Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the table

I sit at Christmas dinner on one end of an oval oak table, pulled out to full extension and crammed with 12 chairs and stools, each one loaded up with a person. Seven children are enjoying bubbly grape juice and red plastic plates at a table in the kitchen. One of them yells, "I spilled my juice, can I have more?" An adult, not particularly a parent, goes to do the refill.

A six pack of New Zealand champagne beer sits half empty on the table between candles and cranberry dressing from a can. Everyone is wearing a paper hat from their party popper. The fashion merchandiser and Polynesian mother of two are blowing on whistles retrieved from the same poppers. The young psychiatrist swings a small plastic bell that has remarkable twang. The African-American hairstylist laughs loudly as she is coaxed into extra gravy. A small bowling game is unfolding between two colorful plates. Everyone is full and contemplating seconds.

Everyone sighs with contentment as jokes bounce around the table. Puns abound. Not too much sarcasm. Darkness tries to force itself in through the windows but the candles and lights smash it to bits. I hear the kids whooping with laughter. There might be music on, but the real music is voices.

It strikes me that this is the very table I used to set when Rachel was a little girl and we lived in western Canada. Of course she does things a little different than I did, but there is strong continuity. I have passed on generosity, hospitality and joy of life to my girl. I also passed the table and chairs. It's all part of the package.

I am drawn as if into a vision and I see a multitude of faces that have been seated around this singular board. Laughter, tears, spills, tales, prayers and plain good food shared back and forth. I see soft old hands resting on the curved edges, chairs tipped back to give room for belly laughs, feet shuffling back from the table with utter contentment. All the weary cleanup.

Sitting at that old table is one of my best Christmas moments - backing out of the immediate moment and glimpsing what time and the Spirit has given to me, to us, and to our world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Fly

We arrived home and among other things, found that we have a 'Christmas fly.' Now - you all know the legend of the Christmas fly, don't you? and why it brings good luck to a home to have a fly on Christmas day?

Well, the legend comes from a tribe of Canadian first nations people called the Shaganappi. It is tied to the bible story of Jesus welcoming the children to come to him, the least of all 'these', as is, well, the fly.

Legend has it that at the birth of Jesus a lowly fly circled the manger wanting to see what had happened. The shepherds swatted the fly away, but Mary said, "No! Let the little fly come unto him." And the fly landed on the hand of baby Jesus, and he smiled.

OK. Not really. Actually Canadians say, "Look at that there miserable old fly trying to escape the frozen tundra (a Canadian word, tundra). No way he is living in here all winter, eh?" ('eh' turns the sentence into a question in case you didn't know that.)

That said, we crush it with a newspaper.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fleece Navidad and Mary Christmas

I have had such a good Christmas. I told Steve this was a 'rich' Christmas - they aren't all going to be that way - so we need to suck the juices when all is well. The Girls are at an age that is still sweet and yet saucy enough to be interesting. Steve bought me a few VERY thoughtful gifts - we sometimes buy almost nothing... and I felt he had paid attention to who I am. There were many moments of gentle peacefulness.

And I had the flu. (Or maybe it was food poisoning - I keep vacillating - I ate a hot dog with onions from an open kind of container on the way to Rae's.) I didn't know it was the flu and only today I said to myself, "Dang Gena, I gots the flu!" Any time I ate I experienced terrible pain in my stomach. 36 hours of the worst headache I've had in a decade... like someone was shoving fondue forks into my brain while termites chewed on my eyeballs. Piercing, blinding pain. And vertigo - could hardly walk upright - kind of like what it would feel like to be wearing someone else's bi-focals while you walked up and down stairs. Wild dreams at night - hot flashes (which I put down to normal temp changes) and so on. Today I am feeling more like a normal person who has a seriously bad flu and is recovering - a low level headache, needing to lay down, can't eat without it hurting.

I did not let the flu rob me of fun. I just sandwiched everything between naps.After a nap, Rae and I ate at Queen of Sheba, the Ethiopian restaurant - which had the large joyous sign, "MARY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!" I kind of liked that. The chef is a great woman friend of Rae's - she loved cooking for us. Then I went back to bed. We opened pj's Christmas eve after a good service and ended the night with a Polish feast - the polish sausage and perogies and cabbage rolls punished me all night. We had 19 for dinner on Christmas day and there was no shortage of laughter and kibitsing around the table. We walked in 52 degrees rain and smiled at the natives. In all this fun I forgot my camera.

It was a fabulous Christmas. Rae and Curtis went to see Sherlock Holmes today and the verdict is that the movie is great. So I still have that to look forward to. And the start of the new year. And a few mornings at home to sleep in and lay about to prepare for 2010! What a great end to a good year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

wedding tales

Heard the best story today. My friend's son got married a couple weeks back and there were some factors at play:

- the bride's mother controlled everything to the last detail
- the groom's grandmother sat in the corner and cried because her marriage was over to the grampa
- weirdness was everywhere

So my friend's family shuffled the deck of cards (literally) and set up a 'murder' game that commenced when the bride came down the isle. By the rules of the game if the covert murderer winks at a person they must declare to whomever they are with, "I'm dead."

The game lasted til the reception and was a hoot - a private undercurrent for the groom's family. The bride and groom were not privy to the game.

When my friend was dancing with her son, the killer (who turned out to be the groom's father) winked at her and she had to say to her son, "I'm dead." His reply is priceless, and a bit confused. "That's funny mom - you're not the only one." Apparently others had 'died' in his arms.

That is the kind of family I could love to be part of.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

gift giving, again

On Saturday I found the perfect gift for Steve. I know it is perfect because he has said, over and over, 'All I want you to get me is a new pair of rubber boots.'

Now that is easier said than done. I finally found a pair at the tractor/farm store in Nicholasville, for $19.99. Wanting to revel, I texted a message to my daughter saying, 'I got dad the rubber boots! Whooee!' Now I am ashamed to say I was texting while I was driving, or rather, at stops, so in my confusion and not paying total attention, I accidentally sent the text to Steve, instead of Rachel.

Steve came home from work and said, 'I got your text. You didn't mean to send it to me, did you?' Well, I feigned a fit and yelled at him, 'You spoiled your present! It's all your fault! You shouldn't have read it!'

That behind me, I decided to wrap each boot separately (I will add a picture tonight) and wrap them exactly like, well, boots, not like a box. So there on the table sat two rubber boots, wrapped individually and looking exactly like, well, rubber boots.

This became a great laughing game. I told Steve I had bought him TWO, not one, presents, obviously, and I expect him to buy me TWO, not the one we had agreed upon. I will put both presents under the tree and he will be obliged to open them, each, alone, at a separate time, expressing adequate enthusiasm for each. After all, if he didn't get both presents, what a loss that would be!

The '2009 rubber boot fiasco' as it is now affectionately called, will live on to infamy in the annals of family history.

I heard another couple's story of creative gift giving this week. Every Christmas Anne and Bill quietly choose three or four or five things from their partner's possessions, items they had previously given as a gift on a special occasion, and wrap them to be re-opened again this Christmas. Not only does this increase the gifts under the tree without adding cost, but it gives the gift a chance to be remembered, the occasion recalled and honored and the love of the first gifting, given again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


My sweet Big Steve thought my last blog was scandalous. Ahhh. I must have succeeded.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


The weather in my home city is frigid - frosty - frozen - blizzarding etc. The very same storm front has arrived here in my town in Kentucky and it is dark and cold and rainy.

I was thinking today how the same weather system can present itself differently in various lives. Depending on other factors, a loss or defeat might be crushing or fairly easy to move on from.

A serious goal of mine is to make choices that intentionally move me toward gentleness in my responses and reactions. Using the weather analogy, I want to be a kind of person whose presence decreases the possibility of a storm showing up at it's worst.

But my blizzard today is inside my head in the form of migraine pain. I pace around trying to find a place or space to relieve it. There is something to learn from that as well...

