Thursday, June 29, 2006


I suppose it's all relative. Little prey, little predators. Big prey, big predators.

Felix (the cat) runs around the outside of the house all day long, waiting for one of us to open a door. He wants in. And when he finds that one crack, that one split second when our legs are scissoring through the doorway and he sees his opportunity to leap through that whirling space, he dashes inside and races up the stairs. He's a blur of black-and-white urgency, a cat on a mission. There's only one thing on that savage little brain: my chick.

Most times, he finds a closed door between him and the chick. But that doesn't stop him from trying. He'll stretch himself out as flat as he can, splay his white paw out until it's a thin furry paddle, reach beneath the door, and make a valiant attempt to span the twelve feet of space between the door and the chick's box. As this is real life, and not a cartoon or comic book action movie, he's yet to reach that far.

But one day, Tera forgot to close her bedroom door. As God would have it (I credit Him with all miracles), the chick had just learned to fly himself over the top of the box. None of us saw the actual chain of events, but my guess is that the chick heard frantic cat steps darting up the stairs, figured out that the owner of those cat steps was the same owner of the white, beneath-the-door claw, and reasoned to himself that this might be a good time to try his wings. When Zac came up the stairs, he saw Felix stretched out in his usual position, only this time, inside the bedroom and next to Tera's shelf. Backed against the wall, tapping his little chicken feet and checking his Timex, was the chick--safe between the shelf and a night stand.

Tera is more diligent to close her door now.

And then Tuesday, we saw another predator. Tera, Heather (a friend), and McKenna (her cousin) were out in the back pasture looking for the goats. Dave was in the greenhouse and I was in the garden weeding a patch of Brussels sprouts.

McKenna's voice, when she called me, had an excited tone. "Aunt Shannon! Come here!"

I walked around the rhubarb and peered over the fence at her. "What's up?"

"It's a bobcat!"

That brought me running. And sure enough, when I darted through the pasture gate and joined the girls, I saw a cat-like critter lounging in the shade of a pine tree just on the other side of the fence, not forty feet from us.

I called for Dave. And then there were five of us staring at the cat. Watching his demeanor--the way he stared back at us with a nonplussed, "What?" kind of expression--I surmised two things: one, he wasn't a bit scared, and two, he looked settled in his spot, as if he'd arrived at a favorite destination. I had the distinct feeling that he'd whittled away many an afternoon from that perch.

After the girls got a good eyeful, I sent them up to the house. And then I did something I can't explain, something that was probably a habit born of years of cat ownership ... I said, "Here, Kitty."

Dave gave me an odd look. "What are you doing?"


The cat watched us watching him for five minutes more, and then he stood, turned, and sauntered into the woods, swishing his tail in a purposefully nonchalant manner.

I was thinking about that tail last night, and it dawned on me that maybe we hadn't been looking at a bobcat.

"Dave, do bobcats have tails?" I asked.

He didn't think so. So we got online and looked up pictures of bocats. Ours had not been a bobcat. Knowing the history of our area, we then looked up pictures of cougars. And there it was--our visitor.

It wasn't full grown and it wasn't a cub. It had been a teenager cougar, which meant that a mother cougar probably hadn't been far away. The last time we had a cougar presence in our area, our neighbor lost one sheep and we lost our last three.

Since then, I've been making the girls stay up near the house. I count our goats several times a day. I keep looking at Felix, and looking toward the woods, and thinking about predator schemes, and predator claws, and predator eyes.

And I can't help but wonder ... who's watching me?

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

on hens and pharisees

We had another rescue this week.

And again, it was the chirping that drew me to the chicken coop. I'd been out behind the greenhouse weeding between the cosmos and sweet peas when I heard that little distress call. At first, when I rounded the greenhouse and the chicken yard came into view, I thought maybe I'd been mistaken. There was a chick, all right, but it looked safe enough standing there with its mother. But right then the baby tried to get underneath the hen, and I saw a peck.

You don't expect that from mother hens. They're supposed to be the protectors, the shielders, the ones who huddle over those tiny bodies and keep them safe from all harm. I've seen hens do that to each other--focus in on a weak or sick chicken and peck it to death--and it always infuriates me. But I'd never seen a hen do that to a baby chick. Could I have been wrong? Was she, perhaps, simply trying the help the chick get underneath her?

The chick took a few wobbly steps backwards and looked up at the hen. Just as it was dawning on me that the odd discoloration on the side of its little head was blood, it stepped forward to try again to burrow beneath the hen's wing ... and she reached down and gave it another vicious peck against the head.

