For the Winter Solstice, Stillness and a Great Shout of Joy

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born. 

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world. 

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say. 

All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard. 

All those years

how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow 

of remembering 
how everything 
is born from 
an opposite 
and miraculous 

Silence and winter 

have led me to that 
So let this winter 
of listening 
be enough 
for the new life 

I must call my own. 

~David Whyte, from "The Winter of Listening"



On this day 39 years ago, my brother Brian was born full term, held briefly by our parents and then died a few hours later due to complications likely caused by human error at the hospital. I was two and do not remember, yet I must have been attuned to the grief in our home. My older brother Patrick, age six at the time, remembers our father taking him to McKennan Park to attempt to explain how the little baby we were all so excited to meet had gone to heaven.

Now that I have two healthy children of my own after losing one baby in an early miscarriage, it leaves me breathless to imagine the pain my parents went through - still go through - grieving the sudden loss of this child. I think about Brian and try to imagine what he would have looked like now as an adult, what passions and interests he might have had, what interesting things he might have done with his life.

I recently saw this family portrait honoring children lost to miscarriage, as part of a campaign to promote October as SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month. I didn't know this organization existed until a few weeks ago. Many of my friends and family have had miscarriages, but it is something most people don't talk about or have a space where they can talk about it. I wish I'd know about this organization when I had my miscarriage.

A few weeks ago, the three siblings I grew up with all came to visit along with our mother. We four kids try to see each other individually a few times a year but rarely are we all together at the same time, being dispersed around the country. I wish I could just run over to dinner at my sister's, have a beer with my older brother, go to the theater with my younger brother, laugh with their spouses, play with their kids all a lot more often. Not every family gets along and we're lucky to actually like and admire each other.

Photographer Nicholos Nixon took Forty Portraits in Forty Years of his wife and her three sisters. I love to imagine my siblings and I in a project like this, with Brian in the photographs with us.



Sunday night I heard Gloria Steinem in conversation with Cheryl Strayed at a sold-out Benaroya Hall benefit for Hedgebrook, a women's writing retreat center on Whidby Island (the only place of its kind in the world and where I dream of someday having a residency in one of their cozy cottages). Gloria is on tour for her new book My Life on the Road, part of which she wrote at Hedgebrook. My friend Julie accompanied me, along with her daughter Fern still in utero. Tiny baby Fern surely felt the high energy, intensity and camaraderie in the beautiful symphony hall. Her mom and I were riveted and emotional throughout the evening.

A few of Gloria's great quotes from the evening:

Travel is the reason I have hope.

Telling our story is the most revolutionary act.

Your story is your credibility.

All social change comes from talking circles.

Change grows up like a tree, not from the top down.

Don't listen to me, listen to yourselves. 

Women grow more radical with age whereas men tend to grow more conservative with age.

Just as women deserve to be whole people, so do men. 

The biggest obstacle to Equal Rights Amendment is that people think we already have it.

I was shocked and deeply mortified to realize I was one of these people who assumed the Equal Rights Amendment had long ago been ratified - but no. It needs to be ratified state-by-state and 15 states have yet to do so. It is beyond appalling that this legislation from 1923 has not been passed, despite being introduced in every Congress since 1982.

There is so much work yet to be done, and all of us in the crowd were electrified and inspired. Gloria sent us all off into the night, telling us to greet a few people in the crowd we didn't know, as we might find a new friend, a new job, a new lover, a new community. Indeed, this is community building from the ground up. Thank you, Gloria for leading the charge.


Georgia's First Birthday

Georgia turned one last week. After being a calm and easy baby, she has recently morphed into a very opinionated and determined little girl. She points insistently and/or shrieks like a banshee for everything she wants, squirrels food in her cheeks and crawls fast to keep up with her brother (she loves me, but she adores him). She's very social and gave me a workout at a friend's housewarming party as she explored every nook and cranny. Sometimes, she likes to sit quietly to flip through books, squealing at the pictures. She has lengthy nodding conversations with her Daddy, both of them smiling and bobbing their heads like courting mallard ducks or polite old Japanese ladies. On walks in her stroller, she strains against the harness to engage with the world, to get closer to dogs and ducks and people and all the action. She rocks her whole body to music or twists from her waist and claps her hands. She hoards remote controls and can turn the stereo on. off. on. off. When I'm in the kitchen, she'll come pull herself up to hold onto my jeans and suck her left thumb, hanging out with me. 

