Friday, December 31, 2010

friday five: taking stock

At RevGals Singing Owl invites us to reflect on the year past and share five blessings from that time, and to look forward with hopes or dreams.

2010 Blessings

* The marriage of our son! We adore our daughter-in-law, and enjoy the growth we see in our son as he moves into a partnered life.

* Reconciliation with our daughter. Another post, another time.

* A more centered husband. After closing his business a couple of years ago my husband was miserable. He went through all sorts of stages of loss and grief, his health suffered, and frankly, he was a grump! This past year he led a spiritual formation program at church, which nourished his own being tremendously. He has discovered centering prayer, Thomas Merton, and a hungry soul. He is also much easier to live with. Thank you, Jesus!

* Growth at church. We're a wee parish. A year ago our average Sunday attendance hovered around 36. Now it's 55. Did I already say thank you, Jesus? I'll add an Amen! And we've got kids!

* The day to day challenges of life have served as a crucible for my own inner work. That journey feels more chaotic, with fits and starts of progress/results. In spite of the chaos I am in a better place than I was a year ago, and the groundwork laid will help with the ongoing work.

Hopes/Dreams for 2011

* Our son-in-law finishes his residency in Texas this spring, and though they won't know a precise relocation for another month or so, it is probable they will be in Georgia. Their closer proximity will allow for more frequent visits and deepening the bonds that have been restored. We will also have a chance to get to know our grandchildren, which will number three by summer. This alone could suffice for my five hopes/dreams/anticipation-of-good-things!

* the fruits of both my husband's and my journeys and efforts make it possible for us to smooth out some of the rough patches in our marriage. It is my hope that this possibility becomes reality.

* Further growth and improved health of my parish. New families have brought new possibilities. We also have a significant turnover in lay leadership coming into the new year, which I believe will add some fresh air and vitality to our common life.

* Make friends locally. I suffer from a dearth of local relationships and support, and I need to make an effort to change that. As an introvert this is a serious challenge.

* Improved habits that will energize my Pampered Chef business. We need the income, and I enjoy most of the aspects of this business. It's the ones that I don't enjoy that are holding me up.

Monday, December 27, 2010

for sheeplovers everywhere

especially a certain North Carolinian.
O Christmas Sheep, O Christmas Sheep,
How steadfast are your spindly legs.
They carry you through wind and rain,
Keep you upright as you munch grain.
O Christmas Sheep, O Christmas Sheep,
How steadfast are your spindly legs.

O Christmas Sheep, O Christmas Sheep,
How fluffy is your woolly coat.
It warms us through the wintertime,
And helps to keep our moods sublime.
O Christmas Sheep, O Christmas Sheep,
How fluffy is your woolly coat.

O Christmas Sheep, O Christmas Sheep,
We honor you this time of year.
You sang to Christ a lullaby,
By baa-ing through the starry night.
O Christmas Sheep, O Christmas Sheep,
We honor you this time of year.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

a brief report

We're not exactly snowbound here, but snow over ice on the roads, walkways, and a certain church parking lot have led to a rare, free Sunday morning! Well, it won't exactly be free since I have a lot of work to get done in the next couple of days, and I plan to get a head start.
 my stuff
 Ken's stuff

We had a lovely, quiet white Christmas yesterday. I'm sharing pictures of our "loot," as a friend of mine refers to the Christmas haul. Our absolute favorite gift is from our grandsons, whose foot and hand impressions were joined together to fashion a reindeer head. We had it hanging up after opening, and, out of sight, I forgot to include it with the picture of Ken's goodies, but I did manage to include it with mine.

Particularly enjoyable is that a necklace I bought for Ashley with two little boy figures Ken also gave to me. It turned out to be a big hit with Ashley, and I am equally tickled. I also take great delight in the "Nana" goodies I received: a  picture frame, Tervis tumbler, and plaque. On Wednesday we'll head out to spend a few days with Kenneth and Trisha and enjoy Christmas with them.

How was your day? And what was your favorite gift?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 = 5

Today I am feeling inspired by my friend Janet to consider my five favorite things from 2010. These aren't in any particular order.
 1) Kenneth and Trisha: married! We love Trisha, and we love how much she and Kenneth love each other. And, it was a blast planning and executing the rehearsal dinner.