I was looking for a headache image and found this - just had to add it because today is such a blue day ...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

the company party

On Friday evening I was part of the Asbury International Community Christmas party. The room was filled with kids and parents and smiles ... almost everyone of international flavor, and lots of excitement. Our MC, Stanley, is great - drawing the kids in and getting them all calling back to him. Different groups perform music - the Koreans, Indians and Indonesians. My personal favorite is a group of little Korean kids holding candles and wearing reindeer antlers, doing a choreographed song/ dance. I think they are going to set themselves on fire a couple times... a bit breathless, but remarkable and charming.

Then gifts! Members of the seminary community have participated - choosing one child and providing a wrapped gift according to what the parents or child has suggested. Because of this generosity, every international kid - from babies right up to teens - receives a gift, something appropriate and possibly desired (we hope.) Volunteers in Santa hats with candy canes call out names and the eager child runs up to receive a box, many of them large, wrapped in bright colors. The whole affair is grin making. (The juxtaposition of symbols was amusing.)

As I sit and watch the gift giving, a flood of childhood memories washes over me. In this season my father works at Dofasco Steel Mills. We are a large lower income family who don't do all that well at celebrating and our Christmas gifts are scant, for the most part. But there comes an interruption in our plodding days when the company holds its annual Christmas event. This is what I remember:

A huge room, kind of like a warehouse, with tables covered in white paper. Some plastic Christmas plants. I think there may have been food.
A man with a microphone talks too loud, and tries to get everyone excited. Kids are yelling. I wish he would stop talking so Santa could come.
Carols are sung ... no, not carols - songs about Frosty and Santa and Jingling Bells. I don't sing. I just sit, anxious. Waiting.
Then the loud ho ho ho of Santa - I know it isn't a real Santa, but I know he brings the gifts and that is what interests me.


Ages are called - and kids line up. Hoards of kids.
"Five year old girls." Every one is getting the same gift. Wrapped. I watch the pile go down as I stand in line hoping there will be one for me. I am very excited. And afraid.
... of note, every gift is BIG. Someone knows kids. There is none of the "treasures in small packages" nonsense.
The gifts are Big. Big dolls. Big trucks. Big paint sets.
My gift is big. I carry it back to the table where my mother sits.

These are the biggest and brightest gifts I will ever get at Christmas. I LOVE IT.

I don't really remember what any of them were. I think what I loved was the hullabuloo - the possibility of what was in that big box. Carrying it back to the table in my possession.

And last night at the International Christmas party I remembered those parties for the first time in decades, and I smiled. Something about gifts. We can frown all we want on the ideas of commercialism and excess. But a gift is a great thing. A truly great thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

love in strange forms

I had this happen twice in the last week, so I thought I would write about it. It is about giving and receiving words of love.

I hugged someone, and said, "I love you." And the reply was, "Decidedly."

I met a friend and felt warmth and said, "I really love you." The reply was, "Likewise."

A big fat laugh is burbling up in me about this. It feels enormously funny. And I think both replies were, actually, declarations of love.

Anything like this happen to other people?

Friday, November 20, 2009


The time has come to be festive. I am feeling just slightly less festive than my friend Tammy, pictured here. I do have my Christmas stick (as my kids call it) on the back deck with big old fashioned bulbs on it - and a timer that puts the lights on every night at 6 and off at 10.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


In my reading recently I came upon the information that neither ancient Hebrew nor Greek languages had any word for 'person.' In fact, the concept did not come to light until in the first centuries when scholars began to reflect on the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Father God. Growing understanding of the Trinity - that three divine Beings lived both uniquely and in community, agents of choice and participants of self giving love - introduced a new concept of human as 'persons:' individual personalities, uniquely separate, agents of choice and yet profoundly communal.

The concept of personhood is elegant - one of my favorite ideas about being human. I love that life is manifested utterly uniquely in each one of us - the marvel of agency and personal beauty and possibility - stuns my mind. I am ridiculously alive in my own singular (and your own) form, a person, and yet dependent on the interaction with you, each of us shaping the other, physiologically, emotionally, spiritually. Our formation is far from mechanical; it is art my friends. Each of us is art. And somehow tied to us being like God.

I scratch my neck as I write this. My fingers reach out and feel my soft skin and go back to the keyboard. I turn the music up because I like this song, even though Steve doesn't. I finish up so I can go exercise. I anticipate a conversation with Steve. This hour - this very hour I am living is unique and rife with meaning. It is a miracle. I am here. I am dancing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

one more thought about the plane conversation

... I was drying my hair this morning thinking about our tribe. It seems to me that we are not a better family than many. In fact, we are FULL of personality which makes us full of possible offenses. I think what makes the difference for us is the strong desire to forgive.

I know that I have the capacity to offend my kids more than twice in three weeks. I know I have disappointed them... often as not without even knowing it - we can do that to each other.

But they have not cut me out. They have not said things that make a relationship dangerous to continue. They have not threatened me.

One of the marks of our family is kindness. We tend toward kindness. And we forgive forgive forgive. Forgiveness is the only way to sustain kindness.

I am so glad to be in a tribe that doesn't keep record of wrongs. The air between us is clear. Because we forgive.

CSLewis - one of my mentors - says that we have to begin our days forgiving each other even before we get up out of bed. The other person, simply by being 'other' will offend us. The way forward is to forgive them unilaterally, simply forgive them for being who they are,for not being 'me'. (Sort of reveals our own selfish perspective doesn't it?) To do this is to create a state of mind, to establish a foundation of relationship, acknowledging before hand that my own pleasures and rights will make who you are something of an offense, at some point. So before that happens I let it go. Then when we collide I can laugh instead of fume.

I have another idea to write about but I had to say this first. Happy Sabbath.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

on the plane

The conversation is interesting so I lean my head on the window and tip my ear back a bit so I will hear every word. It isn't eavesdropping if you are packed in so close you can the person behind you blink. Granted, it might be eavesdropping if you lean against the window to hear. Whatever...

The two 30-something men behind me are talking about their families. Clearly these families have money, because one tale is a story of a battle about who will use the 'big house' during the holidays. Lots of drama. Siblings fighting. Mom doing manipulative and mean things. Finally he tells his mom that she should never expect to see her grandkids again, that she is a 'sh---y" mom and a 'sh---y' gramma and he is finished with her. He spat out that she has disappointed him twice in three weeks.

The other guy chimes in with his story about the upcoming holidays, his wife being depressed and always 'bi-chy' and all the fights they have. About her sister ... what a witch she is. And on and on.

My kids (all except Ben and Kari and their babes) are coming for Thanksgiving. I couldn't be more excited. I would sleep in a tent to make room. I am combing recipe books to find food they might like - picked up some thin mints because Rae's husband Curtis likes them, made up a fun bag for Kyra and Megan, schemed with Vincent about his arrival. We are packing in baby supplies for the twins.

We like each other. We know we can't live each other's lives, but we like to stand around and watch each other live what they are building of life. We love all the quirks and foibles. We make mistakes and bicker sometimes, but back down as soon as we become aware. Our holiday days won't be a Rockwell painting - it will be mess and tiredness and cooking and helping each other but also tons of laughing, teasing, party noise, helping out, sharing and hopefully each one will go home filled up with love.

We need our people. Cutting each other out is such a catastrophic wound. I am thankful this November that none of my people are lost. I can't wait for our happy bedlam.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Big Steve is a great guy

Tonight BS and I made our home beautiful again. It hadn't been cleaned for more than a month, not vacuumed, everything was a mess. I felt all kinds of stress but BS just pitched in with me and we got it all back to order. We put our Christmas tree out on the back deck like always, and the lights wouldn't go on. So BS worked on them and made a store run and we have glowing Christmas on our back deck.

I just want to say that real love is not about intensity. It is more about kindness and paying attention. I like very much that Steve notices me. He doesn't notice my crazy old lady look - my curlers and baggy pjs ... my age spots or gray roots. He notices my smile. He notices my sadness. He pays attention to me.

Guilt doesn't live in our home. Obligation hasn't got a space to hang its hat. Life has enough burdens - we don't need them in our homes. I just want to say to anyone that hears me that my pastor husband has lived his faith with me. He is the same at home and at church. (Ask the kids. They laugh about it.)

