X is for “eXcuse me!”

“Excuse me. Do you need a hand?”


Yesterday, the baby-faced checker turned around and offered his help to the woman at the register behind him. She was in one of those scooter carts and couldn’t reach the groceries in its basket.

Obviously people had helped her throughout the store. The eggs were safely placed at the back of the basket along with some produce.

“Be careful with those,” she said, as he put the eggs on the belt.

“Handle them gently,” she cautioned, as he picked up a bag with tomatoes in it.

He apologized to me when he finally turned to start scanning my groceries. He was a big boy, tall, broad, with round cheeks and curly hair. I’m sure this was his first job, and it was obvious that he had been raised right.

“No worries,” I said. “I’m glad you could help her.”

We are always surrounded by people who need help. Sometimes they ask — like the lady who asked me if I knew anything about clams, again at the grocery store.

“Umm, no, I really don’t,” I told her. “Sorry.”

She sighed a heavy sigh. “The recipe calls for littleneck clams and he doesn’t have any.” She nodded her head toward the man at the fish counter. “He has other kinds, but he admitted that he doesn’t know the difference between them.”

“Let’s ask Siri,” I said, pulling out my phone.

Siri and I are besties. My children groan when I ask her questions. I was glad none of them were with me.

Siri pulled up a webpage about clams — and, at the same time, the man at the fish counter had my order ready. I handed my phone to the lady so she could read the information and went to get my order.

“Wait –” Laurel said, when I was telling her the story. “You handed your phone to a total stranger?!”

“She had a little girl with her,” I said, “and I was standing right there.” I wasn’t terribly worried about my phone.

My friend Amy, the one organizing the trip to Bosnia, told me how her Bosnia connection had begun. Many years ago she and her husband had seen a family huddled together at one of the New York airports wearing colored tags that identified them as refugees. “Can we help you?” they asked — and thus began a lifelong friendship.

I have a friend traveling today to Haiti with her husband, one of many steps in their long road to adoption. I hope people help them along the way — as they themselves go to help.

Sometimes people need physical help. Sometimes they’re lost. Sometimes they’re just knackered and need a little encouragement.

The world is a better place when we look for ways to help.


The collage above is only two pictures — the little girl from Humpty Dumpty’s Holiday Stories illustrated by Kelly Oechsli, and the old man from A Boy Who Wants a Dinosaur by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura. They just seemed to belong together.

V is for Vocabulary

Even though they were very wise, the owls had a limited vocabulary.


I often walk into the living room these days and find my father with the dictionary in his lap.

He still does word puzzles — the daily Jumble and crossword — every day, although he comments often that they’re making them harder.

He needs help with them — sometimes (often) by asking me or anyone in the room, and sometimes by trying to look words up in the dictionary.

As a kid, I can remember asking how to spell a word, and he would say, “Look it up in the dictionary.” Of course, that didn’t make total sense to me because I needed to know how to spell it to look it up. Somehow it worked though.

Dictionaries have always been important to my father.

When he left for college, he was given a dictionary that he still has today. It’s tattered and worn and not the dictionary I find on his lap.

He gave me a dictionary when I went to college. I still have it.

I gave one of my sons a dictionary when he went to college — not an electronic one, but a heavy hardcover one, where he could feel the weight of all those words.

Dictionaries were a fertilizer that fed my roots.

Having a good vocabulary is a gift from my parents, one for which I am continually thankful.


Teacher from A Boy Who Wants a Dinosaur by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura
Fence from Catch Me, Catch Me! A Thomas the Tank Engine Story illustrated by Owain Bell
Owls from Mother Goose Treasury, 2009 Publications International — it has a long list of illustrators and I don’t know which one did the owls

U is for Unknown

Sometimes I wish I knew what lay ahead —
What will each new tomorrow bring my way?
Why must I always feel so in the dark?
Or, at the very least, so in the gray?

