Mamajojo's Muse

"Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say; here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58: 6-11

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

 Sleet and grey skies here today. BUT tomorrow promises 70 and a day of Irish charm: rainy! 

I will take it.

This morning I read an article about how nasty everyone is being now, on planes and in stores and restaurants. A teacher friend said she had never wished for the end of the year more than now.  The same anger and violence blared from the news, endlessly repeating clips of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, after Rock told a cruel and stupid joke. 


I drove to pick up Darrell's prescriptions and some snacks for him, and he asked me to stop at The Farmer and the Chickpea. A new, take-out or eat-in, locavore restaurant, he especially loves their menu. The kitchen is right there at the entrance, where you pick your meal from today's specials, displayed in a big glass case. We take-out almost always, but the decor is industrial artsy and if it is not crowded we have eaten in a quiet corner away from the other germ and virus carriers. 
Last time, I didn't buy a peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie from the big tray on top of the glass display case.
I REALLY wanted to.
 Darrell can't eat them and I didn't want to make him sad. THIS time he was too busy and too sore with arthritis to come with me, so I was ready to strike. I can eat it in the car and he won't be jealous or have a sugar spike because of me. 
But alas. She didn't have any peanut butter. I had to laugh-I am supposed to be on a diet too! 
I told her I'd DEFINITELY get one next time. She remembered me, because on the last trip to her restaurant, he was with me, and she gave me a broken piece of cookie to taste, because I admired them, but  I told her he can't eat cookies, so I (rather nobly) won't either. 
I ordered some food to be heated up that I planned to whisk home to D, who was waiting impatiently. There were several customers before me and the owner seemed to be very busy, with only one of her somewhat slow-moving high schoolers working with her. 
I read the news on my phone and did the Wordle of the day and she was ready. An extra box sat on top of our lunch containers. "I had a tiny bit of peanut butter, so I made you a surprise," she said with a grin. "If you are going to eat it in the car, you will need a spoon!"
She had made ONE big, gushy, meltingly hot PB and chocolate chip cookie for me as a gift. 
Can you believe that? I am so glad we have her new place in our formerly fast-food town. 

But there's more...
Trying to pull out on the street , the traffic seemed endless. Then a truck driver stopped, held up everyone behind him, and signaled me to pull out in front of him. 
At first, I thought I was in some alternate reality. 
Then a small bit of light welled up inside me and said, there is HOPE. 
Maybe not a lot, but a start.


Old spirit, in and beyond me,
keep and extend me. Amid strangers
friends, great trees and big seas breaking,
let love move me. Let me hear the whole music,
see clear, reach deep. Open me to find due words,
that I may shape them to ploughshares of my own making.
After such luck, however late, give me to give to
the oldest dance… Then to good sleep,
and - if it happens - glad waking.

Philip Booth

That is from my collection of marvelous poetry I used in teaching. I so miss surprising kids into emotional connection to someone else's thoughts through poetry. 

Here is another:

by Anne Sexton 

blessed snow,
comes out of the sky
like bleached flies.
The ground is no longer naked.
The ground has on its clothes.
The trees poke out of sheets
and each branch wears the sock of God.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
I bite it.
Someone once said:
Don’t bite till you know
if it’s bread or stone.
What I bite is all bread,
rising, yeasty as a cloud.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.


Watch out for hope.

Hold out your pail.

Friday, July 16, 2021


On my walks to the lake, I watch the hawks and turkey vultures and recite Hopkins' poem to them. It helps to keep it stashed in my memory! Here it is, along with my own response to the power of The Windhover.

 The Windhover 


To Christ our Lord 

I caught this morning morning's minion, king- 

dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding 

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding 

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing 

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, 

As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding 

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding 

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! 

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here 

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion 

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! 

No wonder of it: shéer plod makes plough down sillion 

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah, my dear, 

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion. 

Shadow Wing 

By Kristen Swanson 

To Christ our Lord 

A curl of early air slips in where I 

lie warm, cocooned in darkness. Now I’m caught, 

dragged through raw grey space between this 

Insubstantial dream and sharp-edged morning. 

