Love Flowers



Tomorrow when I walk into work, I will be greeted by the smell of roses and fresh greenery and the laid-back reggae beats of Bob Marley. I’ll spend the day reading encouraging, funny, sweet sentiments while chatting with friendly people.

I can’t believe somebody is paying me to do this.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a substitute teacher and a writer and a pastor. Also an office assistant for my housing cooperative. I also have ADD, which helps explain why I’m perfectly happy to be working at half a dozen different pursuits. This keeps my brain bathed in feel-good chemicals. To me, boredom is the ultimate terror.

But this job — this job.

When a friend of mine posted on Linked-In that her florist shop would need extra help during the Valentine’s Day rush, I messaged her right back. I have always thought that working in a flower shop would be the bee’s knees.

(I just had to know, and now you will, too: Turns out, “the bee’s knees” was part of a bizarre slang fashion in 1920s America which consisted of animal/attribute pairings, including elephant’s adenoids, cat’s meow, ant’s pants, tiger’s spots, bullfrog’s beard, and eel’s ankle. So there you have it.)

As I was saying, flowers. 

Being surrounded by flowers is just as wonderful as I’d imagined — it’s a big warehouse bursting with every kind of bloom you could name and a lot you couldn’t.

But even more wonderful are the loving messages that accompany each flower order. I get to print out each one and slip it into an envelope that will be received with love and gratitude. My day is infused with positive, caring sentiments. Congratulations, sympathy, encouragement, apology, new house, new job, new baby, new school, and of course declarations of love for Valentine’s Day.

I love reading people’s pet names for each other. (So far, “Poop” is my fave.) What makes it all even sweeter is the number of messages from husband to husband and wife to wife. Love is love.

I suppose part of what makes this job the eel’s ankle (I just wanted to use that one) is that it’s temporary. Knowing I’ll only be there for one week, albeit working ten to twelve-hour days, makes me appreciate it all the more.

I am grateful to the Higher Power that aligns my stars for me.

Happy Valentine’s week!



Teaching. Or Not.


“You still like the teaching job?” friends often ask.

I’m stymied by the question because I don’t recall ever telling anyone that I liked teaching. I don’t actually know if I like it or not. Do I even teach?

The other day a little blonde girl flounced past me on her way to hang up her jacket, which I had asked her to do. “You’re not a *real* teacher,” she said in a challenging but slightly uncertain tone, like you might say, “There’s no Santa Claus, right?” hoping against hope you didn’t just jeopardize your Christmas Eve visit. She wasn’t sure, but she had a hunch that I did not have the authority of her real teacher.

I sighed. She had a point. I mean, is a substitute a “real teacher ?” I usually feel more like a glorified babysitter with a seating chart.

Every once in a while I get to act like a real teacher — to stand up and say stuff to the class that is more than just “Quiet down” or “Sit down” or “Clean up.” But I’m usually spending so much time trying to control the 2 or 3 wildest kids that I have no time to do more than give cursory instructions to the rest of the class. It doesn’t seem to be getting better as I approach my one-year anniversary of being a substitute teacher.

The little blonde girl’s teacher said to me, “You are a real teacher and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.” I appreciated the support, but that same teacher has told me in so many words, “Our standards for subs are really just to make sure nobody gets seriously hurt.” So much for teaching.

I don’t know if I’m a good substitute; I do know I could get better. I also know that another sub at my school fled the building in tears in the middle of the school day and was never seen again. At least I haven’t done that. Yet.

Thing is, I don’t feel like a “real pastor” or a “real writer” either. I have multidimensional Imposter’s Syndrome or whatever it’s called. So who knows? Maybe I am a real teacher. I wonder if I’ll ever get good enough at classroom management so that I can teach a lesson.

Here’s the truth, though, and why my friends probably assume I like teaching. I love the children. I really love them. Even the misbehaving ones, the ones who test me and flounce by me — even the little boy who peed on a stuffed animal the other day.

