Poem for a Crow

By Terrie van Baarsel

Beyond my lace curtain
A crow in the birdbath
He is not exactly what I had in mind
And the sky is just crazy with crows
(Where are the sparrows, the finches, the doves?)
He struts
Arrogant in black
Until I open the door
And then
A reluctant flyer, he.

The crow brings bird carcasses
And bean burritos
Yes, bean burritos!
And leaves them to soaking
Until they are fat with water
Plump offerings and ample
For his eager mate in waiting
Oh, how charming
(Is it quite illegal to shoot a crow?)

Better yet so
Shall I then appreciate him?
Loan him a name and
In his honor compose
A poem of crow appreciation?

All hail!
I crown thee Copernicus
King of all Crows
Sleek of feather
Beady of eye, art thou
An ode to thy prowess
Thy intelligence
Thy form
O, rarest of scavengers!

Dearest Copernicus
Purest of pilferers, pillagers, plunderers, thieves!
No call to repentance for thee, dear bird
Alas, thou canst not repent
And of a fact, need not
For thou dost only what thou hast been created to do.

But why, oh why, must it be in my bird bath?

The Tradition

Well, Thanksgiving 2017 is in the books.

For over fifty years, my family has traveled up to the Paso Robles area of California to celebrate Thanksgiving. As a girl, we stayed with my grandparents for the holiday. Later, my parents built a house next door to them and the tradition continued even after my grandparents passed away. As my siblings and I got older and had families of our own, our group grew bigger. And bigger. And bigger! Eventually, some of our kids married and started their families.

About eight years ago we realized that something had to give. My parents’ home was just too small to hold all of us. So, we ended up renting a huge house surrounded by rolling hills and ancient oaks not too far from Paso with plenty of room for everyone.

Not everyone can come every year. On lean years, our crowd numbers about twenty-five for Thanksgiving dinner. When everyone comes to celebrate, we cook for close to forty people!

This is a big production and we pretty much have it down to a science. We all have our food assignments. We spend Wednesday through Saturday together. We cook and eat tostadas for dinner on Wednesday night. Thursday breakfast is casual, usually cinnamon rolls, bagels, cereal, and everyone fends for themselves. And then it’s all day Thursday preparing and then enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Here’s a sample menu:

Thanksgiving Day Appetizers (Pre-Feast Stomach Stretcher)
Spinach Dip
5 Layer Dip
Artichoke Dip
Jalapeño Cheese Poppers
Chips and Salsa

Thanksgiving Day Feast
2 Turkeys (one roasted, one deep-fried)
Two types of dressing (one traditional, one gourmet)
2 hams
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
Sweet Potato Casserole
Fried Okra
Macaroni and Cheese
Green Bean Casserole
Creamed Corn
Deviled Eggs
Cranberry Sauce
Yeast Rolls
Homemade Chocolate Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, and Pumpkin Cheesecake

But wait, there’s more!

Friday morning after Thanksgiving Day, we prepare a huge breakfast. Bacon, ham, eggs, biscuits and gravy (including white and chocolate gravy… yes, you read that right, chocolate gravy), and fried potatoes. Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and dinner on Friday. Saturday breakfast this year we enjoyed chorizo and eggs. On Saturday after breakfast, we say our goodbyes and everyone heads home.

That is a lot of food and a lot of people. A lot of cooking and cleaning up. Kids everywhere. It gets noisy. It gets messy. Some turn in early, some stay up late. A few of us are up at dawn to watch the sunrise and drink our first cup of coffee. Others sleep in. We talk and reminisce. Sometimes, we cry. We laugh, play games, take walks, and have time to do our own thing. Everyone helps and everyone contributes. I’m convinced that our commitment to Thanksgiving together is the main reason our family has remained close over the years. And for that, we can be extremely thankful.

In March of 2013, my mom passed away. Although her absence is profoundly felt by all of us, we honor her at Thanksgiving by making the pilgrimage to Paso Robles each November.

I hope The Tradition never ends.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. -Psalm 107:8-9 

Blinded by the Now

No one is immune to difficulty. Financial concerns. Car problems. Marital issues. Worries about children or elderly parents. Loneliness, addiction, physical or mental illness. This one has a son who serves in the military, currently stationed a little too close to a certain mad man in North Korea. That one is going through a divorce. Another one is dealing with the pain of losing a loved one in the recent Las Vegas shootings. A dear friend of mine just lost her husband to cancer.

