Alison’s Poem and the East Lansing Poetry Attack

This past week I was pleased to open an email from the nice folks in charge of the East Lansing Poetry Attack that read in part, “Your poem Alison’s Poem is destined for a tree in East Lansing.” Readers of my old blog may have seen this before, but I couldn’t find it anywhere here at A Beautiful Fiction, so I’ll share it now. I wrote “Alison’s Poem”  on the morning of my sister Alison’s March 24th birthday a few years back. Older than me by less than two years, Alison is the firstborn of the family, but not the first conceived. I was thinking about how my mother must have felt to see her after a miscarriage during her first pregnancy, and so I wrote this…

Alison’s Poem

Clear dawn over the snow-dusted lawn
Deep gray gives way to a subtle ray
Then bright and vibrant hues chase the night
Sweet pink, then yellow—orange—green, I think
So fades cold evening to the next day
So things of winter melt into spring

The poem will be displayed this Sunday, April 26th, at 1-4 PM in the trees in front of the East Lansing Public Library as part of the 3rd Annual East Lansing Poetry Attack. Some of the poems will later be moved to city hall and displayed during the East Lansing Art Fair, May 16-18. More details on their Facebook page.

A (Mostly) Living Nature Diorama, or What I’ll Be Doing with My Time as an Old Lady

For the past few weeks my son and I have been gathering materials and building an Itty Bitty Bungalow for a contest being run at our local greenhouse, Van Atta’s. After many hours of hunting down the perfect materials and construction, this is our entry:

itty bitty bungalow

The house walls are last year’s Japanese anemone stalks from the garden. The roof is shingled with pieces of pine cone (that took forever). The little trees on either side are maple seedlings growing as weeds in my garden. The door is pine bark. The lawn is moss from my driveway. The flag is yew bark and a bit of dried oak leaf shaped like Michigan’s lower peninsula. The acorns are a bench for the star of the whole scene: a dead stag beetle we came upon last summer.

Nature diorama cuteness

Our handsome beetle is raking his moss lawn with a rake I made from toothpicks and epoxied to his body. Then I suck a needle in his..ahem…nether regions and stuck him into the soil. Every time I look at him I crack up.

Nature diorama cuteness

I can see myself doing a lot of this sort of thing when I’m an old lady. So instead of being the crazy old lady with the nine cats, I’ll be the creepy old lady with all the dioramas of dead bugs in her house.

Yeah. That will definitely be me.

Voting on the entries happens this weekend at Van Atta’s Spring Open House. I won’t be there (I’ll be in Colorado visiting a friend) but my boys are going to vote in my absence. We’ll let you know if we win anything next week!

The One Thing You Need to Photograph Wildlife

Busy Chickadee hollowing out a home at Fenner Nature Center

At Fenner Nature Center on Sunday I observed a chickadee couple hollowing out a stump to nest in. I think chickadees are my favorite small birds. It took me a while of slowly creeping near to get close enough for a good photo. Then a jogger ran by and off the chickadees flew. I stayed in my spot for another few minutes, and they did come back.

The key to photographing skittish wildlife is always patience. Stay there, stay still, and they will eventually come near. It will always feel like it takes longer than it should, and because we’re programmed by everything in life not to wait silently you will want to give up, get up, and get on with it. Don’t. You have to force yourself to be still and be ready — that means you have your camera trained on the spot you believe the animal will appear, you have it focused, your eye is at the viewfinder, and your finger is on the shutter button. You can’t move your head or the camera or your hand after the animal has appeared, because that movement will frighten them. You have to be ready and you have to wait.

I guess one other helpful attribute is the ability to notice. I almost missed seeing this deer and her companion across the little pond where I was hoping to get a better look at the frogs I kept hearing.

White-Tailed Deer at Fenner Nature Center

One thing’s for sure: you will always miss moments like this if you never look away from that infernal smartphone. Life is out there. Go look for it.

