Beach Poetry

Yesterday my family and I spent an afternoon at the beach. It was the first time I’d been there this summer. This may sound ridiculous, living as close to the ocean as I do, but I protest: I’ve been writing a book.

I love the ocean, even–maybe especially–when it’s overcast and silvery, like yesterday. It’s the perfect place to rest and read in the warm sand. Or to walk and think to the rhythm of the waves. And to write poetry.

Because the whole place is poetry.

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So here’s what comes of a walk along the Northern California coast on a foggy August day.

 

Beachcomber

She runs down the beach,

feet kissed by

the cream-white foam,

soul blue as the gradient of waves.

 

She combs the beach,

not for coins or glass,

not for complete shells

or perfect rocks.

She seeks

pieces—

fragments battered and broken

by the relentless blue waves.

 

She sifts for shards of shells:

one ridged like a potato chip,

one translucent white like a nail paring,

one striated with warmth like an Arizona canyon,

one shimmering iridescent like mother-of-pearl,

her favorite a feathered infinity spiral

like the twirl of a dancer.

 

She hunts for rocks

smoothed by the rough-and-tumble sand—

one spotted like a leopard,

one crinkled like a brain,

a jade-green speckle.

Some are ordinary gray rocks, scarred with

fractal patterns,

straight white stripes,

or irregular embeddings of fossils.

One has a smooth indent

just the size of her fingertip.

 

She walks up the beach,

soul blue as the gradient of waves,

fists clutched full of

fragments—

shell-shards and

smooth stones,

pieces

battered and tumbled and

beautiful.

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What do you love about the ocean?

All The Cuteness, Part 2

Okay. If you thought the hedgehogs were cute, I am about to show you something that will BLOW YOUR MIND with cuteness.

Ready? 
Photo credit: Ryan Lee
Sugar gliders! They’re tiny flying possums that are native to Australia and Indonesia…
…and they fit inside wine glasses. 
…and they snuggle in the palm of your hand.

Photo credit: Arnold T. Schwartzenglider

…and they hug your thumb.

Photo credit: Wm Jas

And they can do this!

Photo credit: Arnold T. Schwartzenglider

I want one of these to go with my imaginary hedgehog. But sadly, sugar gliders are also illegal pets in California (and Alaska, Hawaii, and Massachusetts). Seriously, what are those lawmakers thinking?

But tell me you’re not smiling now. Have a great Friday!

Thinking Places

Last week my family and I got away for a few days together. We scampered all around Northern California, experiencing new towns and possibly discovering every possible way to become carsick on winding back roads. However, it was refreshing to get some quality time together and a change of scenery. A bit of vacation also proved good for my writing.

One afternoon my family sat on the shores of a jade-green lake (interestingly named “Trinity Lake”) and sat in silence, each member absorbed in a different creative project. I took the time to soak in the silence, slowing down after nearly a month of nonstop work (and almost no time for my novel). I scribbled out a poem, a first response to the beautiful place and the quiet moment of being still and noticing. It felt like a drink of cold Gatorade after a hard run or hike.

One of our stops was at the charming Blackberry Inn in the coastal town of Mendocino. Caressed by the foggy, temperate marine layer, lush with dozens of varieties of colorful flowers, and deliciously out of range of cell phone service, it was the perfect place to stop and rest and write. Our adorable little room looked like a life-sized dollhouse, complete with a sunny window and a pair of wing-back chairs.

In my home office, the writing time I eke out is often interrupted by the phone ringing, the dryer beeping, new e-mails, the front door. In this quiet room in Mendocino, I was cut off from those interruptions. Sure, there were all my usual mental distractions (read a book! what do I need to do tomorrow? oh look, a seagull!), but in a one-room enclosure with almost no technology, I found it easier to center down and blurt out eleven pages of new novel material, written longhand in a pink journal. It helped to sit at this old-fashioned wooden desk under a painting of a thatch-roofed English cottage. I felt a bit like Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters.

What I realized most was that my normal life is full of multitasking. It’s a skill that makes getting multiple mindless things done at the same time possible, but it really kills deep, original thinking. Writing is one way we mortals imitate our Father God, who breathed a world into being ex nihilo, out of nothing. That takes focus. When my attention is on fifty different things, it’s hard to get below surface-level maintenance writing and think of anything new

Creative thought, like a relationship with God, requires some periods of silence, solitude, and centering. (Hot tea, fuzzy socks, and a beautiful view don’t hurt either.) Sometimes it’s important to retreat from routine to create a nurturing environment where creativity can grow. For me, it was a time of peace and releasing the story within. It left me refreshed and a little readier to return to the daily world of multitasking.

Does the world of multitasking ever leave you in need of a retreat? Where do you go to refresh your creative side?

A Splendid Supply of Surprising Sweets

The adventurous and interesting Tami Clayton invited me to play a game of letters (my favorite kind). The rules: reveal 10 of your favorite things that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet.

My letter (in case the post title didn’t give it away): S!

Ready?

Stories: Escape into magical worlds. Power to change the real world. What I want to spend my life writing and reading.

Spices: Cooking has never been so interesting!

Sliding ladders: Ohhh, I want one so much!! Or I could just move into a library that has them.

Shakespeare: The love of my literary life (minus the earring). The genius bard of the Western world. Themes as relevant today as they were in the 16th century. Need I say more?

Sunshine: Just one of the many great reasons to be living in California again!

Scotland: The windswept land of bagpipes and legends, monks and poets, caber tossing and lovely accents–my second-favorite place in the world (after home, of course).

Springtime: My favorite season of the year!