Right then and there, I understood the fury that drove Jesus to overturn the money tables in the temple. He saw His people walking long miles with their sacrifices and mounting the steps to the temple, only to hesitate as they approached the door. Their need to worship brought them to that door, but it was their trepidation about what awaited them that slowed their steps. The Pharisees--the religious leaders--should have welcomed them in with open arms and made their arrival a time of celebration. Instead, they fleeced the sheep. They pecked at their offerings. "You think that's a worthy dove? I beg to differ. I see a mark there. This one won't do--you'll have to buy an acceptable dove from my friend over there."

The temple should have been a place where sojourners and worshipers were safe. It should have been a place of giving. Instead, it was the abode of thieves, who seemed to take great delight in pecking the defenseless.

If you want to know what the barnyard equivalent to the overturning of the money tables is, it's this: I screamed "Hey!", threw my trough to the ground, raced through the garden and around the side of the chicken yard, yanked open the door to the coop, dropped to my stomach (and I won't describe what I laid on to do so), and reached out the open door and beyond the ramp, scooping up the dazed chick just as the hen was readying herself for another bloody blow.

He didn't protest at the feel of my hand. I think the poor thing was in shock. He let me inspect his head on the walk up to the house, and let me wash both sides with hydrogen peroxide when we got inside. The hen had pecked him so fiercely that his little baby feathers were completely gone on both sides, right down to the skin, and both sides had suffered gaping wounds. I'm sure he would have been gone with another blow or two. After dabbing the cleaned wounds with neosporin, I gave him a sip of water from a teaspoon and called Tera in to help me set up another box. She brought up the heat lamp and enough wood chips for a thick, cushy layer. We filled an orange gelato cup with water and a green gelato cup with a combination of rolled oats, farina and quinoa, and then set the little guy down in the box. Despite the drama of the day, he seemed to like his new surroundings. He walked the four corners, pecked at the wood chips, and stepped in his water. But I didn't want to let him go just yet. And when I reached down to scoop him up again, he hopped right in my hand.

I cupped him, first, making a dark cave. He liked that for a good long time--ten minutes, maybe--and when he finally poked his beak between my fingers to see what was happening outside the cave, I stroked the back of his head with my thumb. He gave a soft, chirpy purr at that, and in short time, just like babies everywhere, his teeny eyelids grew too heavy to hold open. He lowered them halfway, and then I watched them dip, dip again, and close.

It's been almost a week now. His feathers are just starting to grow back in. He eats out of my hand. When he's lonely, he chirps to get my attention, and when I respond and open the door to his room, he quiets down and waits for me to come and get him. He still likes being cupped but what he likes even more is when I hold him up against my cheek and drape my hair over him. It's a substitute for hiding under his mother's wing. Maybe it's a poor substitution, but it's all I have. What that mother failed to do, I will do. He needs it. He has an inborn need to be enfolded in softness.

Much like people.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

inching away

Zac doesn't live in our house anymore.

He's moved out. Gone. Shoved every belonging he had in a box or a bag and hit the road.

Of course, that road was a short one. He only moved to my office behind the house. And as it's a mere twenty feet away, I haven't yet shed a tear.

But still, I'm sad. My son is seventeen, and salivating for independence. For now, he's satisfied to have a room apart from the house. He loves the cedar-lined ceiling of my former retreat space. He likes the light I picked out at Ikea--the one I used to have angled down at my writing desk. He's okay with the expanse of hunter green wall paper along the tops of the walls and the coordinating green and burgandy plaid along the bottoms. He's even promised to not poke pinholes through the wall paper.

But even that promise makes me sad. It implies that one day -- probably long before I'm ready for it -- he'll repack all those posters, trophies, tennis shoes and basketball paraphernalia and vacate this space again. I'll come into an empty room and stare at my pristine, pinhole-less wall paper and wish he'd left a mark.

Yesterday, when he was off at basketball camp and I had the whole 13 acres of property to myself, I went out to his new room and sat on the edge of his bed. I absorbed the smell that only a seventeen-year old boy could imbue into the fibers of a place (and, remarkably, in less than 24 hours), and then, because I wanted to know what it was like for him to sleep in his new room, I curled up on his bed. And the feeling that came over me as I settled against his comforter was one of complete, utter peace. The tension I'd been carrying slipped away. I felt my face relax, the frown and furrows gone. Outside his window, beyond the burgandy curtains I hung last year when the place was mine, the green leaves of a distant maple splayed against a vivid blue sky. I laid for a long time watching those leaves and letting the silence surround and soothe me.

They can't stay little forever. Eventually, I'll have to let him go. But when that day comes, I'll pray he'll carry a measure of peace with him on his travels. I'll pray, too, that wherever those travels take him, he'll remember this place ... where he's loved and missed.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

fifth-grade faith

Tera had a "graduation" ceremony last Wednesday. She's only leaving fifth grade, so I'd really prefer that we had used the term "promotion" and saved the word "graduation" for the real event which will occur seven years from now. I don't like those sly little attempts to cutefy and grown-upize pint-size occasions. I wish everyone would stop trying to rush my child through childhood.