Proper Ladies, Nepali Dishes, Amorous Frogs, and Opera Outings

Sometimes you just have a string of great days full of irregular bits of life. We’re a family that is fairly set in our routine. Work, school, church, karate…over and over again in an endless but pleasant cycle. And then you get a weekend like this:

Friday – Attended the reading of a paper about 18th Century Gardens at the Lansing Women’s Club as the guest of a member. Very formal. Tea afterward. Did not embarrass my nervous host. 😉

Saturday – Ate the best pancakes my son and I have ever made. Began constructing an Itty-Bitty Bungalow for a contest at our favorite area nursery, Van Atta’s Greenhouse, out of items found in the garden and yard (pictures when it’s finished). Raked the leaves off the gardens (again) and trimmed the rosebushes. Ate scrumptious food and shared long and entertaining conversation at the home of some Nepali friends.

Sunday – Church (of course) followed by steaks on the grill and a phone call from my mother asking me if I had plans for the night (of course not). She happened to come into possession of two tickets to The Phantom of the Opera at the Wharton Center. Got into my jeans and walked around Fenner Nature Center observing foraging deer, mating frogs, and busy chickadees while waiting for mother to arrive in town. Changed back into a dress. Attended the opera. Randomly saw my sister-in-law and her family there, though they are from the west side of the state.

And then it got interesting…

Rather than deal with parking at the Wharton Center, I had asked my husband if he would just drop us off. Mom knew others from her church in Bay City who would be there and we could just ask them to bring us home. If they couldn’t, my bright idea was to take the bus, which is a fairly straight shot from MSU’s campus to near our house. Well, the people from her church had a pretty full car, so off we walked to the bus stop. However, I hadn’t thought about the fact that the buses don’t run as late on Sunday evenings. The last bus had picked up at our stop two hours earlier.

Zach couldn’t leave the house to pick us up without waking our sleeping son (who had school the next day), so I suggested we just walk home. It was a lovely night, the sidewalks are well lit, and there are no sketchy areas to walk through, so off we went. I figured it was about two miles. I lied to my mother and told her I thought it was about one mile. Turns out, it’s almost four miles. Which would have been fine, if Mom had been in tennis shoes. And if it hadn’t kind of started to rain.

After walking two and a half miles, we stopped at Quality Dairy and asked Zach to wake the boy up, stick him in the car, and come pick us up. All’s well that ends well, and at least we got some exercise! And now both of my parents have a story (about twelve or thirteen years apart) to tell about how I made them walk long distances due to a mistake regarding transportation and parking.

From the planned activities to the spontaneous, it was all in all a lovely April weekend.

What Man Has Made of Man

Lines Written in Early Spring
by William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Amazing Grace on Good Friday

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)

Jesus didn’t die for people who had cleaned themselves up, gotten their act together, stopped sinning of their own power and volition, or kept the Law perfectly.

He died for the weak. For the ungodly. For sinners. For his enemies.

That’s us. We weren’t just not “living our best life now.” Who would die for that? No, we were in opposition to God. We were thumbing our noses at him, flipping him off, and actively working against him because we wanted to do what we wanted to do.

And yet, he made it possible to be reconciled, restored, resurrected.

While we were his enemies.

That’s amazing grace.

And if he died for his weak, ungodly, sinning enemies, how should we treat those we view as weak, ungodly, sinning enemies?

If you’re a Christian, find someone today to whom you can show the love of Christ. If you’re not, thank you for indulging me in this post. And if you find the Christians you know to be unloving, please forgive us, because even when you’ve been reconciled with God, you still make mistakes and you still need grace. (I know I do.) Maybe do some reading of the Bible yourself (I’d suggest the Gospel of John and then the Book of Romans). Or better yet, team up and read it together. I’m certain great, spirited conversations will follow.

A Finished Mosaic and Thoughts of Spring

Grout, sealer, a bit of time, and voila!

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The rabbit table is done. I’ve finally tidied up the sunroom after months of dishevelment.

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Of course, I didn’t actually get the table in this picture. You can just see where it is on the right between the settee and the chair. It feels good to get stuff in order. It’s one of the things I love about this time of year– sucking up cobwebs with the vacuum hose, dusting off window ledges, raking leaves from flowerbeds. Sending the grime of the winter away and inviting in the beauty of sun and blue sky and everything that speaks of spring.