When I zig-zag down the hall, dodging streams of rambunctious knee-high kindergartners and carelessly nonchalant middle schoolers, I feel . . . joy. There’s no other word for it.

So you tell me: do I like teaching?

Am I Too Liberal to Live in the “Real World?”



I just returned from a holiday party at an organization for which I occasionally work. The whole experience made me uncomfortable, and I’m not entirely sure why. I felt I couldn’t be my real self there. I couldn’t connect. As a result, I had a moment of standing outside myself, perhaps seeing Melanie as others do. And it was alarming.

Have I become a caricature? Am I so out of the mainstream? Do I expect everyone to share my values? Are my expectations too high? Am I too liberal to live in “the real world?”

Tell me what you think:

Bless this Food, Jesus

First of all, the boss blessed the food in the name of Jesus and said a long Christian prayer. All the music was Christmas music, and we played a Christmas trivia game. This is a group of 30+ employees, including many African-Americans and Africans. It’s highly likely there were at least a couple of Muslims in the mix. Certainly there were no Jewish people — they would have quit after the last party. Perhaps a few agnostics or atheists.

I joked to the man next to me, “Heaven forbid a Jewish person should ever start working here.” He looked at me as if I was mad. (He probably thinks I’m anti-semitic now.)

If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a Jesus-person. I’m a lay pastor, in fact. But this is a place of work. I just found it all so inappropriate. Is it me?

Is this 1950?

After our Christmas trivia game came lunch. There was nothing for a non-meat eater to dine upon, other than veggies and dip and cheese and crackers. Platter after platter of wings and crab balls and beef and lobster dip, etc, etc. Even the potato salad had bacon in it. I’m not grousing about that, it’s just kind of unusual to go someplace these days where there isn’t at least something for a vegetarian.

Everyone stuffed all their trash into the recycling containers, of course. I did not bother rifling through the garbage to pull out the recycling as I often do. It was all covered with meat juice.

Locker Room Talk

OK, so here’s the final kicker. There were gifts given out and one guy got some electric thing that looked to someone else like a dildo. Six or seven guys were roaring with laughter, making all kinds of crude jokes such as, “That’s a power tool right there” and pretending to use a jack hammer. During this time, they caught no women’s eyes, and they carried on as if we weren’t even there. (We were far outnumbered.) I *think* the guys thought they were being subtle or clever, as if we didn’t know what they were talking about.

I was astounded. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a group of men like that, I had forgotten the intense discomfort. And a big part of the discomfort lies in not speaking up myself, even just to say, “How old are you?” in a joking manner.

I have a bad cold. I have next-to-no voice this week. If I’d had any voice, I’m pretty sure I would have at least said something like that.

In the age of #MeToo, perhaps somewhere in the back of their testerone-addled brains they would think, “Oh yeah, I guess heard something about sexual harassment on the news,” or maybe, just maybe, “Wow, that might make my female colleagues uncomfortable.”

I hate that I literally could not speak. There’s remarkable symbolism in that, now that I think about it.

“Why Didn’t Those Women Speak Up Before Now??”

My muteness seemed to magnify what was going on internally, all those old familiar feelings. “I don’t want to get fired. Since I’m a temp, they will just stop calling me . . . I don’t want them to think I can’t take a joke . . . I don’t want to be ostracized . . . I want to be able to get along with my co-workers.”

And yes, “I want them to like me.”

Those are the very feelings that kept me from speaking up every time I was sexually harassed and/or assaulted in the workplace: at a theater, a hardware store, the CIA, a non-profit. Pretty much everywhere I’ve ever worked.

I thought things had changed. I thought the conversation was further along. I thought . . . I guess I thought it was safer.

The real question for me now is should I talk to the H.R. director? Should I point out that their office is not friendly to people who don’t share the boss’s religion? Should I tell her about the sexual harassment I’ve often witnessed there and use the jack-hammer guy as an example? Or should I just say, “Life is too short, I only work here sporadically, it’s not my problem?”

