Ferdinand Jasper, a Pigeon Parable

In our house, we love animals. Caroline and I constantly dote on our Charlie-cat, we get excited when a hummingbird hovers at the window, and we give way too much attention to the caterpillars devouring our parsley plant.

We also tend to anthropomorphize every creature we meet.

We make up elaborate back-stories about squirrels, like one Dr. Paul J. Crumb who knows in his heart that chicken nuggets are bad for him but just can’t say no. The pigeons that hang out in our driveway we’ve named The Pigeon Brothers; they sell home appliances to local birds. And don’t even get me started on Stormie and Gloria, cats that roam the neighborhood.


Our summer vacation to visit friends in Hawaii required a night in an airport hotel. We checked in early in the evening and braced ourselves for a very early flight the next morning. Since this hotel is right across the street from LAX, we could look out the window and see planes landing and taking off, one after another.

Before the sun went down, Caroline spotted a white pigeon on the ledge of the seventeenth floor. He sat there with his little bird’s eye view of the airport, apparently absorbed in the non-stop action of take-offs and landings.

Suddenly, another pigeon had the nerve to land on his ledge. The white pigeon appeared to tolerate it for a brief moment, then squawked and shooed it away. Alone again, the pigeon sat there eyeing the giant flying beasts.


We couldn’t resist. And so, this pigeon quickly became Ferdinand Jasper who began to speak in a high, lispy voice about his longing to fly in an airplane.

“Oh, how I wish I could fly,” he said to no one in particular, having fended his ledge from every friend or foe.

Of course, none of his winged colleagues were there to remind him he actually could fly.

Maybe not as far as an airplane,

maybe not as fast as an airplane,

but more gracefully,

with more spontaneity.

After watching the others, comparing his wing span to theirs, dreaming of their faraway destinations—like Honolulu and Boston and Akron—he failed to remember what he was capable of.

All the hours spent watching the enormous aluminum birds—with fancy names like Southwest and Delta and United—had diminished his view of what he could do.

Ferdinand Jasper was a bird

who forgot his birthright.

His birthright was flight.


And what, my friend,

were you born to do?

pigeon 2 looking away

Safe Keeping

My parents cleaned out their storage areas last week—attic, garage, nooks, crannies—a time-consuming ordeal. They got rid of stuff that had accumulated over the thirty years they’ve lived there. Although it’s been twenty years since I lived there, Mom and Dad uncovered some old treasures of mine, including:

a faded Mickey Mouse Pez dispenser,

an artificial flower lei from my friend Leslie,

a sock monkey, made with love by our neighbor Mrs. Wheeler,

and much, much more.

Mom also spent an entire day laundering our old Cabbage Patch Kids, doll clothes, a Prayer Bear, and a Sparta High School cheerleading doll. She handed them over with the stipulation that I keep them until she’s dead.

Ummmm, okay.

Since Caroline has never been interested in dolls, she doesn’t want to play with them, so I plan to pack them away in the basement for some unknown future. They now hang in limbo, sprawled on the floor behind my desk chair, dead eyes staring at the ceiling.

(Poor Sock Monkey’s eyes fell off. He lies blindly on the floor.)

There’s already quite a stash in the basement – school yearbooks, dolls from my grandma, and many other things I can neither recall nor bear to part with. Soon I’ll add my Cabbage Patch Kid (little Hortense) and sock monkey to the stash for safe keeping.

These are the days I wish I were a minimalist. When I read about people who live in tiny houses with one cooking pot and seven items in their wardrobe, I think: that sounds intriguing. Then I remember how much perverse joy I get from decorative items that serve no other purpose than pleasing the eye.

My parents did the big clean-out for us – my sister and me. They are healthy, but they know the challenge of sorting through your parents’ belongings and making hard decisions about what’s worth keeping, what goes in the yard sale pile, what should be donated. I appreciate their foresight.

But as I contemplate adding another box to the basement, I’ve started cleaning out nooks and crannies in my own house, starting with the file cabinet. Goodbye, “Teaching Composition,” “Literacy Training,” and “PR Portfolio” files. Even the act of tossing you out bores me. If ever I teach composition again (held at gunpoint, perhaps), I’ll just have to do it without my old notes. With every leaf of paper that falls in the recycle bin, I feel lighter.