The sweet decay of dying leaves sings morning’s 

fallen rapture, but like a cruel minion 

sent to me from some inchoate kingdom, 

memory sets upon my chest a stone of 

Grief. No breath but sorrow’s gasp in daylight’s 

brightening air, obeisance to the dauphin, 

despair. Yet leaping lights that wing-dapple 

counterpane and wall call to a different dawn. 

To rise and meet candescent day I’m drawn 

By courage dressed in feathers, valorous Falcon. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

October 6, 2018,
as calculated by our sun and the turning of our globe and the arrival of the King on this planet. Three years and two months since Laura, the littlest cousin, left us and gave me her gentleman collie.

There was Finn
lying on a soft blanket on the floor. I sat beside him, stroking and stroking the golden fur on his back, and the white tangles on his neck. His legs could no longer hold him, and they stuck awkwardly out from him at the wrong angles. He never made a noise, never looked at me with a question.
First He drowsed, looking around him without noticing much, panting lightly.
Then he slept, deeply and more deeply, and more deeply still.
He twitched, and took a breath,
and then none.
And then a deeper one.

The air had changed. It was thicker, sweeter, and held honey and light and some kind of music that filled every cell in his lungs. He took another deep gasp and tasted it.
It was the place he could run to.
He could feel it between his teeth.
Finn had given up on expecting his legs to carry him, but he rose, and stretched a long, glorious, unhurried stretch, with his front bowing and his rump high in the air, strength on strength flaming out through his veins,
and with the sudden energy of a puppy out of a bath
Finn began to shake.
He shook off the stiffness in his joints. He shook off pain forever and ever until he already couldn’t remember what pain was.
He shook off the matted, filthy places in his fur, and shed the loosened furry tufts and tangles and the smell of old sick dog and the confusion of dimmed sight and the frustration of falling and not pushing himself up on weakened legs. He shook off the shame of dirtied rugs and dribbled fur, shook off the strange smell of linoleum and cleaning chemicals and medicines that hovered around him,
and Finn leaped up and the bright light that filled him was like wind in his bones.

I was still stroking him, thinking he probably couldn’t feel it any more. I couldn’t feel with my fingers that his fur had smoothed and become silky and the wounds he had dragged on to his rough old paws were healing soft and clean. My nose couldn’t smell the clean puppy smell that now floated around him. I stared at his long elegant nose, and I couldn’t see with my eyes that he was laying his chin on my shoulder and giving my ear a lick before taking off.

I couldn’t hear it with my ears, but Laura, his heart’s mistress, Laura was calling him, and her laughter was his real name, and he started to climb. His first steps were tentative, and he still didn’t expect momentum from his shriveled and worn hind feet, but it was there, pushing him up, pushing him higher as his feet dug into the air, the solid air; past the silver table, past the ceiling and its glaring fluorescent lights, past the insulation and beams and roof tiles and chimney and out into the warm October sky. But it wasn’t October anymore, it was finally now, now forever, and the smell of just turning leaves turned into the smell of liquid sunshine and Finn heaved great breaths of it into his lungs, galloping along higher and higher and brighter and brighter. He could have chased a squirrel, they were there, and he felt better than his old self had ever felt.  But the squirrels were there, running next to him, in front of him, behind him, and riding on his back, leaping and chattering and singing and Finn realized that he was singing too. He had to.
At first it was his gulping, old-dog cry, afraid in the night, but that turned to a deep bark of joy, again and again, louder as he realized his power, and then his bark stretched out like his limbering limbs and became a Song and

there was Laura.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Mashed Potatoes (my sample essay from class today)

