Christine sent me a text message today with a photo of a poppy. “Remembrance Day poppy. Worn by Canadians for the two weeks leading up to November 11,” she wrote.

PoppyWhen Trent told her they wore them for two weeks, she tells me she replied, “You guys are serious about this.”

Canada poured a lot into World War I. Five years of war. Five years of volunteers. And an ocean separating those at home from the battles themselves. Canada itself was not in particular danger during the war, but she knew the stakes.

I stood in a Canadian WWI cemetery in France in the summer of 1998. We’d spent much of our time on that trip exploring the history of the end of the Second World War—we’d seen the Normandy beaches, the American Cemetery with its white marble crosses—but that day it was the Canadians who drew our attention.

I walked through the brick arches and down the steps to the lines of graves, and, looking over them, I whispered familiar words:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
                   –John McCrae

Seven years later I was driving to work on November 11, and at an intersection an elderly man was walking between the cars, passing out poppies. He dropped one on the ground, and as he reached down to pick it up, the light changed and the driver of the car in front of me impatiently scooted around him to go through.

The man straightened, holding the little red flower. I pulled my car forward, rolled my window down and reached out for it, smiling at him. He smiled back and gave me the tiny scrap of wire and cloth in his hand, now mine to hold high.


It seems remarkably fitting that I ended this month of posts with one about Remembrance Day. Sights bring memories, but only if we tell their story will the memories remain for the next generation. Let us not forget—neither our joys or the sacrifices and sorrows of those who have given us the chance to see and remember.


coffee_and_grapefruit_rob_richesThere are certain food and beverage pairings that make two delicious things even more delightful. Take Kenyan coffee and grapefruit, for example. Or sharp cheddar and red wine.

But there are other pairings that shouldn’t be attempted, one of which I’d forgotten about until this evening, when I happened upon it again.

I used to go to a Vespers service at my friends’ church and we’d often go out to eat afterward. The pub where we usually went had an excellent Buffalo Chicken Strip dinner that was my typical order. One night, I also ordered a glass of wine, White Zinfandel—a fruity, sweet wine.

I’d eaten a few bites of my chicken before I took a sip of wine. When I did, I made a face—slightly shocked, rather bemused.

“Well that was a strange combination,” I said.

My friends looked at my plate and my drink and put two and two together. “What did it taste like?” they asked.

I fumbled for a moment, trying to place my finger on the familiar, strange experience on my tongue. Finally, from the depths of my childhood it came to me.

“Pop Rocks,” I said.


It’s Game 7 of the World Series. Though I stopped tracking the postseason baseball closely when the Tigers collapsed, I discovered in myself this evening a great urge to watch it all come together to whatever end.

BaseballBaseball’s always been around. I went to at least one game a year regularly as a child, and Dad typically made sure to catch the World Series, no matter who was playing.

But perhaps one of my favorite World Series memories was in 2004, when the Red Sox were sweeping the Cardinals. I’m as close to a neutral as you can be about both teams—unless they’re playing the Tigers, I don’t have any particular desires for them to win or lose. But the Sox making their run was a wild ride, and I think it may be time for everyone to learn the secret I know: how the Red Sox reversed the curse.

My cousin Stacy, her husband Jeremy, and their kids were visiting the US that autumn. They were missionaries in South America. Stacy grew up in Pennsylvania and Bolivia then returned to the latter as a missionary where she met Jeremy, an Englishman.

Jeremy and the kids hadn’t spent much time in the US, and they managed to arrive at a prime American cultural moment. They’d been in New England during the ALCS, and found themselves staying with Red Sox fans the night of Game 4. The Sox were down three games to the Yankees, and Jeremy watched his first baseball game.

It’s likely you know the outcome of that game. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, that postseason run is the stuff of legend. The Red Sox pulled out a win against the Yankees that night, and for three more games after that. Then they went on to sweep the Cardinals, breaking their 86-year-long World Series championship drought.

At the end of ALCS Game 4, as they celebrated that the Red Sox were still alive against the Yankees, my cousins’ friends turned to Jeremy.
“That was your first game?” they asked.
“Yes, I’ve never seen one before,” he answered.
“You have to keep watching,” they said.

So Jeremy kept watching, as much as he was able. He tuned in to portions of the final three games of the ALCS, and the Red Sox knocked the Yankees out of the running. He kept it up as they went up against the Cardinals. Evidently, though, a few of the intricacies had passed him by, as I discovered when he watched a game at my parents’ house.

