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Category: savoring summer

a book for the heart…

cover of Blessings of MP

pssst. you get the first peek. of course….

my definition of heaven: a summer morning, the breeze blowing in through the screen just enough to tickle my bare toes. the chirp of papa cardinal syncopating the click-clack of my typing, as i pull up to the old maple table and weave a word here, a sentence there, taking threads and making whole.

making a book. weaving a book. yes, writing pages and pages, and snippets and bits. but even more — in the case of this sort of book — stuffing in a little treasure here, pausing for a bit of joyfulness there. it’s a crafting that feels something like making a collage, a heart’s collage. snipping bits of beautiful, and figuring out how they most stand a chance of leaping off the page into a blessed someone’s open heart…

my favorite sort of summer — all these years beyond the summers when i’d spend the weeks crafting intricate home-spun cardboard-box dollhouses with my best friend martha — is to spend the weeks plonked at my old maple table “making a book.”

and that is indeed how i’ve spent this summer (when i wasn’t rushing to take my one sweet boy off to law school, or holding my breath while the other one tried out for soccer).

my deadline is september 1. but i turned in my last stash of pages on monday. which means i beat my deadline, i’m breathing again (but only momentarily — i never really breathe till delivery), and since it’s already listed in my publisher’s spring 2018 catalog (which i discovered by accident the other day), i’m letting you in on the not-so secret. and, voila, that’s the cover up above.

the idea was that we’d make something of “a gift book” of motherprayer, pulling a few favorite bits, and adding a dash of this, a dollop of that. i wasn’t quite sure what exactly a gift book meant, so i nodded (if we’d not been on the phone, with several hundred miles between us, my lovely editor might have seen the quizzical tone to my shaking my head up and down slowly, very slowly…) and then i leapt in to try to find my way through to the other side of whatever that meant. along the way, i decided that i was going to pull bits, too, from slowing time, my first book. and i was going to tuck in other bits of words that just might tinkle someone’s heart chimes. and i suppose that’s how it all began to feel like i was making a soulful collage.

or, as i describe it in the opening pages, “this book might read a bit like you’re peeking into my occasional jottings, something of a journal of the heart.”

and i go on to say: “all in all, this is something of a patchwork. a patchwork of joy. of love. of wonderment. and it’s the closest i’ve yet come to field notes on the blessings of motherprayer, fueled and put to flight on the wings of sacred whisper.” (p.s. in the actual book, i do put on my grown-up-alphabet shoes, put away the all-small letters and reach for the “Caps Lock” key on the keyboard. just in case you were worried…)

and what it means is that this is a book especially for all who love in the way a mama loves — and remember, i EMPHATICALLY (see, i can find the caps keys!) believe that the verb, “to mother,” is not is not is not confined to those who’ve birthed a babe, or raised a babe from and by heart, or even spent more than a few consecutive hours chasing a little person round a swing set or plopped on the couch for a string of heart to hearts. the verb to mother is a verb that belongs to all, all who reach down deep, consider what it means to love as you would be loved, who are wise enough and willing enough to move mountains if need be to buffet someone’s oozing broken heart, to provide the words that amount to the roadmap through tight mountain pass, or simply to share soulfully in all the joy stuffed inside some sweet and hungry someone, be it a kid-sized someone or one who’s all grown up.

it’s a book that weaves twin threads — and more. it’s a book intended to kindle the soul, and to ponder the lessons learned along the winding steep-pitched trails of mothering. we need both, those of us who see the holy work in mothering. one is oxygen for the other. and along the way, i wound up deciding that — as with mothering, in which, for the life of you, you could not would not pick a favorite among your children — i’d fallen in love with this book, too.

right now it’s working its way through the book-making wizardry, where all sorts of geniuses grab their polishers and rub it to a glisten. i’m braced for the day when someone pings me to ask if i might take another stab at this or that, or “kill the darling,” a famous newsroom directive that means, “all right, you’ve had your fun typing this sentence that all but does a cartwheel, now kill it because it’s noisy and it’s getting in the way.”