Some things are meant for safe keeping – for a time, for a reason. Safe keeping is for the things that help us remember the people we’ve loved and the ones who loved us even before we were born. Some things are lost – to moths, to rust, to death, to decay – and these are kept in the safest place, wrapped in memory. That is, the heart.

prayer bear

Best Wurst Day Ever

Order the Sausage Tower and a side of potato pancakes. It’s good stuff.

This past weekend, we finally made it to Hofbräuhaus on the west side of Belleville. The wait was less than thirty minutes, a band played bouncy German music, and a St. Louis FC soccer game was showing on a nearby TV—all in all, a barrel of fun.

Caroline ate mostly applesauce and a few tiny nibbles of potato pancake, but Phil and I sampled extensively from the three-tier “tower” of wursts, sauerkraut, potato salad, and pretzels. The dining room, with long, picnic-style tables, feels airy, its high arched ceilings adorned with Bavarian-blue checks. For a couple hours it seemed like we’d taken the world’s quickest flight to Munich.

A dozen summers ago, Phil and I, with his brother Jay, had visited Hofbräuhaus in Munich when we were there for the World Cup. While there, I remember being struck by how much the local people looked like my relatives, like my people who came to America from Germany in the 1880s. Back then, long before my mom took the deep dive into genealogy research, I had little interest in my German heritage. We were there for the sightseeing and soccer.

At the original Hofbräuhaus, I ordered the Hefe Weizen. (When in Rome . . .) I drank only a few sips, since I’d never really liked beer and thought it tasted like hair spray. (I’ve never tasted hair spray, but I thought it might taste like beer.) We snapped a picture of Jay holding two beers and checked Hofbräuhaus off our places-to-see-in-Munich list.

A couple of long years later, I was pregnant with Caroline, and while I never craved ice cream with pickles or canned peas with powdered sugar, I craved one thing: beer. It was like my German DNA suddenly woke up and started making unreasonable demands. Imagine a fetus in lederhosen; I did.

Funny thing is, people frown on pregnant women chugging beer, so I quenched my thirst with root beer. Mug, IBC, Fitz’s root beer—I liked it all. But my favorite was the strong stuff, Barq’s. Then after Caroline was born, when the coast was clear, I ordered beer. It was everything my pregnant self had dreamed of (and it didn’t taste like hair spray).

At Hofbräuhaus on Saturday night, we drank Coke. Maybe beer next time. We did have a lot of fun watching little kids dance to “Roll Out the Barrel.” Caroline is too mature these days to get on the dance floor (especially if the music is not covered by Kidz Bop), so we sang and laughed in our seats.

In my opinion, the food at Saint Augustine’s Wurstmarkt, held every fall, rivals that of Hofbräuhaus. But German oom-pah-pah music is good for the soul in June, too. All I need sometimes is to sit across from Phil and Caroline at a long wooden table where it’s too loud to have a conversation.

Because love is devouring a tower of sausage—with my people.

liney and me hofbrauhaus

Caroline liked the pretzels most of all.

Somehow Familiar

Last week we returned from a beautiful place in the Pacific Ocean where our neighbors now live. Hawaii has been on my to-see list since childhood, probably because my favorite sitcom families traveled there. George and Weezy Jefferson (and their neighbors Tom and Helen), the Mama’s Family bunch, and even Saved by the Bell had memorable Hawaiian vacations.


Aloha, McDonald’s

It’s a wonderful and strange place, the fiftieth state. Since it’s part of the US it feels familiar, but its remote location and tropical setting and strong native culture give it a foreign, glamorous quality. While there we visited Target and McDonald’s, which are pretty similar to those places in Illinois, except for the Spam items on McDonald’s menu—right next to the common Hotcakes & Sausage. The unfamiliar alongside the familiar.

Our hotel’s logo was a single arch—almost the shape of the St. Louis Arch—but with a peak at the top like a gothic window. Whenever I caught a glimpse of it from the corner of my eye, my brain would say, “What? A St. Louis Arch?” The mind works unbidden to find the familiar in the unfamiliar.


Aloha evil twin

Charlie’s Evil Twin

While we were away, my sister Amanda looked after Charlie-Cat. We knew he was well cared for but missed him still. When we spotted a cat that looked just like our Charlie at a restaurant, I bent down to meet him. He sneered at me, a common tourist. We named the kitty Charlie’s Evil Twin, alluring yet aloof, unsettling in his familiarity and unfamiliarity.