We sat in my parents’ family room, my dad, Jeremy, and I half watching the game, half watching the kids play. Stacy and my mom were in the kitchen working on something. Jeremy told us of his curse-reversing power, and we talked of the series currently going. Then came my highlight of the series.

“Now,” Jeremy asked my dad, “If they win this match, how many will they continue to play?”
Before Dad could answer, from the kitchen came Stacy’s voice, correcting her British husband’s terminology. “Not a match, honey. It’s a game.”

The Stalker Robin

I was trying to do some organizing and purging of digital files this evening. A friend mentioned on Facebook yesterday how full of junk her digital files were, and commented, “I don’t think I would have let them get so messy if they were physical and I could see them.” I’m in the same boat. I do tend to collect papers, but every once in a while I hold a purge. I take the piles and I go through them sheet by sheet, filing the necessary ones, recycling the rest. It’s a good rhythm.

My most successful purge to date was the spring before I moved to Alaska. My parents were studying in London for five weeks and I had their house to myself. They had cable and rerun episodes of Clean Sweep made an incredibly inspiring background for purging and organizing projects. So I brought the piles of my world down to the family room, turned that on in the background and worked at sorting my life to that point into a manageable size and system.

One morning, I woke and made my way downstairs to a rhythmic thumping in the family room. Confused, I peeked around the corner as I got to the kitchen and looked into the family room. There, beyond my piles of papers spread across the floor, standing on the firewood stand outside and launching himself repeatedly at the window, smashing against it, then landing back on the firewood stand, was a robin.

His rusty frontispiece was tufty and ruffled. His feathers didn’t lie smoothly. Everything about his appearance pointed to him being slightly undone. The fact that he was running into the window at twenty second intervals only confirmed the matter.

Thinking the bird must be seeing his reflection in the window, due to the dimmer interior of the house, I walked over and kindly lowered the window shade for him, hoping that would cut the glare enough to set him right. I glanced at the window on the far side of the fireplace. Best to lower that one, too.

Half an hour later, settled with my breakfast and my coffee, I looked up to notice that when I’d lowered the second shade, it had not gone fully down to the sill. In the triangle of window at the bottom of the crooked shade stood the robin, ducking his head down to peak in and cocking it to one side, eyeing me.

Photo by David Wenning

Photo by David Wenning

I crossed the room, closed the shade, and then closed the shade to the window on the back of the family room. An hour later, the robin had made his way around to the doorwall, where he stood on the ledge, tilting his head and staring.

That morning began a month-long fascination the bird had with me. He would stand on the window sills and stare in every day. He would sit in the back yard and watch my movements through the doorwall. He would come to the front door, stand on the porch, and tap-tap-tap on the metal kick plate. When I went to the door, thinking someone had knocked, he quickly flew back, landed in the pin oak tree about fifteen feet from the door, settled his unkempt feathers, and cocked his head in my direction.

When my parents returned I told them of the stalker robin. Sure enough, their first morning home he made his appearance at the front door. Tap-tap-tap.

I left for Alaska soon after, and about halfway through my first summer up there, I got a note from Mom. “Your robin has been hanging around all summer, though we didn’t see him much this week.”

That afternoon, a robin ran into my open apartment window.

He landed on the ground, dazed, but generally unhurt. As I watched him right himself, I noted his rusty front and raggedy feathers. He cocked his head at me once before taking off once more.

I never saw him again, but a week later the stalker robin appeared back in my parents’ yard.

Tiny Horse in a Turtle Costume

I keep having to remind myself that Halloween is coming. This is the first time in my living-out-on-my-own adult life that I’ve lived in a place where I might get trick-or-treaters. I actually had to buy candy. Sure, I’ve only seen six kids in my neighborhood, but you never know how far they’ll come from on Halloween.

I think I missed the Newtown Halloween Parade already. It’s likely it would have been last weekend—typically it’s the Saturday before Halloween. Which I discovered the first year I lived there when, at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, a marching band began to play outside my bedroom window.

Surprised, I opened the curtain to discover that yes, a band indeed was marching down the street next to my house, led by a drum major clad from head to toe in a green body suit. He was a very brave young man.

1186153_595842591212_1733777672_nThe band came along, costumed to varying degrees, and, following them, quite possibly the most adorable thing in the face of creation. A hundred or so little kids, all dressed up in their costumes, walking up the street with mommy and daddy, following the marching band.

