Can’t get enough of these roses

Someday in the future, if you ask my boys what their mom just can’t get enough of, they’ll probably give one of the following answers:

1) Hugs from us
2) Books
3) Roses

I’d like to focus on #3  today.



We’re just at the end of the first bloom, and oh, these beauties have given me so much joy over the last few weeks.

pink roses



Note St. Francis shrine on fence, far right (please don't note windows desperately in need of washing).

Note St. Francis shrine on fence, far right (please don’t note windows desperately in need of washing).

Roses + Mary = very good combo.

Roses + Mary = very good combo.

Thanks for indulging me.  I just had to share the loveliness.

What is giving YOU joy today?

A Book That Helped Me Grow: Cara Meredith on “The Runaway Bunny”

When I was a kid, I adored the picture book The Runaway Bunny.  That’s why I was delighted when Cara Meredith chose to reflect on it for the series  A Book That Helped Me Grow.  (And it’s the day after Easter —  great timing for a book about a bunny, no?).  Cara is the brains and heart behind Be, Mama. Be, where she blogs about life with faith and books and her adorable son and her HBH. (What do those letters stand for, you wonder?  Read her blog and you’ll find out!)   She welcomed me on her own site two weeks ago, and I’m thrilled to have her share her wisdom here today.  Thanks, Cara!


The inscription inside the worn cover is dated 1983, from Grandma Audrey and Grandpa Jack.   And at four years old, this was my book – the one that only sat on my shelf, the one I let dictate who got to open its pages.  Read the bunny book!  Read the bunny book!  I’d say to Mama, and she’d gladly oblige, reading the story of the little bunny that wanted to run away from his mother.  Again and again she turned the same pages, reading the same message for the umpteenth time: desirous of running away, the little bunny would become a crocus in a hidden garden, but, in return, the mama bunny would don farmer’s gear and gardening hoe.   He would become a sailboat, and “sail away from you!” but she would become the wind, blowing him where she wanted him to go.

Maybe I had a strong hankering for its words because the book was my special present, the one neither of my siblings could claim as their own.  Maybe it remained my favorite because I too dreamed of running away; I yearned for bravery akin to Huck Finn, the ability to survive an hour outside of the comforts of home.  But maybe I was drawn to the book because there was something about being sought after, about being so worth it that nothing would stop The Other from chasing after you. 

Years later, as a high school student, I found myself sitting in a room full of teenagers at an outreach camp.  We’d begun to hear the story of the God who loves us, who desires nothing more than to have a relationship with the children he already loves dearly.  And then a magical intertwining happened: at the end of the speaker’s talk one night, my book – my adventurous, wandering bunny – suddenly flashed on the screen before me.  Just like my mom had done for me, the man talking had read the same story to his children every night.  Then one night, upon reading it for probably the 300th time, it’d hit him: the Mother Bunny was a delightful picture of the God who chases after those he loves with wild abandon.  There exists a great Chase and Rescue mission we’re invited to participate in, no matter how hard our little bunny hearts try and run away, again and again.

A mother now, these same threads of wonder make me marvel at the complexity woven between the worn pages of my old book.  Every time my son requests I read that threadbare copy of The Runaway Bunny, I think of the One who chases after every single one of us.  I smile, my own heart warmed by the gentle reminder that I can do nothing but receive that same love of God, of my Mother Bunny. 

“Aw shucks,” [the little bunny declares at the end of the story, my own liberties taken with added exclamatory shucks.]  “I might as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.” 

 And so he did.  “Have a carrot,” says the mother bunny.

 The End. 

For there the little bunny stays.  And I realize that it’s the same for me.     


DSC04546 (1)

 Former high school English teacher turned youth minister, Cara is now a free-lance writer and speaker.  She holds a Masters of Theology degree (Fuller Seminary), and is currently chipping away at her first book.  She loves pretending to be a foodie, being outdoors and trying to read seven books at a time (although never very successfully).  She lives near San Francisco with her husband, James, their son, Canon, and a second baby brother scheduled to arrive late this summer.  You can connect with Cara on her blog Be, Mama. Be, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@caramac54).


Roll away the stone …


… and see the glory of God.

Happy Easter!



Bad guys and Good Friday


Good Friday is grim.  It’s horrifying and violent and brutal, this day where a man was tortured and nailed to a cross and left hanging there for hours until he died.

This is why I’ve said very little about it to my kids.