but on this fine morning at the end of blessed august, i’m closing down the month by reporting in on how i’ve most blessedly savored every drop of this one glorious whirl through summertime….

and, too, here’s my latest roundup of books for the soul, in case you care to read about those, too. this month’s lineup includes a jesuit’s wise and courageous words of compassion, dharmas from thich nhat hanh, and prayers from julia cameron.

i’ll keep you posted, but till then have a most glorious last weekend of august.

xoxo, bam

what were the joyful noises you made this summer? what wonderments and serendipities did you stitch into the season not yet over…. 

postcards from summer: a poem, a “cake,” and three very fine books

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sometimes in summer you merely want to dip your toe into the puddles. or the very cold lake. a little of this, a little of that. summer, it seems, is by definition the season for idling. no deep exertion needed. nor called for.

and so this week, with our old house bustling, and me trying to squeeze in any minutes of writing time i can muster, we bring you a little of this, a little of that: a poem, the “world’s best” no-bake upside-down cloud of sweet summeriness, and a roundup of books for the summery soul.

first, the poem, a quiet one from mary oliver, who is something of a patron saint of this old table. one that will rustle something deep inside, perhaps, and make you think thoughts you might not have thought ever before…

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

From West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver. Published by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. Copyright 1997 by Mary Oliver. 

oh, mary, mary…

“let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine….”

in fact, that might be all the morsel you need for this day. a morsel that’s as much a prayer as a poem, in my book. truth is, the poems i love best are the ones that work as a prayer: spiraling deep down under the hard shell of the everyday numbness, stirring, rustling, awaking the sleeping bits of the soul. the bits that long to be fed, plumped, removed from their starvation diet.

“let the immeasurable come…”

have you felt the immeasurable of late, did it touch the buckle of your spine?

and because i promised, here’s the summery treat we made at our house this week. especially since our house is filled this week from our beloved friend jani from munster, in germany. jani was here five years ago, when he was 12. and he and i sat side-by-side every morning, making our books. he will be 18 next week, and he is here, working downtown, taking the train every morning and night with dear blair. we are feting him with all things americana. he claimed this, “the best dessert in the world.”

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best no-bake upside-down dessert in the world* (*so says jani)

1 box belgian buttery waffle crisp cookies

2 – 3 cups whipped cream

vanilla extract, a dollop

1 pint fresh raspberries

1/2 pint fresh blackberries

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

you’ll need a loaf pan, lined in plastic wrap.

stir vanilla (or almond) extract into your bowl of whipped cream (psst: i used cool whip).

this is all about layering, so begin with a few plops of whipped cream at the bottom of your loaf pan.

IMG_9495next, lay down a row of belgian buttery crisps. press gently into the bed of whipped cream.

add a layer of whipped cream, dropping in dollops, and smoothing with a spatula.

add raspberries and white chocolate chips (or dark chocolate chips, or almond slices, if that more emphatically tickles your fancy).IMG_9496

begin again with your belgian cookie brigade, then whipped cream, then more berries and white chocolate chips. repeat one or two more times, till you’ve reached the tippy-top of your loaf pan. then begin your berry art. i made a flag, or an impressionist rendition thereof…..have at it.

cover with plastic wrap, and tuck in the fridge for eight to 12 hours. theoretically you flip the stacked loaf onto a serving plate (thus, the plastic wrap lining the loaf pan), but i didn’t think about that when i went with my flag, so we served flag side up, and jani didn’t seem to mind. there were two slices left for the very next day. and jani proclaimed it even better after its long night’s nap in the fridge.

