Category Archives: General


Chaos turned twelve this month. I look at him and I see, underneath his still-little-boy face, the teen and the man he is on his way to becoming. And sometimes, I catch a glimpse of the character of that developing young man.

Last week he was among six boys in the back of my van. We were headed home for a treehouse campout birthday party, and everyone was excited. One of the boys had brought along a Lego magazine, and he offered to let Chaos read it. Chaos considered it, then said he’d rather read it when his own copy came in the email…and spend time with his friends now. The friend upped the pressure a little, but Chaos held firm. Finally, the friend sort of pushed the mag into Chaos’ lap, and my boy gently handed it back, saying, “I don’t want to read it right now, thanks. I’ll just spend time with you guys for now.”

Now, I get that he wasn’t being offered drugs or being pressured to go out a graffiti the nearest water tower. But the fact still remains that he was being pressured to do something, by someone whose opinion means something to him, and he was able to calmly stand up for himself, without making it into a confrontation.

Maybe it’s that he’s spend the past ten years standing up to a very strong personality–his sister, Mayhem. Maybe it’s that he’s confident enough in himself and his beliefs not to be swayed by an enticing picture in a magazine. All I know is this: I felt incredibly proud of my boy in that moment.


One Step Behind

So we’re back now, back from a crazy-long (almost 4 weeks!) trip that spanned 9 states, a conference, Smiddy’s parents’ 50th anniversary celebration, and too many good memories to list here. We’re back, but I’m reeling a little.

When did the “new post” layout change? I’m only asking because it seems like everything changed while we were gone, and the WordPress layout is one of those changes? Honestly, since our 21-hour drive home (turns out you CAN drive from western Nebraska to western Oregon in less than 24 hours), I’ve felt a step (or 12) behind.

I logged into FaceBook shortly before our trip’s end, and the first status I saw was from a friend here in Oregon. We’ve been growing a friendship, and I was excited to get back from this trip, take K to lunch, and start going through “Authentic Beauty” with her daughter. Instead, tomorrow night I’m going to her going-away party–the family is moving to Washington next weekend.

And I’m a little stunned. Before we left on our trip, K and I talked about getting the families together for brisket, about trading piano lessons for guitar lessons, and about kids and life. And now, well…

I keep thinking, it’s not like we were lifelong friends. We’ve known each other for 18 months. But we connected…we shared some deep stuff, and we laughed at the same things. And now the potential for that meaningful friendship is gone. It’s not that we’ll cease to be friends, but it will be different. And I think I’m mourning that potential for something bigger.

Yes, I have other friends here, but I don’t think I’ve connected with anyone the same way yet. It feels like I’m starting over. Again.

You know, I think it’s easier when I’m the one moving away.


Frenzy is going to be a flower girl in her cousin’s wedding this fall, and she’s very excited. We talk about cousin DJ (yes, he’s a boy, even though the girl on the unending episodes of Full House is also named DJ) and his fiance Bette quite a lot. Because DJ didn’t start to date Bette until right before we moved to Oregon, Frenzy isn’t real familiar with her. Thankfully, we got a good visit in this spring, and will see her in a couple of weeks.

So the other night, part of our little chat went like this:

Frenzy: I like Bette now, Mom. At first I thought she was pretty weird.

Thora: Yeah? Why?

Frenzy: Well, because she laughs a lot [she does–she’s quite different from quiet DJ] and I didn’t understand why.

Thora: That makes sense. But now you don’t think she’s weird?

Now, here’s where the misunderstanding came in. Because what Frenzy said next was: No, but she knows a lot.

But for some reason, what I heard was: No but she has a nose job.

Talk about a double-take! Now Frenzy knows what a nose job is, I know Frenzy’s opinion on Bette’s nose (it’s just fine, she says), and we both agree that Bette knows a lot.

I do love parenting.


My Grampa comes to visit, and he tunes our piano.  I stand to the side, watching, fascinated.  He unwinds the thick red felt ribbon and carefully tucks it between the revealed strings, explaining that it will stop those strings from vibrating.  I hang on his every word, his every action, even though he tunes our piano every time he visits.  He strikes the tuning fork against his leg and listens to it ring, then plunks his gnarled finger (“I’m losing my fight against my enemy, Arthur,” he’ll say) down upon a key.

From his pouch of tools he deftly plucks just the right instrument and reaches into the depths of the piano, twisting and turning something I cannot see, and the tone of the note twists and turns with the movement of his hand.  He plunks again, twists again, plunks and strikes and twists until he is satisfied, then moves on to another key.

He explains to me about wavelengths and vibrations and hammers and dampers and life.  He strikes and plunks and twists and moves that thick red felt ribbon to a new position.  It is better than any television show I might watch.  Finally, he rolls his felt ribbon into a bright red coil and tucks it away with his tools, then closes up the piano, hiding the mystery of the music within.  He adjusts the bench, and then sits.

