May 20, 2016


Yesterday, on our drive home, my son asked to stop at the local elementary school playground. It was a beautiful afternoon, and I was antsy from grading final essays inside all day, so I willingly brought us there. For the first few minutes, I followed him protectively as he circled through slides and ladders and bridges, dodging the older and sharper movements of the kids also there playing as a part of the after-school program. Eventually, though, I told Elliot I was going to rest on a bench nearby, and not thirty seconds later, I observed him introducing himself to an older boy sitting in the shade underneath the slide, playing with an assortment of small objects.

"Hi," I heard my son say. "Can I play with you?"

I couldn't overhear how the other one replied, and because of the age difference--I would learn later he was in second grade, easily four or five years older than my son--I felt myself again on guard, wondering if El would be able to read a social cue signaling "leave me alone," not wanting to have to intervene, but ready to.

Instead, the two of them sat across from each other pleasantly, companionably even, and I realized quickly that I wasn't needed at all.

I watched the other boy ask Elliot's name, ask him if he was in pre-school. I heard Elliot immediately return the question: Tyler.

"I'm making a motorcycle with these wood pieces," Tyler said, and El leaned in, interested.

Not long later, two other boys Tyler's size began a game of hide-and-seek, or hide-and-boo, or spy--some kind of game that instantly makes sense to school aged kids, which, I realized--amazed--included my son.

"Do like this," Tyler instructed, lining up his body behind a pole, and Elliot complied. In fact, he more than complied. He invented. He protected. Tyler was already the boy on his team.

Each time his face shifted my direction, I looked for signs of distress--those boys were bigger, maybe he was feeling intimidated or overwhelmed or--I didn't know. He was the child that just this last Christmas at a holiday concert cried half way through because the singing had become too loud for him. He was the infant who didn't smile at strangers, went serious the moment he entered a new situation, the one everybody called "observant," which I always took to mean sensitive, a likely introvert.

I expected, I suppose, among the new boys and the new games, to hear him call for his mama. 

But I understood with growing clarity that he was closer now to that pack of boys than he was to the baby who had once filled my arms. 

And he was smiling. The easy, amused smile of a boy already aware of the wonder of the next moment.

Eventually, Tyler's mom arrived, calling him to the car. Before he left, he found a multi-colored piece of paper from his backpack that he had folded into a fan.

"Here, Elliot," he said, holding it out with one hand, and then with the other, gently patting El's arm. "It was fun playing with you."

As he walked away, El called, "Where are you going?"

"Home," he said, "but I'll be back tomorrow!"

I watched Elliot watch him go, already the friendship something to be lost.

Lucky for him, the two other hide-and-seek boys were waiting--"I'm Kai and this is Finn"--and soon they were off exploring a big branch that had fallen and talking about quicksand. Later, after I'd joined them, I timed all three as they ran loosely around the school's track, Elliot's laughter ringing out over the field as he moved farther and father away.

I kept on thinking about my earlier precaution, how grateful I was to discover the kindness of second grade boys, how innocent and sweet they were: one's long hair hanging in his eyes, the other's rosy cheeks, the other's light hand on my son's wrist. How they welcomed my boy into their world.

But I realized again, of course, that Elliot had been a part of this world for a while.

That the one who needed to be welcomed was me.

May 9, 2016

April in May

I meant to get these photos up two weeks ago, but I suppose I was too busy admiring everything popping up all over our Minnesota yard. We've lived in our new house for just over a year now, and it amazes me how much I don't remember seeing last spring, but also how much more familiar everything feels. It has been an exhausting year in many ways, but my dear my dear my goodness oh my, does all this green and new and colorful make my entire being come alive.

Photo notes (more for me than anyone; I really am learning!): 
-- Blue-purple flowers: Siberian squill (early to mid April)
-- White flowers: Bloodroot (early to mid April)
-- Purple flower: Periwinkle/Vinca Minor groundcover (late April)
-- Leaves on the trees: (April, April, April, Hallelujah)

And happy belated Mother's Day!