2) Reconciliation with Ashley and family. What a gift! It was especially great to have two occasions to be with them this last spring and summer. We are really looking forward to them being within driving distance very soon. Just in time for the arrival of the next grandchild!

3) Growth at the church--including families with kids! Things are definitely looking up at church, and though we still have lots of work to do to stabilize and bring order to our life, there are lots of good things happening, for which I am deeply grateful.

4) Time at Melrose. This is a three-fold blessing: simply being at this beautiful place, sharing time with my Mom, and seeing our friends Jimmy and Barbara.

5) Simple joys. The stresses of life these days can make it hard to work up enthusiasm for many things (like changing out of pajamas!), but on those occasions when I push through and make and effort, I am glad for things like cooking, working crossword puzzles (thanks, J&B!), and rediscovering cross stitch. In the grand scheme of things, these are the things that sustain me from one day to the next.

Bonus! I am also more grateful than you know to the folks and friends who stop by here to get acquainted, share wisdom and encouraging words. I so wish many of you were closer. For all of us I hope the new year brings expanded opportunities, good health, resolved difficulties, and unexpected joy. Blessings, galore to each of you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

it's like this

I had intended to have a giveaway yesterday in honor of my 1066th post and my English and minuscule french heritage. Alas, I lost track of the post numbers and am unprepared for the event. Maybe I'll be on top of things when I reach 1100!

In the meantime I ask you to excuse my sporadic posting. For a person who is generally introspective and insightful I have found it difficult of late to "go deep." A number of fellow bloggers are participating in a "year in review" event of reflection called "reverb10." Each day a word, or pair of words is offered as a prompt for reflection. I signed up to take part in this as a way of focusing my thoughts for posts here, but I find that, with a few exceptions, the year is a blur, and my bucket of grist for the mill is empty.

I'm not entirely sure why this is the case, but one result is that I come to this blog feeling as though I have nothing to say. Well, there are things to say, of course, but I don't want this to become a place of political rants (except now and then). Neither do I want this to be a somber place when my inner reflections go that direction. 

I'll confess this: my "personal growth" these days seems to be in the area of confronting and accepting my limitations and deficits. Not a comfortable stage of growth, I'll grant you. It's not that I haven't spent time assessing such things at other times in my life, but these days, these weeks and months, I come back to this: where, and why, am I failing to live more fully? Why are relationships feeling tattered and thin? What will it take to ignite the spark that, at my core, propels and inspires me to feel and be connected with the world?

Spiritually I am feeling particularly bereft. I read testimonies of the awareness by others of God's tending in times of strife. My head acknowledges the working of the divine, but my heart seems shuttered against such knowledge and blessing. I am at a loss what to do to fill my tank in so many respects, and the frustration of that weighs heavier and heavier as the days clip by.

So tell me. How do you cope with such periods of hunger? What do you do to fill your tank? How do you love when your heart feels empty?

Oddly enough, I think I am afloat and functioning in the midst of all this because of God's sustaining love. I just need air in my balloon, wind in my sails, friends around me. It's not hopeless, just annoying.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

must. get. to. post. office

In the usual pre-Christmas mayhem that has become my norm since seminary (well, okay, since leaving New England, which pretty much coincides with the end of seminary), I'm down to the wire with Christmas. Three packages need to get to the post office. Today! One is packed and ready to go once I slap on a label.  The other two need to have gifts wrapped and then packed and labeled and off we go! All because of pillowcases.

Yes, pillowcases. This is all my mother's fault. When we were kids, she made Christmas pillowcases for me and my brother. Since I don't have kids of my own I like to adopt other people's children to live out my Mom-like holiday traditions. So when  my unofficial goddaughter and her sister came into my life I made Christmas pillowcases for them. Now that same unofficial goddaughter has children of her own, and she asked me if I would make pillowcases for her kids. Awwwww. Can you feel my heart melting?

You betcha! I thought that while I was at it I would do pillowcases for the other kids in my life who matter more than most. That meant eight pillowcases. Hmmm! And I still want to make Advent calendars for the three families in question. hmmm. The Advent calendars would have to wait (how appropriate!), but the pillowcases should be a snap.

