Marriage is a Wood Stove

  :: for Katie ::
Metaphors for marriage abound. 
Marriage is a harbor. 
Marriage is a garden. 
Marriage is a meal. 
Your choice of metaphor reveals your perception: if you say marriage is a lottery, or an anchor, or a wastebasket…

Because marriage is so textured and complex, and because God gave us a a creation chock full of pictures, we can amuse ourselves for a lifetime thinking about marriage metaphors. 
Marriage is a ballet (lift and stretch and twirl).
Marriage is a fugue (blending counterpoints brings harmony). 
Marriage is Crêpes Suzette (a little zest, a flame and a lot of nibbles). 
Marriage is a tile roof (beauty built to last).
Marriage is a barn raising (effort from the community around makes a difference).

Here in the Shire, many people heat with wood.  They understand when I say marriage is a wood stove.

What, essentially, is a wood stove?  It is a box that holds fire.  It is a container.  The fire doesn’t run hither and yon, wherever it wills; it is a controlled burn.  This brings safety, security and peace of mind.

A wood stove provides heat for living; in the past, it provided heat for cooking.  It is a means of warmth and sustenance.  But it is more than utility: a ginnin’ wood stove is pure comfort on a cold day.

The stove won’t heat without work.  Wood needs to be cut, split and stacked; a fire must be kindled; it needs to be fed.  Constantly.  If you leave the stove alone for a day, the fire goes out.  Ashes need to be removed; air needs to be present for a good draft, the door needs to be shut to conserve the fuel.  If smoky irritants start billowing out, it is time to attend to the fire.

When a fire burns in a stove, a chemical reaction takes place.  The composition of the wood is unalterably changed.  Marriage does that.  It changes you.  Even when the marriage ends by death or divorce, you do not revert back to the person you were before marriage. 

Fire is powerful.  A relatively small stove can heat a large space.  Being faithful in the small daily acts has huge ramifications. 

A warm wood stove becomes a community magnet.  If a group of people walk in from the cold, they congregate around the warm stove, basking in the warmth and comfort.  A warm marriage does the same thing: it attracts people.  When you respect and admire your husband, and when he respects and cherishes you, you are warming your community.  Your marriage is the gospel on display.  The inverse is also true.  When you give your husband the cold shoulder more than one person feels the chill.  Folks won’t huddle around a cold stove. 

Fire is dangerous and wild.  A wood stove presents a very clear and present danger to young ones.  When we had toddlers my husband built a fence to protect them from getting burned.  The marriage covenant is that fence.  A healthy respect of the danger and a healthy thrill of the wild are both appropriate.

Fire is a thing of vibrant beauty: blue, red, and yellow flames, brown and green wood, black smudgy coals, white ash.  As it burns it changes outfits and takes on new shapes.

Finally, a fire is a profound mystery.  How does does fuel + air + combustion make a flame that flickers and dances and curls around the coals? Fire mesmerizes, makes you stare and wonder and marvel.  When the fire burns in a marriage, we stare at the sparks and gasp at the glory.

I wish you a warm wood stove, one that radiates grace.  May the Lord God Almighty who ignited the flame between husband and wife, keep your fire bright.

Sometimes It Just Takes One

Mid-December, 1995.  It was a dark and slushy night.  I stopped by the library just before it closed to get a book on hold.  I was at the front desk when my friend Cindy walked in the door, looking distressed.  Her car wouldn’t start, she lived 30 minutes away, and her husband wasn’t home yet.  And it was December. 

“I only know one thing about cars, but I’d be glad to try it,” I offered.  We had an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera Wagon that was easily flooded.  My husband had taught me how to open the hood and stick a pen in the carburetor to hold it open. The car often flooded, but I could always fix it.  It was that kind of car.  I had used the pen-in-the-car trick many times to keep from getting stranded. 

I left my books inside; we held onto the rails as we threaded our way down the steps to the street.  The snow had turned to rain. Cindy popped the latch, I opened the hood like Mechanic was my middle name, and stuck the pen in the carburetor.  “Now try it,” I coached.  The car started like a top.  Oh. my. goodness.  I danced in the  puddles, whooped and hollered.  It was a moment of victory unlike any other in my life. fixed a car! 

Sometimes it only takes one piece to solve to puzzle.  When the odds of getting an answer look bleak, when the chances seem impossible, you don’t need a dozen possible choices.  There may be many interviews, but it just takes one job offer to become employed.  There’s no need for a dozen Mr. Rights to choose from.  It only takes one. 

Reading Evening

Tucked in between the happy chaos and loud gatherings of the 22nd and the 24th was a quiet reading evening. 

It was reminiscent of my childhood: siblings sprawled in various positions between horizontal and vertical, the quiet occasionally punctuated by a chuckle, hum, or gasp.  Curt was working late, Carson had taken Noah out to look for who-knows-what. Those of us at home were at home with a book. 

Taryn, my daughter-in-law, was reading Kristin Lavransdatter.  Collin was chuckling his way through P. G. Wodehouse’s The Heart of a Goof.  I was dipping into Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection.  The tree twinkled, the fire crackled; the only other sounds were barely audible breathing.