Lessons We Can Learn Halfway to Black Belt

Last weekend our son was awarded his red belt in karate (which is just our shorthand for the real name of the marital arts system he practices — the American Advanced Combat System — which was developed by Sensei Dan Timlin and is based on Bruce Lee’s system of Jeet Kune Do). At his dojo, this means he has moved up to the advanced class, and he’s still just six years old.

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When we started him in martial arts about a year and a half ago (largely due to his obsession with TMNT and ninja stuff in general) we talked to him about the investment of time and money it would entail, about how when we start something, we don’t just quit when we get bored or tired of it.

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We needn’t have said a word about it because his enthusiasm and dedication has not waned one iota. The young guy next to him in the photos above and below is one of his instructors. He’s a fantastic teacher and incredible to watch on the academy’s demonstration team. He was just sixteen when Calvin started as a white belt in the basic class. He started at the dojo at age eight. When Calvin is eight, he will already be a black belt. When I think of my son someday being able to do the things that this young man does, I get giddy with anticipated pride.

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Now, I’m posting about this partially to share my joy in my son’s dedication and his achievements. But it’s not all about bragging (it is a little about bragging).

It’s also about persistence and drive and dedication to an art. It’s so easy to start something big and then quit when we feel like we’re not making enough progress. Calvin could have watched his teacher do incredible takedowns and disarms and flying kicks and thought to himself, “I’ll never be able to do that. It looks too hard and I don’t think I’m fast enough or strong enough.” But he didn’t. He saw some majorly cool moves and thought to himself, “I want to do that.” And then patient and caring teachers came alongside him and said, “You can do that — but it takes discipline, training, and focus, and we’ll help you get there.”

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And his parents came alongside and gave him encouragement, took him to practice three nights a week, reinforced the lessons he was learning at the dojo, trained with him at home. Because while in some ways martial arts are an individual sport, no one learns best in complete isolation.

What about you? Are you trying to write all on your own? Trying to figure out your camera all on your own? Trying to figure out how to make a certain effect in a painting or Photoshop or a recipe all on your own? What are you trying to do solo that would be easier if you had support, if you had a teacher or a more experienced friend who could answer your questions?

It’s tempting to do art alone, especially if you’re an introvert. And there are plenty of opportunities to practice alone, and that’s not bad. But who do you have who can encourage you and help you adjust your technique if you’re doing it wrong or perhaps just not the easiest or most efficient way?

When I went out to take pictures of the aurora on Saint Patrick’s Day, it was a friend who told me that the aurora was active. That same friend was there when I had questions about how best to photograph them because he and I once had almost the exact same camera. There were a few things I had to figure out by myself, but he was there on the other end of the phone when I had questions. And when I posted a photo on Facebook, he was the first to compliment me on it. How encouraging!

In my writing, I have two great groups of writers who can encourage me to stick it out when the going gets rough and who can share expertise and advice. One is online (Women’s Fiction Writers Association) and one is in the flesh (Capital City Writers Association). Another writing community that is so instructive and encouraging is Writer Unboxed. Beyond that, my husband and a few close friends serve as encouragers, first readers, and sounding boards.

You can do so much more and so much better work when you have a community of like-minded individuals supporting you. If you quilt, join a quilting group or guild. If you paint, organize outings to paint plein air. If you love to bake, create your own informal school or throw a recipe sharing party. If you write poetry, find a local place that can host readings and put the word out to poets in your area. If you’re a musician, schedule a jam session.

When things get tough and your art won’t cooperate or you’ve faced rejection, that’s when you need support. And you’ll find that if you cultivate a community intentionally, that support will be there for you the moment you need it. Those people will keep you from quitting, they’ll celebrate your successes with you, they’ll help you grow, and they’ll feed your desire to succeed.

Your initial passion and intensity may come from within…

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…but you can bet that it’s easier to maintain when others are there to hold you up.

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