Of course, the highlight of the trip was hanging out with our old neighbors who now call Hawaii home. Meeting up with Kim and Brandon and the girls at a restaurant near the hotel felt as normal as hanging out in the front yard back in Illinois. We also got to see former neighbors Nick and Paula and their girls. (Why must our much-loved neighbors move to Hawaii?) It felt like old times, like chatting in the driveway, but on the beach in paradise on Memorial Day. It was a neighborhood reunion in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Familiar folks in an unfamiliar place: in a word, it was lovely.

Aloha noodle factor

BFFs at Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory

Toward the end of the trip, we stayed at Kim and Brandon’s house, Caroline playing with their girls and all of us enjoying their sweet hospitality. Caroline is a few years older than the girls—a sort of honorary big sister to them. And while we are not family, Kim and Brandon treated us as if we were, the familiar (literally) in the unfamiliar.

Part of traveling is finding ways to feel at home away from home—finding the familiar in the unfamiliar. And the dearest friends are the ones who’ve become somehow familiar—strangely familiar—like family.

Aloha group photo

Dear Neighbors, Sweet Friends, Like Family


A Blanket Named Lello

Friday night. Caroline left Lello on her unmade bed.

Tonight she’s going to her first sleepover – the birthday party of a friend that she’s known since Kindergarten. She’s been super-excited since she got the invitation. This morning before school, she carefully packed her overnight bag, asking if we had any travel-size toothpaste that’s “not gross.” I found some not-gross toothpaste for her.

She also packed PJs, a diary, a photo of her friend Vivien, a hairbrush, and an emoji-print sleeping bag. The essentials. I made a mental note to have her pack a pillow before we leave the house this evening. When I glanced at her bed – that’s when I noticed Lello.

Lello was a baby shower gift before Caroline was born, a soft, fleece blanket. I can’t remember which sweet friend gave us the gift of Lello, but her name is listed somewhere in Caroline’s baby book. It’s probably described as “cute fuzzy animal blanket” because that’s what I would have called it before it was named Lello Blanket.

The blanket’s white background is scattered with zoo animals – elephants, lions, giraffes – but the animal that Caroline loved the most is a yellow tiger. By the time she began to talk, she would point at the tiger and try to say “yellow,” which sounded more like “leyo,” which eventually became a real, proper blanket name: Lello.

Lello Blanket has been on every overnight trip she’s taken, from Disney World to Tiki’s house, always packed on top for on-demand comfort at a moment’s notice. The white part is more a dingy, pale gray from being washed in a load of jeans years ago. The animals are faded, and the tag is frayed. Lello looks exactly like what it is: a well-loved blanket.

This could be Lello’s first night alone. I’m feeling sorry for Lello.


My Facebook feed lately has been filled with graduation photos – friends’ kids who’ll be off to college in August or even sooner. The ones that tug at my tear ducts are the side-by-side pics of the same kid in kindergarten and a cap and gown. It happens in a blink, the growing up.

Caroline is nine, more than halfway to high school graduation. Makes me want to keep her home from all sleepovers and miscellaneous fun activities. Also makes me wonder: will Lello make the cut as dorm-room bedding? Or will it fade to obsolescence long before that?

I don’t know how Lello will fare in the future. Maybe I’m projecting my own fears of obsolescence onto Lello Blanket?

Nah . . .


Tuesday morning. Caroline reminded me to pack Lello Blanket in the suitcase for vacation. Maybe there’s still a future for Lello after all.  ; )

lello yellow blanket

Lello, a well-loved blanket


Earlier this week I drove home from an errand without my seat belt. I’m big on safety — seat belts, booster seats for kids, not texting behind the wheel, or whatever the standard may be. Whether I’m driving or along for the ride, I always put on a seat belt.

Strangely, my car didn’t remind me that I wasn’t wearing a seat belt until I was just a few blocks from the driveway. The beeping startled me, then the disembodied voice said, “Please secure your safety belt.” I was like, “Now you tell me?” Apparently it’s not just me becoming forgetful.