One year old...such a milestone and such a fleeting moment in time. I took advantage of the occasion to schedule a photoshoot with Julie Nimmergut of The Hidden Lens. Thank you for all the great shots, Julie! 


The Bell Ringer

He calls himself the Bell Ringer.

We see him about once a week at Greenlake or in Ravenna Park, whizzing by on his festively-adorned bicycle shouting happy salutations and playing his kazoo. Today he was standing next to his bike, kazoo-ing, so we stopped to chat.

The first thing he said to Xavier was: "You know that you are a prince?" And turning to Georgia: "And you are a princess!"

I couldn't place his accent and he told me he was French-Canadian. In the first few minutes of our conversation, he said, "You know I've been visited by an alien. An angel. You know what he told me? Be nice. So that's what I do. I worry people think I'm crazy, but I just want to be happy. When the angel merged into me, you know what I said? I said 'Oh my God, oh my God.' Then he took me up to heaven and you know what I said? I said, 'I'm home.' We've all been dead before. It changed my life. I wasn't spiritual before, but now I am."

Then he pulled out a well-worn marionette and danced him about for my children. And tooted his kazoo as we waved goodbye.


Birthday Reminders

Birthday season is underway in a big way. I've had a little soiree with friends in Seattle, cards have been arriving in the mail, gifts have been opened from my kids and my husband. Dear friends showed up on my doorstep with a candle stuck in my favorite pastry from Cafe Besalu and now we are in New York for my actual birthday. Since last year's birthday was a bit of a blur as I waited for my overdue daughter to be born, this one I'm happy to lap it all up. I've been rereading old journals and I came across a few quotes to remind myself about this whole birth/day thing. Thanks for all the love sent my way this week. I'm sending it right back at you all!

I am a woman giving birth to myself.
          ~ Anonymous

The miracle is to walk on earth.
          ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

We can never be born enough. We are human beings; for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery, the mystery of growing: the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves.
          ~ e. e. cummings

Though I was reluctant to be born, I was attracted by the music. I had plans. I was entrusted with carrying voices, songs, and stories to grow and release into the world, to be of assistance and inspiration...it is this way for everyone...we each have our own individual soul story to tend.
          ~ Joy Harjo

Look: I am still alive--
in fact, in bud.
          ~ Kathleen Jamie

Unfold your own myth.
          ~ Rumi

Don’t forget love;
it will bring all the madness you need
to unfurl yourself across
the universe.
          ~ Mirabai  

Being who you are is a prayer.
          ~Grazyna Wolska

If only you will choose again, this once more, to be born.
          ~ Jane Hirshfield

I am. I am. I am. 
          ~ Sylvia Plath


Grace, for the Autumnal Equinox

To celebrate the Autumnal Equinox I give you "Grace," a seasonal poem by Wendell Berry, read by my very talented brother Matt Burns. You can find more poetry recordings and his beautiful voice at his site SunVolume.

Click here to hear him read "Grace." You can also see the transcription below. Thank you, Matt. Thank you, Wendell.


The Wood is shining this morning.
Red. Gold and green. The leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is.  Running or walking, the way
is the same.  Be still.  Be still.
He moves your bones 
and the way is clear.

~ Wendell Berry


First Music Concerts

This past weekend, my Dad took his 10-year-old granddaughter Fiona to her first concert: Taylor Swift. Her parents gave Fiona the two tickets months ago on her birthday and she chose her Boompa (as the grandkids all call him) to join her. I think for each of them individually, it was the best gift ever.

My Dad took me to my first concert too:  The Beach Boys at Husets Speedway in Brandon, South Dakota. I don't remember how old I was, possibly in junior high. To this day I still love the Beach Boys. That happy memory started a conversation with my Dad and siblings about the first shows he took them to...

For my older brother Patrick it was: "The Grateful Dead, Dylan and Tom Petty show at the Metrodome was in 1986 when I would have been 15 or 16.  I went to see Loverboy and Rick Springfield with some St. Mary’s friends at the Arena prior to that - - and likely other shows. Romantics at the Roof Garden's last concert was very memorable. Happy to still be alive and that the floor did not cave in.  It was moving like a trampoline."

