I’ve been feeling bankrupt lately but not in a financial way. Instead, I’ve felt bankrupt of my time, bankrupt of my joy, even body bankrupt.

I keep promising people miles I can’t deliver. This is only partly metaphorical. I promised one friend a mile a day in October. I did two. For the month.

Another friend was doing forty miles in November. “Sure, put me down! What’s forty more?”

And then there was the 100 miles until Christmas. “Absolutely.”

So, here I am owing the world 169 miles of torture. I’d been better off promising them 169 poems or 169 pages of a book.

And let’s talk NaNoWriMo. That’s a book commitment for 50,000 words in one month. I’m in the middle of writing a nonfiction book, so I didn’t take on the novel challenge, but it’s looming anyway like an exercise thug as though I’d promised it treadmill time.

I spend my days making promises to children, most of whom I keep–the promises, not the children.

I spend other parts of my days making promises to myself about how many papers I can get graded and by when. I’m far too optimistic in this area. I like running more than I like grading. This says something.

In the midst of this, some of my nearest and dearests are traversing what is a terrible, lingering tragedy in their lives, the kind of tough uncertainty that’s been getting all my prayers lately.

In a world of stagnant waters, I might as well be bone dry. But I’d be a fool not to recognize poetry in the middle of it. This is what we writers do, and it’s the life people of faith are called to.

Thanksgiving remains, merely bottlenecking at the scene of the accident.

November 4 / A Gift Gathered, Given, Good

ONE: Myself – Sometimes I’m able to collect my thoughts, and at that moment, when I feel ‘gathered,’ a peace comes, even if I’m gathering the shards of something broken.

TWO: My Children – I’m used to Daina’s being here. She and I are old lady BFFs at this point, but the other two still feel so new and so borrowed. When Atticus’s little, rock-muscled body sits on my lap and I have a face full of blond curls or when Evangeline lean-dances through the house pointing one finger up and shaking her hips down the hall, I look at Jonathan, kind of squeal-eyed and say, “Isn’t it cool? They live here. We’re so lucky.” Part of me keeps thinking their real mom will just pick them up one day, and I’ll have to say goodbye. In the meantime, I’m going to hang onto them tight and smother them in kisses. This isn’t so far from the truth. They’re mine, but they’re not mine. How honored that I’ve been chosen and they’ve been given.

THREE: Apple Oatmeal in the Fall – My mother in law Jackie makes an incredible fruity-nutty oatmeal when we go to their Georgia cabin. I’ve learned to make a version of my own for the kids, and when the cold hits, I make it nearly every day, pouring organic oats into a pot with peeled, chopped apples, brown sugar, and butter. I add raw rolled oats toward the end for extra texture and stir in flax meal for secret nutrition. Everyone eats it, and we all live happily ever after.

November 5 / Three Gifts Acorn-Small

ONE: Wood Shavings That Litter the Garage Floor – My husband and I chase dreams in the evenings. He’s working on a table leaf for a nostalgic project for friends right now. This is my husband at his happiest. Little feet track in the shavings from the garage to the house, and I’m not even bothered by it. I’m seeing them kind of like my pens that lie around: good evidence of life happening.

TWO: Quarters My Son Can’t Pronounce – Choking hazards are the most fun toys. My son loves change. He calls it “his monies.” He’s learned the different coin names and can’t say his R’s. I love to give him quarters, and he makes valiant attempts to get through the word. One day, when he says it right, a tear will fall for a season passed.

THREE: Actual Acorns That Pepper My World – My son squirrels acorns into his pockets and lunchbox at school, fighting his way through the parking lot to pick up every extra one that’s “green enough,” as he says. If it’s cracked, it’s trash. These acorns line the corners of my car, the tiles of my kitchen counter, and our couch cushions. They are evidence of his new, three-year-old life outside our home, his autonomy, and his becoming some sort of acorn-thieving man.

November 6 / Three Gifts Government

ONE: Voting as a Woman – This reminds me I have a voice that others didn’t have.

TWO: Voting as a Mother – This reminds me I have the power to provide a future for my children in everything I believe and act on.

THREE: Voting as an American – This reminds me I have a voice that others still don’t have.

November 7 / Three Gifts from Your Window

ONE: Our Ugly Grass in the Skinny Backyard – Grass can be skipped through and played on no matter its color, no matter the weeds, no matter how patchy. The fact that we have grass that’s ours around a house that’s ours, no matter how skinny the yard or small the house, means I have a treasured thing, many Woolfian rooms and Whitmanian fields to call my own–space to write, to writhe, and to roam.

TWO: The Playhouse – The littles play like an old married couple in their plastic playhouse that sits adjacent to our concrete slab in the backyard. Evangeline sits inside on a chair by the kitchen table, holding the phone to her ear, pointing out the window at Atticus and yelling at him to fetch her things. Atticus moves in and out of the house retrieving whatever she beckons for. Both of them look grumpy but move swiftly, and it makes me the strangest kind of homesick.