When the missing men arrived back home we popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  Son #2 toasted to God’s goodness in his life: three years of marriage and an inquisitive one year old boy.  While Carson was toasting I had a flashback to a day seven years ago when he experienced a rare bout of angst.  He knew what he wanted (a family of his own…I believe his words were “a wife, a house and a kid”) but it all seemed so very far off and unimaginable. 

His dream was out of my sight too, but I encouraged him to wait and hope…and to work while he waited.  Seven years ago I couldn’t give him a snapshot of his life today.  But it is glorious to look back and see the gifts, stacked to the ceiling and spilling over, he has been given.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.   


Frosting, Still Life, Chariots

photo by Donna Boucher, used by permission
~  When I’m in a car, I muse on metaphors.  I see pleats in geography, accordions in foothills, belts in highways, down comforters in clouds.  On Sunday, the fields were white with frost, a typical late November morning.  My mind was groping for the right trope: sheets of chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. 

It was an aha! moment.  Frost → frosting.  Ice → Icing   Sweet!
Schindler’s List (*now* we may watch the movie) is a haunting read.  People dodged death one afternoon even though it was likely they wouldn’t escape the next morning.  “An hour of life is still life.”  To hold hope so tight… 
A Commandant’s morning routine was to go outside, stretch, pick up a rifle and pick off a prisoner.  The choice of victim was so random, mindless, unpredictable.  The recent Tacoma police shooting is yet another random, rattling, needless killing.   
~  Here is a hymn snippet: On the first Sunday of Advent while singing Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates we came to these lines.

A Helper just he comes to thee,
His chariot is humility.

We all have heard of Chariots of Fire.  You may know Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  Chariots are often dazzling, splashy, flashy ways to arrive and leave.  But a chariot of humility?  What does that look like?  And why would a King of Glory ride in a chariot of humility?

This picture is challenging me. 

I naturally want my arrival to be noticed, a few more ta-DA moments, please!  Even in thinking about how I could choose the transportation of humility, I tend to romanticize the idea.  Any thoughts about chariots of humility?     



One of the great joys of being Nana is watching my kids being Dada and Mama.  They have provided security and stability for their boys with lots of laughter and tickles, and plenty of good food.  When one faceplants and is smarting with pain, there are hugs, comfort and plenty of love.  And, sometimes, a bandage. 

But, if the bump, scrape or fall is one of the minor daily occurrences of toddlerhood the response is, “Bonk!” with a cheerful voice.  So often the child gauges his response by the adult’s response.  It is a joy to watch the teaching process involved in one word.  It says yes, you hurt yourself, but stand up and try again.  This is the kind of thing to ignore. 

I realized that my native tendency is the opposite of “Bonk!”  I really want Acknowledgement of the Struggles and Difficulties and Frustrations and Challenges of my life. I am a regular Florence Nightengale when it comes to nursing my own aches and stresses.  I need someone to say, So it was a hard day with barely time to catch a breath?  Bonk!  I need to remind myself every time the printer jams yet again…Bonk! 

And that is where gratitude enters.  Choosing to be thankful instead of choosing to mope and pout.   I think gratitude, like repentance, is a gift from our Creator.  That is my prayer this morning.  “Give me a thankful heart.”  And I need people around me to remind me to take the little problems of my life less seriously.  Bonk!

O Lord that lends me life,

Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.   

~ William Shakespeare



An interesting discussion over at Nancy’s blog


Okay, I should put my oar in the water before I ask you what you think.

Personally, I think tattoos are a turn-off.
My struggle is not to be judgmental when I see one.
And I have more than one friend with a tattoo.
But an internal transaction always has to happen.
That is just my preference, not any doctrine.

If a friend told me she was contemplating a tattoo,
and we were good friends,
I would try to talk her out of it.

I’m still working through what arguments I would use.

The Cutting Edge

I’ve been opening a large bundle of mail everyday with a zip letter opener that looks like a whale’s head with an angled razor where his throat would be.  It was well used but its usefulness had expired.  After a few months of struggle it occurred to me to buy a new one.  What had previously been a pushing, shoving and ripping contest was transformed  to “zip zip”! 

Hello!  A basic maxim of life is to “keep your saw sharp.” 

So my thanksgiving this week is for people who sharpen the cutting edge.

My father — one of his trademarks was sharp kitchen knives.  A few months ago I heard the story about the origin of this minor obsession.  My dad was in a butcher’s shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan; this butcher’s lightening speed in cutting meat was legend.  The reason was simple: he stopped and sharpened his knives often.  This  inspiration from the late 1950s stayed sharp until his death in 1987. Everywhere he went he sharpened the knives.  He was a man with a steel in his hand.  I remember the whisk and whirl of the blade, the circular back-and -forth motions that blur together, the high-pitched tsk tsk of blade on steel. 

My husband Curt is as obsessed with cutting firewood as my father was with kitchen knives.  Beginning in May, he maps out the plan and goes out with our son Chris and brings home the fuel that keeps our homes warm.  He is restless until the wood is in.  Every evening before a wood cutting trip he spends considerable time sharpening the blades of his saw.  Honestly, I don’t know what he does!  But he keeps the saws in excellent working order.  I would be tempted to do this every other time or every third time, but Curt never skips this important step.  Falling trees is serious business and I’m grateful that he treats it with the respect it deserves.    

