Kate From Sheboygan


I love throwing around the word ‘Sheboygan’ as if I am intimately familiar with the Wisconsin city. I’m not; Sheboygan brings no connotations to my mind whatsoever.

Until a few months ago.

I did not go to Sheboygan. Sheboygan came south in the form of a delightful 25 year old millennial named Kate, who came with her boyfriend Kyle to stay in our Airbnb room on the southern lap of their hit-all-50 bucket list.

Kate and her boyfriend are scientists. Odds were that, as an English teacher who has lived south of the Mason-Dixon her whole life, I would have few connecting points with two scientists from Sheboygan. Wrong!

Let me describe Kate: engaged! She was a reminder of how rich this life is and to hang on to that. Her bucket list includes skydiving and Nashville. She kayaks and hikes and Cricuts and loves children and is the perfect balance to her quiet companion who is more what I had envisioned a Sheboyganite to be like. And yes, their accents were hard core. Mwahkee; Grammuh (your mother’s mother).

She was not afraid to invite us to our own back porch to talk. Most Airbnbers are properly reserved and that’s as it should be. But, oh, the refreshing one who breaks through and says, “Come visit!” That freedom doesn’t just come from youth. It comes from the heart of a person who doesn’t fear judgment because she herself is not judgmental. She takes in life with pleasure as it comes to her.

Thank you, Kate, for reminding me that God has no end of ideas when forming our personalities; that He had a great time making you; and that He blesses this big world with your warmth.


PS. Kyle, seriously about the wedding invitation. Kate’s one of a kind; don’t let her get away!


If I Understood You Correctly

Sister-girl, what will you find there,
In the church of you?
Our first dishwasher was army duffel
Gummed with years of generic
Tomato sauce,
And offered the panoply of options including
On and Off.
It sort of cleaned the dishes, but

You get what you pay for.

Fingers in the medium do not
Bleed a life price.
Ply though they will, fingers
Can only cry out in wordless,
Extension for redemption.

Their cry is true as
The pink sky over the
Catholic church in
That morning
It was seven degrees,
With birds.

I do not trust in my fingers;
They are dead.
But their offspring
The promise of salvation.

(In response to an article by Rebecca Gayle Howell titled “The Lexington Cure” published in Oxford American magazine, Winter 2017)

A Teacher’s Reward (And A First Attempt At Rap)

Wearing my Madewells
Trying to stay well,
I know I’m paid well;
These kids behave well.
I make their brains swell,
That’s what their grades tell.

But that’s not all,
Sweet babies hearts are tall.

In their faces
A world of patience,
And expectation.
I’ll sit beside them,
Point, and guide them,
“That’s where we’re going.
Fast or slowing,
I’m going with you,
Make sure you get through.”

But that’s not all,
Sweet babies, you won’t fall!

Think all you’re learning,
As earth is turning,
And every sunrise
Broadens your eyes,
Now you can say that
North is that way,
You did not know that

And that’s not all.
Keep going, that’s not all.

You don’t believe me,
But I’m here already.
In tomorrow
There is a hollow,
A seat with your name,
A need for your flame.
You will be perfect!
No one else fits it;

World’s not right ’til you’re in it.

Real Women Ski Uphill And Other Michigan Moments

When you cannot sew a quilt, you write a quilt; you sew with words. So I will write a quilt of 2000 miles and Michigan moments.

* Robin’s Egg Blue and Lavender 9 Patch Block. The Au Sable Cross Country Ski Trail in the morning. Ice, water, and trees made a pastel glow and the Lord and I talked as I skied. The first wipe out of the day, I heard my body say to its component members, “Oh, we’re doing this again, are we?”

* Crimson Bear’s Paw Block. We started the fourth mile of the trail and I concluded that I have 3 miles in me at a time. The huge paw print in the snow had to be a hangry bear. By God’s grace, trails do end and we regained the car, heaving, and snacked on apples that were the best apples we’ve ever had.

*Meyer Lemon and Olive Green Pinwheel Block. What color is youth? A group from Earlham College spread an enormous cooler full of picnic in front of the fireplace in the Stone Turtle Lodge and snapped, scrolled, laughed, and ate. Remind me to tell Will Sieg about the brilliant girl in the so-cool headband who spread peanut butter and Nutella on a flour tortilla!

*Granite and Pitch Rail Fence Block. Wet, pot-holed roads in hard-working towns between the lovely lakes and woods.

