Category Archives: stuff i read

…they laughed/and fell in love all over again

Why I Believed, As A Child, that People Had Sex in Bathrooms
by Cecilia Woloch

Because they loved one another, I guessed.
Because they had seven kids and there wasn’t
a door in that house that was ever locked —
except for the bathroom door, that door
with the devil’s face, two horns like flame
flaring up in the grain of the wood
(or did we only imagine that shape?)
which meant the devil could watch you pee,
the devil could see you naked.
Because that’s where people took off their clothes
and you had to undress for sex, I’d heard,
whatever sex was — lots of kissing and other stuff
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
Because at night, when I was scared, I just
climbed into my parents’ bed. Sometimes
other kids were there, too, and we slept
in a tangle of sheets and bodies, breath;
a full ashtray on the nightstand; our father’s
work clothes hung over a chair; our mother’s
damp cotton nightgown twisted around her legs.
Because when I heard babies were made from sex
and sex was something that happened in bed,
I thought: No, the babies are already there
in the bed. And more babies came.
Because the only door that was ever locked
was the bathroom door — those two inside
in the steam of his bath, her hairspray’s mist,
because sometimes I knocked and was let in.
And my father lay in the tub, his whole dark body
under water, like some beautiful statue I’d seen.
And my mother stood at the mirror, fixing her hair,
or she’d put down the lid of the toilet
and perched there, talking to him.
Because maybe this was their refuge from us —
though they never tried to keep us away.
Because my mother told me once
that every time they came home from the hospital
with a brand new baby, they laughed
and fell in love all over again
and couldn’t wait to start making more.
Should this have confused me? It did not.
Because I saw how he kissed the back of her neck
and pulled her, giggling, into his lap;
how she tucked her chin and looked up at him
through her eyelashes, smiling, sly.
So I reasoned whatever sex they had, they had
in the bathroom — those steamy hours
when we heard them singing to one another
then whispering, and the door stayed locked.
Because I can still picture them, languid, there,
and beautiful and young — though I had no idea
how young they were — my mother
soaping my father’s back; her dark hair
slipping out of its pins.
Because what was sex, after that? I didn’t know
he would ever die, this god in a body, strong as god,
or that she would one day hang her head
over the bathroom sink to weep. I was a child,
only one of their children. Love was clean.
Babies came from singing. The devil was wood
and had no eyes.

Found here.

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June 24, 2013 · 2:04 pm

I Married You

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.

by Linda Pastan

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Little House in the Big Woods

A week ago, my minivan was loaded up with three adults, three children and one infant and we headed east into Wisconsin. Our destination was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthplace near Pepin, Wisconsin. It’s nice to start at the beginning of a story.

Our drive to Wisconsin took us along the shore of Lake Pepin which is referenced in Little House in the Big Woods. In my mind there was Lake Pepin and then further west was the Mississippi River which the Ingall’s crossed at the very last moment ack! before the spring thaw to go to Kansas in Little House on the Prairie. Turns out that it’s both Lake Pepin AND the Mississippi River. (Or technically it is only a lake and the Mississippi is both its inflow and outflow, but whatev. It’s the Mississippi River too.)

Along the way we stopped at several historial markers, one of the first was the one for Maiden Rock, which I began reading aloud to the kids before realizing it was about a Dakota girl who threw herself off a cliff after being forced into an arranged marriage. Thank goodness for convoluted historial descriptions like “Nothing could be found of her until morning, when they discovered her at the foot of this precipice, down which she probably precipitated herself.” Precipitated. I want to work that word into a sentence every day.

We arrived in the town of Pepin and pulled up to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum there to check it out and get directions to the Little House Wayside site.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

It looks a little hokey but it’s fine. They have a small display of period furnishings, a gift shop and a nice lady who will give you directions to the log cabin as well as a recomendation for lunch. Which you should definitely get at Two Old Guys directly across the street.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

They have great BLT sandwiches of thick bacon on freshly made bread, decent homebrew beer and award-winning ice cream. The ‘Two Old Guys’ who served us was really nice. We complimented the beer and he brought all of the adults very generous samples of the three other kinds of beer they brew. After he served our food, he looked down at Henry and said, “All you need it ketchup!”