April 21, 2016

God's World

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
      Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
      Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag       5
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,
      But never knew I this;
      Here such a passion is  10
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay

April 14, 2016

Chapala, Mexico: In Photos

Lake Chapala and its surrounding towns are truly beautiful. I'll likely write an essay about them at some point. For now, I hope you've enjoyed these glimpses into some lesser-known regions of Mexico. We'll be back!

April 10, 2016

Melaque, Mexico: In Photos

There is nothing quite like lazy days on a beach. To spend every hour of light outside--to be able to pay attention to how that light changes the color of things, and to feel it change even the color of your skin--is why people who live in the north go south for holiday. Thank you, Melaque, for your sand, your big and small waves, your mangos-on-sticks, the way everyone was looking up.

April 3, 2016

Ajijic, Mexico: In Photos

We were lucky enough to travel to the Jalisco region of Mexico over my spring break this year. To say I was ready for another adventure that involved significant travel is an understatement, so I hope these photos give you a sense of the height of my wonder and gratitude. I love where I spend my every-day, but going elsewhere is like being given new eyes. I looked and I looked. More photos later (and yes, that little boy in the orange shirt racing the wind is my dear one). Viva!

March 1, 2016

What I've Been Into - Winter 2016

Hello, friends.

So tell me: how is it where you live? Here we are in Minnesota already on the declining side of a short and warmish winter. There were cold spells, certainly. But really: Not that bad. It all was made immeasureably better by the fact of a small child and sleds and hills and a backyard marsh that was made to be explored in snow pants and boots. It is something strange that we remember so little of what it was like to be very young, because it is so full of wonder. I wish I could recall more of my own early experiences with snow, with animal tracks, with a full moon through empty trees leaving rectangles of light on the wooden floors. But that is part of the joy of parenting, I suppose. A selfish part. The living again through another younger body. In any case, it has been a sweet season.

Winter has also brought us fewer house projects, and therefore more time for reading, writing, lazy mornings, hearty meals, and occasional adventures. I'm ready for spring, and very eager to get back out to my gardens and see how they fared both the winter and my novice attempts at autumn planting, but I'll not rush it. These slower months are good for the soul and the body. 

More from me at another time. For now, hello and good afternoon and my boy just turned three and where does it all go but straight into our hearts.

