So many things to check off the list, the stuff of life that overwhelms, consumes, depletes. You know what I mean. I have lived my life defined by what I do, but there are moments too powerful to ignore; like the time the full moon edged its way through the blinds in mother’s bedroom as she slept in the recliner by the window. Her eyes were closed, yet her head was tilted to the skies, expression one of wonder. It looked as if sometime in the night she heard the voice of God calling to her from that circle of light in the darkness. How could I not slide to the floor at her feet and wait for her to waken? How could I not change my priorities? And remember my name is Mary, not Martha?
practices of the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and indigenous people. Practices that incorporate the sanctity of water.
Can I integrate some of those rituals across faiths and beliefs into my own spiritual life? Help me deal with loss, life changes associated with aging and illness, this ever-lurking, ever-lingering virus shadowing our lives?
And what about humor? That “strong medicine” that stimulates oxygen flow to organs, relieves stress, improves the immune system, cuts pain, improves one’s mood, and is just plain fun? Can I do a better job noticing that which makes me laugh and incorporate more of those moments into my life?
Beginning in January, I will again be posting monthly. Sometimes prose. Sometimes poetry. But always looking for the robin-egg blue in the sky while doing what I can to make this a more compassionate, healthier planet. I hope you will join me.
Have a healthy and joy-filled holiday season.
A red, green and white Christmas embroidery hangs
year-round in her living room. Long, narrow,
it spells out a word she says occasionally
as we slog through our daily exercise routine;
one written frequently, she tells me, in her journal;
a three-letter word to which I never gave thought
until now, when I am running out of time to learn.
Like the butterfly soaring for the first time
into summer skies, the hooked fish released
to dart again through the river of its home,
my mother lives with joy.
I want the same.
However, I’m my father’s daughter
and worries fuel my sleepless nights;
perfection punctures success, and the suffering
of others shatters any hope for even happiness.
Joy is as elusive as the red fox of the forest.
Outside her bedroom window, we watch
the robin, plump with eggs, flit between fence
and berries. The vines of a parasol plant,
leaves glossy, blossoms red and plentiful,
wander playfully in all directions. The pond
is disappearing, as are her beloved ducks,
but the encroaching cattails provide cover
for the families of serenading wrens
and rambunctious red-winged blackbirds.
So much for which to be grateful, she reminds me.
While I am on sabbatical this year taking writing and poetry classes, I thought I'd step briefly into the public domain to share my poem, Jane Tree Corner.
Earlier this month, Rubin, my sister, Kath, and I travelled to Albuquerque for the Memorial Service for mother’s twin. Mother, almost 95, decided the trip from Michigan to New Mexico in the midst of the spiking coronavirus, could jeopardize her health and ability to live independently. I agreed to videotape the service and the weekend celebration for her—to include interviewing family and friends. I returned home overwhelmed with my uncle’s love of life, laughter and family. I was reminded of the importance of creating magical moments with those we love . . . like the time my uncle and members of his family travelled to Holland to celebrate his 90th birthday with his twin. In the almost-seven years Mother has lived in Holland, that weekend’s visit to Windmill Island is the only time she has seen the windmill turn. Truly, in Mother’s words, “A Magical Moment.”
Jane Tree Corner
It is how we begin every morning;
she in the recliner, me sliding down the bed
to the floor at her feet for our chairside chat.
But this morning, there is heightened excitement
in her voice and a mind as alert as I’ve seen
in many months. It is not the snow-white blossoms
outside her window, the sight of the male mallard
creating circles on the pond, the animated chatter
of the robins, sparrows, and red-winged blackbirds,
the yellow flowers of the mock strawberries
dancing across the green carpet bordering
the beleaguered remnants of the cattails.
But this surprising youthful exuberance
is the result of a decorative tree in a city park
with a bench that will soon be placed nearby.
On the bench, a plaque celebrating a poem,
her poem, and the lives of a pair of twins, intertwined.
Had I known the effect this simple request
would have on my mother, I would have cared more
about their decision and possibly ruined everything.
As it was, I let go and am watching a miracle unfold,
just like the pink buds on the small magnolia tree
we will visit this afternoon.
to my grandmother, who, in 1946, began gathering her seven children once a year to celebrate life as family.
Prior to 2020, the year of the pandemic, the family gathered 74 consecutive years, long after our grandmother passed. It makes sharing memories a fun-filled, meaningful experience.
As the splendor of summer unfolds, I am reminded why Rubin and I moved to Michigan sixteen years ago. Take a few minutes to watch what happens when the lens of my camera accompanies award-winning singer/songwriter Ruth Bloomquist. I hope the combination lifts your spirit as we begin the summer of 2021.
