Visiting Bri.

Over Christmas break I flew to San Francisco and made a visit to my friend Briana Blackwelder’s grave. Thank you for the great directions, Candice.

For those who haven’t yet visited, here’s a bit of the journey to Fernwood:

That’s her grave in the foreground.

A few small plants have begun sprouting over the freshly-turned earth.

Despite being the winter solstice, it was one of the sunniest days I’d seen in a long time.
I laid down right next to her grave and just started talking.
It felt so much like the last time I saw her, when we’d spent a sunny
April afternoon lounging under the sun.

I believe Bri is doing much more exciting things than lying under the earth,
but here are some photos of the view she’d have from her final resting place:

I felt a lot of peace being there.

Afterwards, my friend Lydia and I scouted out some delicious food
and soaked up the city that will forever remind me of Bri.

Man, I miss you Bri.

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manna to my taste.

On my morning walks to work there are many familiar faces. I don’t know anyone’s name, but they have become regulars in my life. The TRAX driver who smiles so good-naturedly when he opens the door for wheelchair-riders, the orange-clad construction workers huddled around the Chuvi-Duvi taco stand, the sister missionaries dutifully filling two-by-two onto Temple Square, the pan-handlers assuming their posts with their worn cardboard signs, the man with the two-foot-long silver ponytail who just stands at the corner watching traffic go by.

And, somewhere between 1st and 4th south I cross paths with a wide-eyed, shaggy-haired man in 80’s-length running shorts. He has some of the longest, skinniest legs I’ve ever seen. Or is it just in relation to those short shorts? Today he stopped maybe 4 yards ahead of me. He swooped to the ground and picked up a small object. I didn’t see what it was, but only that it went straight into his mouth. An indulgent grin spread across the man’s face. He looked so contented with his apparently jack-pot-of-a-find that I couldn’t help but smile for him too.

I grinned all morning remembering that startling encounter. How many busy morning walkers passed right by that anonymous morsel before the hungry man seized the treasure? …Sweet goodness appearing at his feet, just as the dews from heaven. How many of us would have thought to eat it? The children of Israel had to be taught to recognize their heaven-sent food. According to Biblical record manna was small and white like coriander seeds; it appeared as hoar frost and had to be collected before it was melted away by the sun. The name for this bread of heaven is said to have come from the question, “What is it?” or “Man hu?”

Other scholars suggest the name is derived from the Arabic word for plant lice, man. They suggest that when the travelers in the wilderness saw manna they stated, “Man hu. This is plant lice.” Some breeds of scale insects produce a type of honeydew. Such a meal would have provided Moses’ people with both a sweet mouthful and a complete protein. Other scholars cast in votes that manna was a type of lichen, or fungi, or a kosher species of locust, or the sap of an appetite-suppressing plant.

I won’t rule out the possibility that manna was a celestial concoction altogether different from any other earthly thing, BUT there is something thrilling to me about the notion that a group of God’s chosen people subsisted for generations on wax-secreting insects. And, honestly, who wouldn’t call an insect a celestial wonder?

Waxy scales from plant parasites and unwrapped mouthfuls on dirty sidewalks don’t make me anxious for lunchtime. But maybe they would if I was intensely hungry. Or maybe they would if I knew the source from which they came. My fellow morning traveler has inspired me with a desire to wake up to the heaven-sent morsels at my feet. I worry I too often mistake celestial gifts for earth-crawling commonalities.

I want to be aware enough of the path under my feet, and hungry enough, that I too can unhesitatingly drop to my knees and graciously savor empyrean gifts. In honor of the lesson from the man with the familiar face, I’ve decided to re-name my blog: Manna to my taste. With the same spirit of James Montgomery’s famous poem,  I will use this blog to record the manna in my life.


Summer Memory Stroll 2010

Fall is here in full force (nod to the full moon on the same day as the fall equinox)! While I anxiously await jumping into my first leaf-pile of the year, I thought I’d just give a little recap of some summer highlights.

  • Summer began as any well-respecting Wisconsinite might wish: with snow!

