. I respect their right to weigh in on this issue and understand their concerns about safety, but the idea of making cars king, and banning a fun, healthy activity like skateboarding (in the epicenter of boarding culture, no less) seems crazy to me.

Schuyler read a letter that he and David wrote in opposition to the proposed ban; he did a great job and I was so proud. My guys (all three of them) are smarties.

There were a few local old-timers who spoke in favor of the skateboarders; these are the type of folks who like to weigh in on various topics in City Council meetings, and who usually mention Timothy Leary and Laguna Canyon, and surfboard shapers from back in the day, and use the term “consciousness” a few times. You’ve got to love these guys (they’re usually guys; I don’t know why). At tonight’s meeting, an old hippie got up to speak and started off sounding like all the other old hippies who had just spoken, and my attention drifted a bit. But then he said, “And if we’re going to start banning things, then I’ve got a long list of dangerous things that should be banned,” and he launched into a “Howl”-style rant that was funny and poetic and kind of awesome. I’ve tried to remember some of “the list,” and—voila—a “found” poem:

big oil

big government


cough syrup


bovine growth hormone.


dysfunctional relationships

sexual repression.

the insurance industry




Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kitty Saved!

Let us now sing the praises
of David:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Kitty in the Palm Tree

Our scrappy little ocicat, Topanga, was missing when we got home from Europe a few days ago. She tends to roam, but I was starting to get really worried because I hadn't seen her yet.

So I went out to the car this evening and heard some plaintive meowing that was unmistakably Kitty. I walked toward the sound and found her, stuck some 50 feet up, in the top of a palm tree. One of the neighbors came out and said she thought the cat had been up in the tree for three or four days (!), and had been trying to figure out whose it was and what to do. I'm just sick because I can't get a tree service out here tonight to get her down, and apparently the fire department doesn't save cats stuck in trees these days--that's only done in the movies. I can get someone to come out in the morning, but she'll have to spend the night up there. She's mewing pathetically, and I feel awful for her. I'm not even a major cat lover, but I love this particular cat and hate to see any of God's creatures suffer--especially those who reside with me.

Dear God of all creatures,
please watch over Kitty.

May the meager fringe of palm fronds
at the top of that tree
shield her from the dew
and dampness off the ocean.

May her claws and cat-balance
keep her from falling.

May the food and water she last had
days ago
sustain her

until morning.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dutch Bicycles

We rode bikes with ease
all over Friesland, and I
asked myself, Why not
peddle to the store at home?
The bank, the little
cheese shop? Then I remembered:
I live on a hill
too steep to peddle up. Darn.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Home Empty Home

Home is not the same
without a fur-flying, full-
body-wagging welcome from
our sweet Genevieve.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Flight Not Taken

Urgent note to self:
Double, no, triple-check flight
time the night before.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Missed Connection

O Madrid airport,
I saw more of you than I
wanted to. Goodbye.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


There was something about the golden, end-of-day sunlight and the way the crashing surf was hitting the seawalls in Biarritz that brought to my mind a vague recollection of a book I read in a French class a very long time ago. I had to think for a minute to place it, and came up with the author: Chateaubriand--the guy who was the founding father of Romanticism in French literature (and, yes, after whom that cut of beef is named).

With the help of Google, it's all coming back now: François-René de Chateaubriand was a writer and statesman who grew up on the windswept beaches of Brittany, and the book was René--a novella about a passionate, melancholy young man who finds himself at odds with society. He's the archetypal teenager, really--think Holden Caulfield, Ferris Bueller, etc.--and, let's be honest: we've all been there and felt that way, which is why these characters have appealed to us at some point in our lives. The book is full of descriptions of the rugged, north Atlantic coast, the main character's lonely childhood, and passages like this:

"Alas, I was alone, alone on the earth. A secret languor was taking hold of my body. The disgust for life I had felt since childhood came back with renewed force. Soon my heart no longer provided food for my mind, and the only thing I felt in my existence was a deep ennui."

I have to laugh when I read this now. Maybe it was just better in French, and the English translation turns it into purple prose. Or, now that I'm an adult with kids of my own, René doesn't speak to my state of mind and seems decadent and self-indulgent. But I have to admit: there is something about Chateaubriand's depiction of the wild landscape and the angst of youth--and the feeling I had when I first read it--that has stayed with me all these years.