Every parent knows that the innocence of  children is something precious and fragile. The first chapter of Random MOMents of Grace is all about this, about how I instinctively want to shield my young kids from the inevitable realization that bad stuff happens.  Why force them to confront the awful brutality of one human being to another?  Though they go to Mass every week and are no stranger to a crucifix (in their room they have one that belonged to Scott as a kid), we rarely talk about the death of Jesus.

If I had my way they’d never have to know that there is such a thing as deliberate cruelty.  Is it wrong to want to skip over  the crown of thorns and the nails and proceed directly to Easter Sunday, to the sunrise and the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ and the bunnies and lilies?

But perhaps — just perhaps — they’re more ready for the cross than I think they are.


As I work around the house, I listen to the boys play with Legos, with action figures, with toy cars.  Increasingly, it’s about bad guys versus good guys.  ”These are the bad guys!”  one of the boys will say,  showing me some smiling yellow Lego people.  “And these are the good guys!” they’ll say, showing me some more smiling yellow Lego people.  If it’s not Lego figures,  it’s Batman or Spiderman and the Green Goblin.  Whatever they’re playing with, their toy universe is divided: good versus evil.  (It’s a divide that doesn’t leave much room for redemption, for bad people becoming good, but they’ll get to that someday.)

What their play shows me is that somewhere along the way, they’ve picked up the concept of evil. They know there are bad people who do bad things, like chase Spiderman or attempt to catch the good Lego folk.  I’m profoundly grateful that their image of bad  behavior is still, on the one hand, abstract, that evil has not directly touched their lives in a horrifyingly personal way.  And yet I have to admit that as much as I have tried to protect them, the jig is up.

Just the other day, Luke was looking at a picture book called The Week That Led to Easter.  There was a picture of the Crucifixion (minimally disturbing; no blood or gore).  He pointed to the Roman centurions in the foreground. “Those are the bad guys,” he said, and it hit me: They get it.  They get it more than I thought they did.  Bad people exist.  Bad things happen.

Good Friday happened.  And I can’t pretend that my boys’ tiny little loss of innocence has not happened, either.

Maybe, then, it’s no longer about keeping them from knowing about the horror.  Maybe it’s about helping them look beyond the horror, learning how to integrate it into a larger spiritual framework.  It’s about showing them that there is something big and beautiful beyond the evil, whatever that evil is.

Recently I was re-reading Margaret Silf’s wonderful book The Other Side of Chaos.  She speaks about the Gospel story of the death of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.  She points out that this story is not about a God who says Do this and I will keep bad things from happening to you.  It’s something very different:

Lazarus, through the ministry of Jesus, transcends the power of death, but not before he has actually gone through it.  Whatever the facts may be surrounding this incident, the message is clear: “If you follow me, the angel of death will not pass over you and save you from what you fear, but you and I together will pass through the worst that you fear, and by doing so we will transcend it.” (The Other Side of Chaos, pages 133-134)

I need this kind of faith : a tough faith, one that accepts the existence of pain while helping me see that pain is not the end of the story.  I need the God who says, yes, I will walk with you through this dark valley and it will be dark and terrifying, but there will be light on the other side, and I will help you get there.  I say that knowing that in those moments of crisis,  it may take me a long long time to get to the light, and that my faith may be — no, surely
will  be — rocked.  But I trust in  the light, because I know it’s there.

So maybe I don’t need to hide Good Friday  from my boys, nor do I need to take the other extreme and harp on the blood and gore.  Maybe it’s about acknowledging the cross, the loss, the death and darkness of the day, while always reminding them that on the third day, all of that is transcended.  Those days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday are the Christian faith in miniature, really: a tough and unflinching acceptance of the awfulness of pain, and yet a promise that it will not stay that way.

If I gave them Good Friday without Easter, it would be awful indeed.  The good news is that I don’t have to.   I can acknowledge the death and pain in the context of a broader and beautiful truth, one that the boys already seem to know intuitively, one that shows up in all their Lego and action figure play:  In the end, goodness wins.

PAAS be with you

Ahhh, the memories ...

Ahhh, the memories …

I was at the grocery store the other night (people think I’m crazy to go at night, but trust me, it’s easier than taking two small boys who accidentally push the cart into large standing displays of merchandise) when I realized something.  I realized that there is a time to be born and a time to dye, and the time to dye is almost upon us.

I added a box of PAAS and a carton of eggs to my shopping cart.

