I created the coloring and activity sheets below for people who need resources to keep kids busy during isolation. They are based on Dan Hayes' wonderful illustrations which are featured in my book titled Jamie the Germ Slayer. Hope they are helpful!
Jamie the Germ Slayer in a place called Little While is now available!
Here's the description:
Jamie doesn't like the changes taking place. Worried parents, school at home, and not seeing the Nanas is so alien that it seems almost like a different world. Mama weaves a story about a place called Little While, where Jamie becomes a germ-fighting super hero.
Jamie the Germ Slayer in a Place Called Little While helps kids process their new reality, and offers reminders about keeping safe and fighting the pandemic, together.
I'm editing a devotional titled Sex With God, and since beginning work on it, my Dolce has requested that I write a poem about orgasm. I finally did it, as a birthday gift.
And now I offer it to you, as well.
My beloved asked
for a poem about orgasm
perhaps thinking my words
would summon memories
of fireworks exploding
or waves lapping shores
or hurricane forces, unleashed
but I think what is needed
is a sonnet to their softness
curving into my back
warm skin praying for me
as I slip into sleep.
Orgasm pulls us
away from our minds
into single points of being
incapable of thought
for a moment
every troubling thing
until awareness ebbs back
to where we began.
We need escape.
But what we need even more
is a beloved, like mine
curving warm against our backs
pouring their love
into our souls.
I've had a great distraction over the past week and a half. My Dolce discovered a contest offered by Emory University's Global Health Institute for developing a children's ebook related to COVID-19. (Click here to read more about our entry.) With the help of the clever and talented Dan Hayes, we created this book in about 9 days! The winner will be announced May 8, after which we'll be making the book available to the public. Stay tuned!
We drove from Missouri to Florida this past week, which required multiple stops in multiple states. This poem is a reflection on one of those stops.
We Are Not Sisters
We stopped for gas
on a winding Kentucky two-lane
beneath a canopy of Spanish moss
where winter-gray kudzu
to resume its consuming
of barns and buildings
trees and tension lines
a target for destruction.
Should we pretend we are sisters?
The vertical trajectory of our love
to the insidious increase of demands
faith or lack of it
country of origin.
The gray-haired gas keep’s dialect
its twang shocking
only a few hours from home.
He owned the place
and waited, bored
to assess those who entered.
Should we pretend we are sisters?
A young attendant also stood waiting
tongs ready to grasp
hotdogs and breakfast sandwiches
straight black hair shining
brown skin surprising
in the vast whiteness.
So maybe it was silly
to ask the question:
Should we pretend we are sisters?
The women’s restroom
could service two
as long as you were close:
mother and toddler
aunt and niece
There were no stalls
two toilets perched
in vulnerable nakedness
on the pissy expanse of tile.
Should we pretend we are sisters?
Twin silver bullets were pulled up next door
gleaming beneath the draping moss
horses hidden inside
grateful like us
for the reprieve from the road
but like us questioning
the safety of the stop
sniffing the air
Should we pretend we are sisters?
I small talked the gas keep
assessing the likeliness of his stance
on two women who were not sisters
and told him about the roadside rodeo
taking place next door.
“That’s my lot!” he said
annoyed that they’d encamped
then stomped off to check out the action.
Young people footworked
around the cracked pavement
spinning ropes above their cowboy hats
tossing them toward
a horned creature
made of aluminum
and blue fabric.
Capturing the thing with a swish
and a tug
while an older man tossed instructions.
“I guess they ain’t hurtin nothin.”
the gas keep said
hotdog youth watching
I went outside
and filled the tank.
eager to drive away
from a place where we had to wonder:
Should we pretend we are sisters?
A place where
white haired white men
about how to best capture life
order the world
keep the universe from shaking apart
at threats like my wife and I
stopping to pee
I'm reading a book, the last in a pile of three that I began and then threw to the side. I may have to ditch this one as well if it doesn't cut it out.
This time it's a problem with details. The author seems to just make things up without bothering to see if they actually make sense. One of the characters is a baker, and so there are frequent references to baking processes. But the author isn't particularly concerned if they are correct. Here are a few examples.
In one case, the baker can't be interrupted because she is kneading. A few minutes later she comes out saying that she finished the tarts.
PROBLEM: There is no kneading required when making tarts. They use pastry crust.
Later on, an assistant complains that there is something wrong with the buttercream frosting she made. The baker tastes it and proclaims that the egg whites were bad.
PROBLEM: There are no egg whites in buttercream. Or yellows for that matter.
Another detail violation happens in a bathtub. The protagonist is soaking and enjoying a plastic water tumbler of Chardonnay while musing about her terrible life, and then describes a loofah getting snagged on her leg stubble.
