Laurel said the other day, “We should all learn another language. As a family, you know?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, then if we’re someplace all together and we want to say to something to someone in the family but we don’t really want everyone else to know, we can just say it in that other language,” she said.

I think she was thinking along the lines of a let’s-get-out-of-here signal.

“Like Swedish,” she said. “We could all learn Swedish and nobody would know what we’re saying.”

“Ummm… you’d be surprised,” I told her. “I’m pretty sure Amy knows Swedish.”

Amy — former pastor, dear friend.

“Oh, well…” Laurel said. “You know what I mean.”

Personally, I think we should all learn sign language. Not as a secret language — because there are a lot of people in the world who know sign — but as a quieter way of communicating.

I can always tell when my father’s hearing aids aren’t working.

“What?” he’ll ask.


“I’m having trouble hearing you,” he’ll say.

I’ll check to see if his hearing aids are in, and, if they are, if he has turned them on. Often these days he forgets the latter.

The other day Mary had a dentist appointment. As she and I headed out the door, I stopped to check my father’s hearing aids — and turned them both on. He was on his way to sit in the living room with the Daily Jumble.

An hour later when we got home, he was standing at the kitchen table.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked.

“I need to put this in my…” and his voice trailed off as he searched for the word. He was holding a hearing battery in his hand.

“You need to put a new battery in your hearing aid?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and he pointed to his right ear — where there was no hearing aid.

“Okay, I can help with that,”I said. “Where’s the hearing aid?”

“That’s the problem,” he said.

“Did you set it on the table here?” I asked, and began moving papers and looking.

“I don’t know,” he replied — and that became his reply to every question.

“Where were you when you took it out?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you sitting in your chair in the living room?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you go in your bedroom?”

“I don’t know.”

I began looking everywhere — the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the sun porch. I crawled around on the floor, looking under furniture, putting my cheek to the floor because that made it easier to see the incongruity of the hearing aid.

“Is it in your pocket?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, but he dutifully emptied his pockets for me.

All this conversation was taking place at a high volume — because of the missing hearing aid. That, alone, is exhausting.

Twenty minutes into the search and I was ready to give it a rest. My neck hurt from sleeping in a bad position the night before and this cheek-to-the-floor business wasn’t helping. I sat down.

“We’ve got to find it!” my father said when he saw me sitting. He was looking through some papers that hadn’t been moved in a year. The hearing aid would surely not be among them.

“Criminy,” I muttered under my breath. My neck ache was quickly becoming a headache.

“Keep looking,” he said urgently. “We can’t stop looking!”

I got back to my feet and went back over the same places I had been looking. Finally, in his bedroom, I spotted it poking out from the back edge of a chair cushion.

I could see the relief on his face when I brought it to him.

“Where did you find it?” he asked.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the new battery in.

“Where?” he asked again.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the hearing aid in his ear.

“That’s better,” he said, once it was in place. “Where did you find it?”

Something in me snapped. “ON THE CHAIR IN YOUR ROOM,” I shouted — not in a nice way.

I left in search of Advil.

Frederick Buechner, in his new book The Remarkable Ordinary, talks about his mother’s hearing loss and the difficulty of shouting conversations.

from “The Remarkable Ordinary” by Frederick Buechner

I thought about my deaf friends who read lips so well — and appreciated that I don’t have to shout at all with them.

When Laurel said she wanted to learn Swedish, all I could think is that I’d rather learn sign language.

That way maybe I could communicate better with my friends who use it.

And when I’m old and hard-of-hearing, my family can converse with me without shouting.


Family Picnic

We had a family picnic a few weeks ago.

Actually, that’s kind of a generous description.

It was a partial family get-together that involved food, frisbee, and talking.

Five out of eight children — that’s more than half the family.

A kind of weird conglomeration of food that included deli meat (but no bread), watermelon, fresh mozzarella salad, chips, and blueberry pie — I suppose that constitutes a picnic. We were eating at a picnic table.

A huge caterpillar.

Future luna moth


That became layered frisbee.

A walk by the lake.

And lots of sitting around, talking.

The best of life is made up of so many simple moments.

They may not be perfect, but the sum of them is.




I sat in an exam room with a new health care provider last week. As she worked her way through the list of get-to-know-you questions, she came to medications. The form had said, “List all medications,” but I left it blank.

“Do you take any medications?” she asked.

“Nope,” I said.

“Vitamins or supplements?”


“Anything over-the-counter that you regularly take?”


“Nothing at all?” she asked one last time, looking up at me.

“Do you count coffee?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “That’s a food group. Coffee and chocolate — both are food groups.”