My little sister Mary Ellen said, "Garth Brooks for my 10th birthday! We ate at Chi-Chi's and I wore pink cowboy boots and had a cowgirl shirt with fringe on the front. I wore a necklace that was a bubble holder with a wand. I was so cool. Martina McBride opened."

Dad added: "I also have great memory of scoring sold out Garth Brooks tickets from an Arena board member for Mary Ellen's birthday. 11th? 12th? Concert at Arena. Mom and she went together and loved it!"

My younger brother Matthew wrote: "My first was Son Volt with Patrick at 1st Ave when I was 12, then Smashing Pumpkins at the arena a month or two later. And then a few weeks after that dad dropped me off for my first all ages show at the Pomp Room! I remember being embarrassed that he walked around to check it all out but in the end he let me stay. Thanks Dad!"

When asked about his first concert, my Dad said: "First ones I remember were Beach Boys at Shore Acres ballroom in Sioux City. A place like Arkota. Saw the Byrds ( singing the Dylan covers they had hits with - Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn Turn Turn) at Sioux Falls coliseum. The Mitchell Trio at USD.  Name was changed from Chad Mitchell trio. Chad was replaced by then with a new guy....John Denver. Also saw Peter Paul & Mary at USD when I was a senior in high school. Folk music and civil rights superstars."

That's my Dad.


September 11th

Where were you when you heard the terrible news the Twin Towers in Manhattan had been, unbelievably, hit and then were, inconceivably, collapsing?

I was driving north over the Golden Gate Bridge on my daily commute to Napa. I was listening to the radio when I heard the news America was under attack. I felt suddenly terrified to be on that bridge. That day was scary and surreal for everyone. I was reeling from my boyfriend announcing the night before that he was moving out, leaving our two year relationship. I had woken up alone that morning, crying already, thinking of our past and my future alone. My world was crashing down around me. Then a few hours later, watching the news when I arrived at my office, the world was physically crashing down. Perspective set in: the innocent lives lost, the monstrous plans carried out by misguided fanatics. My broken heart opened up and I cried not just for my personal life, but for family and friends in New York, fellow Americans and the wide world of humanity teeming with unknowable passions. My older brother Patrick was in the military, my younger brother almost old enough to be drafted. Would we go to war? Surely. All my life I'd felt safe while wars, genocide, bombs, atrocities happened in other far away places. Everything changed overnight. In the aftermath of the tragedy, my boyfriend moved back in and we clung to each other for a few weeks, before separating permanently. Both of us, along with the rest of the country, began rebuilding our lives.


The Art of Fledging

For Labor Day Weekend, we took a road trip down to the Three Capes Scenic Drive along the Oregon Coast. Christian and I had been here the second summer we were dating. What a time warp to come back here seven years later with our two kids. We camped at Cape Lookout State Park and set up for hours on the endless beach to build sandcastles, splash, nap, read, picnic and watch all the gray whale action - uncountable breaching, double breaching, full breaching, tail slaps, blows. We found tiny sand dollars and jellyfish on the sand. We pointed out the Big Dipper to Xavier as we roasted marshmallows around a campfire. We spent a rainy morning in Pacific City at Cape Kiwanda having breakfast at the Grateful Bread Bakery, a long and misty beach walk afterwards. The third day, up to Cape Meares Lighthouse to watch more whales and enjoy another big beach day at Oceanside. A quick fix of Portland and then the drive home, the kids sandy and sacked out in the back seat.

The Art of Fledging

     ~ Found Poem, Cape Meares Lighthouse

To jump or to fly?
Seabird chicks have two choices
when they are ready to leave the nest:
jump or fly.
Some species jump,
most take their first flight.

Fledging is different for each species.
Some species fledge earlier than others.
Common murres, for example,
leave the nest when they are about 21
days old,
while Leach's storm-petrels
fledge after they're 70
days old.
Some join waiting parents
who feed them at sea
for some time,
while others must fend for themselves.
Most species fledge late
at night or at dusk to avoid predators.

Jumpers, like common murres,
cannot fly when they leave. Tiny,
3-week old murre chicks leap
from the tops of rocks and cliffs,
gliding down to the water on their stubby
little wings.
Some fall onto the rocks below and
Once at sea, the chicks join their father who, alone,
cares for them at sea for another 6 to 8 weeks.

Fliers include marbled murrelets,
who probably fly from their inland
nest directly to the sea.
Two days before fledging,
murrelet chicks have been observed
back and forth,
frequently and vigorously
flapping their wings, and
peering over the edge
of the nest site.
And they looked nervous.