The first song is always, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”.  I could sit there forever and let the music of his heart swirl around me.  The big band and jazz tunes flow from the piano, find their way to my toes, my fingers, weave themselves into my heart. Too soon, he is done.

Later, we will go to the church together and he will tune the piano there.

Years later, I will play from the books my Gramma has sent me, the books my Grampa played from, the music of his heart, and I will remember.


Why is it that when I’m sweeping all this dried mud up off the floor or scraping crusted toothpaste off the sink, there are whole paragraphs wandering through my mind (each of them Pulitzer worthy, of course),  but on this Sunday afternoon I sit in front of the keys with nothing but the mundane on my mind?  When life consists only of the mundane, there I am poetic, but when I have time to record my musings for posterity, then I am…bleak.

The sky outside is bleak, releasing huge splattering raindrops from time to time. And life these past few days has been bleak.  I keep finding myself pondering patterns.  How we set them, and carry them out without even realizing it, how we try to change those patterns, but they sneak back when we’re not paying attention.

Sometimes you feel powerless to change.

There’s hope, though.  I lost 8 pounds since January, and I’ve only gained 4 back.  And tomorrow’s another day, another day to set new patterns, to change my course.

Motivation has been on my mind a lot, too.  I question why I do what I do.  Did I take that soup to friends last week because I wanted to help them, or because I want them to like me?  Ah, some of it is sneaking back…this idea that I don’t trust people to like me on their own…I almost feel like I have to manipulate them (by doing things for them, etc) to like me.  And it makes me wonder…is it them I don’t trust, or me? Maybe I don’t trust myself to be likeable.

There are days where I stand, confident, in a newfound feeling that I don’t care what you think of me, whether I fit into the mold you think I should fill or not.  Those are the good days.

Today isn’t one of them.

How Do I Loathe Thee?

CostCo, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. Thine parking lots are much too small, causing much consternation amongst myself and all other road-weary travelers.
  2. Thou persists in hiding merchandise in the least likely spots, causing me to trek back and forth among the throngs of people, grumbling all the while.
  3. Thou carryest not in one store the products I find in another, meaning I canst not count on finding everything on my bulk list in any one trip.
  4. Thou dost NOT mark thine aisles with contents, so I must journey up and down each aisle to find the goods I seek…and must often consult employees, many of whom also know not where thine goods are kept.
  5. Thou hirest not nearly enough checkers, so that I must stand in line with three tired children, trying to not bump into or be bumped by all the other cranky housewives and their children, while the few available cashiers work as slowly as possible.
  6. Thou drawest crowds of people who prefer to walk slowly down the middle of each aisle, turning to the side only when I attempteth to passeth them.
  7. Thou art not, nor will ever be, Sam’s Club.

Vic, So Far

Vic stared at the package on her lap, almost horrified at the contents, aware that all eyes were watching for her reaction.  Finally, she peeled the rest of the paper and tissue away and held the item up for everyone in the circle to view.  What had Ellie been thinking?  Was she really expected to wear this bit of pink and lace around the house…in front of Charles, even?  She was almost embarrassed just to have it in her hands.

“Thanks, Ellie.  I really appreciate you thinking of my on my birthday.”  Even to Vic’s ears, the words fell a little flat.  She laid the apron back into the gift box and reached for the next package.  This one contained a full set of bathroom towels in a delicate shade of lavendar…with lace and flowers along the edge.  A soft loofah and a bottle of bubble bath were tucked in with the towels.

Again, Vic was at a loss.  Was she expected to use these bits of fluff or just let them sit around and collect dust?  “Wow, Janie.  You really put a lot of thought into this.”

The next item was from Charles.  Surely his gift would be usable, practical.  She had circled a large dutch oven in the Cabela’s catalog, and the vacuum had been squealing for months now.  He handed her a card, and she hoped for a gift card or note explaining that her new dutchie and Hoover were hiding in the garage.  Instead, the card held a gift certificate.  For two days spent at the local spa.  She almost laughed, thinking it a joke, and then saw the ernest, hopeful look on Charles’ face.  Thirty-two years of marriage, and somehow he didn’t know her at all!  “Charles…I don’t even know what to say.  Thank you.”

She gathered up the wrappings and gifts, stowed them on the counter, and moved to the birthday cake.  She’d baked it herself: two layers of white cake frosted with caramel frosting.  She had considered it pretty fancy–until she compared it to this stack of frilly gifts.  What had they all been thinking?

Later, Vic stood in front of the sink, brushing her teeth and scrubbing her face.  She stared into the mirror, evaluating the curves and planes that made up her face.  Clear green eyes gazed back, framed by dark brows and darker hair.  There were laugh lines at the corners of her eyes and the suggestion of more to come near her mouth.  And there was nothing fancy about her at all.  Even the plain t-shirt and pants she wore to bed spoke more to comfort than style.  It ran through her mind again:  What had they all been thinking?