  • It did a number on my tomato plants, but my harvest is still plentiful. Here’s a look into my bag after a recent harvest from my community garden, and a photo I treasure of my cantaloupe babies. They are definitely adolescents now, but are still in need of the vine.

  • Early this summer I was privileged to be present when my sister was called and set-apart as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She will spend the next year-and-a-half living on a small northern island in the Philippians, serving the people and teaching them about how the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring added happiness and peace to their lives. Here’s a picture from the last time I saw her, as well as one she just sent home:

  • While the summer was still green and lush, I spend as many evening after work as possible roaming through the mountains:

  • Here’s a shot from one hike with my friend Kelsey- just days before she took off on a mission to Florida:

  • In June, my work flew me out to San Francisco to do some training at the nation’s oldest science museum, the Exploratorium. The PIE (Playful Inventive Exploration) training was hands-down some of the most inspiring  education I’ve ever received. More to come shortly on how we’ve been using that training to inspire more innovation and creativity from the middle-schoolers I work with. Here is a picture of me outside the museum, inside the workshop space, and beside some lovely sea lions down on pier 39:
  • I flew on an overnight flight from CA to WI to spend a week in the great outdoors with my dear family. Here we all are under uncle Bob’s tarp. The thunderstorms helped us to get extra cozy!
  • I spent Independence Day with my brothers, sister-in-law, and nieces at the Bees Stadium. Nothing like thousands of people cuddled on blankets, watching small explosions in the sky:
  • I also spent some time exploring natural hotsprings:
  • Discovered a new species of maple:
  • (kidding about the maple….well maybe. Have you ever heard of a variegated maple?)
  • Joined a group of daring souls on a search for the infamous kokanee:
  • Saw some sunsets that literally brought me to my knees:
  • Traveled through Utah wilderness with dear WI friends and family:
  • And just spent at much time as possible gleaning from the wisdom of dear Mother Earth:

“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” -Emily Dickinson

May 11, 1983-

“I have been doing everything possible this past week to encourage you to be born. I’ve cleaned the attic, the basement, attempted digging out a stump in my garden, stacked wood, and today I mowed the lawn. I have the freezer full of homemade pizzas to feed your dad and brothers while I am away. Everyday I do laundry to stay ahead. I’ve organized my genealogy, cleaned cupboards, windows, and drapes. I’ve run out of things to do, or rather things I can do. I have painting and wood refinishing to do, but have to wait until you’re born, because of the fumes… The neighbors and families are all waiting. I’m running out of clothes to wear. It’s time! Please come join us.”

May 17, 1983-

“Decided to plant my garden instead of waiting until after your birth. Who knows when that will be….”

May 18, 1983-

“Your brothers went to Dotty and Glenn’s while dad took me in for a check-up. The leakage showed up to be amniotic fluid so they admitted me at 10:00 a.m. and induced labor. The lady in my room [name] was induced at the same time. It was a race to the birthing room. About 3:00 p.m. they stopped her I.V. and started to prepare for a cesarean at 6:00 p.m. I had dilated to 4-5 cm so I was moved to the birthing room. The race still wasn’t over. Who’s baby would be born first? Your daddy was a terrific coach. Helping me with controlling my breathing, hugging me, and keeping everyone in laughter with his jokes. Your head was crowned, could see you had lots of hair. I was pushing and you too had your legs straight, pushing off my diaphragm. That was uncomfortable. At 6:01 p.m. Dr. Midthun announced you were a girl. … You weighed 9 lbs 5 oz. Identical weight to your brothers! That must be a record. Your dad says my body must be programed that once the baby reaches 9 lbs 5 oz, it ejects the baby.

“You were coated in lots of cream. Looked just like a girl covered in night cream. They laid you on my chest and there you stayed for the next 45 minutes trying to open your eyes. Dad made phone calls to local people.  You’ve got strong jams for nursing. Didn’t have to teach you – you latched right on. Such a pretty girl. So round, black hair, and such pretty features. Your hair isn’t as dark as your brothers, but you look like you came from the same mold.

