Monday, September 27, 2010


Today about 30 white tents transform a puddly vacant lot into an art fair with live music. Hearing a bluesy version of "Proud Mary" from our house, we amble toward the tents in anticipation of a good time. And we do have a good time chatting with neighbors and artists and leafing through bins of matted photos of canyons and cardinals and watercolor castles and canals. Our favorite displays are oil paintings of bright, arched doorways flanked by radiant sunflowers and blue-shuttered windows bedecked with red geraniums. When all the tents are collapsed and carted away by vans that had surrounded the fair like covered wagons, all that remains of this vibrant scene is matted grass and several dozen decapitated mushrooms. Tomorrow, the art fair will be a memory. Ephemera ~ just like the art so lovingly created.

With the farmers market, it's the same. One moment, it's an event people come to from miles around. They come in cars vying for parking spots. They pull little red wagons toward white tents lining both sides of a city block. They clap to accordion music and laugh at face-painted, temporary-tattooed children hula-hooping. They tug the leashes of mutts lapping up spilt fresh-squeezed lemonade. They thump pumpkins and pinch eggplants. They half-husk cobs of corn to inspect the kernels and then line up to buy armloads of it. Farmers expound on July's heat and August's rains. Bakers tell of all the love they bake into their muffins and coffee cakes. The knife grinder warns to be careful with your newly sharpened scissors. The spice merchant explains when to use Greek oregano, as opposed to Mexican oregano, and what to cook with lavender. Five hours later, this buzz is silenced. The tents have vanished. Just one shopper remains with a bunch of orange zinnias in one hand and a bag of onions in the other, but when she finishes checking out the bookstore's window display, the sidewalk will once again be empty, save for some corn silks and smashed blueberries.

For centuries, soldiers have encamped near battlefields in tents. They cleaned their muskets in canvas lean-tos, they dressed their wounds there, wrote letters home, prayed there, waited there to fight. Today even airplane hangars in some military zones might be essentially tents. When the command comes to move, however, soldiers pack up all evidence and march on. Not even a dented tin cup is left behind.

In the early 1900s, big tents housed the Chautauqua circuit or the circus when they enlivened a town for a few days. Then the fabric big-tops folded, leaving only a song sheet fluttering against a hay bale, a cotton candy cone smeared with mud, and most likely a few forgotten piles of zebra poop. But that's all. No other signs of throngs or laughter or wide-eyed amazement.

On a summer Saturday night, we like awake, heads awkwardly dangling off the air mattress just to be able to gaze out the tent window up into the pines high above. Maybe we'll see the moon float or a bat dart between the branches. Our fellow campers still roast marshmallows over the smoldering campfire and hum along to a guitar's quiet strum. In the morning, bacon will sizzle, eggs scramble, and a rosy-cheeked someone will finish off the bag of Oreos from yesterday on his way to the water pump. Wet towels will be pulled off lines, tents and tarps folded and rolled, car trunks stuffed. And off we will go ~ heading home, leaving only ashes in the fire pit to show we enjoyed our camping weekend.

Tents signify temporary shelter during a special event. Since our everyday shelters are often brick or wood or stone or stucco, we may be fooled into thinking our lives are more permanent than art-fair or big-top tents. On our timetable, most of us do live longer than a weekend. But on God's eternity-timetable, we are no more permanent than a flower ~ or a tent ~ in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8) And because our lives do pass quickly, why not engage with life as if it were the special event it is? It isn't the stodgy stone structure we leave occasionally to face challenges and enjoy artistic and natural beauty. It is the art fair; it is the farmers market, the campout, the battleground, the circus, the Chautauqua circuit.
Life is in the tent!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Born with No Backside

More musings from the treadmill. Well, hey, my brain has time to wander all over the place between desperate glances at the calorie readout.

Between 0 and 100 calories, I think about how glad I am I dragged myself to the gym today. A review of some of my lamest excuses for past laziness follows. Here's the stupidest: I don't want to make my derriere any smaller since I've never had much of one to begin with. (Never mind about la rotundite de la cinquantaine, the roundness of the fiftieth year, that has been ballooning in front of my derriere for a decade now.) Another dumb one: I don't want to push myself too much ~ what if I strain a muscle? And the classic: I don't feel like exercising.

Between 100 and 200 calories, I'm still glad I came, but I'm aware I'm in unfamiliar territory. Every twinge in my knees tempts me to quit. Every few minutes, I reach for my water bottle and towel. I think about stewardship of the one thing God gave me first ~ well, second, after a soul ~ my body, no backside and all. I am getting back to the basics. Each thump of my shoe and of my heart reminds me how far I've let those basics slide.

Between 200 and 300 calories, I am intentional about taking deep breaths. I've sustained a training heart rate for more than 40 minutes. Though I was panting earlier, now I'm breathing deeply, fully, taking more air into my lungs. I can feel my heart's capacity expanding. I think about Jabez's prayer in 1 Chronicles 4: Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain. I wonder what God's plan might be for my expanded heart. I hope better health. I hope stroke prevention. I hope larger love and life.

300 calories ~ whoopie, I'm outta here. Right now, I'm pretty pleased (glowing actually) with 300. But just as I stretched to reach this goal, I'll want to set a new goal soon.