Vic was christened Victoriana Elaine, just about the most feminine name a new mother could come up with for her first daughter.  Unfortunately, Vic’s twin brother came stillborn and Vic’s mother followed him to the quiet plot on the hill behind the church just a few days later.  To Vic’s way of thinking, all her mother ever gave her was an ill-fitting name and a fear of childbirth.

When she was four, Victoriana and her father moved in with her grandfather, and then an uncle found himself crashing on the sofa.  Vic’s name was shortened to Toria, then Torie.  By high school she had forgone the second half of her name and started to go by Vic.  She led her basketball team to championship and gave serious consideration to trying out for the football team.  She hung with the guys and often considered herself to be one of them.

Vic met Charles in college, and the thing she loved most about him was that he never expected her to be something she didn’t want to be.  They went to sporting events together, watched action movies and slugged down beers.  He was the first one to kiss her, and she was surprised at the very womanly response of her body.

She wore a pantsuit to their wedding:  elegant white lines and just a bit of sheen.  She carried a single calla lily and he wore one in his boutinaire.  A handful of  people mistook her young stepmother in white lace for the bride.

Despite her fear of childbirth, Vic gave birth to two sons.  She raised them to be manly men but also taught them the gentleness that a woman seeks.  She was comfortable in her home with her men, and she rarely wondered about the raising of girls, much less wished for it.

And then her men got married.


Vic had three men:  her husband Charles, and two strapping sons:  Steven and Michael.  Both married lovely (if girlish) girls and seemed deeply blissful.  Then Steven was called up for deployment in the current Conflict and he left Janie in the care of his parents.  Vic loved Janie, but while Vic had grown up playing “Davy Crockett” in the woods, Janie must have spent the greater portion of her childhood wearing tiaras and plastic heels.

The guest room quickly went from something Marilla might have decorated in Green Gables to seeming to have the contents of two or three Victorian mansions fitted into it.  Little bits of ribbon and lace appeared on coffee tables (and in the laundry, but that was another story altogether); the fridge was suddenly bedecked with flower and butterfly magnets holding photo after photo of Steven.

But Vic managed.  Occasionally she sighed and returned a particularly feminine item to Janie’s quarters, but she never complained.  She simply went to her own simple suite and closed the door for a while, basking in the creams and sea-blues that refreshed her soul.

Then Michael and Ellie bought the house next door.

Vic was thrilled.  Of course, Ellie soon had the flower gardens blooming with all manner of flora, and Michael happily dug up and raised new beds on the weekends.  There were wrought iron shepherd’s hooks and bird houses and feeders and baths all over the yard, and Vic’s gazing ball on pedestal began to look forlorn in the small bed by the steps.

Yes, Vic loved her girls.  She often watched them when they were unaware, trying to understand them, to see what she was missing–if anything.  She was happy as she was, and they were happy as they were.

So when her birthday celebration rolled around, she couldn’t understand what had happened.  Did they want her to change?  Did even Charles wish she was the sort of person who needed to be pampered and polished?

A Garden Is A Generous Thing

A garden is such a generous thing.
You turn the soil and place all those little seeds just so,
or not,
depending on your temperament and the amount of time available,
and then you wait.

First, there are the tiny little sprouts,
poking their tips up through the tender soil,
and then leaves and stems, and
suddenly there’s a whole plant just there where there wasn’t anything before.

And one little seed gives you quarts of pickles or bowls of salad,
heaping tablespoons of herb-y deliciousness to add to ordinary fare.
And because you weren’t sure if one row of spinach or three tomato plants
would be enough for all of the canning and freezing and general preserving
that you wanted to do,
you planted twice that much,
just in case
of hail or disease,
and then you realize that even if you preserved until you ran the store out of jars you’d never get it all saved, so you give it away.

Bags of spinach and swiss chard go home with your children’s friends,
zucchini and summer squash accompany you to church,
and there’s always fresh rhubarb cobler on the table.
You trade (“If you take my extra zucchini I’ll find a use for that bucket of peppers”)
and you wheedle (“Surely you wanted to try turnips?”)
and you proudly display seven or eight garden vegetables at every meal.
You make jellies and pickles and chop and parboil until you’re sick of the entire mess,
but you keep on…

…because you know that, come winter,
when you crack open a jar of cinnamon cucumber pickles
or defrost bright red bells for your fajitas,
then all of the memories of summer
(your daughter dashing across the yard to catch her first firefly,
the conversation with your growing son over the weeds in the carrots)
will come drifting back and you will remember.

A garden is a generous thing.
It provides for the table,
builds relationships, and
brings back to the dead of winter that thing we long for most: summer.