To be sure, even in the midst of suffering there are moments of joy. But the point I’m trying to make is that anxiety and fear serve to keep us laser focused on the problem at hand. We become blind to everything else.

At least in my life, I miss out on so much because of worry and fear. It’s like there’s always a worst-case scenario running in the background of my mind. It’s exhausting.

I, we, desperately need a glimpse of the eternal perspective:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day
Nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out
And coming in
From this time forth and forever more.
-Psalm 121

The words of this Psalm and Scripture in general make no sense if the context is not eternity. In fact, without the broadness of eternity undergirding them, these words would only seem to mock us in our suffering.

The truth is that our existence this side of Heaven will always be a mingling of sorrow and joy. God’s promises do belong to us, but will only be perfectly realized in the glorious and real future that is ours in Christ.

Lift up your eyes, indeed.








A Bit of This and That

A young new mom mentioned that she loves her baby “so much it hurts.” I know precisely what she means. I’ve described my love for my own children in those exact words, and now they hold true for my grandchildren. It’s not pain in the normal sense of the word. More like a big ball of love, compassion, pity, fervor, tenderness, delight and all-consuming devotion that threatens to explode and blow your heart into a million little pieces. Sounds like an idea worthy of its own blog post at some point in the future.

This past Sunday, our pastor asked us to consider how much time we spend on our phones. Certainly worth thinking about and definitely something I grapple with on a daily basis. For years now, my habit has been to get up early and before reading my Bible, eat toast and drink my two cups of coffee while reading the news. I used to do this with the newspaper in front of me. Now, of course, I read the news on my phone. I’ve come to realize what a time sucker this is. Reading the news in a newspaper format takes a limited amount of time. The news available for consumption on my phone is unlimited. It’s easy to for me to get carried away with it, news junkie that I am.

Better to eat a bit of breakfast and go directly to Bible reading. There’s always time for scanning the news later. And I don’t think it would make my life any the poorer to skip reading the news completely now and then. Making this change may even give me a little time in the morning for writing. Old habits are hard to break. I think this one will be worth the endeavor.

I used to think that as you age, life would become simpler and quieter. Well so far, that hasn’t been the case. Life is as busy as ever. I can’t complain, really. My life is full and my blessings, boundless. But, I’m looking forward to the weekend and hope to spend some quality time with my husband.

God is good. That is all.




Thank You, Aunt Anita

Several months ago, my dad gave me a journal kept by my Aunt Anita. Aunt Anita wrote a little bit each day, what she did, where she went, what she had for dinner, things like that.

Aunt Anita lived in Oklahoma. She was married to my Uncle Ned who died in 1995. She passed away in 2011. Aunt Anita and Uncle Ned never had children of their own, but they would’ve made great parents. As young girls, my sister and I spent an entire month with them one summer. With Aunt Anita’s patient instruction, I learned to sew, mastered the delicate art of milking a cow, and experienced the excitement of making our own butter. Aunt Anita spoiled us with pancakes for breakfast and by taking us out to eat 25 cent hamburgers at a local food stand.

Aunt Anita loved animals. Her dog, Patty, was like a member of the family. Aunt Anita paper-trained her pet bunny and gave it free reign of the house. That summer we played with turtles, lit real firecrackers on the Fourth of July (quite an experience for California girls accustomed to the “safe and sane” fireworks back home), and played house in her fully stocked and comfortably furnished storm cellar. Aunt Anita was a talented artist. I have one of her sketches framed and hung on my wall. It’s the one you see pictured at the top of this post. (I’ve heard it said that Aunt Anita sketched this picture with my Uncle Richard and Aunt Shirley in mind.)

The journal I have of Aunt Anita’s is from the year 1999. From it I learned that she still loved to draw and paint, made use of the public library, and did not like Bill Clinton at all. She wrote about her friends, Audie and Bonnie, and how she worried about Audie when he became ill. She recorded a prayer asking her Father in Heaven to “let Audie have a few more healthy, happy times on this earth.” She often gave her friends rides when they needed them or picked up items for them at the store.

I read about her two dogs, Jet and Tammy. Jet lived out at “The Ranch,” a piece of property outside town Aunt Anita owned. She traveled to The Ranch every day to check on Jet and feed him. She worried about her dog, Tammy, getting old. She wrote, “Got up about 1:00 a.m. and Tammy was not feeling well. Made some coffee and ate a roll. Wrapped Tammy up in a bed roll and laid her in bed next to me.”

