West Virginia Morning: Cricket Symphony (and a winner!)


The Crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summers ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days of the whole year—the days when summer is changing into fall—the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change. ~ E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

This morning, as I walked Bonnie around the house in the dark I was surrounded by a cricket symphony. We crept under the waning crescent moon hanging like a smile in the sky—Jupiter a shiny dimple on his right cheek. The Big Dipper stood up on the end of its handle, pouring starlight over our steps. I shivered in my housecoat under the cool of autumn, but the crickets kept singing. I tried to count the number of chirps per fourteen seconds to guestimate the temperature, mindful of Dolbear’s Law, but Bonnie would not cooperate with my calculations, pulling lustily on her leash to chase after one smell or another.

Fall has fallen in our little valley and it leaves me beside myself with joy.

Something about the slow-baring of the landscape creates more room in my spirit and I am enabled to receive the moments more readily as gift. The way the trees slowly release their leaves, blanketing the earth and burying her spring promises speaks love into my heart. I’ve been thinking about love these past couple days.

Early in the week I sent Teddy a Halloween care package. In it was not only a bag of his favorite fun-size candy bars, but some orangey lights, a light up jack-o-lantern, silly miniature hats attached to headbands, and various glo-items. Last year I was stricken with grief when I realized it would be our first Halloween without him. Our long-standing practices of visiting the farmer’s market to pick out the pumpkins and then waiting for precisely the right time to carve them seemed lonely and lost with him gone. So I sent him a similar package, a mother’s whim, filled with corny Halloweeny stuffs to share with his friends. He sent me a picture of a group of them, sporting the light-up pumpkin necklaces I’d included. It made him happy, I think, to share with his friends. And so, I thought I’d repeat the process. This year, the text came.

I got the package.

I waited, but that’s all it said. So I responded. Did you like the stuff?

Yes. He said. The lights are up.

The pumpkin lights up too, I responded.

It does! He said.

And that was it. No “thank you.” No “cool, mom.”

Nothing. Just silence.

Last night, I went to hear a lecture by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed. She’s written a couple books about Thomas Jefferson and has extensively researched his relationship with Sally Hemings. Her talk was smart and poignant and really made me think about the ways we look at people and groups of people. At one point, a woman from the audience stepped up to ask a question. She commented on some of Dr. Gordon-Reed’s observations about Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings. You talk about the length of their relationship (38 years), that there is no evidence there was any other woman in his life during that time, and about the children they had together (I’m paraphrasing here) but what is keeping you from saying that they might have possibly been in love?


Dr. Gordon-Reed took a deep breath. She alluded to the fact that this may have been true. “It strikes me as unlikely that he had a purely physical relationship with her for 38 years,” she said. But she was very cautious, going on to say, “It’s tough here because people will romanticize things and minimize the impact of slavery. And you can’t do that.”

Throughout her talk, she continuously reminded us that Sally Hemings was “enslaved.” She never had the freedom to refuse a relationship with Thomas Jefferson, whatever her feelings for him were. She was fourteen years old, scholars believe, when their relationship began. That likely means she never had the opportunity to fall in love with another man, to flirt, to feel that wild fancy-free feeling of attraction.

We will never know Sally Hemings’ feelings on the matter, because she remained silent. She never spoke about her relationship with Jefferson, for good or ill. Likely, they were very complicated. But I left the lecture with this thought impressed upon my mind: To love, to truly love, we have to be free.

And yet, how many things in this life hold us captive? As frail humans, we are subject to so much brokenness keeping us from freedom. Addictions, insecurities, dysfunction, our tangled-up-messed-up histories … Not one of us is free to love in the ways we were created to love. Some of us are freer than others, but all have some strings pulling on our hearts, enslaving us to our fallen nature.

There is only One who loves perfectly. Only one who is completely free and has done the work to assure our freedom. But in this already-done-not-happened-yet kind of freedom, we still wait. We wait and we wonder.

Freedom. I’ve had glimpses—kingdom glimpses that set my heart on fire. But really, I have no idea what it means to love. But I am learning. And one day I will know.

Yesterday, I read Teddy’s less-than enthusiastic texts about my gift-package with a little feeling of let-down.  Then I let it go.

The winner of my book book bundle giveaway that includes Shelly Miller’s Rhythms of Rest, Lisa Whittle’s I Want God, and Emily P. Freeman’s Simply Tuesday is Jen Martinson! Congratulations! You are going to love each one of these books. I’ll be in touch soon!

