Sundogs and Bright Spots


I drove east Saturday morning, saw a patch of rainbow within the clouds and sunrise. A golden ring encircled the colors and blinding light. Within seconds, this atmospheric phenomenon evaporated. Ah, to be in the right place at the right time is a marvelous gift of grace.
Later, I was introduced to members of my new writing group. Tom asked, “Did you see the sundog this morning?”
Our fellow novelists said “no” with a question on their brows. So, that’s what I saw and didn’t know it. “Do you mean the bright rainbow?” I asked.
Yes, that’s what he meant and offered an explanation about “dog-ears”, which explained the formation of two symmetrical rainbows to the left and right of the sun.
I hadn’t glimpsed the rainbow on the right and missed the complete sundog. No matter. There’s livescience.com. “The scientific name is parhelion (plural: parhelia) from the Greek par─ôlion, meaning ‘beside the sun.’”
The Greek philosopher Aristotle mentioned “two mock suns” long before legend said the two rainbows were named sundogs because they follow the sun like a dog follows its master. Dear Reader, don’t you love connections between science and our beloved canines?
Technically, sundogs are “bright spots in the sky caused by the refraction of sunlight off tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere.” Authors like Stephen King wrote about the phenomenon in his short story “Sun Dog”, and Shakespeare mentioned “three suns” in "King Henry VI, Part 3".
I’m fond of bright spots, be they scientific or artistic, particularly human, like Tom. If he hadn’t asked about sundogs, I may never have known what I saw in the sky Saturday morning.
Think about it. Much of what we learn comes by these random, unexpected encounters that enlighten our mind and soul. They lift us to the heavens; secure us to earth and each other.
Such is the case with a painting I saw in the Milwaukee Art Museum the day after Christmas. Our family gathered within what resembles the ribs of the Great White Whale beached on the shore of Lake Michigan.
We followed a docent for a guided tour she concluded in a gallery where a large painting of an old woodsman and a little girl drew me to her luminous blue smock. As most excellent art, it has an ambiance of story, one blended with the suggestion of the Impressionists and the precise technique of the Academicians.
“This is one of the museum’s most prized paintings,” the docent said. “The old man was a family friend of the artist, Jules Bastien-Lepage.”
 Bent with a load of kindling on his back, the old man looked into my eyes with his mouth parted, unspoken relief on his lips, for he has found his granddaughter who strayed into the woods picking wildflowers.
I know his story for I was the wandering child. Now I am the grandparent. I gather and carry the cares of my children and grandchild. This I will do through the passage of time, buoyed by sundogs and bright spots.

An act of kindness returned

The phone rang yesterday morning, saved me from the antagonist in my novel. I’ve been watching his every move this week, listening to his mind, feeling for a shred of goodness in his heart. Writing. Rewriting. Evil people are difficult to understand, distressing to characterize. Sometimes too close to home.
So I was glad for the distraction, hoped the caller was a friend like Sue. She makes me laugh; forget the world has always been a dangerous place. But I don’t have a friend named Beverly, the name with an unknown number. “Hello, this is Iris.”
“I’m calling because I have a job to do for a good friend,” she said in a timorous tone.
“How may I help?”
“Are you a lavender farmer?”
“Yes.”
 “My friend’s two-year-old granddaughter has…” Beverly wavered. “Leukemia.”
My stomach sickened at the flashback of my third-born baby in Beaumont’s intensive care, cries in the night from terminally ill children. Diseases. Invisible enemies.
Beverly apologized and composed herself. “The baby loves the scent of lavender. My friend has been looking for something soft with lavender to comfort her.”
Thankfully, I found two yellow cotton chicks in the bottom of the glass jar that holds what was left of lavender sachets from my farm’s gift shop. “The chicks are the size of a toddler’s hand,” I said.
“Perfect. I’ll take them, thank you.”
I addressed a manila envelope to Beverly, sealed the two lavender chicks inside before we said good-bye, and went back to work.
After wrestling several hours with my story’s bad guy, I’d had enough and left the house for a stroll to clear my mind. Dear Reader, you know a person with eyes to see can’t resist the residue of a winter sunset. There’s healing in the evaporation of those orange ribbons in the frigid sky. Have mercy, God, I prayed. We are broken, needy people.
This morning I woke with Beverly on my mind, relieved I hadn’t mailed the chicks, and went straight to the sachet jar. Glory be! I found three of my favorite lacy sachets in good shape. One for Beverly, her friend, and the baby’s mother.
In the broad scope of human suffering, such a gesture seems futile, even ridiculous. Yet, my baby sister mailed me a card after my firstborn passed that simply said “I love you, I’m sorry” three times. The spirit of those words carried me until the next act of kindness extended another bridge to hope and healing, the courage to trust God again.
From childhood, I’ve anchored my faith in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them called according to his purpose.” This Scripture seemed like a cruel joke nineteen years ago when we buried our daughter. Death, our abiding opponent, mocked God in my sorrow.
I believe we walk this earth for a purpose, one tested and proven. Be not afraid. This is our Father’s world. And He loves us.