But enough of my soap box. I want to share what happened at the end of "graduation."

The five fifth-grade classes were standing at attention on risers in the center of the stage, listening to their principal give them the final send-off. In the audience, we parents and other family members were waiting for the period at the end of his last sentence. It had been a nice ceremony, but the room was overcrowded and over-ready to be finished.

"Before we go," Principal Coltum said, pulling a piece of paper out of his pants pocket, "I want to talk directly to a few of the students. I can't mention all 120 by name, but there are a few I want to address."

He then began calling on students. "Analiese? Where's Analiese?" When Tera's friend giggled and raised her hand, he announced to the room that he'd never met a girl who could so clearly speak her mind. "Brent? Where are you, Buddy?" Brent, we were told, was a student who always wanted to help. Jamey loved soccer. Ben, it seems, asked routinely to be excused from lunch to go to the bathroom. And ever since he first spoke to Sarah at the lunch table, the girl had never stopped talking.

Light-hearted comments, all. But then he called on my daughter. "Where's Tera Woodward?" I saw Tera's eyes widen instantly as she raised her hand.

"This might embarrass you, Tera, but it's a good thing." He then turned to the audience and began reciting the case number of a Washington state law. The number started with "RCW," but I didn't catch the rest of it. "According to that law," he said, "students are not required to leave their beliefs at home when they come to school. They have a right to bring their faith here. And I want you to know what this student did. Not only did Tera invite me and my family to her church, she also gave me a gift ... a brand new Gideon's Bible."

At that, I cried.

"She took a stand," he continued, before turning and addressing his final comments to Tera's classmates. "Students, don't ever be afraid to stand up for what you believe."

And with those words, fifth grade came to an end.

Later, my friend Cindy, who had been sitting on the opposite side of the room watching her daughter "graduate," told me that the parents in front of her had scoffed and shaken their heads at the Principal's comment to Tera. I wasn't surprised. I'm sure more than one set of parents were irritated by his speech ... but I didn't care. It didn't matter if it made the whole lot of them mad.

There was pride enough in me to cover the day.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

news ... and tattling

I don't usually just "report the news," but I've been in that sort of mood lately. Since Dave's absence last week, I've settled into a groove of "get up, get busy." There's no pondering in me right now. Everything is business. Chop, chop. In ten minutes--right after I finish this and hit "publish post," I'll drive Tera to the end of the driveway to meet her bus, then high-tail it back here to tackle a patch of weeds beyond the patio. I've a hankering to grow a sea of patio-hugging nasturtiums there, along with a tucked-away corner of cottage perennials. So you see, I'm not in the right frame of mind for writing anything deep or poignant.

But I can tattle on Tera and report a big of news. Ready?

First, the tattling. Tera sometimes says the funniest things. And I've never been one of those mothers who is very good at hiding my laughter. I've probably scarred both of my children because I let go the second they amuse me. I suppose it's a lack of tact ... or maybe self-control. At any rate, the following all made me laugh.

1) Tera, my sister Nancy, and I were all playing cards awhile back. We were just chatting away like three gossipy old ladies, when Nancy made some comment about Confucius. I don't remember exactly what she said, but it started with, "Well, you know what Confucius says ..."

Choosing a card from the deck, Tera asked casually (and seriously), "So, are you a little bit Chinese, Aunt Nancy?"

2) While driving together in the car and listening to what I thought was a beautiful concerto on the classic radio station, Tera asked, "Mom, is this the kind of song that never ends?"

3) I made mini cupcakes for Dave's birthday and brought them to church a week and a half ago. Most of the nine dozen were eaten on the spot, but I did manage to bring home about a dozen. While setting up for arriving guests two days later, I wondered out loud if I should put those remaining cupcakes on a plate and set them out for nibbling. Tera offered (kind girl that she is) to sample one and tell me if they were still good. She took one bite, made a face, and then said, "No, Mom. You can't serve them. These cupcakes taste like warts."

4) While standing over the stove last week, cooking her first-ever batch of farina, Tera started leaning against the counter. After awhile, she said, “I feel like an old grandma.”

I asked why.

“Cause they’re lazy. And I feel lazy right now ... no offense to old grandmas.”

And now, for the news.

Groovy Chick's Road Trip to Love has just been released. Why am I telling you? Because I'm a "peep" (a contributing Groovy Chick), meaning that one of the chapters in the book is mine.

Because I also ended up editing the book (I work for the publisher) and got to read it all ahead of time, I can tell you that the content is very entertaining. I enjoyed reading through the compilations and think you would to0. If you see it in the bookstore, take a peek.