The first time I dyed eggs as an adult, I was awash with memories.  My mom used to buy one of these kits every Easter, but I hadn’t seen one in twenty-plus years.  Then, all of a sudden, I was standing at the dining room table in my own house, doing a ritual that was exactly the same as it always was.  Every year, you did it exactly the same way.

First, you gathered the mugs from the back of the cupboard.  Then came the filling of the mugs with vinegar, and then the ceremonial dropping of the tablet into the mug, where it would fizz and spin like a thing possessed and the vinegar would turn a vivid brilliant color.

Then you’d take the mugs to the newspaper-lined table, and carefully drop a hardboiled egg into each one.  The PAAS kit came with an ineffectual little copper wire holder, meant to use to dunk the eggs, but it was always far easier to use a soupspoon.  You’d lean over the mugs, looking at the eggs, occasionally lifting them out to check their done-ness.  This was where patience paid off: if you were too quick to remove your egg, it was a disappointing pastel, but if you had the fortitude to leave it in the mug for a long time (and if you could fend off the sibling who really really wanted to use that color), you were rewarded with an egg of brilliant turquoise.   It was always worth it to wait.  (Good life lesson right there.)

The kits would come with a wax crayon, too, and sometimes you’d use it to write your name on the egg before dropping it in a mug.  You couldn’t see the name on the white egg; you just had to trust it was there, and sure enough, when you extracted the egg from the dye, there was your name (more or less) written on the side.

When I was a kid, the kit also had these little transfers you’d rub on the side of the egg — a bunny, a chick, a flower —  and then peel off, holding your breath, hoping the whole image would take.  It never really did, which should have been a lesson in the impossibility of applying a flat transfer to a convex surface.  (Now the kits have stickers, which are slightly less frustrating to work with.)

And at the end of the ritual came the grand finale: the discarding of the unused dye in the sink.   You’d dump each mug in turn, and the splash of color was so bright and pretty for a few split seconds before it gurgled away down the drain.  You’d turn on the water, and it was gone altogether.

But you were left with eggs: some dark, some light, some cracked, some whole, some personalized, some blank.  They’d sit in a bed of fake grass and you were never sure whether to eat them or not, but even if you never did, they looked so pretty and the making of them was so fun that they had more than fulfilled their purpose.

And now, as I gear up to share this ritual with my own boys again, I love that some things never change.   It’s a simple thing, dying eggs … but it’s the simple things that we remember.

 Do you have fond Easter egg memories, too?  What are other springtime traditions you love?

A Book That Helped Me Grow: Karen Beattie on “Little House on the Prairie”

It’s Friday, and what better way to kick off the weekend than to celebrate the power of books?    Today’s guest-post in the series A Book That Helped Me Grow comes from Karen Beattie,  author of  the terrific book Rock-Bottom Blessings: Discovering God’s Abundance When All Seems Lost.  She reflects on Laura Ingalls Wilder and other Midwestern writers (and if you’re anything like me, her words will make you want to re-read the whole Little House series).   Thank you, Karen!


As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.

–My Antonia by Willa Cather

I am 10,  sitting in the deep valley of the two hills between my grandfather’s brick bungalow and my family’s house, which is a 100-year-old white clapboard four-square with a wide front porch and green shutters.

The deep summer grass feels like velvet under my skinny legs, and I watch as the wind gently blows across the hills, turning the grass into waves. I have my journal and Strawberry Shortcake pencil. I look out over the Des Moines River valley, the vast landscape of rolling hills and big blue sky. Here, it is quiet, and vast, and empty. I am writing my story.

I grew up on the prairie – in the countryside of Iowa. My four siblings and I roamed the hills and explored the creeks and took hikes through the cornfields. We built stick forts, found baby rabbits in the fields, collected ladybugs, and searched for arrowheads in the plowed fields in the spring. My dad told us about the Woodland Indians who lived there long before us. We kept our arrowhead collection in a glass case in the living room. We spent evenings sitting outside watching the sunset or storms roll in from the west.

My grandmother was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse until she married my grandfather. I never met her because she died of cancer a few months before I was born, but she gave me a beautiful gift. She instilled in my father, who then passed on to me, a love for books.

I have vivid memories of my dad gathering us kids onto his bed at night and reading poetry. “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree….” He would read from the Joyce Kilmer poem. From him I learned to love language, and the rhythm of words.