PROBLEM: Stubble wouldn't snag.
Perhaps if you had very course, very curly, very long leg hair there might be a Velcro effect. But stubble? Stubble sticks straight out. It's not snaggish. It won't run a pair of pantyhose let alone slow down a sponge.
Why, why, why, oh why?
Are cooking references really such a selling point that it doesn't matter if they make sense? Is there such a rush to go to press that editors don't pay attention to what they are reading? Was this story the second piece in a two-book deal with a very short deadline?
I'm trying to figure it out, hopefully so I can learn by negative
example. Perhaps this is similar to what artists try to teach; to draw what we actually see rather than what we think we see. This author is writing what she thinks leg loofahing is about, without actually getting in the tub and testing it. Or even imagining through recollection. It's like the story is running merrily along and she captures it, thinking leg hair might be amusing, so down it goes and in it remains.
On the plus side, I guess I have learned something. While writing details, I need to really be in the scene. If I describe making a grilled cheese sandwich I need to actually walk through the process, at least mentally. The butter has to be spread. The cheese has to be unwrapped. I'll need to remember how the toasty bread lifts up like butterfly wings and the melting orange oozes over the edges if I cut it too soon and too hot.
I've learned that I need to really live the darned sandwich experience rather than assume I know what it is and say something nonsensical.
I guess I won't throw the book across the room. I'll continue reading, and see what else I can glean.
I'm continuing to process my grief through poetry. Here's this week's entry.
The Shroud is Ready
by Suzanne DeWitt Hall
The clacking bones called us
when we audaciously planted
an orgy of produce
then invaded their sacred space
to feed the hungry
doing things ways
they hadn’t been done
and making the bones very
That Bunch helped our pastor pack
his office this week
filling boxes with books
a virgin baptismal stole
a diploma from Princeton
note-scrawled legal pads chronicling his call
to the sepulcher which came to reject it.
Some of the bones clacked through while we packed
making sure he’d be out by the deadline
chattering a demand
that keys be returned
that locks be changed
in case That Bunch decided to stage
a final feast
We finished loading boxes
and stopped in the sanctuary
which had been draped
to protect it from debris
when roofers banged new shingles
as if someone had died
their house prepared
A fitting place
for bones to molder
and ghosts to multiply
as the living are borne away
by the winds of grace
to continue feeding a world
desperate for love.
Our church voted yesterday
to accept the resignation
of its young pastor
a gay firebrand
irritant bringer of “others”
to the spirits of those
who’d come before.
The back pews clapped
When the vote announced
it was finished.
Skeletal hands clacking
smiles stretching wide
in rictus victory.
His time in that stone sepulcher is over
and he is gone
as are we; the queer couple
the musician dad
the single black mother and her three kids
the Moms Demand Action rep
the planter of a community garden
the tireless doer of deeds who kept the place running
The bones in the back pews clapped
as we wept for lost hope
for the broken world
for the pastor
The bones clapped
for next Sunday
when they will hobble in
to find us gone
and they will dance
their skeletal dances
that the skin of their hands
is a mirage.
Happy to be alone
to chatter and clatter
their death dance
as the dust gathers
and the doors clang shut
leaving them to join the ghosts
that they have won.
It’s dead cicada season
the time when winged corpses
litter the ground
as if ready
to fly and serve
the function for which they were created
to sing in the twilight
to buzz and hum
that summer has ended
and winter approaches
when growth and hope
A voice we heard
at church, a month ago
the pastor only had time
for the poor
A white woman
with white hair
spoke her white truth
The church she knew had changed;
its glorious past
no longer a shining present.
She wanted back
her club of privilege
that place where respect was properly assigned.
Her voice became a chorus
men spitting their rage
telling decades-old stories
of heroic contribution
of fallen places of honor.
The crowd screamed their demand;
the head of the offending pastor
a return to the attention they deserved.
Clamoring to make church great again
I heard a different voice
while working in the church kitchen
finalizing a meal we would serve for free
to struggling families
to the homeless
to the lonely
to the addicted.
My wife and I began this feeding
our queer audacity recognizing
that hunger comes in many forms
including the congregation’s need to serve.
But few participate.
The souls who come to be fed
are fuel for their rage.
They weren’t there when the voice spoke last night.
“What size do you wear?” he said.
A young black man;
our guest, Leland,
from the assisted living facility across the street.
“What size do you wear?”
He spoke to a ginger-haired guy
who sleeps beneath the stars .
and has no address
no way for possible employers to reach him.
who said he hates when it rains
because of his shoes
walked into tatters
the souls nearly disconnected.