I knew then that we would get along famously.

My sister survived Irma. The morning after the storm, she reported that they were fine but didn’t have electricity. To the best of my knowledge, they are still without electricity. She texted me pictures of trees down and debris in the road, then added,

The real problem: NO COFFEE 😬😱😡

I read a joke that made me think of her and her situation.

Q: How do you feel when there is no coffee?
A: Depresso

The other day when I made my coffee, the filter folded over and the coffee didn’t drain properly into the pot. When I went to pour my first cup, I got watery grounds and a mess in my coffee maker. I read that spilling a cup of coffee is the adult equivalent of letting go of a balloon. My situation was the equivalent of multiple balloons disappearing into the sunrise. I felt like crying.

Thankfully, I live in a land of plenty — plenty more beans to grind, plenty more filters, plenty of water.

And plenty of electricity.

Still, I hope my sister’s electric comes back soon — if for no other reason than for the sake of coffee.

(And air-conditioning.)



“Quite frankly, God,” I said, “I’m getting a little tired of working on this patience thing. Could we move on to something else?”

Yesterday morning, I had been awakened by my father’s whistling. It’s happy whistling — “O Danny Boy” — evidence of his penchant for Irish music, that tells me he’s up and getting ready for the day.

Most days I listen for it. “Time to get to work,” I say to my girls as I get off the couch and head for the kitchen to fix his breakfast.

But yesterday, I heard it on the monitor in my room. It woke me up.

“O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…”

Sometimes he sings it. His singing reminds me of Lee Marvin in “Paint Your Wagon.”

I rolled over and looked at the time. 2:45 AM. Ugh.

When I went down to his room, he was laying out his clothes.

“What are you doing, Dad?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know,” he said, turning to look at me.

“It’s not even 3 o’clock in the morning,” I told him.

“I know that,” he said — but I don’t think he did.

“Don’t you think you should be sleeping?” I asked.

“That sounds like a good idea,” he replied.

After helping him get back to bed, I went upstairs to my own. Laying there, looking at the ceiling, listening to the monitor, I could hear him rustling around for a few minutes, then quiet, then the heavy breathing of sleep.

I wished I could do that, but sleep never returned for me.

Some time after 4, I came downstairs again and made my coffee. My ever-growing pile of books that I’m working through beckoned me. In addition to daily Bible reading and time with Lancelot Andrewes,  my current morning reading consists of

  • Charles Williams’ The New Christian Year — a devotion a day.
  • Pascal’s Pensées — a pensée or two a day
  • Documents of the Christian Church (selected and edited by Henry Bettenson) — a document a day
  • Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance — a section a day
  • St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life — a chapter a day

St. Francis irked me yesterday. He said,

Among the virtues we should prefer that which is most conformable to our duty, and not that which is most conformable to our inclination…

My inclination is not towards patience. Mercy, maybe, but not patience. I’d like to swoop in, do some little nice thing for someone who’s hurting, and leave.

This long haul of caregiving is the opposite.

And my patience is in short supply these days.

“Lord, can we move on?” I prayed — but I knew the answer.

I began a good work in you. I’m going to complete it, He replied.

So, when I heard “O Danny Boy” for the second time that morning, I made his breakfast, took his blood pressure, gave him his meds, found the puzzles in the newspaper for him, and tackled another day.

For Ken

The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Like starting in the middle of a book
Unaware of what will be and what has been

This brotherhood — primarily of gene
Familiarity that never took
The weight off being youngest of thirteen

Age differences far outside the mean
Busy lives — too oft we overlook
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Roads diverge — picture, please, the scene
We traipse along and nary take a look
At the weight of being youngest of thirteen

Checking in — “Hey! How’ve you been?”
Connections never made and never took
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Substance solace sought when still a teen
Became a gap impossible to brook
The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Unaware of what will be and what has been

My husband’s youngest brother passed away last week, and I’ve really struggled to find words for my feelings.

When I met Ken he was two years old and running naked through the yard, laughing. Bud caught him, scooped him up, and in a move that amazed me at the time, still amazes me today, and told me that Bud would be a great dad someday,  put child and diaper back together in a fraction of a second.

Over the next few years, I played countless games of Strawberry Shortcake In Big Apple City with Ken and his sister, Jeannie. Like every 3 or 4 year old, he cheated to win, because he understood that the point of the game was to get to the Strawberry House, but he didn’t necessarily understand that there were rules involved.

Zaengle family walk — 1984 — Ken on a bike in front

Bud and I married, moved away, started our own family, came back again, and Ken was school age.