That parade became one of my favorite traditions. I would grab myself a cup of hot cocoa, open the living room window, and sit on the sofa, looking out to watch the parade of two and a half-foot tall Batgirls, pajama-clad color guard, small pirates, Lego men, lions riding in strollers, and Narnian princesses.

Two years ago, I found perhaps the most amusing sight of my parade experiences. A woman was trying to navigate away from the marching band, pulling what I thought was a costumed dog toward my side of the street. I was videoing the band, and found myself slightly perturbed that they were in my shot, but not bothered enough to care. It was only when they turned, so the animal stood perpendicular to my position, that I realized he had hooves. There, on a leash outside my window, videoed for all the world to see, was a tiny horse in a turtle costume.

Tiny Horse


I’m convinced that God made pie to bring me joy.

I baked my first pie of the fall season this evening. It’s a little shocking to me that I’ve managed to delay this long. I think I may have been actually tricked into delaying by the southern temperatures that have hovered closer to 70 degrees than 60. I don’t hate the temps, but I am frustrated that they’ve confused my internal pie-maker.

PieI’ve written before of my love of pie. I love pie. I love most kinds of pie. I have established myself as the pie-innards maker in my family. My father, on the other hand, has established himself as the pie crust maker in the family. That only bothers me a little bit.

Two years ago, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and Philly and knocked out a power plant in Newtown leaving me without power for the better part of four days. Fortunately, I had a gas stove, so with a lighter and an iron skillet, I was still able to cook food and not forced to subsist on emergency rations—though I do remember drinking a whole lot of milk the first night.

I’d made a pumpkin pie right before the storm, and it became my primary sustenance in those four days. I kept it out on the dryer in the lean-to (because when the weather was 55 degrees or less outside, that made as good a fridge as any, and it saved me having to open my own fridge and let the cool out).

I’d slice a piece of the pie, set it in the skillet, light the burner and slowly warm it through. Toasty-bottomed pumpkin pie. A quality life choice.

My final evening without power, I was done. Our house had been built in the 1800s and between the drafty windows and the stone and plaster walls, all the warmth had been drawn away by day four. Power had returned to campus, so I’d worked that day, but when I got home and took one step inside my frigid kitchen, I looked at the pumpkin pie and bade it farewell.

Joy-in-a-pan though it was, sustenance though it was, balanced meal though I argued it was…Applebee’s had power again and I was going out to eat.

Oops, I Forgot

I’ve got a good memory. One of the reasons I chose the theme of exploring memories was because I knew I had lots of them.

But here’s the thing: I know it’s beginning to diminish.

Last night, I forgot to write a blog post. No big deal, but not something I would have forgotten five years ago. It’s strange to be able to see my memory growing weaker. Terrifying sometimes. But mostly just strange. One of those things that comes with age…and you know that you’ve got plenty of beautiful things like wisdom and experience and gray hairs coming with age, too, but you feel that one thing slipping from your fingers.

And you wonder if you’ve made it an idol, and whether you’ll be able to survive without it.

I can’t remember nearly half of 2012. Well, no, it’s there—deep in the background—but I can’t dredge it up very well.

At Christmas that year, when Christine and I began to decorate our tree (accompanied by Filipino Christmas music, hot chocolate, and a YouTube crackling fireplace), Christine couldn’t find her ornaments. When we’d packed up the tree the Christmas before, she’d put them somewhere and they were nowhere to be found a year later. But we had mine, and she had the ones that she’d bought during 2012 (she’d traveled through Europe that summer), so we made a go of it. As she pulled out ornaments from their packages, she held up one, smiling, with an expression of, “Remember this!?” on her face.

It was a ruby slipper. I looked at her, blank.

1450972_600499194342_1410669521_n“From the Smithsonian?” she said. “Dorothy’s slippers?”
Vaguely, the memory of the museum came to me. “That was this year?” I asked.
“It was January,” she said. Then, there was a pause as she looked at me. “Wow, you really did have a rough year.”

The first half of 2012 was one of grief, of stress, of overwork, and pain. I remember those things. I remember those I lost that year.

This past spring I flipped through an old notebook—the one I take with me to church and everywhere and jot notes and thoughts and story ideas whenever they come to me.

One page is dated early January 2012. The next is dated in July.

The forgotten months.

Here Be Dragons

I was talking with a coworker today about the location of another area church. He explained to me that it was just up Park Road from the Quail Hollows Shopping Center, where Gleneagles Road intersects Park.