*Silver Silk and Pearl Batik Half-Square Triangle Block. Rolling Hills Trail in the sparkling cold afternoon. Emily Dickinson wrote of that ‘certain slant of light’ on winter afternoons. Yes. Yes, indeed. Spliced with tree trunks, the slant of light lit the snow and inspired us to crouch and go down the hills with poles tucked back like Olympians.

*Solid White Block, ‘062588’ embroidered in white thread in Bodoni 72 Smallcaps Font.

*Desert Camo, Denim, Sandpaper, and Pleather 9 Patch Block. What our car looks like inside and out.

*Muslin and Orange Calico Flying Geese Block. Goodale Bakery in Grayling, MI. ‘Pasties’ are beef stew in pastry pockets that warm the gizzards. Those and a 50 cent bag of popcorn got us through the afternoon. It’s good I don’t live here. The only way to take on Old Man Winter is to stay inside and eat.

*Sunflower Barn Art Block. Sally at Spike’s Keg O’Nails Restaurant. I called Donalyn ‘incomparable,’ but Sally compares. Genuine warmth and interest overflowed from Sally as she extolled her hometown and gave helpful advice. We laughed at her honest comment that cross-country skiing was not her cup of tea because, “I mean, I’m walking and walking and walking and not getting anywhere!” All said in that North Mitten accent.

*Sherbert and Wine Log Cabin Block in Amish Solids. Oh, the 9 Oaks Inn. What we owe you! Our nook in the cold. Gas heat and hot water at crucially needed times. And to Bryan – stepping in for the motel’s owners who were sitting pretty in Bradenton, Florida – our thanks. Bryan anticipated a desk job, dealing with working men who wouldn’t need much from him beyond a towel and an ash tray. How could he foresee that the septic tank would back up and the lights would go out and the generator would be frozen and crotchety all in one night? Our hearts bled for Bryan as we heard him out there in the bitter cold with his band-aided fingers whanging some part of the motel generators with a 2-foot crescent wrench, using choice words, and talking on the phone to Bradenton. Little did he know that Andrew was praying against his success because the generators were one thin pane of glass away from our lair and you know they are loud. The fact that Michigan Power and Light got the electricity on fairly quickly takes nothing away from Bryan’s heroics. As we left, I gave him a candle and love from Alabama. (His band-aided fingers are another story altogether.)

*Traditional Fan Block, Indigo Blue fanbase, Spokes of varied white hues – eggshell, bone, vanilla, smoke – on a Background of Daffodil yellow batik. Detroit. Breakfast with Jay and Lydia and the view out their back windows; Redeemer Midtown Presbyterian Church and their call to be the love of Christ to Detroit; sunshine in February on detailed downtown architecture; a Lebanese lunch at Al Ameer where the meat is better than candy; people of every variety; and three little girls playing in their front yard on a blighted street. The width of these experiences compelled us to think about what we are called to do and be in this world. One thing is sure: we cannot coast through this life. Don’t you love a life that is bigger than this world?




*And then the random crazy block of moments like us stove-up and Andrew referring to cross-country skiing as ‘you know what.’
Or when Michiganders referred to ‘up north.’ Any more north than this and, surely, you have crossed the pole and are headed back south?!
Or the directions including take a ‘Michigan left.’ No joke. That is a thing.
Or the interesting plastic pan in our motel room that was clearly an important amenity and was a mystery to us. Sled? Serving tray? Ahhh, snowy boot holder! Who knew?

Or walking on water! We had never walked on a frozen lake before.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow! We are humbled with gratitude for this trip and this glorious and fallen and beloved world.

But It’s A Good Pain, Right?

Photo by Fran Upton

That is what we said to each other as we coasted home to the 9 Oaks Inn after day one. And it was that gratifying pain of hard work. It was also

Glorious, glorious, glorious. Exhilarating. To spend an entire day outside, cold, but not too cold, breathing the air of the woods, sunburned even! Well, that’s a privilege.

I’ll mention here the most mundane and almost irrelevant, but still notable, detail. My hat is off to you northern ladies. I never realized how challenging the beauty regimen is up here. I felt myself turn into a chapped, wind-whipped husk the minute I crossed the state line. My hands crusted, my hair wilted to a fine, static cape, my eyes watered. In short, the elements are against us and it’s a war. But, I told you this observation was irrelevant, so I’ll move on.

We discovered the Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, Michigan on a general Google search and what a perfect find. Thank you, Google.  Bob and Lynn and their staff are excellent. They outfitted us for skis and provided Fran, and her hour of instruction. And then, we were off on the Wild Turkey trail.