Aunt Anita wrote about the heartbreak and anger she felt when she discovered vandals had trashed her house out at The Ranch. She wrote about killing ticks, repairing her lawnmower, and that she carried a gun in her pickup truck. She noted when she received mail at the Post Office, pulled weeds in the garden, and the date she paid her bills. I read about her fears, her disappointments, and how much she missed my uncle Ned. She wrote of how much my parents’ phone calls meant to her and how excited she was when they would drive out from California for a visit.

Some would look at Aunt Anita and conclude that her life and times weren’t all that important. I beg to differ. First of all, as an image bearer of God, her life had profound intrinsic worth. But on a personal level, Aunt Anita was important to her husband, her family, and her friends. She loved and was loved.

Without Aunt Anita, how else would I have known the warmth of hands helping guide fabric through a sewing machine and the pride of wearing my homemade dress to the ice-cream social at the Methodist Church? Where else would I have experienced the heavy humidity of a Oklahoma summer or the incomparable taste of fresh-churned butter melting over homemade pancakes? Who else would have comforted me when I cried myself to sleep for homesickness?

One short summer in a lifetime of summers, Aunt Anita poured her heart into mine. My history would be all the poorer without her.

Aunt Anita wrote about life as she saw it and thereby played a part in inspiring me to start this blog.

Thank you, Aunt Anita.







Summer Remembered


Your wild breezes speak
of children’s brown faces
and barefoot lovers
Whisper, you
palms and long memories
of flowers’ heads weaving
The oracles of summer
robed in deepest sapphire
profound in blue
Did you know I understand you?


Consider the Birds

I wish I were better at identifying the multitude of mature trees that populate my neighborhood. I do know that some of them have been growing for a very long time. The tallest I would estimate at sixty feet or higher. I’m thankful for the shade they provide and the protection they give to the many and various birds that visit our backyard.

I have three bird feeders out back. There’s a platform feeder, a little house that holds birdseed, and a finch feeder. There are two bird baths and plenty of nectarous flowers to attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.

My backyard is quite busy most of the time!

Here is what I have learned about the birds that frequent our community:

The Woodpecker is noisy… tap, tap, tapping on his preferred canvas, the tall palms that tower over the street. His call makes me think of what a witch would sound like were she to laugh loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.

The tiny Finch loves a crowd. Sometimes nine or more of them cling to their feeder hanging every which way and stuffing themselves with Nyjer Seed. For such petite little birds, they sure do have a voracious appetite!

The ace flyer of the neighborhood is the Mockingbird. Fast and with a flash of white, he swoops and slides through the air. He’s fun to watch and seems quite intelligent. Once, I heard a mockingbird mimic a crow.

The Hummingbird wins the agility contest. He’s a bit of a show-off, hovering and flitting among the honeysuckle blooms. He also fearlessly defends his territory and won’t hesitate to dive-bomb a grown man!

We have a pair of Mourning Doves who like to rest on the block wall in our backyard. I’ve read they mate for life and this must be so, for I hardly ever see one dove without the other. Their cooing is quite soothing and I don’t find it mournful at all.

We have a couple of high-flying Red Tailed Hawks in the neighborhood as well. The hawks are most welcome because the gophers certainly are not.

The California Towhee seems to be on clean-up detail. He likes to hop around underneath the feeders and eat the seeds the other birds have dropped.

Whether perched upon the back of a lawn chair or atop the outdoor water spigot, the Black Phoebe patiently scans the lawn and waits for just the right moment to swoop down and feast upon unsuspecting insects going about their business in the backyard grass.

The Bluebird is beautiful to behold, but he is something of a neighborhood bully. He aggressively chases the other birds away from the feeders, and I can get quite close to him before he is scared enough to fly away.

Sometimes, late at night or very early in the morning, I hear the soft call of our resident Owl. I’ve only seen him a couple of times, and it’s a mystery to me how such a great bird can glide so silently through the night sky.

The Orioles prefer to eat halved oranges placed here and there around the garden. Recently, we observed as a Mama and Papa Oriole patiently watched over their fledgling until the little one finally took off for his first solo flight. An Oriole in the bird bath is simply a delight to watch. Flashes of bright yellow plumage and water splashing everywhere prove the Oriole enjoys his bath as much as I enjoy watching him.

And finally, the humble Sparrow. If you ever have the chance, look closely at the pattern and color of his feathers. He really is quite exquisite if you take the time to appreciate him.

So, whether you live in the city, the suburbs, or out in the country; next time you are outside be sure to consider the birds.

“If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”   -Charles Lindbergh



An Appeal to Eve

(Photo shows Eva (bottom) and her mother, Minnie.)