So - thanks Steve, for helping me feel good about my home again tonight. You built it for me and now you clean it for me. This is why I don't mind him sitting in front of his computer with ear phones on watching the Red Wings play hockey. He makes me smile.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What I saw at WalMart

Isle 9. Across from hundreds of boxes of cereal. Carts bump each other, a man sneezes and a kid begs his impatient mom for Sonic Hedgehog cereal.

A girl walks down the isle, her long hair loose and unwashed and her jeans and shirt looking like she pulled them out of the wash pile. A girl with a fuzzy headed baby draped across her left arm. A baby wearing a brown sleeper. A boy. Three days old. Clearly jaundiced. Sleeping.

Behind her slumps a slightly older boy with a fuzzy hunting hat, flaps pulled down over his ears, old shirt, untied shoes. He won't make eye contact. I hope he is her brother.

She looks tired. And unloved. But has a kind of defiant pride. She wants me to touch her baby boy. Three days old. (I didn't want to stand up three days after a birth let alone trudge through WalMart.) "This is my baby," she says. The boy grunts.

I leave the store concerned and sad. A sadness that is still with me like a little ball of cement in my chest.

Everything gramma in me wants to take her baby and bundle him in a blanket, give him the tight securely newborns are used to from the womb. I want to sit her in a quiet place, wrap her in a quilt and bring her tea. If ever a moment needs love this is it. This little new mother needs to cry. I can see it in her eyes. She hopes everything for her little darling boy, but who is standing with her? I hope hope hope she has a mother who loves her with the same fierceness. She is, herself, a child, who needs to be allowed to restart her development. She desperately needs someone to teach her and support her in the daunting task of keeping this boy alive and well.

I lay awake in the night and wonder if she is awake with a screaming baby, maybe trying to nurse him. Exhausted. Without resources. What will become of this little trio? I pray. My prayer expands and covers more and more space. I cry into my pillow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

they didn't dare~!!!!!!!!

I got home from my retreat with Steve and I opened a letter that said my driver's license is suspended! All because I have not yet gone to 'driving school.' I am SO offended!

________________ ... and, an editorial comment.

I am fully aware that all the people who were at my 'dinner for 22' read my blog! And I hope YOU are aware that this blog is about women and serving and life and making things happen and how we come to the end of ourselves. Or at least I do and I hope (profoundly) that you do too. In fact, I count on it.

My little friend who wrote this poem saw the evening from her point of view, and I laughed when I read it. (She herself is a LONG way from being in the stage where she could put on a dinner for 22, and to satisfy her curiosity about what kind of event this would be I invited her to come and take pictures.)

I was, in fact, in denial about having ever voiced such a sentiment, but she swore that is how it was! I am a 9:30 bed goer and when 11:30 comes I am done in. Unable to cope. Like a baby who cries so someone will put her to bed. So I have to concede that this was how it happened. That my home was full of some of my favorite people in the whole world is irrelevant, completely.

Steve makes fun of me for always hoping our incoming guests have a flat and don't quite make it to our home for events we plan (or are planned for us.) But then our times together inevitably turn out to be fun. And yes, there is a cost to be the one hosting the event, but we get up and do it again the next day so it must be worth it to us.

So flop into the chair beside me, my dear women friends, makers of life's happenings - and toss your laments into the air. We will certainly laugh!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

how life gets out of control

The Dinner Party
written by Krissi Carson

“I’m having twenty-two people for dinner tonight,”
spoke you to me, distressed with a smile reminiscent
of the gaze of a rabid dog. “By accident.”
Only you.

And they came, and you cooked.
And they prattled as you provided.

Little boys wandered knee-deep in your creek,
hoping for Crawfish, and your Girls trod lightly in swim suits
and gossamer wings, while parents sat idly
in your living room, avoiding the sun and contagious
child-like spirit out back.

And they sat, and you served.
And they ate as you smiled.

Fire blazed in the cooling air after empty plates and full tables,
roasting marshmallows for dessert around stories, a dirge,
and your backyard fire pit. The adults ventured
out after all, for a moment.

And they mingled, and you laughed.
And they chatted as you scoured their dishes.

You disappeared and I found you in your room, locked
in with the cat and the only peace in the house,
where I dropped on the bed beside you and Walter, the girl,
all exhausted.

And they stayed too long, and you turned to me on your bed,
and I laughed as you muttered with tired eyes and no more strength,

“I hate all these people.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

fast and blue

I pull into my drive and am accosted by a 9 year old. "Mimi!" she shrieks. She is very loud. "Mimi! Can you guess what I'm going to be for Hallowe'en?"

I guess. A princess? "No! Guess again."

A witch? "No! Guess again!"

A dog? Clearly this is going to be a long conversation.

Give me a clue. "Okay, it is blue."

I know! A smurf!

Complete confusion covers her face. "What's a smurf?" Note picture on left.

Well give me another clue. "It's blue. And it's fast. Mimi! You KNOW what it is!" But sadly I do not know. Superman? Is he blue? He is fast.

But of course I can't land on the right character. Finally she looks at me in disgust. "Blue. Fast. Haven't you ever heard of Sonic Hedgehog?"

Shaking her head in disbelief she walks away.

Come by for candy! I call to her, bleakly...standing there in the distant past, in smurf-land.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


It's been good year for rhubarb. There's hardly a yard in Canada that doesn't have a rhubarb plant sprouting up as soon as summer comes. But in Kentucky I had to work to have a rhubarb plant. The problem is heat. Heat and dryness... rhubarb needs cold nights and lots of wet. This summer was rhubarb heaven here... not exactly cold but cool nights and lots of rain.

So today I harvested my plant for (possibly) the last time. I came in with a great pile of strong red stalks and no real idea what to do. I know how to make a fabulous rhubarb custard pie but I needed more. I started through my cookbooks and found a pie or two, but not much. Then I came upon a cookbook called "Schmecks Appeal" written by a group of German women and given to me in the late 80's.

Schemcks Appeal has a WHOLE CHAPTER simply and beautifully titled "Rhubarb." Included in the collection of recipes for everything from stews to punch to coffee cakes is woven tales of great rhubarb feasts and funny occurrences. Friends tell stories about friends.

I had forgotten how much I love this kind of old German farm women who cackle like hens with roaring laughter, are undaunted by any problem and who can create meals that take an hour to eat. These are not ultra thin babes with 25 pairs of shoes. They may indeed have ten pairs of boots, but they are some kind of beautiful plain folk.

Not that these women can't really 'put it on' if they so choose. They know what beauty is, and they have resources. The thing is though, that they think not much is more beautiful than a kid with a big smile on his face, or an afternoon of work with a friend and a truck load of laughing. (Often at men.)

So my rhubarb is taking me on a walk back to visit Elizabeth and Martha and Bernice and Ruth. I hope someday my granddaughters have a rhubarb moment with me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Birthday boy

My kid Ben is 32 this coming weekend. I sent him a box to Indonesia and it arrived in ten days - which makes me endlessly happy. The boxes are always opened but nothing seems to be taken. Beautiful.

Also can I say that Ben and Kari have two of the most fabulous kids... who I am currently loving with candy and treats - but that must change. I hear Kari's folks are traveling to see them for New Year's which makes me just a tiny bit jealous.

Kari is running in a marathon in Malaysia on the 22nd. The family will travel there and wait for her at the finish line. I can't wait til little Flo runs a marathon with her mom. First she has to get through the baby fat stage. smile. Blaise is spider-man so he could probably just fly alongside.

Our people are what matters most, don't you think?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No takers, huh?

So... no takers on yesterday's blog. That's okay. Perhaps it is too hard an issue.

Last night big Steve and I came to see Afrizo, (means African Zone) a nine person singing group from the Daystar University in Nairobi. They were led by a woman of 'traditional build' (as McCall Smith would describe her in "Ladies Detective Agency)whose sound and personality filled the room.

At one time in the performance the group moved through the audience, singing over and around people who mostly curled into themselves (and admittedly, the group had little sense of 'personal space,' embarrassed and awkward. With one shining exception. A Korean family with three small children were there... and when the group (still singing loudly and with passion) paused there, the children reached out their hands, fascinated, and the Africans responded ... and a lovely cross cultural moment happened. The children, in simplicity, were able to receive the gift of song, like few of us adults had.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


A woman friend wrote this little poem about her friend's struggle and I found it to be very visceral.