“What size do you wear?”
and hearing the answer
took off his shoes
gleaming white and stylish
and gave them to him
then walked barefoot
across the street
to get an older pair for himself.
The young man left later
belly full of home-cooked food
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in hand
shining new shoes on his feet
to walk miles in the dark
so he could sleep behind Walmart.
This is what church looks like.
Not the screaming white faces
demanding their due
because queer women
and black men
and a gay pastor
make them yearn for the days
when they didn’t feel uncomfortable.
The Scandal of Messy Abundance
by Suzanne DeWitt Hall
Our cemetery guide explained
that the shining white obelisks
dwindling into the sky
signify our journey toward God.
When doing it right
we disappear at the very tip
when stone ends
and God begins.
He drove on,
slowing our bus disguised as a trolley
to show us
a fruit-heavy paw paw tree
then stopping so we could glean.
A friend from our war-torn church
led the way, and I followed.
Phil planted a garden
in our church yard
beneath a spire
which signifies our journey toward God.
It's messy, that garden
with zinnias and bursting tomatoes
dying cucumber vines
and sprawling overgrown greens
which may be weeds
or sweet potatoes
or the most gorgeous fall blooms
waiting to surprise us
if we resist the urge
to tame the tumult.
The murmurers inside don't like it
overgrown and frowzy
too full of life and chaos
too free with invitation
for people who are not them
to be filled.
Phil led the way
toward the paw paw steeple
which signifies a tree's journey toward God.
I followed, bending to step beneath
fruit scattered on the ground
in messy abundance
some overripe and rotting
some eaten by those who were not invited
those who dared forage on sacred ground
dared stare up at edifices of stone
dared taste the sweetness growing there
We gathered the fruit which
had not yet grown soft and brown
had not been ravaged
by the hungry teeth of rodents
We gathered until our hands were full
and then boarded the trolley
We handed the fruit
to whoever wanted a taste
of what grows so close to death
the sweetness side by side
our journey toward God not up
into the sky
but in the fecund earth
and the faces of the people
reaching to taste.
I've decided to start a new spiritual practice, of writing a poem each work day on any topic which demands attention. They may not be uber polished and glossy, but they will exist as a kind of journal.
Here's the first.
Literature Which Isn't
At night we listen to meditations
designed to lull us into forgetting
to drift us somewhere else;
a hummingbird garden
a tree house by an ocean
a secret bookstore.
The voices are soothing
softly instructing our breath
taking control of our thoughts
An editor would say
where is the action?
Why is there no conflict?
Tell us more about the main character!
In this night space
There is only detail:
the repetitive green of leaves
the shimmer of water
the breathing in to a count of four.
My beloved's night mind battles
the troubles of the world
and so we listen
to literature which isn't.
so she is free
All it takes
for my breathing to grow rhythmic
and my mind to drift into gray
is to curl into the warmth
of her back.
knowing she is awake
watching over me.
I'm super lucky that my wife does the vast majority of my social media work, because I have a lot of writing projects in assorted genres, and if I were to try to keep up there'd be no time to write.
Meanwhile, this website, my author page, has been rather neglected. Given my recent focus on devotionals, I've included a screen shot to the Where True Love Is website above, because the blog there tends to have more frequent updates.
I'll try to be better in this space, particularly as things move forward with the novel I'm pitching. Stay tuned on that, but it the meantime, head on over to Where True Love Is.
This is our Christmas tree, and no, we aren't getting ready to drag it out to the curb. It's been naked and waiting since the day we bought it.
I had a vision of decorating it Christmas Eve, the way they did in Ye Olden Days, when the twinkling lights adorning the branches were candles and the risk of fire was significant. Back when Christmas began rather than ended on December 25th. It's a vision I've entertained for decades; a romantic notion fed from books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Dickens. My darling Dolce puts up with my fancies and was willing to try the Christmas Eve thing this year.
But sometimes life intrudes. My dad died December 18.
He didn't want a funeral, so there was nothing to do but sit with the news.
Dad was also romantic, though his ran in the style of Henry David Thoreau. Many of my childhood memories are the result of the restlessness his heart experienced. We moved a lot and jobs were transitory. For a while, we lived close to the land in a one room cabin with no running water. I learned about hunting for hickory nuts there, and what wintergreen leaves look like, and how to keep picking black raspberries despite the scratch of thorns. I learned to be careful when chewing a mouthful of squirrel because you could break a tooth on a stray piece of bird shot. I also learned how to appreciate oddballs, like the elderly hoarder up the road who let us fill our metal milk can with water from the pump in his front yard. His name was Charlie Parker. Chickens and ducks clucked out of the way when we drove up, and a pack of basset hounds bayed their warning hellos. Charlie Parker showed my dad how to stir together a simple dough and bake bannock in a cast iron skillet over an open wood fire. Dad made the bread just once. The bottom was burned, but he was proud.