Last weekend we put in a patio.  Chris brought his father-in-law’s stone cutter saw and made all the cuts for the pavers on the edge.  The ability to cut bricks made a huge difference in the beauty of the finished product.  I saw the same dedication to excellence that his father has in our son.  He considered, selected, measured and cut all the live day long.  And at the end of the day, we had a beautiful cobble-stone-ish patio.  Sitting on the patio at the end of the day with my husband softens the sharp edges of the day.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

What Raspberries Teach Me About Life


Last night I futzed in the garden: a little tomato trimming, a little beet thinning, a little raspberry picking.  I had intended to begin (again) listening to War and Peace, but both my iPod and MP3 needed charging.

Well, I thought, I guess I’ll just think.  I don’t know why, but when I think in the garden I get all philosophical.  Not like Kierkegaard or Kant: just some elementary, didactic, flannel-graph object lessons.    

Here’s what I thought, just to prove that anyone could write those little Everything I Need to Know books.

What Raspberries Teach Me About Life

1.   The best position is to bend down low and look up.

2.   Stretching beyond your reach is worth it. 

3.   Don’t be afraid of of a few scratches. 

4.   Work is its own reward, but a fresh raspberry popped in the mouth is a bonus.

5.   The dried up raspberries represent lost opportunities.  Don’t despair.  Keep moving. Every life has *bushels* of lost opportunities.  Pluck them off and feed them to the dog.

6.   One can’t overstate the benefit of looking at a situation from many different angles. Both sides now.

7.   Even when you are certain you’ve picked every ripe raspberry –even then– there’s always more jewels waiting to be found. 

8.   Corollary: another person will be able to see what you can’t.

9.   Cultivating raspberries, which are essentially a weed, requires no great skill. God made the plants, sent the sun, gave the rain.  The fruit is a gift. 

10.   Early risers have moral high ground; sunset, however, is a superlative harvest setting.

11.  Raspberries mature at different rates from others in the same cluster. When they reach fruition, they are sweet, regardless if they are early or late. Like people.

12.  Ripe berries don’t need to be persuaded. The softest touch and they are ready to leave! If the berry resists, wait. A little time, a little sun, a little water, a little patience. The readiness is all.





It’s a funny thing: in my work, I repeatedly see names of people whom I have never met.  Some are hysterical (I’d love to give some examples but discretion is the better part of valor), some are mellifluous, some are common, some are abrupt, some are odd in other ways… 

Do you ever think objectively about your name?

Carol is becoming the Edna of my youth–a dated name that says old lady.  Oh well!

When I was a bank teller in LA, a customer came to my window with a check made out to me.  I stammered and stuttered and protested that she should make the check payable to Cash or to Security Pacific but not to me!  She tilted her head, squinted her eyes, stared me down, and replied  “Whachuu talkin’ bout?  That’s mah nay-eem!”  

My real question is this: do you hear a name and form an idea of the person who owns the name?   Isn’t it weird how our preconception almost never matches reality?

Free TBOI (tasty bit of information):  Ecuador is named after the Equator.  How could I have just learned that for the first time today?


this morning’s loaf – for a potluck lunch
It has nothing to do with the post below.

It strikes me that whenever you develop an expertise or advanced skill, you become fussy or nerdy about details that matter.   Perhaps “particular” is a nicer adjective.

My photographer friends care immensely about light.  That is what makes them good photographers.  Where amateurs will say “put your arm around your sister and smile” the nerdy one will swivel his/her head, scoping out all the options, whip out a light meter and set up a shot.

My decorator friends are nerds about color.  It is never green.  Oh no, my friend.  It is celery or asparagus; celadon or chartreuse; moss, myrtle or Persian.  And they walk into a room where the pictures are hung too high and suddenly develop facial tics.

I can hardly name them, but I am a nerd about chords.  Why play I, IV, V chords continuously when a relative minor, a sustained or augmented chord gives texture, warmth and richness to the music?  When James Taylor sings and plays the National Anthem I go gaga over his gorgeous chords.

I’m a nerd about balancing to the penny.  But I’m a slob about stuffing receipts and change into my wallet.  You know people whose every bill faces the same direction in descending order?  Not me. But I admire them.

my brother Dan, who loves coffee and photography, took this photo
Coffee nerds not only grind their own beans, ahem, but their coffee must come from a certain region of Colombia.

I am a minor nerd in the area of fonts.  Last week I saw a wedding program and immediately asked, “Which font is this?  It’s stellar!”  And Katie, an extreme font nerd, rattled off every font used. Trust me, there were no Arial, Comic Sans or Times New Roman.

I’m scanning The Incredible Shrinking Critic, yet another diet memoir, and laughed aloud at this sentence:

I’m so good at ferreting out quackery I can tell when a book or website is not to be trusted simply by the typeface.  I’m not kidding!  Quacks seem to be drawn by unseen forces toward choosing ugly, fussy, confidence-killing typefaces!

You knew I’d ask, didn’t you?  What are you a nerd about?