I could file a discrimination complaint on behalf of all vegetarians, but that probably wouldn’t be too constructive. I do need the job.

So — just a rambling holiday blog, 2017-style. I’m not going to bother to edit this, so I’m sorry if it’s not up to my usual standards. I’m tired & sick and really just wanted to process these feelings and see what you thought. Well?

When I Was a Liar



I lied a lot when I was young, but I never thought of myself as a liar. The first time I spoke any particular lie, I generally felt a twinge of uneasiness, nervous that someone might question me. Usually, though, by the second or third telling, I fully believed what I was saying and I’d vociferously defend my lie as truth.

I lied so often that it became the norm. Exaggerations, made up conversations or events, rationalizations. All kinds of lies. It never occurred to me that I was lying, because that’s just the way my mind worked. It went there automatically.

The goal of my lies was always to draw attention to myself, to get people to think more highly of me and/or to like me. I wanted to be smarter and braver and kinder and funnier and more interesting than I believed I was. So I just made myself all those things in my head.

It wasn’t until I was almost thirty years old that I came face-to-face with my own dishonesty. It must have been winter because I remember there were coats hanging on the backs of our folding metal chairs in the church basement where our support group met weekly. Together, we wrestled with the effects of growing up in alcoholic homes.

A young blond guy who didn’t often speak sat across the circle from me, squirming. Finally he said tearfully, “I’m feeling a lot of confusion and shame. I lie a lot. I make stuff up. I’m not sure why I do that and I don’t know how to stop.”

The harsh neon lights seemed to dim, and I actually felt as if time had stopped. 

“Oh my God. Oh my God, that’s me,” I said to myself. I’d had no idea.

God has graciously taken away this shortcoming over the years. Once in a blue moon I’ll find myself exaggerating, but I recognize it right away and chuckle fondly at my silly inner child who still wants attention any way she can get it.

It’s so wonderful to know that I will never again have that sinking feeling when someone says, “Wait a minute, I thought you said…”

The President’s Pathology

All this to say that I understand the man in the Oval Office. He is not well. While his disorder is clearly way more complex than mine was, I understand his desperate need for attention.

Sadly, there’s not much chance of the man getting help for his issues. He thinks that psychotherapy is “a crutch” and has said, “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see.” Trump is trapped behind a one-way mirror: he sees everything in the world through his own distortions, but he can’t look back inside at himself. It seems that until he’s driven from office one way or another, we are stuck with his pathology.

I just thought you might want to know that I’m pretty sure he believes all his lies. He has to believe them in order to feel OK about himself because underneath, I imagine his self-esteem is about as low as a human being’s could be.


Thanks for the WordPress word prompt, one-way. 

On Meeting Jesse & Margaret


I run into Jesse and Margaret at the spring, or “down to the spring,” as they would say here in the Granite State. And a more perfect New Hampshire couple I have yet to meet.

Jesse is tall and lean, wearing well-worn blue jeans and a dingy white knit cap. His shirt is even more worn than his jeans. It’s one of those generic green shirts with his name over the pocket that he probably wore back when he worked at a garage or service station.

At eighty-three, he’s not working anymore. “Me and Margaret, we like to go for drives,” he says. “We went up to the Weathervane in Lebanon yesterday — had our Thanksgivin’ dinner there. Ayup. That’s almost an hour away,” he informs me.

Margaret nods her bundled-up head. Her blue eyes are clear and shining with delight at the prospect of befriending a new person. “We get out as much as we can,” she says enthusiastically.

She is a particular type of older woman that you meet up here, the kind that exudes health. Her skin’s as deeply wrinkled as a peach pit from the sun, but it’s got a fresh glow to it and her cherubic cheeks are rosy pink from the cold. She is beautiful, actually.

We chat as Jesse helps me fill my water bottles from the spring. It turns out that they used to live on the same back road that my grandmother’s house is on. In 1955 —  the year I was born and started spending summers here — they moved to the next town over, but they know my house and call it “the old Tainton place,”** as all the old-timers do.