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Halloween Ghosts



This morning I am awakened by the sounds of the shower from down the hall. Little Jeffrey is up early to report to the high school so the whole retinue can get on the road for another band competition. I’m tired from a late night of working the hot chocolate station for the band concessions during the football game. My arm is sore from the flu shot I got on Thursday, and I slept fitfully for some reason, dreaming of milk and puppies. It’s still dark outside, but I get up to make the boy a good breakfast—he’ll be gone all day and into the evening.

The bacon sizzles and I flip his favorite pancakes while he studies who-knows-what on his phone screen. He feels so far away lately, coming and going like a ghost, moving in and out of the house on my peripheries. I study him studying the screen and I am seized with that feeling again, that terrible sadness that comes with being left behind.

I know the almost-empty is meant to prepare me for the empty-empty but sometimes my heart refuses to budge. The earth is filled with longing and preparation for a sleep that gives new life but my roots long for the sun.

The boys and I have kept this tradition. Every year, before Halloween, we dig out their old radio flyer and march up the sidewalk a mile or so to the Halfway Market. There, we tap on and inspect every pumpkin before making our picks. One for Ted, one for Jeffy, and a small one for the resident dog. Then we trudge back home with our loaded wagon and proudly place said pumpkins on the porch until carving time. This year, with Teddy gone and Jeffrey ghosting in and out of the house constantly, their dad and I picked out two plump pumpkins at Kroger when we were grocery shopping one day. No pomp. No circumstance. We barely got the things carved in time for trick-or-treat.

Last week, I realized it would be the first Halloween with no Ted. So I sent him a care package with some Halloween goodies—a collection of light-up necklaces and glow-in-the-dark stuff to share with his friends. I wondered as I bought the trinkets if it was a waste of money. Surely he will think his mother has lost her mind. “Now if you go out haunting late at night, at least you’ll be visible in the dark,” I wrote, in the Happy Halloween card enclosed. Before I left for the game last night, he texted to tell me to check Facebook for a picture of him and a couple friends sporting some of the “stuff.” “I shared the stuff,” he said. “Some people said nice things about you for sending them.”

It made me smile but I still missed him.

On trick-or-treat night, after all the ghosts and goblins were back inside with bags full of candy, Jeff and I sat outside under the stars a little bit longer. As we sat with Bon, the little girl from across the street skipped over to visit with us for a moment. She had doffed her Cleopatra costume but still wore the remnants of her Egyptian makeup. “I went to every house,” she bragged. And we exclaimed over her fortitude, making much over the huge amounts of candy she amassed. This little sprite always fills my heart and I must fight the urge to scoop her up, pepper her white brow with little kisses. But I realize this would be beneath her. She is, after all, a world champion trick-or-treater.

So I just smile and memorize the curve of her face in the moonlight and sigh as I think how it was only yesterday my boys were small and their short legs were challenged to walk these streets with their pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy.

And this morning, I make Jeffrey pancakes. And sit with him while he eats, showing him the little watercolor vignettes I’m working on for some friends, reading to him from my bird field guide all the particulars about the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Before he leaves, he bends over me to hug me tight and kiss me on the cheek.

“I love you, mama,” he says. And then he ghosts away.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty


The kids come wanting candy and I remember what the pastor told the children on Sunday morning.
Do you know how Halloween is like God? He asked.
Blank stares.
This oughtta be good,I thought.
Because, he said, God tells us that all we need to do is come to him and he will give us good gifts. Just like getting candy!
I think about all the children who come by our doors, think about grace wrapped in chocolate. How really it’s so much sweeter.
Teddy has volunteered to hand out the candy this year and his little brother is at a friend’s house and I feel at a loss. We light the jack-o-lanterns and I put Lucy Mae’s costume on her but she soon runs it off. Jeff chops peppers and starts a jambalaya. The kitchen smells good but I can hear laughter outside. There’s nothing for it: as the jambalaya simmers we join Teddy on the porch. We three sit on the steps and watch as princesses and superheroes work their way up and down our street.
I still can’t get over the plain fun of this tradition. All those years of Halloween I never celebrated growing up have helped me let go of all the junk and I just hold on to this: little Sarah from down the street in her long pink ball gown and tiara. She has a matching velvet cape. There’s Connor from one street over pulling a laundry basket with wheels on it—giant stuffed dog inside. Cameron next door is running up ahead and here come those giggling teenagers who are only in it for the candy. There are pink cheeks and bright eyes and glow sticks hanging around necks. The parents troll behind calling absently for meandering children to slow up.
I give each child a word, and some of the grown-ups too. It’s getting cold so I slip inside for a flannel and Lucy, tuck her under my tails and head back out. We watch the dark fold over our little valley and the candy disappears from our bowl. I think about the Halloweens when the boys were little and their grandparents would come over so they could hand out the candy while we walked little legs around these same streets. We always had a sandwich platter and a big pot of chicken noodle soup.
Jambalaya will do fine.
Teddy was a lion that first year he could walk. He was determined to make it on his own. He didn’t even eat the candy. Our neighbors exclaimed over his cuteness and brilliant manners and now he stoops beside me to drop a candy bar into an offered bag. He’s taller than I now and I wear his old jeans around the house and buy him cologne for his birthday. Don’t tell him about the jeans…that would probably creep him out.
We sit together until it gets too cold and the streets are almost empty.
And I know it’s not perfect but there is a lot of grace here.
And it’s sweeter than chocolate.
With Jen today:

And Michelle:

Making Memories

A re-post from last October…Shall we explore the issue a bit more?

Some people don’t.

But we do.

We embrace the traditions of Halloween.

Because it is fun.

I have been reading about the history of Halloween.

History.com says:

“Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.”

Yes, its beginnings are troublesome.

But, as my sweet friend Janine recently said, “Christians have a wonderful tradition of taking pagan holidays and giving them new meaning of faith.”

Of this, History.com goes on to say:

“By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas.”

Friends, Christians have held these traditions since the 800s!

That said, I celebrate Halloween with my children because it is just plain fun. This tradition gets children exited like no other. There is just something magical about playing dress up. Oh, and getting a lot of candy.

We have our own traditions that make it special.

Carving our punkins’.


Roasting punkin’ seeds.

Sharing the fun with our church friends.

Yes. The mummy is yours truly. They had so much fun wrapping me in T-paper!

Aren’t they beautiful?

I was really a pirate. Not a gypsy, as my husband insisted on calling me.

My dears, I grew up in a home that did not celebrate many holidays. Of any type. The one time my parents decided to let my siblings and I dress for Halloween was a disaster. What I take away from that these years later is: it is what you make it.

We try to make it about fun. And family.

And chocolate, of course.

Happy Halloween, Dear Ones. And to those who’d rather not, Happy All Saint’s Day.

Love to you all.

In Praise of Tradition

“We couldn’t read My Haunted House in school because there is a girl who doesn’t celebrate Halloween in our class.”

Jeffrey had excitedly taken one of our holiday reads to school to share with his class, but this child was now deflated.

Without thinking, I immediately responded.

“I was that girl.”

This quieted my boy, and I could see the wheels spinning in his head. My children know that I grew up in the Jehovah’s Witness faith. They know that I did not celebrate holidays as a child. But whenever reminded of this, they are like ones stricken…struggling to understand.

“Did you not…was your class not allowed to have a party because of you?”

He was trying to figure out what he wanted to know. I could sense it was about more than a party.

“No, they always had a party. Even dressed up to go to school. The teachers sent my brothers and sister and I to the library while the others ate their treats and played games.”

This produced more silence. Then:

“I’m sorry, mommy.”

He wrapped his little arms around me and buried his face in my chest, truly grieving for the young me.

“It’s okay, honey. We actually had fun in the library. There was no one there to supervise us (can you imagine?), so we made up our own games.”

I remembered a time when a very large boa constrictor was visiting our school for Halloween. We, as the exiled ones, had the privilege of spending the afternoon with the slimy guy. We even got to see him eat a mouse.

That was one of my most memorable experiences as a child. Holed up in the library with my older brother and sister (younger brother must not have been in school yet…that would have placed me in the first grade), standing around that terrarium in awe.

I don’t have a lot of memories from my childhood. I have only recently realized the role our faith played in this lack. There were no birthday cakes, no late night Christmas church services, no large family gatherings for Thanksgiving.

Our family held no traditions.

When I look back, there is a smattering of special memories. But it is difficult to put a time on these mind-movies because they took place in reference to little.

Perhaps that is why I enjoy the celebrations so much now. I have tried to create rich traditions for my children. I rejoice in their joy at tiny milestones, knowing one day they will say, “Remember when?”

One piece of advice I would give to all new parents is to develop special family traditions. It brings the family closer now, and always. Traditions create a glue for our memories.

We have a stack of books like this for every holiday. About mid-October these come out and delight us every year. Some beloved scripts are memorized. All the better for sharing.

Every year each boy picks his own pumpkin from our local farmer’s market.

They draw their design for me and their daddy to carve.

Mucking out. A task worth sharing. No fun unless you get goopy.

Picking out the seeds.

Even Lucy Mae loves roasted pumpkin seeds. A little butter, garlic, salt…yummm.

Our haunted house. Complete with pig and tiger sculpture (a class project).

The front porch welcomes our neighborhood spooks on Trick-or-Treat night.