An Appeal to Eve is a poem written about my grandfather’s sister, Eva. Unmarried and pregnant in 1923, Eva would leave home and go live with her maternal grandparents. As a result, she took her own life at only 16 years old.

Eva was never spoken of while I was growing up. I only learned of her existence well into my adulthood. I cannot imagine the grief this situation would have caused to both Eva and her family.

My aunt discovered one of Eva’s dolls last year and asked if I would like to have it. For me, Eva’s doll is a poignant reminder of Eva as a young girl and of the crisis she faced as a young woman who felt hopeless in her brokenness. I pray that although her story is sad that my poem conveys the possibility of hope even in the most desperate of circumstances.

This is the text of the note Eva left for her mother:

Tulsa Oklahoma
April 26, 1923

 Dear Sweet Little Mother,
You have been the sweetest of all mothers and have done everything in your power for me and don’t think I don’t love you for I do but am so tired of being away from you and mother dear please forgive me for all the things you didn’t want me to do and for all the cross things I have said to you. And please be good to the *little boys and always remember me as your sweet little daughter.
*The “little boys” Eva mentions here are my grandfather and his two brothers.

     -by Terrie van Baarsel

eve’s doll,
what stories can you tell
of a girl who lost her way
buffeted by guilt
over the life she carried
and fatally bruised by shame?

eve’s doll,
please tell me her stories
of anguish fierce and grief sharp
of spiraling disgrace
snaking upward
crashing earthward
heavy as stones
unrelenting to the crushing of her soul.

eve’s doll,
look at me
do you see her weakness as mine?
can you perceive the human condition
that binds us together?
and like the first Eve
we hide
and every woman hides and waits.

eve’s doll,
your silence bears witness to judgment and pain
but the question still remains
can human hearts once broken
be made whole again?
and how many eves do I meet on my way
and fail to offer up even a morsel of hope?

eve’s doll,
please tell her for me
and in the telling tell all eves
there is respite at the cross
where consequences to sin are limited by Grace
and mercy points boldly to the Gospel store.

(I hope she heard the sound of Him walking
in the garden
in the cool of the day…
I hope she heard His voice calling
“eve, where are you?”)

eve’s doll, you have not been forgotten and neither has she.



Early Riser

I haven’t always been an early riser. In fact, there was a time in my life I would’ve classified myself as a night owl. There was also a time when I was neither. When my children were small I would have paid good money to turn in early and sleep in late.

But these days I am usually in bed by 9:30 or 10:00 and wake up about 5:00 or 5:30 each morning. I don’t work (at least outside my home) so my early start is elective. My choice. It’s not that I don’t like sleep. I adore sleep. Then why would I forfeit the warm comfort of my bed for a couple of extra waking hours each day?

First, I need time alone. I need time to think, to reflect, to prepare spiritually and emotionally for the day ahead. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but the moments I spend alone each morning are a way to rest with my eyes open.

There is another reason I get out of bed early. Sometimes, fear and anxiety wake me up. Usually it’s some worry about one or the other of my children. Rather than allowing anxiety to consume me (and in my life, anxiety is ever the hungry little troll), I roll out of bed and set my mind on other things. My children are all grown, but my worries only seem to have grown along with them. Does it ever stop, a mother worrying about her children?

Each morning, the world wakes up. Ever hopeful, the sun rises, the birds busy themselves, and life begins anew. The morning holds a hope and beauty that I just don’t want to miss.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases
His mercies never come to an end
They are new every morning
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23



What Is There To Write About?

What is there to write about?

Things I want to remember and things I want to forget. Feelings and impressions, snapshots of time, every day pleasures and midnight silence.

Today I helped pick out a pair of soccer cleats and a soccer ball for my four-year-old-first-born grandson. His Mama, Opa and I witnessed a milestone in his little life and afterwards celebrated the occasion with a practice session in the backyard. Isn’t that worthy of a few words?

Things that are meaningful to me and my family. Birthday parties and shark shaped pinatas. And the way this infernal contraption upon which I am typing keeps changing the word “pinatas” into “pirates” and refuses to allow me to spell the word correctly in Spanish. (What? No “enyay” key?)

Several nights ago my husband and I spent an evening lying outside in our double hammock and staring at the summer night sky. Stars trembled in the darkness. A delicate breeze quickened shadows and moonlight making life, at least for those few hours, so infused with the unexpected buoyancy of divine grace, I almost cried.

Everything about life. That’s what there is to write about.