I watched you self-destruct

today when your disease consumed

your judgment

your reason

your bones

your steps

and that too familiar glaze manifested

in your childlike eyes before it snapped

like a light switch and turned on

the woman who handed you
the truth the rest of us can’t
or is that simply you
because I can't find
where your disease ends
and you begin

It was fifteen years ago when I first encountered an eating disorder in a dear friend of mine. As she destroyed her body she destroyed something inside all of us who were close to her. In her desperation she became a weapon of sorts and the shrapnel from her exploding soul still remains in small pieces inside me.

Another friend of mine who understands alcoholism told me that often the alcoholic who has acted destructive doesn't remember the incident ... it is the people around him/her that hold the memory. I think any addictive disorder has this element of putting the pain onto others.

We are connected to each other more profoundly than we sometimes allow. We are constantly receiving form from others, and donating form to them. In other words, what I am changes you, and what you are changes me. Who we are, matters.

As I've aged I have come to know that I can do hardly anything to change someone else's life, and certainly almost nothing to influence their choices. Many people ask for advice, few take it. Maybe that is just as well. But I have also come to believe that if I keep facing toward my own health, my own wellness, then I become, simply, a peaceful presence. This is what it means to refuse to cooperate with the dysfunction/manipulation. I think this is also the way to be of help.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Meg's book

If you want to be absolutely delighted, click on my daugher's blog, "Fresh Coffee on the Front Porch" and read ... my 9 yr old Meg is writing a book, chapter by chapter, and it is being posted on the blog. (Don't tell her but I am going to publish it for her for Christmas!) (Meg is the one on the right!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


More than one friend thinks the blog on Today's Christian Woman was a REAL interview...come on friends! It is comedy~!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Me 'n my IPod

I am listening to MY music. I am loving this! I almost want to cry. This is so fabulous!

I know - I know - it took me a month to get it up and going but I have seen the light! I have drunk the cool-aid!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

When Bad things Happen to Good People

This excerpt from a helpful interview might add to your social wisdom. Today's Christian Woman is interviewing Dr. Phil.

TCW - Traveling can cause people to spend time without a lot of private space. I have a friend who, when tightly seated by a handsome and proudly dressed man might have accidentally let a small indiscretion of air release from her body. What would you say, Dr. Phil, is the best way to handle this type of situation?

Dr. Phil - Well, there are several approaches often taken. These things can happen to anyone, and people understand that. I'm sure there was no offense.

TCW - Well, my friend said that it was pretty bad. Perhaps not everyone will be so understanding.

Dr. Phil - In that case I always suggest that people own their lives and simply smile and apologize.

TCW - That might be more than every traveller can manage. Is it okay to simply look out the window, and perhaps open the in-flight magazine with vigor to move the air around a bit?

Dr. Phil - Well, certainly, that might help. Air can get caught between those tightly packed seats.

TCW - How about the commiseration strategy?

Dr. Phil - You mean, look at your seat mate, role your eyes and tip your head toward the man sitting in the seat in front of you? I think that would be a socially acceptable move, and certainly you are going to build some camaraderie with your seat mate.

TCW - My friend said she was going to try that but the man beside her was leaning out into the isle, casually covering his face with his hand. She couldn't really catch his eye.

Dr. Phil - Sometimes people do lean away from situations, but that simply reveals their own weakness. I hope your friend wasn't too crushed by this rejection.

TCW - Certainly she coped. I have one more question - a significant one. My friend wanted to know. She wondered why it was so hard to keep her poise - she said she looked out the window and couldn't stop laughing. In fact, the more she tried the more she laughed. The question is, how does a mature person find herself with this obvious lack of decorum?

Dr. Phil - This is an epistemological issue, pondered in many a philosophy debate. In fact, it might be a good topic for a whole issue of TCW.

TCW - thank you Dr. Phil. This has been so helpful. I myself have never had anything like this happen to me, but my friend has, and she is going to be greatly helped to know her options.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Day Nine - two more sleeps

Reg and Jo Johnson came to join us for the end of this retreat and it was great to sit and listen to Reg this morning. He is a freedom maker, a gentle grace giver if ever there was one. Jo is great too - her real name is Diane ... wonder how that happened?

Ended up with a migraine yesterday - maybe it was the hours in the sun the day before - under the umbrella and well sun screened, but it was pretty bright. Today I have to dig deep to find energy - kind of on the other end of the migraine but gratefully going in the right direction.

Only two more sleeps til I am home - I have realized that although there are some glorious places on this earth, the place I most love to be is in my own home, putzing through life with Steve. And Walter the girl. I hope Steve is rubbing her belly every day. If not she will be in bad humor for about two weeks.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day Eight

Didn't get to the beach today - until the very last end of the sunset which is hot pink swirled around with breezes and birds. I am having trouble finding the heart to interact deeply for three more days.

I am now going to watch House - I want to see another dysfunctional person to take my mind off myself. smile

PS High in my home city, Calgary - 32F and low, 9F.

Day Eight Still Dark Outside

I got up at five this morning thinking I would walk back to the ocean and try to find my glasses before all the walkers trod on them. I walked to the water's edge and sat on the lump of sand I sat on last night - and had a little think. I thought about Habakkuk (a Biblical prophet) who lived in a terrible time, and his conclusion was that 'though the fig tree doesn't bloom and the stalls are empty, I will wait for God.'

My prayers went the same direction. As important as my glasses are, they are not ultimate. And other things - like Vince getting a real job - that is not all of life.

So I prayed there in the dark, realizing that the tide had come up and washed away all the flotsam around the pile of sand, and even if I were to find my glasses now, if they've been tangled in the sand they are useless. I prayed thanksgiving - that even if I don't find my glasses, and even if Vince doesn't easily find a job (this was symbolic of all the waiting prayers I have in my heart) I will still wait for God, and praise Him. He is my God after all.

And then I decided to come in, since it was dark out and what was the point of sitting there in the dark. And I got up and turned around and... there were my glasses, a bit sandy but perfectly whole.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day Seven postscript

Funny I called today lost and found. Tonight i watched a movie that made me sad so I walked out to the ocean to sit on the sand and just think. Maybe be comforted. I notice the stars and lay on my back to see a bigger sky. I take my glasses off to see the clear sky - and hook them into my shirt.

When I get back to the hotel I realize they are gone. I go to the front desk and borrow a flashlight and walk the little route I had travelled, twice. Alas, no luck.

So will they be found? The day is ending in a way that is challenging my calmness... again.

Day seven - lost and found

I lost my wallet today. The one with cards in it. I found it. In a drawer with shirts ... I guess I stuffed it in there when I was emptying out my purse. Also lost my cash... but found it too. So I guess I haven't really lost anything. Don't know why I mention it.

Happy to say neither seeming loss made me frantic. I stayed calm. And I found my lost articles.

One of the men attending the retreat only wrote one 'rule' for his life: to be calm. The three sub-points were: to let other people live their own lives, to not push and try to change everything, to fight for calm and not control when things get bad. And he has had some big stuff go bad. Interestingly, he was a very happy guy.

This fits with Epiphany's (where I studied) adage to 'never push against the pace of grace.' Sometimes we push because we can't find the grace. And sometimes we see the grace and it isn't enough. And sometimes we are just so busy fixing our own stuff we don't even consider that grace might be at work somewhere in it all.

As beautiful as it is here, I haven't been very peaceful. Our work has been fruitful, but really, I have just been waiting til I could leave.

Today I spent the whole day (most of it) by the edge of the ocean. I put up my little umbrella and opened my chair and plunked down. Between sits I floated in the ocean... which was warm and clear and fish filled. And I read a whole book.

I also played a game. I would locate a massive school of fish and hang around in it, until a sea bird dived down and hit the water within feet of me, and I watched the whole thing from front row seats.

See, today I looked for grace.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day Six - muggy with food

First, let me report that by the pool today the women I had fun with yesterday would not let me go without answering their questions. The big one was ... who the heck are you? The woman who had used my lawn chair told me it was the nicest thing anyone had EVER done for her. It was beautiful and sad, really. She was adamant that I had done such a huge thing. Really it was so small.