All that glitters is not bling



I never wanted a crystal chandelier. Glitzy isn’t my style. I’m a natural girl; prefer a posy of herbs and wild roses to diamonds. My backup embellishment for elegant occasions is a strand of pearls.
“But every woman needs some bling,” you may say.  
Perhaps I’ve never fully recovered from my big jewelry disaster. Dear Reader, imagine my horror when I accidently destroyed my wedding band and engagement ring in a garbage disposal. Truly. Not three years married. I couldn’t cook wearing them, so put the soldered gold set on the shelf above the kitchen sink.
Although my husband replaced the twisted remains with a striking solitaire eighteen years ago, I rarely wear it. A gardener can be a little shy about her hands and fingernails. Besides, the ring is safer out of sight and mind.
Then, four years ago, along came the hankering to raise hens, add diversity to our household husbandry. Mercy! What my friend Carol finds on Pinterest. Of all things, a “chandie” in the Fancy Farm Girl’s chicken coop!
What a playful idea. Wouldn’t my hens oblige some bling when they’re on the nest, a focal point to relieve the pain of egg laying? So Andy, our belated handyman, hung a chandie in our new henhouse for our six maiden ISA Browns.
Countless quiches later, sparkling crystals on a petite brass chandelier caught my eye in a shop window and tweaked my sense of style. The price was right, so why not to rooster up my empty nest? The shopkeeper, bless her heart, gave the name and phone number of a handyman who led me to Don, a master electrician.
“If you want a larger chandelier just like this one for your dining room,” he said with screwdriver in hand, “I have one. I’d rather it go to a good home than take up space in my barn.”
He must’ve seen the gleam in my eyes. I’m a softy for vintage castaways, and took him and the chandelier seriously. One person’s junk is another’s treasure.  
“And two wall sconces to match,” he added.
I really liked this guy. It helped that his kinfolk are southerners. We talked beans and cornbread.
After twenty-six years, light now dances in glass prisms in the air, on the walls, windows and furniture where we dine. Crystals dangle from wall sconces where they dared not go before. My husband’s shaking his head, wondering what happened to his wife.
Not to worry. The other morning, I beheld sunrise upon fresh-fallen snow, millions of ice crystals glimmering on branches of maple trees like arms of giant chandeliers. Yes, I mused, there’s no more beautiful glitter in the entire world than in my own backyard.
Flowers may be my bling in blooming season, but in winter, it’s diamonds in the snow that takes my breath away. And thanks to Don, on these long, dark drizzly days, our house is glad to light up our life with rescued teardrop gems from his barn.

A Lifespan for All Things


I relaxed before the Christmas tree last night for the final review of my 2015 goals, my homage to our Fraser Fir before I stripped it for the burn pile.

             Dear Reader, I fell 50% short of achieving my heart’s desires for the past twelve months. This is my worst record since I began setting goals in ink over thirty years ago.
             In search of explanations, I scrolled the list line by line with my pen, recalled my intent for each personal and professional objective. Clarity overcame disappointment as I realized circumstances out of my control had rendered my ideals unrealistic.
From January through September, the exodus of family members and friends from this earth consumed my mind, heart, and time. This season of loss called for grace, comfort, and healing for my family and me.
Goals must be flexible, corrected in times of need, I reasoned. Furthermore, I no longer wanted all I aimed for January past. Yet, more difficult to face were the failures due to my lack of resolve and discipline. I rolled those goals over to a shorter list for 2016.
Try, try again.
You see, a childhood memory drifted into my dreams recently with a solemn reminder of life’s brevity. Not necessarily the result of bedtime gluttony, I’m convinced dreams are often messengers. They may come from our deepest desires and fears to inform, correct, and direct us. Often, dreams behave in flashbacks to reveal what’s eating our soul.
Such is the scene of the day I raced home from school, arms full of books, and found new wall-to-wall carpet on our living room floor. I fell to my knees, rolled on the gold rug in bliss while Mom laughed in the kitchen.
Like a visitation from Dickens’ Spirit of Christmas Past, I woke from the dream and remembered my wedding day, dressed in my gown, veil, and shoes too small. Our living room carpet had lost its glamor, an eyesore the photographer discreetly avoided to my mother’s relief.
After forty-six years, that old regret for Mom’s hardship still lodges in my chest. She sewed my wedding trousseau and my four sisters’ bridesmaid dresses, roasted the chicken and baked the light rolls for my reception, all without a dime from Dad or her love-struck daughter.
After Mom passed, I folded my hot pink, floor-length taffeta bridal robe and let it go to Salvation Army. If ever I doubted my mother’s love for me, that handmade garment alone dismissed the notion with its 70’s style pointed collar.
Blessed be God for the memory of these precious things under Heaven! Their power lives past the fire pit, resale store, and landfill.
I now understand we plan for the future because we love people and life, know every earthly thing has a lifespan. What truly matters is what we leave to immortal, redemptive memory.
For every destructive thing, we may offer a treasure to encourage our kind to faith, hope, and charity.