But, if, one day walking, I should chance
To find a crystal ball that could reveal
My future with one touch, one glance –
Would I dare to look, its prophesies unseal?

Indeed my trembling hand would rise, extend —
Heart-pounding in my breast – loud, hard, fast —
And yet a greater force would apprehend
And stop me seeking this, my own forecast.

For the newness of each day and its unknowns
Are gifts. Yes, they are treasures, don’t you see?
Every day is its own celebration
Full of presents* to be unwrapped by me.

*presence?


Man is from Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Crystal ball from The Mapmaker’s Daughter by M. C. Helldorfer, illustrated by Jonathan Hunt

Background from The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda William, illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Not sure where the building is from

T is for Thinking

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought.
There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.

~Victor Hugo

I begin and end each day lost in thought, although I think Hugo more aptly describes is as “absorbed in thought.”

The busyness of the day comes too quickly upon me. Sometimes I have no time to think, just do, do, do.

But to gather my thoughts at the beginning of each day, and run them through the sieve of scripture and Pascal and, this morning, William Law, I can’t tell you how much that helps.

The Croatian word for fast or quick is “brz”. I laughed when I saw it. It made me think of a bee — zip-zip-zipping from flower to flower.

But even the bees pause on each flower, taking time to gather.


Woman from The Art of Lounging by Cooper Edens

Rabbit from The Easter Egg Artists by Adrienne Adams (I’m pretty sure)

Not sure where the window is from

S is for Surprise

Uh-oh

Oh, no!

Surprise!


(1)Boy is from My Dad’s Job by Peter Glassman, illustrated by Timothy Bush

(2)Girl is from Misty: The Whirlpool (from Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry) excerpted and adapted by Joan Nichols, illustrated by Stephen Moore

(3)Rabbits are from The Bunny Book by Richard Scarry


“Rabbits have large families” (3)
“Maureen felt a stab of fear” (2)
“Dad talked about buying futures” (1)
In rabbits? That wasn’t clear…

Can three divergent books
Be joined in harmony?
Each must accept the others
— And a little absurdity.


Above is a partially “found” poem using lines from the pages from which I borrowed the pictures. Wikipedia says, “Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage)…

So two collages today!

N is for Newspaper

Last night, before I went to bed, I found myself looking through all my cards, considering ways to shuffle my A-to-Z plans in order to avoid using this one.

I’m really not happy with it.

This was an early card and has so many problems. Would you like me to point all the mistakes?

First, there’s no background. The characters are just kind of plopped into nothingness, a pale haze of watercolor that’s barely noticeable.

Then, the man reading the newspaper is holding a leash that leads nowhere. Where’s his dog? Why didn’t I include it?

Third, the old man’s right ear — I can’t believe that I never finished cutting around it.

When I’m aware of the mistakes, they become the only thing I see. It’s awful. I need to take a step back.

The story I had in mind for this was one of obliviousness — both the man reading the newspaper and the grumpy man clutching his newspaper are oblivious of the rabbit that’s right in front of them.

And, golly, isn’t that true?

I see the mistakes in the picture — but the “rabbit” that’s in front of me, the one I’m not seeing immediately, is that on this journey of collage, I’ve actually travelled quite a way. It was a bit of a jolt to realize that.

Compare “Newspaper” with this, the most recent collage I made —

The card is laid flat to show that I finally got smart enough to write the books I use right on the back of the card.

Interestingly, the story in this collage was also supposed to be about obliviousness. The boy is so taken with the tiny chicken perched on the piano that he doesn’t notice the baby polar bear sleeping beneath it.

The picture still has problems — but the problems are different. Overall, it seems more complete than “Newspaper.”

Sometimes it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come.

It’s like a rabbit in the path. Good to notice.

Sort of.


Man reading the newspaper from Wheels on the Bus (a Raffi Song to Read book) illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom

Grumpy man from The Old Man and the Afternoon Cat by Michaela Muntean, illustrated by Bari Weissman

Rabbit from ??