  1. Felicity by Mary Oliver -- Her latest book of poems. They were, by and large, brief and lovely and true.
  2. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff -- I didn't love this one, or sometimes even like it, but I couldn't stop reading, which says something about the power of the storytelling. This was my first Groff, and I will read more of her.
  3. Between the World and Me by Ta'Nehesi Coates -- This one slayed me, as it has been slaying readers all over the world since the moment it came out. I read it right before Martin Luther King Day, and I immediately recommended it to several of my students. It's a hard read. Not exactly uplifting. But racism is still alive and noxious, and we shouldn't be allowed to not struggle with that truth.
  4. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang -- I read this graphic novel because the sophomores at my school were reading it, and I wanted to be in on the conversation. I liked it. It was an interesting take on assimilation and cultural identity. What I liked best, though, was the fact that my almost-three-year-old-son was so pulled in by the images that I got to read it with him. Eeeeeee! The experience made me giddy at the prospect of all our future reading together.
  5. Home by Marilyn Robinson -- Robinson's Housekeeping is one of my very favorites, and I enjoyed Gilead a lot, too. So I was a bit disappointed with this one. I just couldn't get past the pages and pages of early dialogue about making meals and forced politeness. I stopped about halfway through.
  6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley -- Also couldn't quite get into this one. I think I just wasn't in the right mood. Maybe the next time I travel to Switzerland? I also got about half-way through and quit. Time is gold, people! I used to never never never quit a book, but there is something sensible about moving on if a text isn't moving you.
  7. Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington -- The actual writing of this narrative left something to be desired, but it is an incredible story of Aboriginal girls escaping and evading their white captors. I'm told that I need to see the movie.
  8. The Bluejay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich -- Of course I read every sentence of this with pleasure. Beautiful language. Insightful. Real. Made me remember both the wonder and extreme exhaustion of early motherhood. How much easier it is now! How fragile and godly it was then. Erdrich, as I've said in various other places, it the closest thing I have to a literary hero, so experiencing her way with words in a nonfiction form was a delight, and it gave me all kinds of ideas for my own writing.
  9. Field Guide to Flash Fiction by Dinty Moore -- Haven't yet read the whole thing, but it's a fantastic craft book. This is mostly what I've been writing lately. Plus, many of the chapter/essays were written by former professors at Vermont College of Fine Arts, so that's fun.
  10. O Pioneers!, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Great Gatsby, and lots and lots of poetry -- all curriculum rereads.
TV & Movies:
  1. Star Wars 4 & 5 -- It's completely unpopular to say so just now, but I've never been much of a Stars Wars fan. I re-watched 4 and 5 alongside my husband, who does love the franchise, with every intention of making it through 6, too. But, you know, two was enough for now.
  2.  Downton Abbey, Season 5 -- Not as good as earlier seasons, but after acquiring a pretty significant fireplace of our own with the purchase of our new house, we find ourselves interested in the scenes where there is and isn't a fire blazing. Fire is a signifier.
  3. The Martian -- Lately my husband has been oh so interested in all things Elon Musk (man of Tesla and SpaceTech fame). Are you and I going to live on Mars in thirty years? My guess is no. But I'm no astronaut-botanist. Whatever happens, I'm paying attention now. Good movie. 
  4. Ex Machina -- Again with the Elon Musk theme (who is additionally connected to artificial intelligence, I guess?). Disturbing film, in a necessarily unsettling way. Well-done.
 Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. "The Shut-In Economy" -- A fascinating article, which both repelled and fascinated me. As a working mother who often feels there isn't enough time in the day for, well, much of anything besides working and mothering, I'm pretty tempted to give some of these apps a try.
  2. "Tonic" at Mamalode
  3. "First Leap" at Brain,Child -- This one just came out today (hooray!). I'll probably write more about it later, because it's a special piece to me for several reasons. It's about learning to read.
  4. This story - "Absence"  - and this essay - "Worlds Upon Worlds: On Growing up Book-Rich" - by the wonderful, talented, and insightful Kate McCahill.
  5. This Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers list (including fellow VCFA alum and friend Robin MacArthur for her upcoming collection Half Wild. Hooray!)
  6. This in-door trampoline -- Because: everyday, people. Everyday. 

Spring is almost here! Stay warm.

February 14, 2016

"The Orange"

"The Orange"

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange--
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave--
They got quarters and I got a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

-- by Wendy Cope

January 25, 2016

"Tonic" up at Mamalode

Friends: One of the reasons I love this space is because it allows me to just write, to not worry about narrative arc or publication criteria or even a singular piece's point. If a moment comes, and I want to put words around it: Here. Here is where I know I can both talk to myself and talk to you, whether you talk back, whether you are out there at all.

And sometimes those words, as amorphous as fog, become something that coalesces, rises up--become a thing to see and sometimes touch.

I've been lucky these past months in that a few things I've written for this blog--after a bit of reworking--have been published by other places. Today, my essay "Tonic" from almost one year ago, is trying to reach into the moments of a few more people over at Mamalode. You might remember it? Sick boy, slow poems, a day that was long and tender.

If you have a moment, read it again--especially if you or someone you know could do with some tea and soothing words during this cold season.

Landing on Cloudy Water has been pretty quiet this past year. The reasons for that are many, of course. But one of them is a bit like what the earth does in winter: resting, storing up, doing the quiet work before the music swells up into everything come spring. There are words being written, folks. I hope you'll hang with me until they are ready to sing.

January 3, 2016


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

-- by David Wagoner

To a year of being found.
Happy 2016, all.