***

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and finally, as promise, the latest roundup of books for the soul. my latest assignment from the chicago tribune. this time: Islamic Jesus, Jewish holidays, and exquisite poems infused with Chassidic sensibilities.

so there you go. do as summer insists: savor these lazy days. and if so inclined, tap out your thoughts to the question above, the one about the immeasurable. or share your favorite no-bake summery sweetness. or the books whose pages you’re turning these steamy days of july….

summer’s in the air…

summer pitcher

it’s swirling, rising up in eddies that nearly catch me by the toes. it’s pulling me in, breezing past my bare shoulders, luring me outside. it’s a slipstream of sunshine. it’s dawn without the bite. it’s that que sera of summer that we’d bottle if we could.

except that if it was always, and not just here for one short sweet spell, we’d grow blasé, shrug our shoulders at its ever presence, not relish every drop for the invitation to indulge.

blue face

indulge in bare feet, lazy supper, long nights beneath the stars. indulge in ice cream cones, and lightning bugs, and berries bursting from their skins.

tis the season for dialing down the pace. for cranking up the relish. take the summer slow and steady as the drip, drip, drip from the garden’s leaky hose.

and i, for one, am deeply in need of double dose of summer. i find myself panting toward the finish line. just one more exam. one more command performance. one more, one more, and then we all collapse. into our wicker chairs, behind the walls of screen. we fill our pitchers tall with ice and lemon. dunk in a sprig of spearmint, the herb that knows no bounds, takes over every inch you give it. which, in my book, is not a bad thing. not at all. not the way i run through mint as if the signature of summer, poked into every watermelon basket, every mound of shortcake, just the way my grandma did — the one sure totem of her presence in my DNA, her culinary legacy come certainly to life.

summer feets

we’re not quite there yet, which makes it all the more alluring. it’s just beyond my reach, taunting, teasing, whispering, stay steady and you’ll arrive. the old screen door of summer will open wide, will draw you in, plop a pillow ‘neath your old bare toes.

i am decidedly of seasonal persuasion. i live to catch the scent of change, as one stretch of time, of earth and heaven’s wonders, transform right before our eyes. one minute, we’re marveling at the certain unfolding of tender spring, and then, two blinks later, we’re bare-legged and shaking sand from our moppy heads. then it’s on to crisp of fall, and crunch of orchard’s apple. and then comes snow. and blankets piled on the couch. oh, my God, we’re quite indulged, the whole of us who live and breathe to witness all this blessedness.

and here’s the genius: just before we’ve had our fill, quite before we’re fully sated, the seasons change, move on. the lily-of-the-valley fades, the peony rises. a part of us sags, aches for what we’re losing, but then another beauty comes.

like all of life and all its finest gifts, we’re left wanting just a little more. one more sunset. one more snowflake. one more lazy afternoon. it keeps us ever on the verge. ever alive to  what’s slipping away, what’s on the rise. we’re infused with pang of loss, and delight at the replenishment.

truth is, all of life’s ephemeral. nothing lasts. nor is forever. there is not a drop to be taken for granted. and therein lies its edge.

as all the mystics tell us, as all the holy know, the more deeply we relish every succulence, the more fervently we pay attention, rapt attention, the more fully — and blessedly — we live this one whirl we call our life.

as is my habit in the deep of every season, i keep watch. i inscribe my wonderlist.

here’s the one for summer on the rise…

summertime’s wonderlist*

it’s the season of . . . 

firefly flicker: the original flash of wonder . . .

fledgling’s first flight, lesson in resilience . . .

cricket chorus, that chirpity blanket tucking in the nighttime, “audible stillness” in the poetry of nathaniel hawthorne . . .

butterfly couplet shimmering across the lazy afternoon . . .

sweet corn, buttered, dripping down your chin . . .

ditto: the peach . . .

putting thumb to the hose: water therapy at its most meditative…

Perseid’s meteoric chalk marks etched across the blackboard of midsummer’s predawn sky . . .