And Suddenly Butterflies Everywhere


     ~ For Dewey Huston

Tell me again about the butterflies,

old friend of my father, bringer of tales,
the gully, mossy rocks of the streambed,
a cool breeze off the glacier high above,
and suddenly butterflies everywhere
as if the air you breathed were blossoming.

I've seen so many things, you said. I wish 
I could write them down. And when my brother died
you were the alpinist and engineer
who had an explanation where he'd gone,
waving a hand in air. It's energy,
you said. That energy must still be somewhere.

Ah, but the real life is never written down,
and who could understand the butterflies--
that there were so many, so surprisingly?
Tell me again, old friend, and I will try
to catch the light, the flavor of the air
like moss, like distant ice, like clear water.

~ David Mason


Xavier At The Bat

First, there was the Xavier's train obsession for two full years, after his cousins gave him their entire Thomas the Tank Engine set of tracks and trains for his first birthday. He slept with his trains, ate with his trains and played all day long with his trains. But then his dad took him to his first Seattle Mariners baseball game right before his third birthday. He sat, enthralled, through 13 innings (with a short nap in his seat). He was hooked. Boompa sent him a Twins baseball hat from Minneapolis and then a Mariners Jersey. Uncle Patrick gave him a glove. He'd now rather watch baseball highlights than train cartoons and likes videos of bloopers even better.

Most days, we walk to the baseball diamond in the park where we throw pretend balls. Xavier directs the plays, slides into bases, insists on slow-motion replays. He delights in saying, with hand motions and appropriate flair, "He-eee's Out!" or "He-eee's Safe!" At 10-months old, his sister Georgia watches him in adoration from the grass and claps her hands to cheer. He says matter-of-factly, "My sister is my number one fan."

In our backyard, he can actually connect with the wiffle ball, tennis ball or real baseball on the tee on almost every swing. He's also started hitting home runs over the fence into the neighbors' yards. He listens to Casey at the Bat on cd (written in 1887) on the car stereo if we can't find a game on the radio. At home I often overhear him singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to himself. He makes baseball diamonds out of Legos. He practices his batting technique and pitching form in the mirror. I'm trying to entice him to get excited for potty-training with bribes of baseball cards and plastic baseball figures.

The stack of library books next to his bed includes:
The Visual Encyclopedia of Baseball
Eyewitness Baseball
Baseball ABC and also Baseball from A-Z
Baseball Is...
Brothers at the Bat

Some recent quotes:
"I'm not Xavier, I'm Ichiro."
"Give it up for me!" as he runs around the bases with his hands up in victory
"Watch this replay, Mom!"
"That player is a switch-hitter like me!"
After I point out a Blue Jay in the park, "That's a baseball team!"

And he loves to hear his Daddy "announce" him...

It has been five months now of this obsession. Daddy has promised him he can join a tee-ball team next summer when he is four.


Lake Okoboji

I like to tell people grandly, “I used to summer in Iowa.” Iowa may not have the cachet of Nantucket or the Hamptons, but Lake Okoboji is a little heaven.

We had a cabin on the lake from 1985-2005. Twenty years of summers and occasional weekends in the off-season. Being a resort lake, most of the businesses are only open Memorial Day through Labor Day. We had a modest place we affectionately called "The Villa." The four of us kids slept in bunk beds, pullouts or the very best spot: on the sleeping porch.

We had a Cobalt ski boat named the Afternoon Recess, a word play on my dad’s job as a lawyer and my mom’s job as a teacher. We would have boat picnics with sandwiches, chips and lemonade in the middle of the lake, when we’d cut the motor, eat and jump off the boat to swim. As a kid, I loved to ride the tube behind the boat, and then I learned to water ski on two skis and then one. In the evenings my parents would fix Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics and we’d take sunset “booze cruises” and wave to friends on their docks.

I taught myself how to do a back dive by slowly climbing higher and higher on the dock ladder to launch myself.

There is a fictitious University of Okoboji, "where fun in life is your degree."

When I was little I swam, built forts, hunted for toads and read piles of books on the beach. 

When I was a little older, I swam, water skied, daydreamed about boys and read piles of books on the beach.

If I woke up early enough on the weekends, I might get to join my Dad for a boat ride over to the O’Farrell Sisters for pancakes and coffee.