He didn't want a funeral, but Dad said he'd like his ashes scattered there on that mountain where my parents argued while deer mice made nests in the belongings we stored in a shed not far from the outhouse.
A few years later, my Dad moved out. The end of the marriage was swift, and shocking. My mom, brother, and I had to move into low-income housing, which meant giving away our beloved dogs. Mom was a wreck for several years. I stayed away from home as much as I could, hanging out with my boyfriend and getting up to no good. Mom's family lived on the opposite coast, and we had no contact from dad's family, so connection with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents was lost. Although he moved a few states away, Dad tried to stay in touch. I have an old scrap book containing letters from him during those years. But human nature made it easy to turn him into the villainous cause of all our suffering.
Dad didn't come to my wedding in 1986. I never asked him why, and of course now it's too late for questions. I imagine he avoided it out of guilt and shame. I'm beginning to think they are the most corrosive emotions; infections that fester and deepen unless they're lanced so light and air can stream in. I forgave Dad decades ago for my childhood pain. My brother's had a harder time doing that. Since then I've inflicted damage on my own children, and understand better what it is to be immobilized by guilt and fear of rejection. My heart hurts when I think about the possibility of Dad suffering those emotions for fifty years.
Facebook allowed my dad and I to reconnect in a way we hadn't previously given the distance of geography and time. With Dolce's encouragement, I also connected with his wife and daughters. It's fun to have sisters, and I'm grateful to have a wise, witty, protective stepmom. I'd hoped to visit them one day. We'd be a gaggle of girls around the old man my dad had become. It's clear that Dad was a better father to them than he was able to be for us.
December dwindled while I processed the reality that he was gone, along with the chance to be part of that gaggle. Christmas Eve arrived. Dolce and I still intended to decorate the tree that evening, but it was a hard day. Tears welled suddenly even when I wasn't thinking about my dad. We passed time with books, television, and me crying periodically. The tree stood waiting, tall, and a bit too slim in the hips. A sentinel and a symbol; waiting but not demanding. Sharing space with us; a green reminder of Christmas with all it's loss and promise.
It still stands waiting, on this, the seventh day of Christmas. It will wait with us, naked and brave, for five nights longer. After the day on which we celebrate the magi's arrival we'll carry it out of the house. If we lived in the country I would drag it to an empty field and set it ablaze. If we lived on the water I would put it in a boat, putter out to the deep, and watch it sink and settle to become a sanctuary for fish. But we live landlocked in the city limits of a small town.
I think I'll lean it in a corner against the garage so birds can shelter when the winter winds blow. I'll watch it lose it's color and vibrancy, losing the fight of days marching until its death is no longer arguable. And when the tree is even more naked, once the needles are gone and the wood is dry, I'll cut it into pieces. I'll use the tree to make a fire. I'll bake a round cake of bannock. It will probably burn on the bottom. Dolce and I will lift a glass of something, and I'll sift through the mix of memories and tell her some happy ones; of the taste of a turkey shot behind our cabin, and the sight of a rusting model A Ford in our driveway, and of the scent of gun oil and home-rolled cigarettes.
The stories will mix with the scent of baking bread and burning wood, and the tree will become a part of the story of my dad and I. A sentinel to the unique thing that was us.
I've been busy getting my second Where True Love Is devotional ready for launch, and so you haven't seen much news from me on this blog. You can follow the status and read excerpts from Transfigured however on the Where True Love Is website!
Meanwhile, here's a peek at the cover:
It's a wonderful resource for all people who want to broaden their view of our limitless God.
I wrote this summary of our Ash Wednesday three years ago, and for some reason, never posted it. Posting now, because I still need to take to heart what we experienced.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and Dolce and I discussed the readings of the day over breakfast. We'd taken our time getting out of our warm bed and so breakfasted late. I sliced thick slabs form a lovely loaf of fresh sour dough bread and fried a couple of eggs each. I slathered butter over the crusty toast. Dolce made yummy sounds the whole time she at it. Toast is one of her favorite things. We compared how Jesus' instructions to keep pious actions on the down low seemed to be in contrast with the very public sign of a dark smear of ashes across the forehead. Dolce talked about the practice of giving up chocolate or other favorite vice, wondering if it would be more in keeping with Christ's instructions to just go out more fully into the world as carriers of God's love? And so off we went to our church's Wednesday fee lunch program for the hungry. We'd been planning to attend for months, to see if we might volunteer here as we have once a month at our previous church's meal program. When it is our night to cook we consider ourselves the hosts of an extended family dinner party. We choose a menu that is special, balanced, and contrasting in textures, colors, and flavors.