THREE: The Neighbor’s House – One of my most exciting things about the holidays coming is my neighbor’s house. Their kids are grown, but they have grands that come, and so they are in that sweet spot of being young and energetic enough to want to decorate the house top to bottom in Christmas lights and they have the time to do it. It’s beautiful in all its blues and whites, and it’s done like clockwork well in advance of our own lights, and we get to reap the rewards of looking at it every night of the holidays. It’s like my own personal Northgate Estates. It makes me want to sip hot chocolate from the back of my car and just stare. That wouldn’t be weird.

November 8 / A Gift Sweet, Salty, Sipped

ONE: My Husband’s Whipping Cream Pound Cake – Aside from this being one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten, this is what I call a Little Red Hen situation: I do absolutely nothing, but it appears as a marvel on the kitchen table, and I’m allowed to have as many pieces as I want. EXCEPT on the night he makes it. When it’s hot, he’ll break your finger if you try to pick off the crust. He wants it to sit overnight. We can’t win everything.

TWO: Ali’s Sea Salt Caramel Espresso-soaked Oreo Dessert – Everyone needs a best friend who can do this. Corningware has never looked so good.

THREE: Maas Coffee on Jazz Days – Maas Coffee Roasters is a downtown coffee shop that makes me forget I’m in Fort Walton Beach for a few minutes. It feels very college-towny, and that’s my favorite vibe, a place where I can sit with crunchy leaves under my feet in a hoodie with a book with nondescript coffee cups around me. And it helps that I have a former student who is the barista there so that I can order adventurous things without her laughing at me for not knowing how to pronounce some words. And jazz days are the afternoons when Daina has jazz, and I have a solid hour to myself. This never happens, but when it does, it should happen with coffee and a book.

November 9 / Three Gifts Harvest

ONE: Apples without the Peel – One day I’ll just put ‘apples’ for this item, but in this season of littleness, we go without the peel–unless I want Atticus and Evangeline hacking like they have hairballs. They’re like the angel in Dogma who can’t imbibe tequila. Only in our house apple peels are tequila.

TWO: “Fresh Soups” – This is my son’s term for a soup I make in the kitchen with him. It’s my most popular dish and comes highly recommended by the sous chef. Or would it be ‘Seuss chef’ in his case?

THREE: Alabama – When I think of the word ‘harvest,’ I think of Alabama. I think of corn and cotton. I think of pecans and field peas and people and plenty.

November 10 / Three Gifts Found in Bible Reading

ONE: The Skipped Parts – I grew up assuming that adult Christians had read their bibles. Or, at the very least, they’d be taught from or about every part of the bible from pulpit exegesis or in their own explorations of scriptures. The more I learn about literacy and the troubling reading, or rather non-reading, habits of adults, the more I’m concluding about the reading habits of people of the church: a large portion of them isn’t reading either. Yikes! In any case, I’ve been reading around a lot lately, diving into history and theology to give me a better context for understanding those often “skipped parts” that don’t make their way to enthusiastic pulpits or inspirational memes. I’m grateful for the writing in the margins.

TWO: The Center – I find my center in some of the words I read. It gathers me.

THREE: Myself – I love seeing messy people like me in the middle of it all. I see their stories and think they’re not so different from mine, all of us just doing the best we can with what we’ve got and planning on God in the middle of it.

November 11 / Three Gifts of Remembrance

ONE: Handwriting – For my father.

TWO: Embroidery Thread – For my mother.

THREE: Freaking Tennis Shoes and My Bankrupt Body – For the many people to whom I owe those 169 miles of pavement.

November 12 / Three Gifts at Noon

ONE: Wet Soup Wednesdays – We celebrate work family on Wednesdays in the fall by bringing soups.

TWO: Goose – I leave work to get my son, Atticus, our Gooseface, from school at noon most days. I love the “Mommy!” he belts from his seat when I arrive. It’s like I’ve been gone for years, and we’ve just been reunited. Pure joy.

THREE: A New Friend – A new friend, a dear one already, meets me for lunch now on a regular schedule on a regular day at a regular place. I love things that become regular, when “I’ll see you there then” means something that only you ‘get.’

November 13 / Three Gifts behind a Door

ONE: Baby Shoes – A mix of girl and boy shoes cover the rack on the backside of the nursery door. There’s something about smallish shoes that warms my heart in the winter.

TWO: The Giraffe Towel – We ‘catch babies’ from the bathtub in a giraffe towel that hangs on the back of Daina’s bathroom door. Jonathan yells when the bath is done, conjuring one of us to come ‘catch a baby’ pulled fresh from the water. The banana-colored towel has a tail and a giraffe head, and no one isn’t laughing when it’s on.

THREE: A Wheel – I need to drive sometimes, and when I’m driving, alone without carseats in the back with the volume at my own favorite level with the windows cracked and lipstick on, I feel seventeen again and small and big all at once. This has happened exactly twice, and it was magic.

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