Looking In

My best friend lives in Nebraska. I live in Oregon. It takes some work to keep up a friendship across half a country, but we manage. Maybe it’s that while I’m flitting from state to state, she’s constant–always there. I have called her to share joys, to wail “Why?”, to ask for prayer, to ask for advice. She has prayed with me over the phone while tears streamed down my face, told me about her own screw-ups worse than mine, and challenged me to be a better person. I love her for it.

I still often wonder why we’re friends, but I am so glad we are.

And sometimes, when the stars align and we’re both in the same state at the same time, I get to visit her.

When I go to her house, I belong. I usually knock–more so she knows I’m there than for permission to enter. I might grab a glass of water (or whatever crazy concoction she’s drinking lately)…if she’s busy with children or her studio I’ll peruse her library for a while, making a stack to take home with me. I know where the other light switch is in the bathroom and about the pile of laundry downstairs by the washer. We fold our legs up on the couch and chatter, interrupted by children and the phone, and we share our lives.

And because I feel like I belong, I act like I do.

Earlier this week I went to worship team practice. I’ve been acting as the backup keyboardist for about 4 months now. I don’t feel like I belong. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not really a part of the team. I’m just a hole-filler…someone to make sure there’s not a gap when the regular keyboardist is gone. And that’s okay.

But I realized this: because I don’t feel like I belong there, I don’t act like I belong.

Because I am an outsider, I act as an outsider. And because I act as an outsider, I am an outsider.

I know I hold myself apart in an unfamiliar group setting.  And I know that doing this keeps me outside of that ring that I want to join.  Get me one-on-one, and you’ll discover a whole other me–one that cracks jokes and has something to contribute.  So why is it that I act like I don’t belong…and then wonder why I don’t?

I don’t know what the answer is.  Perhaps it’s simply time.  Time to get to know these people, time to trust them, time to step towards them one foot at a time.

And I know you’re out there, too.  You who holds yourself apart, you who recognizes the distance but doesn’t know how to close it.  What will you do today to act like you belong?

Pandemonium Ensues

This is quite possibly my favorite entry of all time.  It could have just been the title that I liked…but I think it also reminds me of the craziness that life with two toddlers was, and how much I loved it.  Every age has been the best age with our kids, but this little moment holds a special place in my heart.

The Sorry Game,
Pandemonium Ensues

(Based On, But Not Limited To, Actual Events)

Chaos (henceforth to be referred to as Player One) asks to play a game.  Thora (Player Two) agrees because Sorry seems simple enough, and even if the rules aren’t followed to the nth degree, Player One will at least get some counting practice.  Mayhem (Player Three) dumps the board and all game pieces onto the floor. Pandemonium ensues.

Player Two picks up the cards and all visible pieces while Player One wails about the injustice of it all.  Player Three puts the blue pieces (I can’t spell pieces—they will now be referred to as Men) into her mouth.  All four of them.  At once.

Player One and Player Two distribute men about the board.  Player Two puts green men on the green start and yellow men on the yellow start.  Player One puts red men on the blue home and distributes blue men equally to all four home bases.  Player Three stands in the box the game belongs in.

Player Two shows Player One how to take the top card and move men the corresponding number of spaces.  Player One draws a 12 and Player Two helps him count to 12 as they carefully move the little green man.  Player Two draws a two, and moves a blue man two spaces.  Player Three takes the top half of the deck of cards and drops them back onto the table.  Pandemonium ensues.

Player One draws a seven and moves a green man 8 spaces while counting to seven.  Player Two decides to let the discrepancy slide since he did count correctly.  Player Two gets a one and moves a blue man out.  Player Three decides to change her pants and comes out of her room wearing green shorts with both legs out one opening.

Player One gets a 10 and moves one green man 4 spaces, one red man 5 spaces, and a yellow man backwards 3 spaces.  Player Two realizes that Player One and Player Three need to be in the bath tub in five minutes and picks up 10 cards, exclaiming, “Look!  A three! Can you help me count?”  Player Three takes off her pants (she changed again during Player One’s turn) and puts a megablock on the game board.

Player One draws a three and moves a yellow man across the board to home base.  Player Two takes all but two cards and moves a blue man one space.  The phone rings, and Player Two talks to Court’s mom for a few minutes.  Player One and Player Three use this opportunity to see who can jump from the coffee table to the couch.  Pandemonium ensues.  Player Two just doesn’t care anymore.  There are only 44 minutes left until bedtime.

Player One draws a seven and moves three or four pieces the combined total of 27 spaces.  Player Two draws the last card, which is a Sorry! card.  “Look, it’s a Sorry! card, Chaos!  You win!  Yay!” Player One does a little victory dance while Player Two stacks the cards and Player Three attempts to put a skirt over her head.

Game Over