(A longer version, which includes an interview with Ruth, was posted last year and may be seen at https://youtu.be/Bo9Heu4upho )
Were it not for her name, we would have missed her.
Tens of thousands of eye-popping tulips, the unfamiliar music of the street organ, the Friesian horses in the field, the replica of the Dutch village, the romantic allure of the red and white bridge, and the winding path to the famous “De Zwann” windmill are overwhelming attractions. She is, after all, small in stature and tucked in a corner alongside the river. Without even a nearby bench to give one pause, to invite the weary to sit and smell the sweetness of her tulip-like blossoms, admire the glossy green leaves of summer, she lives alone. Unnoticed.
Her name is Jane.
Unlike the other seven hybrid magnolia trees in the family of ‘Little Girls,’ the Jane Tree was named after a wife, not a daughter. And not just any wife, Jane was named after the wife of Orville Freeman, the 29th governor of Minnesota; a Lutheran deacon who campaigned against religious bigotry and nominated the first Catholic president for office in 1960. He was a two-term Secretary of Agriculture who initiated the food stamp and school meal programs and was known for his focus on increasing farm incomes while using surpluses to feed the hungry.
The tree’s history is as rich as that of the island.
My mother’s name is also Jane. And although she is 94 years old, she will put her arm in mine and walk the island to listen to the red-winged blackbirds, eye the ducks, geese and once, the tundra swans, marvel at the butterflies and gardens, and, of course, visit the Jane Tree. While at the tree, we talk about family.
Mother, too, was named after an influential Democrat, Virginia Ellen Flood, 1902-1985. While details of her life are sketchy, we know my mother’s aunt went by “Jane” and owned and managed one of the largest insurance agencies in Oklahoma in the middle of the 20th century. She was a trailblazer for women in business and politics before we understood what that meant.
Similar to her namesake, Mother, Jane McKinney, is also considered a pioneer, although she rarely speaks of it. Formerly the Director of Public Information for the East Lansing School District for eighteen years, Mother’s primary responsibility was passing the millage in an era when public school funding depended on millage. Nationally recognized for her creative use of cable television to build relationships between the school district and the community, Mother helped pass the millage every year she was in office.
Like the tree, the Janes in our family are strong, resilient. And they span multiple generations, three of whom posed with the Jane Tree in 2018, when the family held its 72nd consecutive annual family reunion—this one in Holland.
The Jane Tree is worthy of a bench, a place where families can gather to share and create memories. Thanks to Matt Helmus, Windmill Island Garden Development Manager, and the Rotary Club of Holland, the tree will get one this spring.
(as seen in the April 8th issue of The Holland Sentinel)
In response to the invitation from Anne-Marie Oomen and me to write a love letter to water, I received this poem from grade school friend, Eric Stemle. As I study the writing of poetry with master poets such as Billy Collins, Jack Ridl and David Whyte and ways to infuse humor into one’s art with David Sedaris, Eric’s poem is a lesson in both. It is a reminder. Inspiration can come from anyone, anywhere, anything. The important thing is to extend the invitation and then allow space for the conversation.
Extend the invitation. And be open to what unfolds. Or what does not.
Of course, I am speaking about more than water.
Eric is a former Wyoming Teacher of the Year and author of I Was Not the Blossom: Growing with Your Students in a Nurturing Classroom, © 2020.
The month is February, the month of the heart. The year is 2021, the year after one defined by masked and socially-distanced relationships, isolation, and airwaves pummeled with heated and, often, toxic political debate. The voice of award-winning author, Anne-Marie Oomen, is like a beacon of light piercing a misty fog of uncertainty.
Write a love letter to water, she suggests.
As one who has always measured herself on results, my immediate thought is, what would I do with it? But perhaps “doing” is not the main reason to compose such a letter. After a year without exchanging hugs, sharing a meal, or even creating meaningful memories with those I care deeply about, perhaps writing a love letter is exactly what I need to start this new year. Perhaps tapping the intimate language of love for something as essential yet non-threatening as water is the perfect place to prepare for a life of meaningful communication post-pandemic.
Would you like to join me?
If the thought of creating art from the heart feels a bit intimidating and you’re not sure how to begin, listen to Anne-Marie’s suggestions. Whether you write a love letter to water, tell a story, draw a picture, choreograph a dance, pen a poem, take a photograph, or compose a song, I hope you have as much fun as I intend to do. And if you feel like sharing your creative masterpiece, send an email to email@example.com. Who knows where the conversation might take us?
All ages are welcome to participate!
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