The sound of the skis on the snow is the scrape of a sword coming from its scabbard. Very cold and metallic and pleasant.  Our skis are called ‘spiders’ which has something to do with snow conditions.  And tonight we have the skis in our car which is so legit.

For anyone wondering how to deal with flabby arms, this is your sport. This was a tricep workout extraordinaire. Tricep, every cep.

Our friend who told us that the front line muscle group that will lead the charge and suffer the most casualty was the inner thigh was almost right. Yes, inner thigh, but really that tendon (or ligament) right at the bend there that connects the leg to the trunk. Any attempt to turn or stop the ski relies entirely on that tendon, that one overwhelmed, overstretched piece of cartilage screeching like a cat in the night.

But louder than that cartilage’s screeches was the voice from core of my being that said, ‘If you fall down again, we are not getting you up. So do whatever you have to do to stay up.’ And I was all over that, except that many factors take you down, including the burst of pride that comes from achieving a little glide, or feeling on top of things enough to admire the deer hoof prints. Down you go.

Dinner at Spike’s Keg with the incomparable waitress Donalyn and the feisty guys at the pool table, then back to the 9 Oaks to rally our forces for day two and a trail along the Au Sable River. *Update: it is snowing and 20 degrees. Brrrrr, y’all.



Your Cullman Ambassadors To The Winter Games: Departure Day

We are not actually going to PyeongChang; we are going to Roscommon, Michigan for a 30-year anniversary cross-country ski trip. But we do expect a call from the Olympics just anytime when they see clips of us on the trail. At the very least, for the first time in our adult lives, we will watch the Olympics and not feel the couch-guilt of underachievers.

But first, a few shout-outs.  Hello to our Covenant Group who foresee all sorts of tendon damage. So far, so good! We haven’t torn our ACLs getting the suitcases out. Hello to the 9th – 12th graders at Cullman Christian School! Woohooo, y’all! Check the live webcam on Thursday and Friday. https://crosscountryski.click2stream.com  I’ll be the one in the purple jacket on the ground. Now, get on with vocab.  Thank you to Morgan Moore and Rachel Eidson at Elevate Barre for training me for this endeavor. I’ll be repping the studio with my hard-won cap! Hello to our 5 children/spouse/fiance who for some reason think we are going to die on this trip. This is not downhill skiing so our chances of death, at least in my inexperienced surmising, should be significantly lower. We will google the difference in black bear versus brown bear protocol before we head out and try to get it right should the panicked moment arise. Hypothermia won’t be a problem which you’ll see when I describe our packing. What else? Dehydration? Snow is water, right??

So we are packing today. We’ve been told that cross-country skiing is very hard and exhausting and we will be drenched with sweat, so dress in layers that can be removed. In fact, we are evidently supposed to be cold when we start out. I don’t like being cold, so that advice will be hard to heed. We’ve also been told that we will fall down a lot and that our inner thighs will be crippled in pain on day 2 from maneuvering 7-foot skis as we try to get back up. I doubt the 9 Oaks motel in Grayling, MI has a resident masseuse, but I could be wrong. I hope I am.

Ok, then. Layers. That simply means bring everything we own. We did buy some neat little tubes of fabric called Buffs that can be worn in 12 different ways and look all manner of cool. Not on us, but on the models in the video tutorial. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSvRm4CHmvE

Our dining plans include Spike’s Keg O’ Nails in Grayling every night because look at it!   http://www.spikes-grayling.com. Vietnamese in Indy, Middle Eastern in Dearborn.

Oh, our pets. Could someone please come feed . . . wait, WE DON’T HAVE ANY! HAHAHAHA.

Today we leave. We will hit Indianapolis, IN; Roscommon, MI; Detroit, MI; Cincinnati, OH, and then back to good old Cullman.

And if that lineup doesn’t strike you as totally romantic then I don’t know what would.


What I Saw In Their Faces

~ For my niece Rebecca, her husband Paul, and baby Perry Brooks

The baby is the miracle;
His eyes are irresistible.
His hatted head is why we live
And build and breathe and sweat and give.

His lips, his cheeks, his fingernails,
Soft weapons o’er our hearts prevail.
And all our armored busyness
Melts upon his helplessness.

He doesn’t even mean to be
The spitty, softy death of me.
Demise of me with me enthralled,
He softly breathes; to him I’m called.

Too small, these words, unnecessary.
The moments speak in pixels clearly:
She tired, unclothed, wrung out and smiling.
He, too, face bent to love beguiling.