I guess I can’t say I always wear a seat belt. In fact, this is the second time in recent weeks that I’ve forgotten to “make it click.” The first time I was riding along on a quick drive to Taco Bell. There’s no apparent pattern to this—except that it’s spring.

Springtime is my forgetful season. When Caroline was in pre-school, every single April or May I’d forget to pay tuition. In fact, right now I’m wondering if there’s something important I forgot.

My desk is littered with lists because lately I have to write down everything. At the moment, I still remember—without writing it down—to brush my teeth and put on clothes every day. So that’s a plus.

See, we’ve all been holding stuff together since school started, and I don’t know about you, but my systems naturally begin to break down in spring. Weariness has set in.

Not long ago I told Phil that I’m weary, and he said, “You’re what?” as if I’d lapsed into Spanish or something. People don’t use the word weary much, but weary fits this season well.

Some of my favorite verses contain weary, the first one being written by Paul: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” This verse is a bite-sized pep talk: don’t give up, keep planting good seeds, stay your eyes on the prize. The first part might be paraphrased as, “Let’s not get tired,” which is easier said than done. Everyone gets tired at some point.

Sometimes you need a pep talk, other times you need a nap. Jesus acknowledged this when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We do get weary—of doing good things, of keeping life on track, of not giving up. We are limited, and Jesus offers rest.

Jesus gives us respite from the tyranny of to-do lists and cramming as much as possible into a single day. Are you weary? Let’s take Jesus up on the offer—to pause the striving and busy-ness that distract us from better things. If only for a moment, take a rest.

Thanks for reading! If you have some friends who might like reading this, would you share it? Take care, -Em.


Ronald McDonald’s Make It Click campaign made an impact on me as a kid. Remember this logo? Good stuff.



It’s the time of year when I get mad at trees. Normally, for forty-odd weeks of the year, I love trees. I appreciate their beauty, their time-tested grandeur.

Their bright-green vitality or bare-branched endurance.

Their shade.

But right now, I can’t breathe. So thanks a lot, Oak, Hickory, and Mulberry. Thanks for all the pollen in the air.

One nostril has been completely blocked for a day or two. No matter how much I blow my nose, it’s in a state of perma-clog. The other nostril, while sometimes clear, keeps me in suspense.

On the way to yoga class this week, I stopped by Walgreens. As I stood in the Allergy/Cold aisle looking for some remedy I haven’t yet tried, I spotted bottles of Liquid Plumr nearby — haven’t tried that. I ended up buying nose spray “for severe congestion,” or as I think of it, Sinus Drano.

I had signed up for the yoga class before realizing I wouldn’t be able to breathe well. The class was much harder than usual, given that you’re supposed to breathe through your nose.

I’m a yoga beginner, learning something new every time, but when I went to my very first class I kept thinking, “Why are we wasting so much time on breathing? Let’s get to the exercise already.” After a while, I picked up on the idea that coordinating breathing with movement is pretty much what it’s about. I learned that you inhale on lifting or opening movements and exhale while folding or twisting.

When I got to class, I warned the teacher that I was a mouth breather for the day. Rachel understood completely.

Whenever I get congested like this, I think of my friend Julie telling me about her son having a bad cold when he was little. Although he was miserable, he pointed out the bright side: at least he could still breathe out of his mouth. Last night as I tried to fall asleep, I popped a Benadryl and thanked God that at least I could breathe through my mouth.

Until recently, I hadn’t realized how much I take breathing for granted. At some point in the last year, though, I started a new habit. Upon first waking up, I thank God for the air in my lungs. Although my mind soon jumps to other things, I like this new habit of being grateful for that first breath of the day. It’s not promised, after all.

Thinking about breathing leads me to thankfulness for other forgotten things as well, like lungs that work 24/7 without my even thinking about it, the tiny bits of oxygen and carbon dioxide stashed in the backpacks of our red blood cells, the oft-neglected plants in our kitchen that clean the air in our house.

And, most of the time, I’m thankful for the trees that refresh the air outside. Thanks a lot, Oak, Hickory, and Mulberry. (I mean it this time.)

Thank you, Maple, Elm, and Birch.

Thank you, God, for trees. Thank you, God, for air.

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair . . .

-from Joyce Kilmer’s 1913 poem “Trees”


“Grandma Capilano,” the tallest tree in the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park of North Vancouver, BC