Heart Rocks

I used to take my dad’s hammer out to the backyard to look for good rocks to crack open. Scratching through the leafy detritus in the woods behind our house or in the azalea bushes which held promising specimens among their gnarly roots, I would heft a few hopefuls onto the driveway and strike them repeatedly with the hammer, the vibrations coursing up the wooden handle into my arm, sharp metallic strikes splitting the air, assaulting my ears. Eventually, a crack would fall open to reveal the core. Some offerings would be just what one would expect, much the same inside as on the outside, rusty brown gray with flecks of earthy color here and there. Others revealed the surprise I was hoping for. Nondescript smudged buff exterior belied a spectacle within, as if someone had taken a snow globe and poured its glittery crystals inside an ordinary rock, hidden from all but the most curious excavators.

I recently surmised that rocks might be my favorite non-living thing, and memories of driveway geological forays gives me reason to note that my fascination is not new. Along those lines, my family was recently persuaded to accompany me to a rock and fossil show at a local convention center. There I settled on two specimens out of thousands to take home: a swirling, speckled orb of Ocean Jaspar – reminiscent of a dappled planet, and an egg of butterscotch-burgundy Carnalite – both harvested from Madagascar.

Returning to the show the following day I roamed the banquet, this time choosing 14 polished hearts – one for each of my students.

That Friday, the day before spring break, I invited my students to choose a heart rock at the end of class. They oooh-ed and aaah-ed, looked, touched, and each closed fingers around a small, dense parcel of earth tucked in the hollow of their palm. Perhaps unnoticed by most, it was a brief encounter with Mother Nature, offering herself to anyone who cares to notice beauty in an ordinary rock and the comfort of a smooth stone in hand.


My mother was a connoisseur of confections who waxed poetic about Butterfingers and Clark bars the way a sommelier does wine. She had stashes of candy hidden around the house, mostly from herself. One of her favorites was black licorice, and I joined her in that revery. If memory serves me right, we were the only two in the family to enjoy it.

Shortly after she died, I found myself inexplicably devouring black licorice. Bags of it – daily. I would stop at a grocery store after school to buy one or two bags, tear open a pouch in my car and consume the entire thing in one sitting, finishing it well before I got home minutes later. I couldn’t get it fast enough.

I wondered when this compulsion would end and how much weight I would gain if it didn’t. I mentioned it to a friend and she attempted to assuaged my fears, confiding that when her mother died she ate stacks and stacks of pancakes after work every day. She said she couldn’t help herself, and neither could I. Empty licorice bags littered my school totes, dresser drawers, and glove compartment. I imagined this was the way of a junkie craving a fix.

It was mine.

I worried superficially, but deep down I didn’t really care. I consoled myself, reasoning that there were a lot worse things to be addicted to. It kept going. For half a year I ate bags and bags of black licorice.

Then one day – just like that – it stopped. I didn’t want it or need it anymore. I wondered why I was satiated, and was relieved at the cessation of a physical craving so real, I could not have imagined it possible.

To follow is my inaugural attempt at a sonnet, dedicated to that ebony confection and the lady who started it all.

Black Licorice

Often a bit reward for something done,

bags of midnight treats in hidden places.

I oft knew to seek them in those spaces,

licorice loved by both of us as one.

We shared it often, sweet delicious fun.

Others turned away their crinkled faces.

That veiled stash of flavorful embraces;

we took the tasty treat when work was done.

Then it held appeal for her no longer.

Confused, I wondered why this could be so.

Hiding places full of goods went untouched.

Weakened, she would not be getting stronger.

Too soon it was the hour for her to go-

the lady that I always loved so much.

Diminished Distance

I pass her every day.

She walks one way around – I walk the other.

She is a tiny thing, bundled in faded comfort, elfin face peeking out from an old fur-rimmed hood. I am also layered in a worn jacket from way back that still coddles me like a portable sleeping bag. With scarf wrapped and hood pulled up, I am as warm as soft butter inside that yellow wrapper.

We pass each other three times each morning. Asian music wafts to me, on air – from within the folds of her coat – as she passes. She raises a slight hand and smiles a greeting – I do the same. She on her walk, I on mine.

Musing on my path, I mull over the twists and turns our lives took to bring us to this same place and point in time, two passers-by, gaining comfort in the sight of each other. I presume she lived in China for many years before coming here to live with children and grandchildren, while I lived in several states and then oversees before settling down just around the corner from her and where we walk each day.