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

After lunch we drove about seven miles east of town up a long curving hill to the site where the Ingalls once lived. There is a replica of their log cabin. A trip to this Laura Ingalls Wilder site is mostly about getting an idea of the lay of the land. Driving up to the property you can imagine what a trek it would be to drive a wagon to and from town – especially going uphill on the return. The book describes the area as being heavily wooded though today it is mostly cleared and surrounded by corn fields.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

My boys are 5 , 4 and 7-months; still a little young for the Little House books though John and I read part of Big Woods and all of Farmer Boy this spring. Still they enjoyed examining how the cabin fit together “like Lincoln Logs” and we talked about everything that wasn’t in the cabin like running water and bathrooms. John was trying to piece together how long ago it was that Laura lived – “Are Laura and Farmer Boy dead?” – so this is really a trip better suited to kids who have studied a bit of American history and can understand things like timelines, etc.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

But, let’s be honest, this trip was about the grown ups and the kids were just along for the ride. I still have my hardback copy of Little House in the Big Woods. It was given to me at my 4th birthday party by a family from our church in western Kentucky. Some of my favorite childhood memories include reading it at bedtime with my mom.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

If you missed the rest of the pilgrimage:

The Wilder Life

Walnut Grove

On the Banks of Plum Creek

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The Wilder Life

Last November I read The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure which is a must-read for anyone who grew up reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s part travelogue, part literary history, part rollicking good read that after I finished I though, “I wish I had written this book.”

I’ve read and re-read the Little House series countless times throughout my childhood, adolescence and adulthood. To me they are the literary mac’n’cheese of comfort books.  Recently though I’ve been re-reading them for the first time since having children and it is a completely different experience. Before I always saw the world through Laura’s eyes and now I read between the lines from an adult perspective and see Ma crying into her apron after Pa returns home alive after making it through the blizzard in On the Banks of Plum Creek in a completely different light. McClure does the same thing except on a much larger scale, and somehow makes it completely relatable and hilarious.

One of the things McClure’s book forced me to recognize was the Little House books aren’t exactly full-on non-fiction. You can sort of forgive McClure for removing the prairie grass fed lambs wool from your eyes because it’s clear she really gets it. She is just as enthralled with the appeal of “Laura World” as I found myself to be as I squealed “THERE IT IS” when I caught sight of the Little House in the Big Woods replica log cabin near Pepin, Wisconsin last week. My friends Amy and Angela drove up from Kentucky and we went on a two-day “Laura Pilgrimage” to Pepin, Wisconsin – Laura’s birthplace – and Walnut Grove, Minnesota – where On the Banks of Plum Creek is set.

My next couple of posts will be about our adventure looking for Laura and the rest of the Ingalls family.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

If you missed the rest of the pilgrimage:

Little House in the Big Woods

Walnut Grove

On the Banks of Plum Creek

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Maundy Thursday

A Maundy Thursday reflection:

But the worst day of all was when it hit me that Jesus’ own most fervent prayer was refused: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” I must have read that verse or heard it a hundred times before without seeing or hearing. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. But then one day I saw it. It just knocked me in the head. This, I thought, is what is meant by “thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, which I had prayed time and again without thinking about it. It means that your will and God’s will may not be the same. It means there’s a good possibility that you won’t get what you pray for. It means that in spite of your prayers you are going to suffer. It means you may be crucified.

After Jesus’ terrible prayer at Gethsemane, an angel came to Him and gave Him strength, but did not remove the cup.