 I don’t remember any of the presents. Who does?  A litter of torn paper had most likely been gathered and stuffed in the biggest shopping bag for Monday’s trash.  A smaller bag would have held the poufy twists of ribbon for future Christmas mornings.  Or perhaps we stuffed them all away beneath the torn shards of plastic packaging and ripped paper, knowing that The Big Move would have little space for used ribbons and refolded Christmas wrapping. There would be no more Christmases in our little house.
            Nine years earlier, on a sticky summer day, the ancient stones, wide planked floorboards, and creaking, winding staircase had enfolded our family of girls.  In the middle, I wobbled on the sharp edge of thirteen, slipping clumsily between child and young woman and back again.  Karen brought her flute and guitar, her Sixteen magazines, and her secret crushes to her room of ten windows.  Kathy tumbled into the house with scraped knees and a travel box of Little Kiddle dolls, the youngest at nine.  Our mother arrived with white uniforms, polished shoes and winged cap in which she had just sailed bravely back into her nursing career after seventeen years of being a mom at home. 
Betty and Dick, Carolyn and Lloyd, Lois and Clif: all Mom’s smiling high school friends from old black and white photographs, arrived like an army to repair, caulk and paint the little house in the woods. A picnic followed a hard day of hauling furniture and memories from our old house. Mosquitoes and lightning bugs swam in the muggy twilight as we waved goodbye to our friends, dragged the dog into his new home, and unpacked life without Dad.
Window glass, a secret liquid, slides south on gravity and time.  Grey sticker bushes and swaying fingers of trees peered through hundred-year-old glass at our lives flickering in each room of the house like the colors of our new television. They became “our” trees: solid, predictable, constant, quietly watching over the agonies of geometry and first loves, stupid sister quarrels and tight hugs, and the healing of four broken hearts.  The old glass distorted their view, as if through tears, but the trees nodded at nine years of fire-glow and shimmering candles, plates of ginger cookies and Swedish Braid, and the comings and goings of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  The doors swung open and shut, airing out our grief, replacing it with unexpected life.  We had reached the last chapter of Dottie and the Girls in the Big Woods. New chapters were trailing up and over our tall trees, carried in four different directions by time. 
 What 100 other Christmas stories had the trees watched over in that house? We never knew. Our story ended on a cold night in 1977, around a warm fire, gleaming turkey, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, and the traditional but unloved succotash.   Like others who knew they were witness to great historical moments, we savored each element of the day. We sighed over the memory of fires that kept us warm and stirred the scent of the Christmas tree. We would miss singing in the kitchen as we cleaned up after holiday meals.  Each of us gazed at the ornaments… the table cloth… wreath on the massive door…. Silently, and near tears, we thought of each memory that would move on with us to unknown places…
Wallowing in my most mournful tone, I dug the big serving spoon under the steaming white mountain in the yellow flowered china bowl.  “I’ll always remember… these mashed potatoes.”  Our giggles began, and the house filled with laughter at our own sappy sentimental sorrowing. 
 I have since celebrated Christmases in homes in Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even on the beaches of East Africa.  My sisters have gathered at holiday tables in Costa Rica and Thailand.  Mom now celebrates in heaven, but she still seems present in the love and recipes at our scattered tables.  (There is no succotash in Heaven, I am sure.) Those old tall trees remain, but the house crumbled from neglect and was torn down long ago.  The trees have grown protectively over the hump of brick, stone and glass. Every Christmas, wherever we are, we remember the joy of holidays in that old home, and the healing that time and laughter brought to us under that roof.  And, wherever we are, we never forget to celebrate those legendary mashed potatoes!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Shopping, Sustainability, 800 Wonders

Even before we started the workshop, our team enjoyed a visit to a local craft center. About 20 or more tiny shops circled a handful of tourists and visitors.  Shopkeepers beckoned from all sides, and shoppers are expected to know how to bargain for the best prices.  Many visitors find the whole process a bit intimidating.

I enjoy bargaining by now, after ten years living near a Tanzanian market. (Ask the price, look shocked, offer less than half, continue from there to shake your head and make small increases until you are satisfied or walk away...) There is no better way to meet people or get a sense of local hospitality and humor! It was hard to choose, but I found a few bargains: bags and bracelets.
 I tried to limit my spending: I had brought the money that I thought we would need to pay for all our expenses and those of the participants: room, board, and transportation for 20 new writers.  Would the amount I had brought cover all that?  All week the final tally of our budget worried me. Peter, their bookkeeper, tracks every meal, overnight stay, and water-bottle, with great precision. My concerns started back in the US the week before: I had expected to get another check for running the Drama Club at school, but it turned out that I had already been paid the whole amount earlier in the year. "Pray for my money to stretch!" I asked Suzie, our school secretary, when she told me about my mistake. Would my miscalculation make me $800 short at the end of the week?
Our workshop was five days long, and I was invited to attend the installation of the new Baptist Bishop of Rwanda on the following Sunday.  The staff at ALARM offered to take me on a tour of the local fabric shops, searching for the perfect traditional dress . This was to be a big event at the local stadium, with great choirs and traditional dance, and everyone decked out in a new outfit.