The retreat ended tonight with a dinner on the beach ... pretty glorious really ... the sun set as we ate. I think I ate three lobster tails and a hunk of prime beef perfectly grilled over live coals (so it had a crunchy roasted outside and a hot pink middle - could cut it with a fork.) And a few huge shrimp with red sauce ... and maybe a large slice of cheese cake. I'm not sure. Sounds impossible. But that might have happened. There must have been a vegetable in there somewhere. I can't be sure - it was dark out.

Afterward I was feeling pretty hot - well, sweaty, actually, so I walked behind some tall grass and pulled my polyester slip off from under my beach dress (trying not to pull a Lady Diana) and put my feet in the surf for a few minutes. Warm and clear ... I felt like running out into the water.

All in all I remember why I do this thing ... the participants are so beautifully restored, have a plan to make small but significant changes in their lives, are inspired to step back into the fray. The retreats couldn't happen without someone hosting and leading - and that is my role. Ginny does all the administration.

It would be a perfect end to my day if there was a nice juicy murder on TV.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day Five ps

So after I wrote my last blog this happened:

I was sitting on my beach chair watching the waves and waiting for dinner time when we will eat as a group on the deck ... it will be nice.

Three older women (maybe 60 ish?) wander down to the water close to where I sit. The oldest and heaviest one sits on the sand, and the other two go into the waves and surf the waves, laughing uproariously.

I have an impulse. To suggest to the older lady to sit in my chair - the sand is not comfortable for a heavy older person. And then go into the water and ask the other women if I can play with them.

No that is stupid. But it would be fun. Here I sit all docile and boring. Why not. Oh I can't. Oh why not. I should. I will be mad at myself if I don't. Okay. This might work. It might not.

So I get up and invite the woman to sit in my chair. She is grateful.

I go into the water and immediately the women invite me into their conversation - we laugh as the waves toss us around. We talk a bit about health care. We look for sand dollars.

After we part, laughing, they return and invite me to come to dinner with them. I can't of course, but I feel like a kid who has just made a friend. Because I got off my chair. Because I followed an impulse. I laughed. I've experienced the ocean in a way I wouldn't alone. I feel darned happy.

Day Five. Impossible

I am walking back to my room after having lunch with a couple from the retreat and see a lovely sight. Outside the window, amid palm trees and wood chips and exotic flowers, in a place forbidden to tourists, clambers a boy of about 5, intent on his task.

He is bent over, still for a second and then lurching forward, completely unaware that he has broached the demarcation line of civility - repeatedly crashing and crushing through the resort landscaping.

What is holding his attention is a lizard of unusual size. (Remember the ROUS-es from Princess Bride?) Well, not that big, but a pretty big one. Over and again - the lizard holds still and the boy lunges and the lizard springs away. I know for a fact that this boy is not going to catch this lizard. But HE does not know it and he keeps at it. The moment literally glows with his intent on the kill.

I think about this tow-headed kid and how we lose the ability to try the impossible. We scan our options and discount a whole bunch of them because, "I can't do that," or "I can't have that in my life." Maybe there are things we could do that elude us simply because we don't think we can.

I for one hope no one says to that boy, 'Get out of there. You can't be there. You can't catch that!" Let him go to sleep imagining the big one that got away and hoping for another go at it tomorrow.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day Four

Weirdest moment. I am sitting on my little beach chair, and a young handsome man, kind of a young Desi Arnez, struts out of the surf carrying a very small baby - maybe a couple months old. I think, Oh, a dad. Sweet.

So as he walks right past me, close enough that the baby is dripping on me, I smile my grandmotherly smile and say, "Does she like the water?"

I think he misheard me.

His face lights up. In slightly broken English he rapsodizes, "Oh eet was so wonderful! I tuk my bathing suit off and swim without anything between me and zee water - eet was the first time I've done that and Oh! was SO wonderful! The water was feeling so good!"

Meanwhile the baby is hanging over his arm like a sack of wet towels.

"Oh yes! Being in zee water without anything was so egg-citing! Have you tried it yes?"

And he smiles the biggest possible smile.

And I smile a stupid kind of smile and say, "Oh good!" And "Ah, good!" And "Sure!"

So that was it. The weirdest part of my day.

Day Four. The Breeding Pool

I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing for sale on the Florida coast that could make me cute on the beach. But I have also come to realize that as I am no longer in the 'breeding pool' my attire, and appearance, is of little consequence.

Abandoning wardrobe shopping, today I made a singular purchase that will put my week on a new trajectory. I bought a little folding beach chair in hot pink, and a stripped six foot beach umbrella. Situated right by the water where I can hear the constant churning waves and the laughter, radio music, old ladies conversations etc. - I find I am happy. It is a very Marilyn way of being by the sea.

I sit in my little cocoon of shade, book in hand and watch the dance of the breeding pool. I have only to look six feet to the right and into the surf. Two girls in black bikinis are practicing doing handstands and cartwheels in the shallow water - clearly they are of cheer-leading caliber. I can, then, not help but notice as the focus of the beach hones in like a laser beam. A man beside me stands up from where he lay beside his baking woman and saunters down to the water and stares while pretending not to stare. Dads put babies in peril as their eyes are taken captive, old men walking jauntily tripped over their feet attempting to make their necks swivel to a degree humanly impossible. (What is it about a lithe, tanned young woman in a string bikini standing upside down with her legs spread at inhuman angles that is so sexual?)

I watch all this, wearing my own beach attire like an embarrassment, but fully satisfied that NO ONE is looking at me.

The most dignified woman on the beach is a slim Muslim woman in long pants, long sleeves and a full head wrap of silky cream, sitting poised in the shade. I don't really want her outfit, but it certainly has its merits. Her modesty has taken her out of the breeding pool as well. She retains the dignity most of my western friends have so easily and completely discarded.

So I take a dip in the pool and slosh upstairs to the third floor to shower off and change. After so many Sundays of constant work this day is pretty darned close to being a sabbath.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day Three. Men should not wear speedos.

There is much to see on the beach. MUCH more than anyone could reasonably wish to see. Such is my experience today as I observe not one or two, but many older men in very flimsy bikini bottoms. I just have to say that to get it out of my mind.

I think if you ask most people here they would say they are having a good time on St Pete's beach. I'm sure more than a little money has been invested in them being here. But not many people look happy. Most don't look happy at all.

There are a few glorious exceptions of course. Occasionally I hear uproarious laughter coming from the pool or ocean side... and if I manage to sidle up and listen the common theme is a funny anecdote about embarrassment or awkwardness. I have to laugh into my book or towel as I take in the hilarity. I like those moments very much.

I find I am quite diminished by my Steve not being here. He isn't a really good vacationer... kind of a poop really. But I am quite used to his poop-y-ness and it suits me. The other kind of person I could use here right about now is a girlfriend (you know who you are!) with a sense of the absurd would would help me make quiet but deliberate fun of some of the oddities - like the old men in thin little potato sacks.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day Two. Mindfulness.

I believe that wherever we are at any moment, whatever is happening, is precisely the raw material for grace. But we can march past a lot of grace before we realize we've must have missed something.

The present moment is the only real time we have. And life is about time, if it is about anything at all. Today my time is spent in Florida watching people, well, use time.

All day I had a sense of crumbling. The peach hotels with plaster dolphins and blue rinse fountains ... crumbling.

Bodies crumbling too. A young woman with a serious disease holding her little boy who laughs into her eyes. Crumbling. A lumpy old man with a horrible scar on his face, lumbering along with who is probably a daughter. A heavy set, powerful looking man of about fifty strutting down the beach with a baby skinned beauty. Hotels with signs that plead for customers. A thousand lost golf balls. All crumbling.

I wonder if I am seeing rightly, or if I am projecting feelings my mother, always an immigrant farmer's daughter, passed on to me. That the world we walk so solidly in is, really, just a flim flam.

Not sure. I will eat some shrimp by the pool and think about it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Day one. Florida.

Travel. Packing my suitcase is one of the least pleasant things I ever do. And walking out of my home is the other.