Before that time I may have had my doubts about public prayers, but I had listened to them complacently enough, even when they were for the football team. I had prayed my own private prayers complacently enough, asking for things I wanted, even though I knew well already that a lot of things I wanted I was not going to get, no matter how much I prayed for them. (Though I hadn’t got around to thinking about it, I already knew that I had been glad to have some things I had got that I had never thought to want, let alone pray for.) But now I was unsure what it would be proper to pray for, or how to pray for it. After you have said “thy will be done,” what more can be said? And where do you find the strength to pray “thy will be done” after you see what it means?

– Jayber Crow, in Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow (via Ash Wednesday)

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Wash on Monday

Ten years ago I did laundry about once every three weeks (which, yes, means I had at least 20+ pairs of underwear that I wore in increasingly levels of skanky-ness as the bottom of the pile neared). Buying clothes was more of a fun day out at the mall than an exercise in organization and frugality. Today, between kid’s clothes, baby clothes, adult clothes, cloth diapers, towels and sheets, I do it almost every day. It’s far from my least favorite household chore (hello, bathroom cleaning) but not exactly infused with domestic glory. And our local children’s consignment sale is coming up in about a month, which means I need to block out about four hours (no joke) to devote to going through the clothes, shoes, jackets and swim suits that we have, and make a list of what we need for the summer.

All that to say, this struck home today.

Laundry is a work of providential care; mending is restorative or healing; ironing is an act of perfecting. Even so seemingly nontranscendent an act as putting clothing away can be a gesture of memory or of hope. We put laundry away in drawers and closets in the expectation that another day or season will come when we need these things again. We pack away baby clothes… We save articles of clothing that belonged to a loved one who has died…

Alongside all of this, of course, lies the reality of clothing as a simple necessity and the act of clothing others as a work of mercy. Pople have bodies, and our bodies need clothes. Our households thus need routines and practices that provide for these needs and for the needs of the house itself; routines rooted in the recognition that… as we do such work, we are engaged in the essentials of life in the body and life in community.

from Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson

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Ash Wednesday

Some people think that the season of Lent and the ashes of Ash Wednesday are all about reminding us that we are small. After all, we are about to put ashes and dust on our foreheads, and repeat the phrase, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” For some, remembering we are dust is about remembering all the ways we’ve acted like dirt, and try again to act like the spirit of God. While repentance is a good thing, and confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiving grace is an important part of remembering that we are small, these dusty ashes upon your foreheads are not about calling you a dirtbag. They are about reminding you that you are a human being, created by God from the dust the earth. In Genesis 2, God created human beings by scooping up the rich, dark soil, adamah in Hebrew, and (whoosh) blowing life into it. You are of the earth. You are made of the stuff of this world. Like everything else in this world, you will live and you will die this one precious life, in this one fragile body, and then that lifeless body will return again to dust. Among all other creatures and lives, surrounded by all the dirt of the earth, each one of us is one tiny speck in the vast universe. We are so very small.

But that’s not all. Whenever we remember we are dust, whenever we remember that we are adamah, made of clay, we also have to remember what else we are made of. What other ingredient, apart from the earth, comprises humanity at the dawn of creation? (Whoosh) The breath of God. You are dirt and to dirt you shall return, but you are also the breath of God, and to God you shall return. Inside of you dwells the spark of the Almighty God, the power of God’s spirit animates your life. You are filled with the power to love, to give, to serve, to rejoice, to overcome, to hope, to be transformed. Even more, you can transform the world around you by your work and your love, your witness and your welcome, your peace-making and your graciousness. The eternal breath of God breathes in you. You are great.

Every Ash Wednesday, we remember what it is to be human, to be made from dust and the breath of God. The opposing contradictions of great and small, known and unknown, clarity and mystery, life and death—they all are reconciled in each and every human life. We are indeed ambassadors of reconciliation. When our lives reflect our true nature, we are simultaneously reflecting the transient beauty of the world and the eternal beauty of God.

From The Someday Book; full post here.

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