Since I must write a poem:

Off the Atlantic

sweep the winds of memory,

souvenirs of youth

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

undulating curves
smooth metal, shimmering glass
stunning enigma

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bahia de la Concha

a raw, muddy gem
of an island juts out from
the deep, blue-green bay

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Rain in Spain...

I'm usually not superstitious, but can't help wondering if we should have just stayed in the Netherlands for the World Cup final. Did we jinx it somehow? And damn that Paul the Octopus! Oh well--we had so much fun cheering for the Oranje, even up until the bitter end.

We traveled to Spain.
It rained. The Dutch lost the Cup.
Oh, what have we done?!?

Saturday, July 10, 2010


On our last day in Amsterdam we took the kids to the Rijksmuseum and also the Verzetsmuseum, or Resistance Museum. The Verzetsmuseum's exhibits tell the story of the Dutch people during World War II, with a special focus on the ways in which average citizens from all walks of life fought back against the Nazi occupation. One of the most moving exhibits was a collection of farewell letters, written on scraps of paper and cardboard, and thrown from trains by Dutch Jews on their way to concentration camps. For lack of pens and ink, a few of these notes were written in the prisoners' own blood with some type of sharp object. I didn't get a photo of these, but found a picture (above) of the farewell letter of Arie Addicks, a Dutch citizen who was imprisoned and executed in 1941 for his work with the resistance.

forcibly taken
from home and country, a man
writes his name in blood

Friday, July 9, 2010

Journey's End

So, our wonderful week on the waterways of Friesland came to a close today. We headed back to Sneek to return the boats and said goodbye to all the Greydanuses. It felt like we were breaking up a really great party, and I was sad to see my uncles and aunts and cousins go. I don't get to spend much time with my extended family because we all live so far apart, so this trip was pretty special.

That being said, the great thing about a boat trip is that, as much fun as it is, at the end of a week I'm really ready to get off the boat. After a week on a boat--no matter how nice a boat--simply sleeping in a normal-sized bed and standing under a regular shower feels like a luxury. Bring it on!

Also: I feel compelled to mention that one of the things I have loved the most about being in the Netherlands (and Friesland in particular) is that people know my name here! Not that they know me personally, but when I give our last name to make a reservation or whatnot, they don't say, "Vander-what?"

what a joy it is
to visit a place where they
don't butcher your name

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Quarrel in Bolsward

While sitting on the boat and having dinner this evening, we witnessed an incident that was kind of unsettling. Across the canal from where our boats were moored, there was an older German couple whose dog had apparently gotten into a tussle with another dog, owned by a young local guy. Instead of just apologizing to each other and going on their way, the dog owners ended up in a long and protracted shouting match that nearly came to blows. Unfortunately, the whole thing escalated into a German-versus-Dutch conflict, and my uncle Arjen (who speaks Dutch and Frisian) and cousin Peter (who speaks some German) went over to try defuse the situation. That helped a bit, and things quieted down.

dogs quarrel and their

owners clash, raising ghosts of

unforgotten wars

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


sooner or later

the old man

who operates the toy-like drawbridge

in this gingerbread town

will peddle up on his bike

raise the bridge

and lower a tiny blue wooden shoe

on a fishing pole

so we can drop in a coin

and pass through

but until then

let’s tie up the boats

and crowd around a table

of fresh bread and sharp cheese

and raise our glasses

of genever and cold beer

to the sky

and to Pake and Beppe

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oranje Afterglow

What an amazing day. Our whole crew rented bikes and we rode out to Deinum, the city where my grandpa, Willem Greydanus, was born. From there we rode to Beetgum, just a few miles down the road, where my grandmother, Alida Vander Schaaf Greydanus, was born. We saw the church where they got married. It was a gorgeous day, and we passed fields full of contented Frisian cows, and had a close call with a drawbridge that Schuyler almost didn't make it over (I think he'll get a lot of mileage out of that one!) We ate more bitterballen (a type of deep-fried meatball--don't ask!--served in pubs) than I ever want to see in my lifetime. We had a day chock-full of things I'm going to reminiscing and writing about for a long time--so more on that later.