By the time he was a teen, our family had expanded and kept expanding. When Kenny made some poor choices, Bud tried to be involved with getting him on the right track — but a 23 year age difference doesn’t make for an ideal brotherly relationship. Lord knows, though, they tried.

And life goes on.

Every family has struggles. And splinters. Ours was no different.

We lost touch.

No, I’ll say it — I blocked him on Facebook because I couldn’t handle the weight of his struggles along with the weight of my own. Does that make me a terrible person? Probably.

But it doesn’t change the fact that we loved him — even though we didn’t know the right way to go about showing it.

I’m sad that Kenny’s gone.

And I’ll treasure the memory of that little boy laughing in the front yard — back when demons weren’t chasing him, only big brothers with diapers.

My sympathy goes to Sarah, Oden, Ellie, and Evan.


I’ve been watching The Weather Channel the past two days with almost a morbid obsession. This waiting and watching and watching — it’s like a slow motion train wreck and I can’t get my loved ones off the tracks.

“Even if we did leave,” my sister said yesterday, “where would we go? The traffic is moving slowly and there’s no guarantee we would find gas along the way.”

Yes, life is one big crap shoot. You roll the dice, you move your mice, and — sometimes it’s the wrong decision, but you have to ride it out. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what the right decision is.

The other day I accidentally pulled out in front of a car at one of our wonky rural intersections (the Bowerstown bridge, for local readers).  The other driver let me know — with a toot and a gesture — that he was not happy. I had already committed, though, and had to go for it once I entered the intersection. We all made it through unscathed.

I hope that’s the case for my sister.

Another story I’ve been following — through the friend of a friend of a friend — is of vacationers stuck on St. Maarten. First, gangs were invading the resort to loot it. The Americans hunkered down in the back corner of the back room of their condo. After escaping the gangs, Hurricane Jose set its course for them. “…their greatest concern is the amount of water that will be coming this time as there are no walls/windows to keep it out. They currently have some drinking water and some peanut butter to eat…” The word yesterday was that they had been rescued.

However, before the rescue, in their preparation for Jose, these people were told to collect loose debris left by Irma so it wouldn’t be flying around when the second hurricane hit. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of that.

I am mesmerized at the swirling red-purple-yellow-green nebulae of winds and rains on The Weather Channel — and I picture The Wizard of Oz on a much larger magnitude. With rain. Lots of rain. And now flying debris.

Someone posted on Facebook decrying people who make a metaphor of this hurricane. I don’t believe it belittles to take lessons from a disaster. Pascal (in Pensées) said,

Two errors:
1. To take everything literally.
2. To take everything spiritually.

It is a literal storm — on a magnitude that I have never seen.

But I also can learn a lot from those swirling winds.

When I feel battered on all sides — and I’ve had that kind of week: a death in the family, personal medical concerns, frustrations in relationships, a sister in the crosshairs of a hurricane, bickering, aching back — battered by both boulders and pebbles — when I feel battered, I can use the lulls to pick up the debris, and I can hunker down in the toughest part of the storms.

So, I turn my attention back to The Weather Channel, hoping to see some news of where my sister is.

“We don’t care about our weather,” Laurel scolded the television, as our local forecast came on.

No, we care about that freight train, Irma, slowly barreling toward Bonita Springs, Florida.



It seems hard to believe that this beach where I have walked and relaxed and played will have a storm surge of 5, 10, 14, 17 feet of water. The numbers keep getting higher every time I look at the news.

My sister, who lives in Bonita Springs, Florida, has long been an avid Weather Channel watcher. She says that her cats like to watch, too.

I always laugh about it. “You can’t change the weather,” I say, which is true, but unhelpful.

But now Irma plans to visit.

I’ve collected shells on Sanibel, and felt the waves wash over my feet. Little waves of the incoming tide. Not Irma.

My children have gathered buckets of sand and water as they played there. All in safety.

At Sanibel in 2008

Drawing in the sand (2008)

Building a castle (2008)

It’s hard to imagine how changed it will be.

“Is it too late to evacuate?” I asked my sister this morning.

“Oh yeah,” she replied.

As Irma’s winds grow closer, a crescendo unlike anything my Florida family has experienced, my worries will also grow.

And grow.

And grow.

I had my own little bout with worry recently. Waiting for appointments and answers is the worst. But, in the end, my answers were all good news.

With Irma, I’m afraid that the waiting isn’t the worst part.

It’s too much to hope for good news.

I’ll watch the Weather Channel with a pit in my stomach, waiting for the storm to pass.

My prayers are with all who stay in Florida.

Psalm 55:8

Sand castle at Sanibel (2008)