* from the pages of Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door

strawberry basket

how do you define summer? what’s on your wonderlist?

part of what got me to thinking so blissfully about summer this week is that two “chairs” had birthdays just the other days, back to back, passing the baton at midnight between the 6th and 7th. happy birthday amy, and happy birthday nancy P. as a deep-of-winter girl, i relished everything about their summery birthdays, which in chicago this year were picture-postcard perfect. this stretch of perfect days has made me want to wrap myself in every blessed morsel of this easy season now upon us…..

summer’s clubhouse

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when i was little, summer commenced when martha hackney and i would take to the woods. or the cardboard box cupboard. a boggy wood stretched between our two houses, complete with babbling brook, and stepping stones, and a pond we named “green,” because it was carpeted in teeny-tiny french knots of muck. if we’d inspected with magnifying spectacle, we’d likely have noticed they were lilliputian lily pads, perches for froglets the size of half your pinkie. once in a while, we’d stretch out on a log and inspect. and try not to plop in (for that would certainly lead to tuberculosis. or worse. so we feared in our nine-year-old minds).

i can’t remember a summer in which martha and i did not devote every waking hour to the construction of one of our clubhouses. the woodsy variety. or the ones where we spent hours upon hours with scissors and glue and snippets of fabric, and leftover rolls of wallpaper, too. and boxes. boxes by the boxload. we upholstered. we carpeted. we strung make-believe lights. we made resplendent rooms for our miniature dolls. we daydreamed the day away, hands smudged with glue.

perhaps those are the roots of my summer-y inclination to tuck away in a spot that’s away from it all. under a willow tree might be ideal. but i’ve no babbling brook near this old shingled house where, more often than not, i’m the one in charge of flipping grilled cheese and stoking the fridge. so the clubhouse i call my own is the one at the end of a short winding walk, a brick walk that leads from the house through the garden to the slapping screen door. there, just inside, is a steep-ceilinged room, one with a fan that undulates the summer’s breeze. and old wicker chairs, ones i once scooped from the alley (yes, i did; rescuing the flock from unseemly demise), tucked to one side, while an old wobbly door, perched on four legs, now makes for a wobbly table.

IMG_7681we call it the summer house, for that’s what the real estate lady once called it. it’s a name with far more pizazz than really it musters. if you don’t mind a rip in your screens, if flaky paint from the chairs doesn’t bother you, if a teetering dinner plate doesn’t ruffle your feathers, well, then, we have a room for you.

IMG_7682this week, in a week that might be labeled “intensive care” (for the task of the week was intensively caring for one un-done heart), it’s the place to which i skittered away. i carried my load of summer reading. i settled my bum in the old wicker seats. and before i could turn a single page, i was wholly absorbed in the magic of that odd little place. a mama wren flitted in and out of the birdhouse (she was tending her thimble-sized brood, delivering wren-sized delectables on a quarter-hourly basis). a cardinal paid me no mind, heralding the dawn, and later, the twilight.

a place to escape is a critical place. a place that, perhaps, no other season so offers. but summer, after all, demands it. promises it. it’s the one time of year when you can stretch out your legs, cross your ankles, and know you’re doing your duty: you’re summering. however you define it.

for me, summering is a verb with pages to turn. it’s sipping slowly from tall sweaty vessels of lemony water. it’s slapping away mosquitoes, and keeping watch for the firefly. it’s taking time out and not feeling guilty. it’s feeling like friday afternoon stretches for days. it’s relishing: a balsa wood baskets of berries; fat spears of asparagus charred from the grill; a book i don’t want to end; daybreak with a hot mug of coffee; mama wren enchanting with her motherly duties; nightfall with a flute of prosecco.

it’s the one time of year that begs us to savor the succulence. to consider the high art of nonchalance and lull without purpose. it’s the deep down knowing that if you’re turning a page, staring into the distance, or keeping watch on a wren, you are more than doing your job. you’re inhaling the whole of the blessing, the one that now is upon us: welcome to summer.

how do you define summering? and what’s your tucked-away spot?

summer starts here lemonade

dizzy…in summer’s high tide

anemone bee

it’s a hum and a buzz you might mistake for a gnat — a gnat with a megaphone maybe. there i was, minding my morning’s business, not too far from nodding anemones, and the buzz dazzled past me, caught my attention. i looked up, and saw that i stood amid a whirling flock of zaftig bees. velvet-bellied bees. bees doing what bees do best, bees doing what i too am inclined to do this time of year: wriggling their whole fat selves into the depths of late summer’s bloom, gulping down thirstily, mightily, drunkenly. the bees in my garden are dizzy with late summer’s bloom.

so am i.