Cecile, a brilliant ALARM staffer, is now my new "shopping sister."  She led me to five or six fabric shops until we settled on this silky green and silver cloth. 
I waited patiently in the local "sweat shop" as my dress was created.  Actually, the tailors all make their own money there, elbow to elbow at their machines and ironing tables.  Only the temperature made it a sweat shop!  There was much laughter and gossip, as perfectly fitted suits and dresses flew out of foot-powered sewing machines. 

Her friend joined us in the search, and turned out to be the tailor that created my skirt and wrap in about 45 minutes. 

My dress was a big success at the Bishop's event, which I attended with Benjamin Nkusi and his wife. The Celebration was a five hour extravaganza, and we were then invited to a pool-side dinner at a beautiful local hotel. Rwandan food is truly delicious: chicken, beef in a great sauce, cooking bananas over rice, several kinds of potatoes, local veggies and fruit, and ever-present soda.
All through the week, as I worried about financing the workshop, I also spent time brain-storming ideas for the ALARM Center to develop sustainable businesses.  Contributions from the USA and England dropped off during the recession, valuable staff members had to be let go in each nation where ALARM works, and building stopped on the new conference building in Kigali. How could they become financially independent?
ALARM hopes to develop small business ventures such as a full-service restaurant,  event hosting, increased guest-house use, etc. I added some ideas to the mix: how about hosting language training in Kinyarwanda for new ministry and aid workers?  And, instead of sending all the craft and gift profits to outside shops, why not have a small gift shop for visitors? Many westerners are uncomfortable bartering for goods, and feel pressured to buy at the craft center. I suggested a set of hinged, locking bookshelves to hold tee-shirts, jewelry, carvings, baskets, etc. for ALARM's many visitors, who would be happy with a set price and no pressure to buy. 

 In fact, the same six-foot tall set of shelves, hinged together and lockable, with wheels on the bottom to easily move them from room to room, would also work for the "resource center" we planned.  New writers need examples of great writing, so our team had brought a big suitcase full of first-rate books for children. Writers can gather at the ALARM center to learn from the resources and discuss their own stories, and local kids can access the books, too, on planned reading days. When conferences or weddings take up the meeting room, the shelves can be moved out to the storage areas. 
But what would these shelves cost? This called for more shopping at the huge lumber yard/carpentry workshop down the road from the ALARM center. The smell of fresh woodshavings and the sound of hammering floated over the neighborhood every time we drove by. I had always tried to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, hand-carved furniture that was made in dozens of stalls under the tin roof or out in the open.  Finally I could see it first hand. 
And what would two sets of wheeled, hinged, double book shelves cost? $800: the $800 that I had NOT received when I expected it to come the week before our trip. Drat!  I would have to fund-raise for shelves as soon as I got home. 

This, of course, called for more shopping. Visiting the smaller shops in town, I was able to see how cheaply I could get earrings, bracelets, and other small items for a potential shop. When buying in big numbers, like 30 pairs, I could get them for one dollar each! This could be really profitable, and visitors would see a price of three to five dollars as a great deal.  

Thirty pairs of earrings went into my bag, possibly for selling at home to raise my bookshelf money.  But, to be honest, I was awfully tired of fund-raising.
By now, it was the end of the week, and I STILL didn't know how short our budget might fall, and how much I would have to add to it to pay for all our expenses. Not until the day we flew out of Kigali did I find out that, instead of falling short, we had a rather tidy balance on our account. How much? Almost exactly...
The money stretched to cover the needed shelves exactly.
The only thing wasted was time spent worrying.