I hate to pack. I am not one of these people who can pack 4 1/2 outfits for six days - I don't know what my mood will be, what my waist will need in terms of accommodation, what my sense of style will demand. I always fail to pack what I will want to wear. I think my clothes don't suit other places. Maybe it is that I don't suit other places. At home I feel confident and well dressed and relaxed, but I don't automatically feel that in other places... even if I am dressed the same.

And then there is the issue of summer wear. What does a person wear in heat? I still don't have that one right. Mostly I think I will just dress and forget myself as I have learned to do.

But I still hate packing. I grumble and fuss and throw things in the suitcase and hate every bit of it.

And then I walk out of the house. I always wonder if I will come back ... I love being in my home. With my Steve. I love the old couch where I sit with coffee balanced on the arm. I love the cat hair. I love the garden that needs so much fall work. I have not been home long enough and alone enough to even wear junky clothes for the last month or two. Always just pausing til the next thing or person.

I am going to think on these things over the next two weeks. And I am going to swim. Every day. That is the plan.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

wish i could hug her today

This is my Meg and her dad - who is fabulous.

She has started a recess club called "save our world" with a couple of her friends - so far they have made necklaces to declare their love for all things recycled. :)


My kid finds the most incredibly bizarre things to do. For instance:

Mikey have done two market research projects. (One of them was a swimming thing: the company makes chlorine for pools and stuff, and they wanted to know how much water people accidentally drink while swimming... so me and Mikey went to their warehouse and swam laps for four hours!! And then we had to collect our pee for 24 hours to see how much chlorine we had accidentally drank!! Haha! Best $40 I've ever made.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

a moment in a life

My kid Vincent wrote this little story in our latest family newsletter from him. I loved it... it is who he is. I thought you might like a glimpse into a crazy Elliott life.

Speaking of Millennium Park, I think you all will like this story: one day last week, when neither me or Mikey had anything to do, we started talking about how nice it feels to be complimented. We discussed the issue further, and struck upon the idea of a Compliment Booth, like a Kissing Booth, except that instead of kissing passersby, we would give them free compliments. So Mikey and I made a sign on an old chalkboard that said COMPLIMENT BOOTH and went down to Millennium Park. We sat in folding chairs behind our sign, and doled out compliments all day long, from 10am until 4pm. We must've given out 5000 compliments. Four different police officers came by to see what we were up to, but after giving them compliments, they just laughed and let us be. At one point, Mikey gave a nice compliment to a blonde woman, and she came over to us to ask us what we were up to (a common question). "School project? Community service?" "Nope, just being nice to people." As it turns out, she was a reporter from a TV station in Spain, and she interviewed us for Spanish TV. So now Mikey and I, the Compliment Booth guys, are famous in Spain.

If I could just say - anything that gets an Elliott into the news makes them happy. This is so vintage... I am still smiling.

a perfect anniversary

(I realize I have used this picture before but it is the only one on my computer.)
My sweety and I had the perfect anniversary yesterday. But let me begin on Sunday - Steve took me for a drive through the hills to Shaker Village where we walked in the cool low humidity and talked through each of our 35 years - what happened, what mattered, what hurt, what made us laugh. It was marvelous. We imagined what life would be like if we lived another 35 years together - after all we've done what would we do?

And then yesterday we began the day with Steve spraying our house for bugs and spiders - which were becoming too many to ignore. We spent the afternoon in bed, some of the time napping. What a luxurious thing to lounge about in bed during the afternoon - windows open, breeze floating all around, being with your best person.

When we wanted to we got up, dressed fancy and drove to Murrays and took a table in their garden, quite private and perfect in every way. I have to say we (read "I") consumed much too much of everything. My tummy still hurts. I shared some of my fillet Mignon with a beautiful stray cat who lingered in the bushes beside us ... clearly used to both begging and hiding. She seemed to appreciate the fine quality of the beef.

During dinner our youngest, Vincent, called to give us the welcome news that the job market had finally opened for him and he is adding this piece to his life. He was happy, and took time to tell us how good it is for him to live in Chicago, even with the various challenges.

We drove home with the windows open and went to our respective TV's to enjoy a taped British murder mystery (me) and a football game (Steve.) It was the perfect day.

During the night I had a dream. I dreamed about this morning, where I am speaking in chapel before the whole seminary. I have felt anxiety about this - but worked it through and am prepared. But in my dream every possible thing went wrong - to the point that people walked out and I could hardly begin let alone conclude my address. But the telling point is that in my dream I laughed about it. I laughed so hard, out loud, that I woke both Steve and myself up. I am still smiling in my soul.

I have had the privilege of living with one of the best men on earth for most of my life. I enjoy every day in some way. He does not hesitate to make me smile. He climbs into chigger infested fields to gather me a handful of wild daisies. He cleans up after my messy cooking forays. I do not live with criticism. I live with a big fat YES! spoken to me every day in all manner of ways. If all else around me fails, love will last, of this I am sure.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This is a friend

I told a friend this morning that I am not doing great with my prayer life these days - that I feel like my prayers are just bouncing around in an empty room - that I have lots to pray about but low expectations.

So many ways to respond to that. You might give a defense of prayer - how it matters anyway. Or a finger shaking in your face lecture about perseverance or faith. Or you might quote a little verse... or begin to talk about your own spiritual life of prayer ...which would make you feel better but me feel worse.

But my friend did not do any of this. She simply said,

"okay - then i will pray your prayers for you ... what are they?"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Identity Theft

This morning I have a bit of an unusual start ... I am making breakfast for a group of students ... taking it to the school, not having them here.

So I spent yesterday afternoon shopping and last night finishing up the preparation. This morning I got up early to get the breakfast casserole on, and the monkey bread didn't rise overnight so I had to do a remedy in a warm oven, and so on.

I came out of the shower wearing casual clothes. Steve looked at me funny so I said, "Hey. This is stage one. Run the food to the school. Help with child care during chapel - make sure the kids have their lunch, and then come home and change clothes for the presentations this afternoon. At five run home again to get the food I prepared last night for the community pot luck supper and take it to the dinner and then speak at the consecration service for new students at 7:00. And then collapse at home."

After I said all this ... there was a moments silence and Steve said, 'Well, I see you've become the Community Life pastor's wife."

To which I responded - Oh no! I did that, didn't I? I AM SUCH A LOSER!!!

So. Not to be stubborn, but I am going to cut down on all this running and filling in the holes. I have a lot of skills, developed over years of raising kids, volunteering, leading, making miracles happen without any money... but I think I want my identity back.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

neighborhood trauma

So I arrived home and flopped onto the couch with my feet up - the normal way for me to end my day - recovering and un-swelling. And I heard them before they got to my door, a passel of unkempt kids all under age eight or so, all who come frequently to my door - the neighborhood 'Mimi' - to show me miracles of nature, new skills on a bike or a dance move, tortured captives or just to try to solicit sweets.

The were all a-tumble this time...yelling all at once. The door bell rang furiously several times and I considered getting up. Then I heard JD say, "He's dead!" (Hear that in a very southern accent.) And then a big kafluffle of kid ejaculations. And then, "No he's not! He's upside down!"

Having no idea what it was that they were hauling to my front porch, not unlike my girl cat Walter does, when she wants to leave me a little love gift, I decided I would best stay prone. Wisdom of old age I think.

Monday, August 31, 2009

woman walks on the moon!

Let it be known to the world that I have just downloaded my first song, and transfered it onto my ipod. I have one song on my computer and ipod. I feel so, well, so postmodern. So with it. So GROOVY. What else is there to say?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ted Kennedy

I had the TV on today and watched the news and tributes to Ted Kennedy. Now, I can't say I know the Kennedy's like my American friends. I don't remember where I was when John F was assassinated. I do remember the despair and horror of that event, but it wasn't the same being in another country. But to put it into perspective I can guess that most of you don't remember where you were when, hmmm, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau twirled a pirouette behind Queen Elizabeth as he followed her out of the room, or where you were when Canada lost its innocence and fired a live missile during the Gulf War - (don't worry, we missed, but it was a shot heard across Canada!)