We share stories about long-gone neighbors and agree that Hattie Bunker was the sweetest woman we ever knew.

Hattie and her husband Arthur lived in a little tar-paper shack down the road and were a big part of my childhood. Hattie was twelve years old when she got married, and she carried a childlike simplicity well into old age. Arthur always looked like he was at least a hundred years old. He was struck by lightening multiple times while riding his tractor in the fields. One bolt stole his power of speech. I never heard him utter a word in my whole life.

I tell Jesse and Margaret how I spent hours listening to Hattie’s stories while we milked her cows and harvested veggies from her garden. I ask if they have a garden.

“Not anymore. Our daughter liked to garden, but she’s gone now,” Jesse says.

“Cancer, like my mother,” Margaret says. “You probably knew Carolyn. Didn’t you? Carolyn Wheeler — she was at Prudential for thirty-two years.”

“Thirty-two years,” Jesse confirms.

I nod and say yes, I think the name does ring a bell, which of course it doesn’t but they really need it to, and so I give them this small gift.

“I’m so sorry about that. I’m really glad you have each other,” I say.

“Married sixty-one years,” Jesse proudly tells me. He hoists my crate of filled water bottles into my car and invites me to stop by if I’m in their neighborhood. He shakes his head and laughs because for a minute he can’t remember the name of the street they’ve lived on for sixty-two years. Margaret doesn’t remind him; she lets him remember for himself.

“Center street!” he finally declares. “That’s it. Right across from the old saddle shop. Come by anytime, we’re always there unless we’re out for a drive.”

Down to the Spring

** Not wanting to broadcast the most common security query, my mother’s maiden name, I have substituted my grandmother’s maiden name.


A Writing Conundrum



Today I wrote for three hours. it was tortuous. The whole time I heard a voice in my head saying, “You have no idea what you’re doing, you have no idea what you’re doing.”

And I replied, “I’m writing. I’m writing.” At this point, that is all that matters.

It’s crap. It makes no sense. It probably does not even meet author Anne Lamott’s idea of a “shitty first draft.” But it is written. Fifteen hundred words in some sort of order.

The problem is that I do not know what this book is about. It is a memoir, so it is about me. (Yawning already? Me, too.)

The issue, I think, is parameters, boundaries. What’s in the story frame, what’s out? Why am I writing this anyway?

What belongs inside the frame?

Some things are in, for sure, like this old house in New Hampshire. Quiet Hills is my muse. It seems most integral threads of my story pass through this sacred space. She belongs.

My dearly departed brother probably belongs, although whenever he shows himself, the narrative starts to become about him, which if you knew him you’d agree was par for the course. Only it’s not about him. At certain times in my life, my story did become about him. Not anymore.

They say that the human brain tries to make meaning, tries to find patterns, and that’s never more true for me than when I attempt memoir. “What was all that about anyway? What did it MEAN?”

The story is really about a particular woman becoming herself and the life events that contributed to her evolution. But the older I get, the more I agree with Franciscan author Father Richard Rohr when he says “everything belongs.”

This does not solve my conundrum.

A Peek into My New Hampshire Journal #1



Here for your reading pleasure is the latest in my “too-random-to-be-called-a-series” series of snippets from my journal — always some of my most popular posts! Everyone’s a voyeur, right? Plus, I don’t have to edit or revise. ♥

  • August 23 – Quiet Hills

I am here. Here where there is courage and rest and centeredness. I had an excellent drive, just 8 1/2 hours with stops. The house is horribly musty and the mice have been active, so here I sit, windows and doors open, fans going. It’s only 9:30, so I have a few hours to let it air. I’m going to sit on the deck and look at the stars — lovely clear night, and I didn’t notice too many bugs while I was unloading.