“The [other] baby was born at 6:36 p.m. A 9lb 7 1/2 oz girl. They named her Aundra Marie.

“We had three names chosen for you. Matthew wanted Heidi, dad wanted Gretchen, and I preferred Analiesa….

“Once we decided on Analiesa, next was to choose the middle name from a list of Ann, Ila, Fern, or Marie. My sister who died was Ann, Alan’s mom’s name is Ila Marie, my mom’s name is Fern. My middle name is Marie, so was my grandma’s (Hedwig Marie Bach). You have a long name to learn to spell — Analiesa Marie Leonhardt — All the nurses love your name. A pretty German/Austrian name for a German/Austrian girl.

“You were only 2 hours old and hadn’t been washed up yet when your dad brought your brothers to see you. They washed their hands, put on gowns, and held you. Benjamin hugged and kissed you, laid next to you on your bed and stroked you gently. Matthew hugged and held you.

“You wake up every 3-4 hours to eat. After nursing you, you get 1/2 to 1 oz. of water. You drink it like you just came off the desert.”


Pondering Human Touch

During the week I sleep in my bed, ride public transit, sit at my desk, read in my chair, sleep in my bed… But come Monday night my small frame is converted into a living jungle gym.  I’ve become good friends with three little boys who live just a few houses down from mine. Upon entering their home I am attacked by an onslaught of wiggling and giggling brothers. This is absolutely the highlight of my week. Could there possibly be anything more therapeutic in the world?

My mom cares for elderly. She recently kissed the forehead of a bald old man. His eyes shot up at her, glowing with surprise. His wife has been dead for decades. He has no family left. He lives alone. When was the last time anyone kissed him? On her next visit to take care of this aging man she found him lying on his bed, holding up a large tissue paper flower toward her.

Our first nine months of life, we grow to the beat of our mother’s heart; we are enveloped within another human’s flesh. Newborn babies who are placed skin-to-skin on their mother adjust more easily to life outside the womb. They cry less, have lower levels of stress hormones, breastfeed sooner, maintain better body temperatures and more stable blood sugar levels, and have an easier time breathing. Their mothers produce more oxytocin and bond more deeply with their babies, they produce more milk, and respond to their baby’s needs with more confidence than mothers who do not have regular skin-to-skin contact with their babies.

My sister spend last summer caring for children in a Romanian orphanage. Their drastic deprivation of human contact left many grossly delayed in physical and mental development. Some rocked incessantly. Others scratched themselves until they bled. Many were not capable of developing healthy attachment patterns with anyone.

Weeks ago I hopped on the train as a man was stumbling out, carrying a limp woman in his arms. “Does anyone have some water, some sugar? I just found her like this. I think she is diabetic. Can someone call for help?” I handed over my bag of black licorice, but wished I had something of another flavor when I saw her grimace at the flavor. He was supporting all of her weight, and rain was pouring down. I wonder how long they stayed like that before help arrived. Where had they each been traveling before their path’s crossed?

Last summer I found myself in a hospital room with a screaming woman who could not speak any English. The nurses and midwife had been struggling to communicate with hand signals and broken Spanish to this frightened Hispanic woman. I whispered in her ear, “Puedes hacerlo.” She squeezed onto my hand for the next 2 hours until her baby finally came and the pain subsided. After the baby was suckling at the breast, I left the birthing room, flexing blood back into my tingling fingertips.

“Sometimes we touch strangers. Sometimes no one speaks. Like clouds we travelers meet and part with members of our cohort, our fellows in the panting caravans of those who are alive while we are. How many strangers have we occasion to hold in our arms?” -Annie Dillard, For the Time Being, 135.

The day I read these words, I stopped by the house of an elderly neighbor I’d never met. I just knew her name and knew that she lived alone. She’d never married and never had children. She didn’t ask me very many questions. She had so much to tell, and I was happy to just listen. When she started to look sleepy I excused myself and slipped by her to the door, but then I stopped. I turned back around and wrapped my arms around her withered shoulders.