Singing: I like to shatter windows with the high notes. (Actually, I just like imitating Hayley Westenra in the shower, on my church praise team, and when I have the house to myself.)

Sincerity: One of the characteristics I value most in friends (and in literary characters).

Socks: These are not my feet. But I kind of wish they were. My favorite Tinker Bell pair got a hole in them, but I do have a pretty awesome pair of knee-high blue-and-green argyles.

What are your favorite S-things? If you have a blog and want to play the letter game, leave me a comment and I’ll send you a starting letter via Facebook or Twitter!

The Great Potato Revolution

Well, you asked for it…another installment in my Britain story. This one’s going to have to be abbreviated, as time is short this weekend, but today we’re traveling to Dingle (An Daingean), in County Kerry, Ireland!

Two years ago yesterday, I was in a grocery store. My study abroad group of about twenty-five students was staying in a “self-catering” youth hostel–which means basically that beds, showers, and pots and pans are provided for you; the rest is do-it-yourself. Like a bed and breakfast, minus the breakfast. Hence, the grocery store.

By this time, we’d been in the British Isles for three weeks. One food group had grown very old: potatoes. Yes, the Brits think that potatoes are a food group (no offense to my British friends :)). I have nothing against potatoes, but seriously, everything included them. Everything. In a hostel in northern England, the menu one night consisted of shepherd’s pie (mushy peas and beef topped with mashed potatoes), with a side of–what else? Jacket (baked) potatoes!  

At any rate, three weeks in, with a grocery store at our fingertips, we college students wanted some potato-free fare. We were going to split into groups and take turns making dinner for everyone. As a Spanish-speaking Californian, I suggested Mexican food. Nice break, right?

Except that the SuperValu store had still other ideas about types of food groups. Items plentifully stocked: brown soda bread, canned baked beans, granola bars called “Elevenses.” Items not stocked: tortilla chips, black beans, sour cream, guacamole. Salsa existed, but was priced at an arm, a leg, and a sack of pirate gold. Hm.

Potatoes were not an option. Potatoes were never an option. So we compromised. Bought Irish soda bread and saved it for sandwiches (best bread ever). Skipped the chips and salsa/guacamole. Discovered that Irish beef tastes pretty Mexican when mixed with taco seasoning and stacked on tortillas under lots of cheese. But the best part was cooking together with friends, the spicy, familiar smells rising around us, in a sunny kitchen on the other side of the world.

And no potatoes.

Raindrops on Roses

Last week, it rained almost all week. 
When I was living in Seattle, the rain frustrated me. It was constant. All I could think about were wet socks, frizzy hair, cold fingers, dirty puddles, indoor mold. 
Now that I’m back in California, where showers are balanced with sunshine, it’s easier for me to be thankful for the rain. Now I go out in my rain boots with my camera, enjoying the beauty that the rain brings, especially to the rose garden. I’ve always loved taking close-ups of dew-studded roses. I hope you enjoy the results!

They’re little miracles, reminders of the beauty brought even by hardship, signs of joy even in the rain. They remind me of the song from The Sound of Music:

“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens…

 “bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens…

“brown paper packages, tied up with string…

“these are a few of my favorite things!”

Happy Monday! What’s beautiful in your world today?

Looking v. Seeing

A few weeks ago, I went hiking at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve with several members of my church’s college/young adult group. We made a 6-mile loop that took us along several prominent ridgelines and, most spectacularly, gave us a sweeping hilltop vista of the San Francisco Bay.
As one of my fellow hikers pointed out the numerous cities grouped around the Bay, I was awestruck. I recognized so few of them, knew so little about the geography of the area where I was born and raised. I keep good track of the places I go on a regular basis: friends’ houses, my church building, doctors’ offices, grocery stores. But the San Francisco Bay Area has so many mini-locales and sub-cultures, all packed into a relatively small space of land, and many of them I’ve never experienced. There’s so much to learn and do right here where I live.

 I was also taken aback by the beauty of this place I live in. I stood on the hilltop noticing, as if for the first time, the blue mist over the bay, the red-roofed towns clustered around the water, the chaparral sprawling over hills and valleys. After returning from 4 years of college in Seattle, I thought I’d never take the beauty of “my own, my native land” for granted. But even with the best of intentions, when you look at a place every day, sometimes you stop seeing it. The beauty of the places and people around you becomes pure routine, a sleepwalk through life.

When I stop seeing what’s around me, taking it for granted, I start focusing instead on what I don’t have: a car, a home of my own, a perfect plan for my future. I’ve heard that contentment, though, is not necessarily having everything you want, but rather wanting what you do have. And to want what you have, you first have to recognize and appreciate it.

On the hilltop I was freshly struck by the diversity and beauty of the landscape I live in. I saw my home as if for the first time. And I think that’s what gratitude really means: living life with eyes wide open for beauty, even the beauty of the everyday.

What do you see around you that you’re grateful for today? 

    Gratitude Monday

    It’s Monday! I’m going to start off the week with what I’m thankful for today: the beautiful flowers that are popping up all around the Bay Area. This is the ornamental pear tree outside my house: 
    Have you ever wondered how all the pear trees know to bloom at the same time? I was wondering that this week. On cue from Heaven, maybe.
    I love that spring begins in mid-February here. The rush and hum of the world coming back to life is one of my favorite sensations in all the world. 
    Boy, I’m thankful to be living back in the Bay Area!
    What are you thankful for today? 


    I’m sorry this comes later than usual…I had a big post in the works for last week that just wasn’t ready to go up yet. Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait when it gets posted this Friday 🙂