We had a collection of Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder in our house, and I devoured them. I played in the fields during the day, and at night I read those books and imagined travelling with Laura and her family as they moved from the big woods in Minnesota to the prairie of Kansas, and then the Dakotas in a covered wagon. I imagined going to sleep with the sound of Pa’s fiddling. I imagined riding horses across the rolling prairie hills.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie books were my gateway books into other Midwestern writers. In high school I read Willa Cather’s Oh Pioneer and My Antonia. Later it was Jane Smiley’s 1000 Acres and then Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home.

Midwesterners who live in “flyover country” often suffer from a deep insecurity. We fear that all of the important things are happening on the coasts. That if you’re smart and talented and want to be someone, you need to live in New York City or Los Angeles, or someplace exotic.

But these female authors who wrote about the prairie, of the landscapes I knew, understood my love for this land. They wrote about the emptiness, the subtle beauty, and the understated way Midwesterners navigate through the world. They acknowledged that the prairie where I lived was more than flyover country, and that the people who lived in it were important too.

These books helped me to grow because they told me that my story—the story of an introverted, shy, insecure girl who lived on the prairie—mattered. 


Beattie_photoKaren Beattie is the author of Rock-Bottom Blessings: Discovering God’s Abundance When All Seems Lost (Loyola Press). She has a Master’s Degree in journalism and has written about art, faith and culture for many publications. You can read more of her writing at She lives with her husband, daughter and geriatric cat on the north side of Chicago. 



My interview with Cara — and a giveaway! Woo hoo!

how much God loves me quotaton


I love getting to know other bloggers — reading their stuff, guest-posting on their sites, hanging out at their places.   It makes this whole wide Internet world seem very cozy.

And today, I’m delighted to be hanging out with the ebullient Cara Meredith of Be, Mama. Be.   She interviewed me about motherhood, faith, my book Random MOMents of Grace, and how I do it all (hint: I don’t.)

I should add that I was also at Cara’s place on Tuesday, guest-posting in her ongoing series.   I guess this makes me the blogger equivalent of the friend who shows up and crashes on the couch and is still there a week later.  (Thanks for not kicking me out yet, Cara!).

Oh, and here’s the best part– she’s hosting a giveaway of my book!  Check it out!

And be sure to come back here tomorrow for the second post in my new guest-post series on A Book That Helped Me Grow.  (I won’t identify the book yet, but if you’re a female between the ages of ten and sixty, odds are pretty good you’ve read it.)  See you then!

There’s something to be said for the “artist date”

I have yet to take a selfie that does not look slightly maniacal.

I have yet to take a selfie that does not look slightly maniacal.

In her  book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about the power of the “artist date.”  She maintains that writers need to schedule frequent “playdates,”  chunks of time where they go off alone and do something fun in order to fill the creative well.  It’s just you and your inner artist, no one else allowed.

Last week, on my spring break,  I finally gave her idea a shot.  I took my inner artist to Filoli, a gorgeous estate and garden in Woodside, California.

front entrance-001

If Filoli looks familiar, it’s no doubt because you’ve seen it before  (the house has starred in numerous movies and TV shows).  You can tour the inside of the gorgeous Georgian-style residence, taking in the library (my favorite room):


You can also visit the ballroom, my second-favorite room because of its color scheme and beautiful murals (there was a man playing piano during my visit, which added a wonderful ambiance).


ballroom mural

Wandering through the rooms, you can indulge in a little fantasy that you are at Pemberley or Downton Abbey instead of a California estate built by a gold mine owner in 1917.  It’s the perfect setting for period-drama loving Anglophiles like me (the gray, drizzly weather was an evocative touch,too).

But lovely as the house is, the gardens are the real star.

back terrace

house, side view


sunken garden pool



The tour brochure refers to the parts of the garden as “rooms,” and that’s essentially what they feel like.  Everywhere you look you see hedges or walls dividing one part of the garden from the others, creating a wonderful Secret Garden kind of feel.  What’s waiting around the next bend, or through the next archway? It might be a mass of deep pink tulips

huge tulip beds

or it might be flowering dogwood

pink dogwood


dogwood arch

or it might be a circular pool in the middle of a lawn

reflecting pool

Or a little camellia in a vase, put in this little niche by a detail-loving gardener.

camellia in wall


Or — and this stopped me in my tracks — you might find lilac bushes in bloom along the apple and pear trees.

lilac and orchard


I really can’t be held responsible for my behavior when I see lilacs.  It’s rare to find them in California, so when I do I bury my face in the blooms and breathe in like I’m wearing an oxygen mask.  If you need further proof that lilacs do something to my brain, let me say that I actually entertained the fleeting thought that maybe if I hid under the lilac bush no one would find me and I’d be able to stay even after Filoli was closed, smelling lilac all night long.  (“Would you at least have called home and let us know?” Scott asked when I told him of my fantasy.)  But seriously, how do you NOT love these beauties?

bush lilac

I have to say, I like this whole artist date thing.  It was blissful  to be somewhere entirely on my own, with no formal agenda, able to savor the sights and smells  without having to follow anyone else’s schedule or keep two small boys from playing ninja in the tulip beds.  Solitude is renewing, no doubt about it.