The best thing was a clean dive into the smooth bright lake first thing in the morning.

The other best thing was driving the boat fast across a smooth, dark lake under the stars.

My maternal grandparents, Chuck and Delores, lived behind us and I would run up to their house to play pinochle, cribbage or dominoes. It was a big deal if I beat them as they never let me win, or at least, I don’t think they did. My grandmother always had cookies or pie waiting. 

Fourth of July was a big deal with a huge fireworks display over the lake. Everyone would go out on their boats to watch the fireworks exploding overhead and boat horns would go crazy with applause. After all, this is the heartland of America. We called it God’s Country.

We lived next to the Yacht Club and I learned to sail the little lasers and then the X-boats. I crewed in some weekend races but I didn’t like the competitions, I just wanted to play on the water. The Yacht Club threw great cocktail parties and I had one of my first underage drinks, a whiskey sour, on the lawn. I had crushes on all the sailors.

I had a fake ID from the time I was 17. It helped that my older brother worked at Murphy’s Bar and everyone knew me as his little sister. People all knew I was underage so they looked out for me.

One summer I drove our boat onto a sandbar coming home late for curfew with a few friends. One summer I was in a motorcycle accident. One summer I was arrested by the lake patrol while driving the boat home a bit intoxicated from the bar at 5 miles an hour with a shoe over the stern light – we were trying to look at the stars. Innocent shenanigans, mostly, with lucky outcomes.

The amusement park on the water, called Arnold’s Park, has an old wooden roller coaster. As you go slowly up the big incline you approach a sign that reads, “The Point of No Return” and then you plummet down the chute, screaming with your hands in the air. There is the fun house with the wooden carpet slides and the fat and thin mirrors and the turning barrel tunnels you have to stumble through. And during the summer concerts at the Roof Garden where my dad would dance with me.

Goodies Chocolates makes the best Black Silk truffles and caramel logs. My mother would cut each piece into tiny slivers to ration them.

When I was old enough to move on from babysitting to a real job, I was lucky to land a spot at Maxwell’s on the Lake, the fine dining restaurant in the Emporium. I started out as a busser and hostess and then worked my way up to serving lunches and then dinner. I worked there seven summers in a row, with a small crew of devoted staff who also returned every summer from school. The staff was loyal because the tips were good and the owners, Lewis and Julie, treated everyone like family. The favorites on the menu were the steaks, lobster tails, prime rib and saut√©ed walleye. We had lots of local regulars as well as weekend tourists. The best part was, I could drive our boat to work and tie up on the dock. After our shift, we would often change out of our uniforms into our bathing suits to rinse off in the lake and then change into summer dresses to walk over to Murphy’s Bar, Captain’s Getaway or the Ritz to sit on the deck.
Come Sunday nights, my father would inevitably say, “Oh let’s just stay one more night and drive back early in the morning.” He hated to leave.

We don’t have our cabin anymore. It has been 12 years or maybe more since I’ve been back, the last time to be a bridesmaid in my friend Gigi’s wedding. All around the world I've run into people wearing University of Okoboji tee-shirts or baseball hats. Someday soon, I’ll go back and teach my kids how to execute a back dives off the dock.


August Lists

August. I just love the sound of the word. August.

As usual, I've been writing lists: trips to take someday, fun-summer-things-yet-to-do, books Xavier and I have read for his summer reading program, films to watch, a grocery list. In the midst of writing my lists, I found a book called Lists of Note:  An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience by Shaun Usher. I immediately added it to my hold list at the library. In it, one can read lists jotted down by Galileo, Sid Vicious, Marilyn Monroe, Ben Franklin, Michaelangelo and F.Scott Fitzgerald, among many others fascinating figures. You can see and read a few of these handwritten lists here.

And one of mine here:

August, A List

Bare Feet
Lake Time
Clean Dive
Peach Galette
Sprawling in the grass
Ice Cream Cones
Evening Walks
Splashing in the creek
Hammock Naps
Summer Camp
Porch swing
Sail Boats
Dandelion Wishes
Bandol Rose
Panzanella Salad
Day Hike
Rope Swing
Splash Parks
Sun Tea
Ferry Boats
Tide Pools
Gin Fizz
Water Balloons
Building Forts
Riding Bikes
Beach Boys
Sand Castles