December 5, 2015

What I've Been Intro - Autumn 2015

Dear everyone,

It is early December, and after a memorably beautiful and mild autumn where the leaves all but blazed out our windows, we had our first snow storm of the season early this week. The subsequent stretch of 40' days, though, turned the white quickly to water. Which is kind of how this season has felt for me. Things happen. And then all evidence of them is gone. And you wonder if you just blinked or were instead in some kind of truly beautiful but exhausting dream.

My husband and I talk a lot about the pace of our lives, whether it's healthy, how we could slow down, what we might take out. It's hard because we could make different choices: live in a smaller house, live in a smaller town, have one of us--me, probably--stay home to tend the home and this darling small child we've welcomed into this busy world. But we've come to love our house. And we like where we live. And my job, though it is incredibly demanding, fills me up and up and up (everyday, these teenagers, my stupid jokes, their eye-light, our discoveries apart and together). So: there are cobwebs in my corners, people. And I do not make fancy meals. And our Christmas decorations are meager indeed. 

But it is something to move my fingers over the smooth skin of my son. To hold his hand as we walk through the quickly melting snow. To see the way his eyes skip over anything as inconsequential as dust and instead alight on paw prints, on eye color, on a sunrise he has learned to call beautiful. And it is something to work a long week, and at the end of it, come home with a bag full of essays to grade, and yet not want for one second to quit. And it is something to watch my husband splitting wood, trying, as we all are, to make space for that which keeps us warm. 

  1.  A History of Love by Nicole Krauss -- WWII and NYC. The past and the present. Letters. Books. Words. Lovely. That ending.
  2.  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr -- WWII. France and Germany. A young blind girl and a young Nazi boy obsessed with radios. Stairs. Shells. A possibly cursed jewel. Short chapters. Long book. Worth it.
  3. The Scarlet Letter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time, Oedipus the King -- All curriculum rereads.
TV & Movies:
  1. The Office -- I know, I know, I know, this show came out a hundred years ago. But it just never looked or sounded that interesting to me, despite the accolades of many people I trust. But we finally started it at the very beginning of September. And, folks, we are almost through all the seasons. We have watched little else. These characters are not even characters to us at this point -- friends, all, especially Dwight.
  2. Exit Through the Gift Shop -- Fascinating documentary on street art. Why did we watch it? I can't remember for the life of me. But it did make me want to go out and think differently about graffiti. 

Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. The Sheridan Story -- Incredible organization my students and I volunteer at on Wednesday mornings. They are all about eliminating food shortage for kids who go home on the weekends to empty cupboards. Look them up. Volunteer at a packing event. Donate if you can. So worth it.
  2. Minnetonka Orchards -- I still like Deardorff better, but I went to this orchard twice this autumn with my son and he loooooooooooooooooooved everything about it, especially the hayride.
  3. 105.7 The Vibe -- I listened to this classic hip-hop station for most of September, and felt all the sweetness of being eighteen again. But...there are only so many times you can hear those first notes of "Big Poppa" before you realize you are decidedly not eighteen. It's still fun to dance to while doing dishes, though.
  4. Children's books on CD (particularly "Gus & Me" and "Whopper Cake") -- Game-changer for long car rides. 
  5. Spinach Feta Bread at Great Harvest -- Yum.
  6. Adele's "Hello" -- Because obviously.

Happy holidays, near and far.

October 22, 2015

On the Shortest Days

At almost four in the afternoon, the
wind picks up and sifts through the golden woods.

The tree trunks bronze and redden, branches
on fire in the heavy sky that flickers

with the disappearing sun. I wonder
what I owe the fading day, why I keep

my place at this dark desk by the window
measuring the force of the wind, gauging

how long a certain cloud will hold that pink
edge that even now has slipped into gray?

Quickly the lights are appearing, a lamp
in every window and nests of stars

on the rooftops. Ladders lean against the hills
and people climb, rung by rung, into the night.

-- by Joyce Sutphen