I knew the point of reference. Just last week I was over that way for lunch with a friend. My coworker’s directions to the church were to turn right on Park from Gleneagles. I’d turned left. I realized that I had no idea what was to the right.

I paused. “Does Fairview intersect Park?” I asked. I thought I remembered being on Park Road, and getting there from Fairview.
“Yep,” said my coworker.
“Farther up?” I asked.
“Yeah, if you turned right onto Park from Gleneagles, you’d eventually cross Fairview.”

The Lenox Globe, As illustrated in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition, Volume X, 1874, Fig.2

The Lenox Globe, As illustrated in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition, Volume X, 1874, Fig.2

I tried to picture it all in my mind. I had two anchor points, two places I knew, but the space between them was a blank.

I realized that most of my mental map of Charlotte is like that. I have intersections or roads I’m familiar with, but the space between is the “Here be dragons” areas of the ancient cartographers—utterly unknown.

I suppose my “Here be dragons” areas will diminish with time, but for now, I rather revel in the mystery. Who knows what thrill or terror might be around the next corner?

Throwback Thursday

It’s Thursday, and in the world of social media, that means the hashtag #tbt is making the rounds. “Throwback Thursday” it’s called—an opportunity to post those photos from the years before social media, the ones sitting in albums and desk drawers.

I’ve actually never done a #tbt post. I considered using the hashtag on Tuesday of this week when I posted something one of the pastors had said in the hallway a few weeks ago (which he followed by telling me, “You can tweet that”). I figured, since I hadn’t, I should get it out. But the #tbt seemed off—it was Tuesday, after all, and while alphabetically, the two days align at their beginnings and ends, nothing else about them matches.

But I sometimes think about photos that I could use for a Throwback Thursday.  There are far too many. I am the daughter of a photographer after all.

Tonight, though, I figured I’d pull out the Pioneer Girls photo album I won as we left Pioneer Girls to go into middle school. We were the year that they decided to change the youth group to grades 6-8, rather than just 7-8. It was a big deal, because for our class, it could mean missing our final year in Pioneers—the year we would get to be the oldest group, the big dogs, the rulers of the roost.

I remember Amy’s dad, the youth pastor, sitting Amy and me down and talking it through with us. He asked us what we’d like to do and someone came up with the idea of splitting the year. Before Christmas, we’d be in Pioneer Girls and after Christmas we’d move to youth group.

It was an excellent option, and I remember that last semester of Pioneer Girls fondly. In fact, my parents still use the angel I made as a Christmas project to top their tree—ours had broken the year before when we had an unfortunate mixture of a crooked tree, a wood floor, and a kitten in the house.

So, #tbt:

Pioneer Girls

The Quaker Maple

I’ve got an app on my phone called Timehop. Every day it gives me a catalog of all of my social media posts on this day in previous years. I shall begin by saying with pride that I have not yet used it to find fodder for this month’s blog posts. I shall then break my victorious streak and tell you that I am using it today. You do what you can when you get into the final third of the month.

One of my posts, from a year ago on Instagram, was a photo collage of a tree I call the “Quaker Maple.” I loved the Meetinghouse across the street from our apartment in Newtown for a number of reasons. I loved the clean white lines of the building, the porch with swings I always wanted to go sit on but never felt brave enough to. I loved the graveyard beyond it, full of the seeds of resurrection, the sinners and the saints. Everyday people buried in everyday graves, marked with simple stones. It was a lovely place.

I loved the parking lot and driveway, which were typically empty, and in which Christine and I often directed friends to park if we had a house full—not an uncommon occurrence. As we said to one another, after all, they’re Quakers; it’s not like they’ll be mad, they’re pacifists.

Missing the Quaker Maple this year. #autumnisadrugforme #newtownpa #courtstreet #timehop

A photo posted by Carolyn Givens (@carolyncgivens) on

But most of all, I loved the gargantuan maple in the front of the lawn. I loved it in all of its moods, all of its seasons. I watched its branches dark against steel skies on wintry days, lined with white on snowy ones. I watched it burst with pale green in the spring and thicken into a miniature forest of glossy dark leaves standing up from the branches in the summer. It was typically the first herald of autumn—and that was my favorite mood.

It would burst. Burn. Flame. Golds and reds and crimsons and browns. In the morning the tips of the top branches were alight with the sun peaking over the housetops. In the afternoon the low light shone between the houses and lit it from within.

It dropped its leaves, filling our driveway multiple times each autumn, but I couldn’t mind. It was worth it.

Oh, yes, I do miss the Quaker Maple.