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maybe it’s the urgency of catching up. i lost a week or two there in a fog. maybe it’s that summer’s been shaved by two weeks, here in the land where high school can’t wait. all i know is i can’t quite sate my late-summer’s hunger pang.

i stood there watching that bee. watching her rub up her belly, sink down low, into the golden rods of anemone pollen. i too wished i could make like a bee and slather myself in every last speck of summer’s late bloom. there’s an unbridled zest i saw in that bee, a zest that felt familiar. the unbridled part is the part that i longed for. and that’s what i love about being outside. about paying attention to the world in my garden. the bee skittered from one pollen-painted pin cushion to another, and then onto another. her flight path zigged and zagged and bumped into leaves. she didn’t seem to mind, not one little bit, that she was basically flying in circles, delectable circles. circles that filled her belly with the one niblet she lived for: the gold dust of summer’s unquenchable thirst.

for anyone gathering notes, the wide-bellied bee offered instruction: hesitate not, she seemed to insist. the hour is now. the pollen is swelled. the high tide of summer won’t wait. you’d be wise to roll in it now, to lather yourself in every last succulent drop.

point taken.

to study a bee, to chart the shift of a shadow, to tiptoe into the midnight in search of a shooting star, these are the lessons that unfold under heaven’s dome. this is the ancient and timeless curriculum of paying attention. this is poetry lived.

this is the quietly whispered prayer that fills me every time.

and this is my mid-august to-do list (inspired by my velvet-robed instructor):

  • pluck heirloom tomato. sprinkle with kosher salt. sink teeth in. catch drizzle with tongue.
  • ditto peach (minus the salt).
  • snip a morning’s round of black-eyed susans, or whatever the late-summer’s garden is inclined to share today.
  • take a seat in the midnight theatre, with one last showing of perseid’s meteor shower on the playbill tonight.
  • savor the twilight hour, as nightfall tiptoes in sooner by the day, reminding us that sunlight fades, and so too, summer. allow the periwinkle light to peak your knowing that the soft edge of day — of each and every day — is a gift to behold, especially as it wanes.
  • drink in the afternoon buzz of the world’s loudest bug, the Magicicada (mistakenly referred to as “locusts”), a herd with a walloping vibrato that tips the scales at 110 decibels, or about as deafening as a mad-dashing chain saw. oddly, perhaps, the cicada tympani happens to be my favorite song of latter-day summer.
  • curl up, all alone, in an old wicker chair, and, for as long as the day allows, deep-breathe the last of summer’s sweet pause (school — high school, no less — starts bright and early next wednesday; and for the soon-to-be teacher in this old house, it’s monday at 8 bells, when he’s due to glide into the classroom. so long to summer, indeed).

how will you savor your last hours of summer?

and a p.s. for the star gazers among us: i was among those staring into the heavens last night, wishing upon a star that i’d get a glimpse of one of perseid’s meteoric chalk streaks across the night slate. alas, it was not to be. clouds muddied my night watch. august 12 is the height of the late-summer show, when our dot on the globe spins into the whirling nightlights. there’s one last chance tonight, as the curtain falls, to catch the last gasp of the august light show.

p.s.s. correction above: i’d mistakenly launched into typing “he” and “him” in writing of my busy bumblebee, without circling back to check why i’d done that. i was wrong, and i’ve corrected my ways. apologies to the worker bumblebees who are decidedly hard-toiling she’s.