We walked in to the fellowship hall and saw full tables and faces of mixed complexions and ages. Most people were men. Two women were there with two girls who looked to be five to seven years old. We chose a table and sat between a group of three deaf men who stayed busily engaged in conversation through the meal, and a twinkling-eyed, middle-aged Hispanic guy with a service pit bull at his side. A smiling volunteer greeted us and quickly brought plates heaping with food. The air was redolent of fish and we saw a floppy brown rectangle, a mound of suspiciously glossy smooth mashed potatoes, a tiny bump of coleslaw, and a pile of grayish peas mixed with soft, soggy carrot rounds. A dense under cooked biscuit rested atop the whole thing, earning pride of place perhaps because it was homemade. I looked at the food and dug in, forcing my foodie proclivities down as I lifted fork after fork of the bland mush into my mouth. A young Hispanic man joined us a few minutes later, calling our neighbor Papi and chatting animatedly with him in Spanish. Papi entertained us throughout the meal with stories about the dog. Her toenails were painted bright red. He fed her from his fork, starting with a bite of coleslaw. He scrolled through photos of her on his phone. One showed her dressed in a camouflage tutu, in another she watched TV, and in a third she sported sunglasses. Her name was Tanya, and helps him when he has seizures. He said she was his wife.
A youngish man behind me stood up to take care of his garbage. For the next five minutes he berated the room at large. "Who threw that fish away? There's nothing wrong with that fish!" His dark eyes flashed as he looked around, while pulling up the sleeves of his snow coveralls, and pulling a knit cap down over his tousled black hair. His skin was sun and wind darkened, his lips chapped. "That fish is good food! Who would throw that away?" A female voice muttered in response, but he merely stomped away in disgust. Dolce hates fish but she'd dutifully eaten a few bites in solidarity with the group. I took the abandoned remainder, scraped off the soggy coating and ate the thin flakes of flesh that were revealed.
Papi continued chatting with us and with he newcomer. He told us about a place around the corner called Common Ground where you could get free donuts and coffee. He said you could hang out and watch TV, maybe watch a movie. He recommended it to us, explaining that it was open every day from 12:00-4:00.
By this time the moms were getting in motion. One said "Come on! It's time to go!" and a little voice responded "I want to stay a while and get really warm!" My heart clenched at the thought of the girl needing to stock up on heat calories, wondering if they'd be spending the afternoon outside. But mom didn't want to hear it and she bustled the girl to the bathroom, and eventually toward the door. As she passed by, the littler girl called out her friend "Come on! We're going to Common Ground!" And so I relaxed, picturing her continuing to be warm at least until 4:00.
I continued working at the pile of gluey food in front of me, hating to wast it but full to the point of nausea. Eventually it seemed like we'd stayed long enough and so I threw away our disposables and thanked the folks in the kitchen who had cooked and served us. They wished me a good and day and we went back out into the sparkling snow, saying goodbye to the woman we see on Sundays, who's face looks like it is caving in in the center, so eventually her forehead and chin will meet in the center. I'm not sure how she manages to push her walker through all that snow and slush outside. It must be exhausting.
As we drove home I thought about the contrast of the simple, beautiful breakfast we'd eaten and the Styrofoam pile of calories placed before us a lunch. I thought about the fasting called for as a Lenten practice, and wondered if becoming overly full during this meal could somehow be a form of that practice. I thought about how much we would like to bring our own style of serving into this setting once a month. How we would like to host a family party for this group of womenless men and single moms with kids and gumming old women and middle aged black ladies with red sequined hoodies, and half frozen young men who know the value of a flat greasy block of fish, and friendly, fatherly guys who want to help two middle class women know where to find free donuts.
So tomorrow I'll hunt down the contact information for the program's coordinator. Hopefully she'll let us throw that party once a month.
The events in Charlottesville, VA and the response out of the Oval Office have left me feeling angry, helpless, and emotionally fraught. It’s hard to get work done, and I’m snippy and less compassionate than those close to me deserve. I woke up this morning hoping I could shake it off and buckle down to the job of trying to make the world a better place, but not having a lot of confidence in my ability to make a difference.
Then came a private Facebook message from a woman named Judy who bought my book Rumplepimple for her grand children. Some months ago she sent video of the kids reading it, and she’s kept in touch since then. We accidentally sent her an extra copy of the book recently, and she’d planned to send it back.