But today I watched and listened to the Kennedy funeral and memorial, which is more than some of my friends here can say, ahem. Let me comment on just a couple things.

First, I heard a lot of good theology. In fact, I heard some of the finest theology I have ever heard on TV or radio coming from news broadcasters who were describing Teddy's faith. The Roman Catholic theology of suffering, of the meaning of life, of forgiveness and redemption was, well, stunningly presented. Besides this, more than once I heard a commentator make the point that Kennedy's faith makes it possible to die well, as surely as to live well. True. I know it is true.

Secondly, there were some very fine quotes. My personal favorite was Joe Biden who, in talking about how Kennedy had made some serious mistakes in his early years pointed out that he didn't quit, but continued to grow and learn. This is his quote, "He made a lie out of his mistakes." I love that. Beautifully put.

Another was the tribute from Ted Jr. I have to admit I cried. The obvious love of a man for his dad, and a dad for his family, was something my heart rejoices to hear. I loved the story of his dad helping his succeed and believe in himself after he lost his leg.

And the victory of Kennedy's wife, Vicki, who is given credit for dramatically recharacterizing Kennedy's life... who knows how much strength a good woman can give.

The high mass was, admittedly, long. My friend Nancy Bailey had a high mass for her funeral, and it felt the same. A lot of symbolism and ritual, loaded with meaning unless you don't know the meaning. But meaningful to those for whom it is meant.

I love that this country has room for great people. I love that a family can stand together in a time of sadness. And in the richness of this long 48 hours of saying goodbye to Ted Kennedy I was able to dwell in the realities of my faith and my family - the strengths each member brings, the hope that lasts, the sureness that we also will gather during times of celebration and sadness.

So it was a good day to be almost American. I like it here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

my girls

Rachel and her surrogate girls on their first birthday. She gets all the love and Mark and Tina all the work! It is a loving thing that continues to happen across America.

This is one of the stories of our family. One of the things that makes us who we are. Stories abound. Our life is wonderfully loaded with links and kinks and people who alternate between piling on top of each other and running a stretch alone. I like it all. All of it. What works and what doesn't. The regularly occuring problems and messes just go to prove we are marvelously complicated humans.

This tangle of each other is satisfying. Tonight Big Steve is flipping between football and King of the Hill with Vincent - eating crazy bread and drinking iced tea. It is easy to be 'us' tonight.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

love on Juniper Drive

I wouldn't have noticed them except they hang around so long I start paying attention. Water jug in hand, I am waiting to venture onto the front lawn to water my pants, er plants, because I am scantily clad and adults are loitering in my space. Not "myspace" but MY space! My front sidewalk/lawn. My private space.

But on second look ... these are pseudo adults. Possibly 13? Two girls, two boys, and a kid. A kid sister following on a pink bike, a kid sister they are clearly trying to get rid of. I put on a rag shirt and start pouring liquid bliss on thirsty flowers. I don't care if kids see me.

Kid, speeding up on bicycle. "I said HI to gramma!!"
Girl one. "Go say HI to her again."
Girl two. "Go get us a can of coke."
Kid. "No"
Boy with deep voice and pimply skin. "Go! Go! Go away!"
Girl one. "Just go get us cokes. We are thirsty. Then you can stay."
Boy two, neater, less aggressive. "Go say HI to gramma again.She misses you."

The kid leaves and the sexual tension spins palpably into the air. Minutes, hours! of standing near each other, posturing, saying nothing and everything, breathing each others sweat.

Then the four kids decide to play hide and seek in the creek. One little couple who isn't a couple goes in to hide ...and the other little couple who are much more a unit go to seek. I don't see them come out.

So here is a very very homely boy, ungracious and red faced, spinning a mesmerizing spell over a girl with long swingy hair, budding breasts and oozing self consciousness. What on earth can the attraction be? But I know the attraction. This is an enactment of one of the most powerful forces within a human life. We preach choices to our kids but in this moment all preaching is gone. Hormones are leading the dance.

In our culture this is part of the strangling contortion of growing up. Before this is childhood imagination, after is real life, hopefully with some good possibilities. But right now - this is a vortex that takes a life and turns it inside out.

Since the kids have been loitering on my front lawn and in our stream I have noticed my flowers are growing more vigorously. The blooms are huge. Maybe it is a hormone treatment I could bottle and sell.

Monday, August 17, 2009

what grand beings we all are

I spent three hours of my Sunday at the Woodhill Art Festival. Wandering from display to display amazed at what becomes when the human soul is allowed to express itself. Each stall seemed to be an uncovering of an inner reality. Each one was uniquely separate, some comically bizarre and some slow and profound like an ancient poem. The other thing that amazed me was the drive to create - clearly the task whose fruit was displayed took painstaking endless effort, alone, struggling with mind and medium. Whether the artist is going to make a living at it, still she must press on in the human struggle to create. To have done so much must mean compulsion. Maybe once the thing begins it has its own demands. So it was I strolled through the miracle of art.

Then it was, for me, a long sit on an abandoned metal chair to watch the art that IS people stroll by me. Dogs galore, some well groomed, some sloppy. Kids galore, some well groomed, some sloppy. Ladies wearing church dresses and men with belts pulled a little snug. Girls drooping in elastic topped sun dresses and boys with muscles glistening, all a bit self conscious. Quirky old ladies with long sleeve shirts and big hats and Onassis sunglasses. A limping women pushing a wheelchair bound friend. Nearly all the men entering the park went first to the food vendors. Women went on to see what deals could be had. All this beauty set in some of the finest artwork I might ever see. It was, for me, a splendid Sunday.

social networking

Ben, Kari, Blaise and Flora in Indonesia.

Today I am in an all day training/ brainstorming session on social networking ...basically the practice of connecting with people, personally, on line. The day will be fun with lots to learn.

But I have to say that without social networking I would be quite lost in connecting with my kids - who are everywhere. We skype, facebook, blog, send photos, twitter... it is a good thing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

on motherhood and having a self

"Motherhood, in the sense of an intense, reciprocal relationship with a particular child, or children, is one part of female process; it is not an identity for all time. The housewife in her mid-forties may jokingly say, 'I feel like someone out of a job.' But in the eyes of society, once having been mothers, what are we, if not always mothers? The process of 'letting-go'--though we are charged with blame if we do not--is an act of revolt against the grain of patriarchal culture. But it is not enough to let our children go; we need selves of our own to return to." (Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born,37)

I searched for images of mother and child, and found myself caught in a beautiful human expression of joy. Clearly our connections body to body are both prosaic and poetic.
As well, I finished 'a Mercy' by Toni Morrison. All I can say is you MUST read it. I am still so deeply moved that I can feel the story within me.

On Sunday as I drove Steve to church (his car wouldn't start) at 7:30 I listened to a news magazine article on food preparation and its significance in human development.

Kathleen Norris talks about the sacredness of food preparation and the practice of eating together. All of these things begin in me a new depth of seeing how the hands of woman and the gifts of ordinary tasks that are repeated over and over until they are seemingly invisible, are actually some of the deepest pools of sacred living.

These thoughts are a big stew in my mind. Maybe I will serve some if it to you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

view from the back seat

Driving home from church on Sunday Megan handed Steve a photo holder that had big bees on it. Her question was, "What would you say if I gave this to you for What's in the Bag?"

What's in the Bag is a silly thing Steve does in the summer - a kid is chosen to bring something in a bag, and it is brought to Steve, and after a hymn he calls the kids together and tells a story using what's in the bag.

Well, he starts in. He says, "you know ... if God had this on his dresser"... and I know he is going to say the cheesy thing - he would have YOUR picture in it. So I decided to play devil's advocate.

"HE DOESN'T HAVE A DRESSER~!" Steve, pauses, "If God had a wallet in his pants..."


And Meg pipes up, "No and he doesn't have PANTS! He wears that robe thingy!"


Monday, August 10, 2009

on universal health care

Last night three girls in wet swim suits put on rubber gloves, and performed delicate surgery on a mid sized zucchini with heart disease. They carefully cut into his chest, exposed his heart cavity, removed the diseased heart and replaced it with a perfectly formed strawberry. Then they replaced the outer chunk of skin, and wrapped white cloth strips around the wound. You could hardly see any scar.