Then in the evening, some of our group packed into a little tavern in Leeuwarden to watch the Netherlands play Uruguay in the semi-finals of the World Cup. When we--the Oranje--won, it was absolute pandemonium of the very best kind. As walked back to our boat, the streets were full of deliriously happy Dutch fans in orange, singing and cheering and whooping it up. I couldn't stop smiling.

a glorious day
family history by bike
a city aglow

Monday, July 5, 2010


Tonight we moored the boats in Dokkum, a lovely little town that is my favorite place we've stopped thus far. It's full of charming cobblestone streets, cozy little shops and cafés, and has the unfortunate distinction of being the place where the Roman Catholic bishop Boniface was martyred in 754. He had hoped to convert the Frisians and did succeed in baptizing some. But when he entered Dokkum, he was met by a group of armed men who thought he had valuables with him, and you can guess how the story goes from there. I know that, historically, some of the church's methods of conversion have been controversial, to say the least. But nonetheless, I feel bad for the old bishop.

Dear Saint Boniface,
on behalf of my pagan
ancestors I do
sincerely apologize.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Frisian Idyll

traveling through fields
of cows and windmills by boat
is quite delightful

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Language of Love

Today we met up with the Greydanus clan (my mom's family) in Sneek to board our chartered boats and begin our canal cruise through Friesland.

Before starting our trip, I went to a grocery store in town with my Uncle Arjen, Aunt Maja, and my mom, to stock up on provisions. I felt very far from home until I got into the supermarket and started to see so many of the things I grew up eating at my grandparents' house. Food was the language of love there, and encountering all of these wonderful Dutch foods again brought me back to my childhood and put a lump in my throat.

I push my cart through
the aisles of Super De Boer,
throwing into it
things that taste like my childhood--

Roggebrood: dense, moist,
and heavy as a little
rye brick. Gouda with
caraway seeds and without.
raisin buns--on which to put
the cheese. Currant jam.
Fresh bread. Butter. Almond cakes.
A guilty pleasure
I can't resist: a package
of tiny, Twinkie-
shaped sweets wrapped in marzipan.
And best of all, dark
chocolate hagelslag, which
Grandpa would sprinkle
on buttered bread and present--
with a flourish and
hearty "Ja!"--on a blue
and white china plate.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Brilliant Oranje!

Today was quite possibly one of the best days our family has ever had together! It's definitely in the top ten, at least.

We arrived in Amsterdam very early this morning and traipsed all around the city, kind of dead on our feet, until our hotel room was ready. We visited the Anne Frank Huis, which David and I had never done before; every time we've tried in the past, we gave up, because the lines were discouragingly long. It was very moving. The boys looked carefully at everything in the exhibit and I could tell they were thinking hard about what they were seeing.

Later we were able to get into our hotel room for a quick nap, and then it was time for the Netherlands vs. Brazil World Cup quarterfinal. We dressed in all our Oranje gear and joined the thousands of Dutch fans on Museumplein to watch the game on huge TV screens. It was such a hot day that we had completely wilted by halftime, and scooted back to our hotel to watch the second half in the Pulitzer Bar. When the Dutch won, the whole bar went crazy and we hugged everyone, including our new friends, an older couple from Rotterdam who were celebrating their anniversary.

red-eyed and jet-lagged
revived by pannekoeken
Oranje triumph!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

World War II Memorial

A note to those of you who follow my blog and have been wondering what the heck is going on, and why I haven't posted my daily poems for several weeks:

I experienced technical difficulties while on our family vacation in Europe. I brought my shiny, tiny new laptop and was so excited to use it, but somehow grabbed the wrong power cord so when the battery died I was out of luck. Also, we had less access to wi-fi than we thought we would, and trying to post from my Blackberry was a pain. So I've got several weeks full of scribbling in my notebook, which I'm now trying to decipher and post. My handwriting has become frightenly bad over the years, so this might take awhile. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Below is my poem for the day we spent in Washington, D.C. This was my first time visiting the World War II memorial, which is stately and beautiful. The picture is of one of the structures that honors those who fought in the Pacific.

a graceful, grey stone pavilion

a bronze wreath borne aloft by

eagles, always in flight

heroes, rest in peace