Off now to get busy.
*   *   *   

To answer whaaat!'s question (read the comments on this post), all the contributors are women, and the description definitely makes it sound like it's for women, but I think it would be entertaining for anyone. Here's the description from Amazon:

Just what is a Groovy Chick? She is a woman who aspires to be at peace with God, other and herself. She is real, honest, growing, open to new ideas and opportunities, energetic, and excited about life—and she's on a meaningful journey with Jesus!

Laurie and Dena (in the personas of hip chicks Pepper and Starshine) combine the best of both worlds: touching stories with laugh-so-hard-you-snort stories.

The late '60s and early '70s road trip theme is woven throughout, with sidebars and extras such as "Pepper's Pit Stops" (road-trip advice, recipes, and humorous anecdotes), "Starshine's Smile Markers" (inspiring quotes), "What's Your Inner State?" (thought-provoking questions and journaling prompts) and "Lost? Try GPS—God's Positioning System!" (Scriptures).


Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Dave's been gone all week -- off to southern California for the annual Calvary Chapel Pastors' Conference. While he's been gone, I've been busy.

I sewed a bed skirt for our bedroom.

I weeded the rose beds, and the earth between the pavers, and the garden beneath our front window ... and bedroom window ... and under the grape arbor.

I spent an afternoon in the vegetable garden tasting the first strawberries of the season and weeding between the lettuce, onions, cilantro, Brussels sprouts, celery, snap peas, beans and tomatoes.

I planted petunias, impatiens, snapdragons, rosemary, an azalea, and seeds for sweet peas, daisies, a second round of sunflowers, and more nasturtiums than is necessary.

I created a recycling area off the mudroom with four blue plastic bins I found at WalMart, and then, because that back area has always been an eyesore, I swept, hosed and scrubbed the concrete with Pine Sol. Today I may pick up some muriatic acid to finish the job.

I scrubbed the back door and the door to the hot water tank room.

I fixed a window screen that had been hanging down in an annoying and eye-catching manner.

I attached two swinging hook thingies and hung a flower basket on one and a bird feeder on the other.

Today I plan to mix up a batch of home-made, organic weed killer and tackle the weeds on the back patio. Then I'll sweep, scrub the patio set, arrange the umbrella, and cart off the debris still lingering from last fall's wood stove hearth project.

Tomorrow, I'll grind wheat and make three loaves of bread so Dave can have a warm slice with butter and honey when he comes home. If there's time, I'll make cookies.

This is four days' worth of work -- work that was actually fun, because I know Dave will love the surprise when he finally gets back. It makes me think, though: if I can accomplish this mini-mountain of projects in just four days, what has God accomplished in the two thousand years He's been preparing a place for me?

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Friday, June 02, 2006


Mark and Taryn's twins are only a month old, and already I have a favorite. It's whichever one I find myself holding.

Wednesday night, I held Duncan. We stared at each other all during worship. I don't know what he was thinking during that time; I was marveling at how much he'd grown in the few days since I'd seen him last. He didn't smile at my expressions or respond to my questions. That will have to wait a bit. He just watched.

While Dave instructed everyone to turn to 2 Samuel 5, I sat rocking Duncan and feeling a little rebellious. I wasn't turning to 2 Samuel 5, but I was listening. After just a few minutes, Duncan made "I'm hungry" movements, so I took the bottle Taryn handed me and started feeding him. He eats like a champ--just the way Zac ate when he was new. Get down to it, do it like you mean it, don't dawdle. And then he spit up--just like Zac used to after every single feeding. I sat wiping and burping and feeding Duncan, and wishing I could turn the clock back and have my own baby again for five minutes.

With his tummy full, Duncan struggled to stay awake. How do month-old babies already know to fight sleep? More evidence of what a good teacher Dave is. Duncan didn't want to miss a word.

But he lost his battle. His eyelids succumbed to gravity, and I was abandoned. I looked at his almost-not-there eyebrows, his nearly invisible eyelashes, and the barely noticeable flaring of his tiny nostrils. I watched the ripple of miniature muscle along his forehead as he furrowed those little eyebrows. Was he dreaming of empty bottles? I placed my finger in his hand and both watched and felt the curl of his fingers as he responded.

It was that hand that captured my thoughts. I turned the palm up and traced each finger, pondering the fact that those hands have yet to test the waters. They haven't yet moved in response to a thought ... good or bad. He hasn't used them yet to pick flowers for his mother, or pet a dog, or clap with delight. Nor has he used them to pinch his sister, or pilfer one of her toys. Those hands are untested, but all the potential is there. As I sat tracing those little fingers and wondering what Duncan would choose to do with his hands as he grew, I prayed God would guide him.

And then I looked at my own hands, and wished again I could turn the clock back; wished for a chance to go back and pick more flowers, and steal less toys.

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