And yet at the same time, I felt I was in good company.  A hymn my mom used to sing kept floating through my mind:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses …

In the song, Jesus shows up and joins the narrator as they walk throughout the garden:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

That was how I felt: alone, but not alone.  And it was just what I craved, and needed.

And I think that if heaven looks like anything on earth, it probably looks a lot like Filoli.

back terrace tulips


So … Lent.


Liturgically correct nailpolish








What (if anything) did you choose to do for Lent this year?  And how’s it going?

As for me, I couldn’t decide what to do.  It wasn’t until the day after Ash Wednesday that I thought of the perfect Lenten practice to try.  Several weeks in, I’m happy to report that it’s making me a more engaged mom, wife, teacher, and pray-er.

You can read all about it in my new column Lent and the Path of Most Resistance.

P.S.  Honesty compels me to add that no, I wasn’t thinking of Lent when I chose the purple nailpolish.  But I am considering going gold for Easter ….

A Book That Helped Me Grow: Pamela Jay Gottfried on “Forever”

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that childhood and books are two of my favorite topics.  So a while back, I had the idea to do a guest-post series that would combine the two.   I asked  several writers to think back over their childhood and adolescence, and write about a book that helped them grow.  

Today, I’m thrilled to kick off the series with a post by Pamela Jay Gottfried.  Pamela is a rabbi, blogger, and wears many other hats as well (see her complete bio at the end of the post).  She writes about being in middle school and wanting to read a “daring” book, and what she learned from her mother’s response.  Thank you, Pamela!



It seems like forever ago.

I am in seventh grade, and everyone is reading Judy Blume’s new book, Forever. We are reading in class—hiding the paperback edition inside our textbooks and pretending to pay attention to our teacher at the front of the room. Aimed at older readers, the book contains explicit descriptions of a teenaged couple’s first sexual encounter. It is 1977, and the publication of Forever has stirred up a fair amount of controversy.

I am 11 years old. An early and voracious reader, I skipped second grade, so I’m more than a year younger than all of my classmates. I am simultaneously unprepared to rebel against my parents and desperate to fit in with my sophisticated peers. Most girls I know are reading this book without their parents’ consent, but I can’t imagine sneaking around school with a contraband copy.

My mom, who is completing her MA in Education at Monmouth and preparing to be a student teacher at my school, possesses a professional interest in which books Middle School kids are currently reading. Soon after Forever becomes a cultural phenomenon, my mom sits me down for a heart to heart. More than 35 years later I cannot recount her exact words, but I recall her earnest tone of voice; I can hear her desire to be an open-minded, modern mother.

My mom tells me that she knows many of my friends are reading this book against their parents’ wishes, and reassures me that she doesn’t believe in censoring my reading choices. She has already purchased a copy of Forever and will permit me to read it. But she wants to read it first, in case I am confused by its content. Then, if I have any questions at all, I can ask her.

I don’t tell her that I’m not going to have any questions. I know about the mechanics of sex. When I was four and wondered where my brother came from, she gave me an age-appropriate book to read. And I’d read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret a year earlier, long before I could relate to Margaret’s yearning to grow breasts. I realize that I may not be ready to read about Katherine losing her virginity, but I feel confident that I’m not going to discuss Forever with my mom.

Long after I’ve forgotten the details of the book’s plot, I remember our having this conversation before we both read it. At the time, I was unaware of how significant this moment was in my early adolescence. Today, as a mother of two teenaged daughters, I am struck not only that my mom granted me permission to read Forever, but also that she recognized and validated my desire to do so. Whenever I face similar circumstances with my own girls, I remember being in seventh grade, listening to my open-minded, modern mom take a stand against censorship. Her approach to the Forever controversy continues to influence me as a parent.


PGPamela Jay Gottfried is a rabbi, parent, teacher, artist and the author of Found in Translation: Common Words of Uncommon Wisdom. She credits her love of words to her parents, who encouraged her to develop her vocabulary through reading and using the dictionary at an early age. Connect with her at