Deep breaths. Up here I can pretend that Donald Trump is not president if I stay off the computer. He gave another unhinged speech last night, trashing journalists (“I don’t think they like our country”), threatening to shut down the government to build his damn wall. Really sounded nuts. Very much the way a dictator begins, trying to discredit anyone who disagrees with him. The good news is, the GOP is in total chaos. The bad news is, so is the country.

I get to choose a new novel tonight. I finished Daddy’s old “The Strange Death of Manny Square.” I loved seeing his handwriting in the margins. What a wonderful connection.

  • August 24 – Quiet Hills

Glorious afternoon, cool in the shade and warm in the sun. Just perfect. First mosquito — so few! I came out before bed last night and the coyotes started up their chorus; it felt as if they were welcoming me. Utterly cool. I gathered some flowers for the table this morning: goldenrod, phlox, stock, bee balm. So pretty. There’s a ton of poison ivy in the flowerbed. Lazy day today.

Grandmother’s Garden

  • August 25 – Quiet Hills

Late summer morning with a tinge of autumn already. Cloudless sky, save one flowing line of small white puffs in the north. To have time to watch clouds — imagine!

The seasons up here are much more pronounced. In Maryland it can be sweltering in Sept and even in April now. Here, nature knows what it’s meant to do. No confusion, no argument. When it’s fall, it is decidedly and brilliantly fall and then along comes a big rain with wind and boom!, only the browns are left and then soon a snow, and winter has come.

Today I am celebrating being here. Just being. Listening to the wind in the trees, watching the tired yellow apple leaves flutter down to the deck. The field is frosted with an airy layer of Queen Anne’s Lace. The birds are almost silent, just an occasional twitter. Crickets and grasshoppers.

  • August 26 – Quiet Hills

It was a quiet morning until Bill and the boys arrived on a tractor and bearing chainsaws. I had been writing a lyric poem (of sorts) about the quiet. Doing a little mindfulness practice from my book, Fifty Ways to Pray, and then here they came. The chainsaws are a-blazin’ — he’s cutting a fallen tree in my meadow.

3:30 p.m.

I had Bill cut a huge branch off the apple tree, the lovely one that reached out on the horizontal and framed the garden. It’s been dead a good while and I feared the rot or whatever it was would spread. So now I have a massive pile of logs and branches to deal with. Bill thinks I could sell it to someone who uses apple wood to smoke meat. Probably more trouble than it’s worth. Perhaps I’ll burn some of the smaller logs tonight. It’s going to be cold.

7 p.m.

This day. Just like this. I read for hours, made gazpacho after a run to the spring, and am now chilling on the deck with a glass of wine while perusing a cookbook. Another Moosewood one I found at a used bookstore up here and haven’t spent much time with. Soon the deer will be out — I saw them come from my woods into the meadow last night.

Deer’s Meadow

I’m very happy right now. I’ve been noticing this feeling quite often the past few months, and I’m grateful for it. I want grieving people to know: you will be happy again. I was all but shattered — stripped naked — just 3 1/2 years ago. I still get sad. I miss Biff, and Mom, too. Up here with the ghosts, I miss everyone. But I am happy. Thank you, God.

  • August 27 – Quiet Hills

I checked my computer only once today, I think. Up here, the spell can be broken, thank God. I feel as if I’m on vacation in every way, including from the internet.

The other night I got stuck for several hours watching storm chasers on Twitter during a massive hurricane that hit Texas. Terrifying and no doubt the worst is yet to come. As I write, there are multiple wildfires raging out west and deadly flooding going on in Texas, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Yemen, and Niger. But no, there’s no climate disruption. None at all.

Yesterday I began some notes and reading for a possible sermon on hope for the planet. Or for climate change. Not sure yet. Checking out some “green faith” books I’ve had for ages but never read. One is by some scientist/Christians; looks good.

If I can stay off the computer . . . no, let me re-phrase. Since I will be off the computer, I’ll have time to read, write, and submit. Reading Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Brian McLaren’s The Great Spiritual Migration, Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, and a couple of books on teaching.

How did I become such a book freak? Blessed, blessed, blessed.

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