Tomato Harvest Season

Baked tomato halves stuffed with sausage; baked tomato and zucchini slices topped with grated cheese; a huge pot of basil-infused tomato sauce studded with onions and garlic; salade nicoise kinda heavy on the tomatoes; ratatouille. Ah yes, one of my favorite seasons.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jury Duty

Receiving my first jury summons in many years produced excitement and trepidation. On Day One, one-and-a-half hours of orientation intensifies both parts of this sense of adventure. On one hand, what if I have to answer an embarrassing personal question in the courtroom? What if a lawyer's line of questioning railroads me into giving an impression I don't believe to be true? What if I forget the instructions? On the other hand, what if I get to contribute to a fair verdict for someone? Wouldn't it be great to serve the only country in the world that gives its citizens the option to be tried by a jury of their peers? So I sit in a room with 350 other potential jurors waiting to be called.

It's a pleasant room with a band of windows to view clouds skittering across a blue sky and green trees bending in the wind. Just under the windows is a counter with 24 free Wi-Fi stations, all occupied by jurors' laptops. I sit behind all this electronic activity in one of the long rows of chairs with a book about George Washington. The guy in front of me studies a bunch of stapled pages entitled "Grading, Drainage, and Stormwater Management." A man down my row seems to be napping hunched over his lap. One girl at her computer stretches her arms upward; her charcoal-gray sweater sleeves cover her hands. When those hands then grab her long brown hair, their nails are neon coral; her fingers expertly twirl her hair into a bun. Another girl at a computer wears a black-and-white floral blouse that looks like flocked wallpaper. She rakes her fingers through shoulder-length, straight black hair. The room is mostly quiet except for occasional cell phone talkers whose conversations are identical: I'm stuck here on jury duty and hope I don't get picked.

The patriotic part of me feels sad that avoiding jury duty seems to be such a universal sentiment. What wimps we are, sitting here with our flip-flops and laptops during our air-conditioned, inspiring "jury duty boot camp," while soldiers serving our country brave sandstorms and suicide bombers. I think briefly how fortunate we are to be able to serve in this relatively risk-free way. Then I think about my fears again. I'm not quite to the point where I'd say I hope I don't get picked, but I can see it from here.

Wallpaper-Shirt rakes her hair out to the side three times in a row. Drainage Guy disappears for a while. After pushing my bangs out of my eyes at least 17 times, I put down my book and get up to stretch my legs in an aisle. Neon-Nailed Beautician loosely braids her tresses. Napper vigorously rubs the heels of both hands in his eyes, yawns, and stretches his legs and arms forward. More gently ringing phones, more eagerness to get out of here.

This scenario repeats in various forms for several hours. About noon, we are released for the day and as it turns out, for the the week. I am both relieved and disappointed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

View from the Treadmill

Light rain puddles in the brick, gravel, and grass courtyard serving as playground for the school outside the gym window. Inside, my shoes rhythmically thump the treadmill facing outside. About 100 oh, maybe fourth- or fifth-graders burst from school doors for morning recess and scatter throughout the area. Most wear school-bus-yellow slickers, Facebook-logo-blue ponchos, or summery jackets. Some sport rubber galoshes, but most wear athletic shoes, some with glittery laces. I wish my childhood had included purple-flowered, pink galoshes. And why didn't Keds think up glittery laces back in the fifties?

One boy kicks a large blue ball into the gym window. Boom! (Thankfully, no glass breaks.) I don't think the kids can see inside, or maybe they just don't look. Certainly, however, they can see the window is glass. After one boom, the boy joins about half the kids for a massive soccer scramble on the grass beyond the courtyard.

In the closer, pebbled area, a weathered gray bench under a tree sees quite a bit of action. First, a small girl parachutes from the bench with her black-and-white-flowered umbrella open. Then a small boy ~ apparently not wanting to imitate Mary Poppins ~ jumps up and down on the bench while poking his open black umbrella into a tree branch above. His aim seems to be to knock down some dangling seed pods. The wind, however, turns parachute into bowl, and the boy futilely jabs the umbrella sideways in the air and jumps off the bench to try to fix it another way. Later, a very tall girl strides over to the bench, steps up on it, calmly reaches up and grabs a handful of seed pods, steps down, and tosses the twirlies to the wind.

Meanwhile, two very slender girls, walking with dainty ballerina steps under a doll-sized, pink, ruffled parasol, repeatedly circle the playground perimeter, as if on a track. Deep in animated conversation, they seem oblivious to surroundings.

My heart goes out to one sad-eyed girl gazing at the ground while lagging 10 paces behind two girls zigzagging around with a string between them. When the two girls stop, Lonely Girl stops right behind them but doesn't look up. They don't look at her. Then they move on. This scenario repeats so many times, I'm screaming from the treadmill, "Look at her! Smile at her!" (Thankfully, I'm alone in the gym.) One girl smiles at Lonely Girl and gives her the string. Then the three of them chase each other around, laughing. I can see that when one of the two girls chases, it's a light, breezy ha-ha-hearted game. But when it's Lonely Girl's turn to chase, despite her smile and flying
glittery shoestrings, it's a heavy-hearted hoping game.

A boy comes close to the gym window, positions his galoshes inside brick outlines, cranes his neck downward, and stares ~ for a long time. I am surprised he does this when he could splash in the puddle right next to him.

When the drizzle stops and umbrellas fold ~ except for the still-circling, ruffled, ballerina parasol ~ butterflies come out. Poncho-ed arms poke out to the sides, and kids fly, flapping yellow and blue wings. Swooping and soaring, they run willy-nilly, gleefully weaving among red, khaki, pink, and purple playmates. Next thing I know, several teachers have strung the rainbow into straight lines to file back into school.