Three times around is exactly one mile, which is all I have time for on a school day. Steve and Ollie accompany me for the first lap, but then beg off to ready the kitchen while I finish up my mile and then head home for breakfast and coffee. I am not sure how long she walks; she seems like she could go for quite awhile, keeping an easy pace for a woman of many years.

We have never spoken or stopped to talk, and I don’t know her name.

Just the same, I see her each morning and am happy when I do.

It seems a small thing, but great comfort lies in the familiar rhythm of morning.

The March I Never Hated

I am a different person than when I started.

For blogging for the entire month of March without missing a day, and for co-leading a “Spirituality of Knitting” retreat to close it out, I am changed.

Through my weekend retreat, I learned how women are changing the world one stitch, one blanket, one shawl at a time. Needle crafts are meditation in motion with a gift of warmth for someone in need at the project’s end, and hours of mindful focus for the crafter in the process.

Through my month of blog posts, I learned how to notice more and to think differently. I learned that I have stories in me that had never been told – that I knew not were there.

I dream at night now.

I crochet now.

I have a friend in Cambodia, now.

All for the gray, gusty, teaser month of March.

For the first time – ever, I don’t want it to end.

Thank you fellow crafters, for all you have taught me and shared with me.

Thank you fellow slicers, for all you have taught me and shared with me.

Some of you inspire with what was once a blank page, and others with what was once a skein of yarn.

I experienced humanity at its best, and I had the good fortune to be a part of it – twice.

My best March ever ends today.

Go ahead and ask me about today,

but don’t ask me about yesterday because I was a different person then.

Get What You Give

Painting or sewing or carving or baking

perhaps at our best when its something we’re making.

casting on needles or molding of clay

to create something new is an offering each day.

Maybe a song or a book or a meal

something that didn’t exist – wasn’t real.

A plumber whose solders make waterways flow,

a teacher whose words guiding which way to go.

A seamstress or tailor who makes it fit right,

a nurse sitting long bedside watch through the night.

Each a creator of something in need

each a combatant of personal greed.

The giving away is what makes the heart grow

we get what we give; so important to know.

To lose oneself for the gain of the other

a nobler cause there will not be another.

To carve, or write, or dig in the soil.

Love effort

of gratitude there – in that toil.

To reach out from within

no amount is too small.

Lose ourselves and we’ve answered the ultimate call.

Maybe Don’t Blink

The days are endless but the years fly by.

I was about to enter those words as my comment to someone else’s post but thought the better of it. They have become my slice, instead.

The days are endless but the years fly by.

This is the best description of parenthood that I know.

When the kids are very young, days and nights blur into a fogginess that knows no clear delineation. When parental sleep cycles eventually temper back to humane, the mornings still start before sun up and yet the work is never done, even when stretching to finish way past sundown, folding that last load or making one more sandwich for the morrow’s lunches. It’s a long time with long days.

Fast forward through those years of long days to high school. Everybody is “awake” and out the door by 6:45 a.m. and yet miraculously still up eighteen hours later, making pizza or baking cookies at midnight. Same hours as in infancy, but the bodies are much bigger, and louder. It’s a long time with long days.

Now, the house is nearly empty and time moves differently. The kids are young adults – two teachers and a plumber, and our hours are mostly our own. We can almost rise and set with the sun, if we choose to.

The days were endless and the years flew by.

We seem to have gotten where we are in the blink of an eye.

Now, the years slide together and the days have slowed to – just right.

Just right to look back and wonder how we got here so darn fast.

Don’t Tempt Me!

It is no accident that sweets are on my mind.

I gave them up for lent, so naturally I think about them all the time, even though I am now three weeks invested in this hiatus. My current preoccupation with sweets may very well be the impetus for this slice, but at the very least it is a convenient segue into the subject of marshmallows.

I have been thinking of The Marshmallow Experiment.

The Marshmallow Experiment was a study done by Stanford Professor Walter Mischel in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In the trial, a child (age 4-5) was escorted into a room and a marshmallow placed before them in easy reach. The child was told that they could to eat the marshmallow right away, or if they were willing to wait 10-15 minutes to eat the marshmallow, they would get a second one. The adult then left the room leaving the child to decide for themselves what to do about the enticing marshmallow. Eat it, or wait?

One treat now, or two treats later?

The decisions of hundreds of children tested (and tempted!) in the trials were noted, and those subjects were revisited in adulthood, decades later. It ends up that the ability to delay gratification – even in toddlerhood – is a strong predictor of future success in life.

I often put myself in front of that marshmallow.

Would I eat it or would I wait longer for double the payoff?

Some days I feel like I could wait it out, and other days, not so much.

How about you?