Last I saw the patient he was on his way to North Carolina to recuperate. The surgery was photographed and when it is transferred to my computer I'll post it with this account.

The following surgery on a tomato was less successful.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

tis herself

One of the most risky things I do is write this silly blog. I am trying to write without a sense of consequence - that is, I am writing it for ME, not for what a reader might think. This is a great challenge. I want to tell the truth. I admit I privately censor my own thoughts... all the while kind of resenting that I feel the need to do that.

So this blog is about me, as all my blogs are. (Kind of hedonistic, isn't it?) But the reality is that the closer I get to me, the nearer I am to you. Think about it. Relating persona to persona creates loneliness. Relating person to person mysteriously connects all kinds of links and synapses that make us know our own human journey more accurately.

I have three things I need to write about. It will take three blogs, and some thinking. I was going to comment on J.Carter, but I am too far past to make comment. My mind has wandered to another field.

This blog is connected to my 'faith thinking' - and those who read this who do not think in that way will have to put up with it for a bit. My premise in this blog is that a woman thinks different than a man. And yet, for reasons not fully known, we mostly hear the scriptures interpreted through a man's mind and experience.

I am reading "a Mercy" by Toni Morrison. This book is beautiful - it is carrying me like a tube down a river, floating through a soul. Toni Morrison is an African American novelist, quite different in experience from my, but she tells life so accurately I find myself. This small section took my breath away with its truth. I had to stop reading.

The person reflecting in this section is a sick woman who has been given comfort from friends.

"They had come to soothe her but ... were only interested in themselves. Yet the stories they told, their comments, offered Rebekka the distraction of other people's lives. Well, she thought, that was the true value of Job's comforters. He lay wracked with pain and in moral despair; they told him about themselves, and when he felt even worse, he got an answer from God saying, Who on earth do you think you are? Question me? Let me give you a hint of who I am and what I know. For a moment Job must have longed for the self-interested musings of humans as vulnerable and misguided as he was. but a peek into Divine knowledge was less important than gaining, at the last, the Lord's attention. Which, Rebekka concluded, was all Job ever wanted. Not proof of His existence - he never questioned that. Nor proof of His power - everyone accepted that. He wanted simply to catch His eye, to be recognized not as worthy or worthless, but to be noticed as a life-form by the One who made and unmade it.

But then Job was a man. Invisibility was intolerable for men. What complaint would a female Job dare to put forth? And if, having done so, and He deigned to remind her of how weak and ignorant she was, where was the news in that? What shocked Job into humility and renewed fidelity was the message a female Job would have known and heard every moment of her life."

Okay - I can't resist a small comment. Richard Rohr does marvelous work on the spiritual development of men and women, and he makes this very point. That a man, from birth, needs and often has, a journey of ascent. A woman, however, has a journey of descent. Only later in life does the wise man begin to descend, and the woman to rise.

And to be fully disclosed, the scripture must be contemplated from both male and female souls.

This is not to even begin to unpack the deep meaning in the passage. Tell me what you think.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

22 for Dinner - I think that is an event

Tonight I am accidentally having 22 for dinner. No, make that 23 because I just invited a student who is an amateur photographer to come and take photos of the event. I think 23 for dinner qualifies as an event. And a dog. I forgot the dog. And of course, our very own Walter the cat who has been hiding in the closet since the family with the dog came to stay.

We are having wieners. Not wieners exclusively. But mostly wieners. Varieties of wieners. A big fire. Some bent hangers and a watermelon. Not only a watermelon. A watermelon alongside some other sides. And hamburgers. But not only hamburgers. Just enough hamburgers for those who are too good for wieners.

I'll let you know how it goes. In a case like this I think the most important thing to do is to release control... just nudge the evening a little bit and watch it roll downhill. And hire a house cleaner tomorrow. A house cleaner named Big Steve is what I can afford. 'sall good!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Another Use for CoolAid

In-Style Magazine, Makeover Edition - hot tips for fall.

Try this for hair that has gone too brassy. Use a small amount of grape coolaid powder mixed into a few tablespoons of your shampoo - use as usual. The purple blue cancels out the brassy yellow/orange.

(I just killed a spider on the front of Steve's computer screen... I think I'll leave it there to surprise him!)

Pimples or red skin around nose? Spray with nasal decongestant to decrease the color in a flash.

Skin looking sallow? Soak a facecloth in soy milk and let it rest on your face for ten minutes. Soy contains phytoestrogen (possibly men shouldn't do this or they might grow breasts, not that they wouldn't anyway) which is a skin brightener.

And last but not least...if your face tends to be oily, splash your face with cooled black tea and do not rinse. The tea is a natural astringent.

And one more, just from me. To wake up tired eyes? Hit the 'off' button on your alarm clock and get two more hours sleep.

... gotta say, that nose picture turned out pretty big and awful looking didn't it!

What's a Girl to Do?

I've found a new author - Judith Merkle Riley - who writes intelligent historical novels. These are the kind of novels I read even when I am walking around - head down. The kind of stories that make me sad when they end. The latest is "The Water Devil."The heroine in this story is Margaret of Ashbury, wife of Lord Gilbert and mother of three. Near the end of the book she writes about herself as not a 'real lady', for she 'sees' the water lady as a person, not a devil. (long story - you have to read it to understand fully) But listen to this.

"Madame Agathe really is a true lady, I thought. She sees the pond-thing as a devil. Only the uncouth, the untutored, the wild things see the water woman as she is. Maybe some day even the children won't see her anymore. And me, I must be made wrong, for I sat with her, all finny-wet and slippery, and we made discourse, even if it was only in a dream. Lord, Lord, why didn't you make me a complete spotless lady, too? Then i would see things aright, the way they're supposed to be. And while you were doing it, great Lord of the Universe, you could have given me golden hair as well [insert: made me willowy as well], which would have been ever so much more admirable. But God, who is often enigmatic, didn't choose to answer this time, either."

I read this paragraph, laughed, plopped the book into my lap and said to myself, "I feel exactly the same way!!!" Now, please know that I fully understand the paradoxical nature of this writing - simply beautiful in its complexity. But I too, wonder why I've seen things differently all my life. I even TRY to see them the way I am SUPPOSED to, but to no effect. I am mainly talking about the Christian faith, but other things too.

Let me illustrate. When I was about the tender age of eight, Wednesday night was Pioneer Girls club followed by prayer meeting. We always went. Six kids, mom and dad. My mom would work in the library during club time and then together we joined the meeting time. One night only my mom and I were there, for some forgotten reason. And another thing, mom had forgotten to bring her hat, required attire for sitting in the service.

After Pioneer Clubs we met in the lobby and she mentioned that she didn't have a hat, and I poo-pooed it ... saying, "Oh just come on in. You're okay." Already I could convince a person against their best wisdom. Mom sat three benches behind me and I plunked myself down with friends.

Well, wouldn't you know it - the sermon was on the passage of scripture that clearly says women should have heads covered in service. I found the whole thing terribly funny. As the sermon began I turned around to see mom turning beet red. Being the only woman there without a hat was a little awkward, I knew. So I kept turning to smile at her, as tears poured down her face.

Mom and I left quickly - as you can imagine, and once we got in the car I regaled her with a mock sermon, mimicking the preacher man, berating women for not wearing hats. Mom laughed so hard she almost drove off the road.

Thirty two years later (I am not exaggerating here although I am very capable of exaggerating) mom and I were in a Swiss Chalet in Hamilton Ontario and we met that preacher, whom we both knew. After saying hello, he stuttered a bit and then apologized to my mom about what he called, "The Hat Incident." Thirty two years later it bothered him enough to bring it up.

We laughed again after he left. It was our only defense.

Now, a hat can be done well. It can be fun! (Note my darling Zoe in the photo.) But the point is. I live in a community that has a way of seeing things, a way that seems to be universally accepted ... and when I cannot see them quite that way I sometimes feel wrong or ill fitting. But maybe I am just made different. Maybe I just didn't grow up. This book helped me smile at my own difference. I claim my child-ness! I recommend it. (Child-ness AND the book!)