Right. Getting the fabric was easy enough, but then there was the matter of measuring, pairing, cutting (remember: measure twice, cut once), clearing off the counter where I cut fabric, clearing off the table where I sew, moving things off the floor to set up the ironing board... Get the picture?

I managed to get two pillowcases finished yesterday afternoon before we went out for the evening. The red one required a facing because there wasn't enough border to make a hem. In imagining this project I thought it would be fun to put a pocket on the pillow where little gifts could be tucked in occasionally, or a tooth might be left for the tooth fairy. In the end, however, I failed to execute that portion of the plan. No matter! Two pillowcases will go in the mail today that I finished yesterday afternoon. Did I mention that I'm cutting it close? The third, for my goddaughter's youngest child, will have to wait. He's only five months, after all, and not sleeping on pillows, nor will he be aware that he's missing out. I may do his today when I get back from the post office, for no other reason than to bring closure for myself!

In the meantime, I've got a few presents to wrap. And pack. And take to the post office.

Don't I have the best Mom?

Friday, December 17, 2010

friday five: Christmases past

At RevGals Jan invites us to share five Christmas memories.

I've been doing a fair amount of Christmas reminiscing on this blog lately, so you've already heard much of what I hold dear about this time of year. Five additional things? I'll give it my best shot.

1) "Helping" Mom make toffee and spiced tea mix to give to neighbors and friends. I can't remember if the toffee went into a bag or box, but I DO remember that the packaging included a wooden spoon and a holly sprig (I think it was holly) tied with a bow. You rock, Mom!

2) Babushka's visit. Waking up on Christmas morning there was always a gift by the side of the bed left there by Babushka. For the record, we have no particular connection to Russia.

3) The year of the dog. When I was 11 my parents gave me a dog for Christmas. She wasn't wrapped up in a box or hidden in another room. We knew a Sheltie breeder, and drove to the kennel to pick up my puppy, who I named Bonnie. Thus began my love affair with dogs.

4) Family shopping expeditions. One night during the season we would go out to dinner and see the dramatic display of lights on Hartford's Constitution Plaza (above photo), then visit a local department store to shop for presents. I don't know how many years we did this, but it sticks in my mind as a distinct memory. And fun.

5) The only Christmas I spent alone was six years ago. Like this year, Christmas Eve fell on Friday, so between church that evening and 36 hours later Sunday morning, there was no time or opportunity to go anywhere. The cabin in which I lived was too small for a Christmas tree, so I arranged presents around the base of a decent-sized poinsettia. To extend the day, I paced myself by opening three gifts in succession, then stopped and wrote thank you notes for those gifts. I played Christmas music and talked on the phone to friends and family. It wasn't a bad day at all, and I had the dogs for company.  I've had worse days!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

paying it forward

A little while ago my friend Jayne was the recipient of a handmade gift in a "pay it forward" project. She then paid it forward by sending something handmade to three blogging friends. I was lucky to be one of them! The other day I received this beautiful photograph that she took on a trip to Ireland last summer, with the words of an Irish blessing printed on the photo (see above). What a treasure!

So now it's my turn to pay it forward. I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on this post requesting to join this Pay It Forward exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days; that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog. Are you game?

Here at the ranch I've been busy with Christmas: the tree is finally decorated, some presents are wrapped, cookies have been in the works, cards have gone out, and so on. Oh, and then there's work! Little time for the computer, which has been apparent. Hope your days are cheerful and warm!

Friday, December 10, 2010

friday five: give me a boost!

At RevGals Mary Beth invites us to share: What lifts you up when you are low or troubled? Who helps you remember that you are not alone, it's getting better all the time, etc.? 

Your five responses can be people you know, people you DON'T know, music, places, foods, scripture, surprises, something you do for someone else. It could be a pair of slippers. It could be a glass of water.

1) Laughter lifts me up! The first place I turn for laughter is to my dogs. All I have to do is make a "raspberry" sound and my youngest pounces into my lap and starts to lick my face. The intensity of her energy and her responsiveness to attention is totally distracting and provokes laughter.

2) Music and singing. I can't help but smile when I hear Confederate Railroad's I like women a little on the trashy side (can't find a good YouTube clip, sorry). Anything with an upbeat rhythm that invites me to sing along also tends to work .

3) Prayer.  Any time I start lamenting to God my lament turns into a confession, and a confession turns into absolution, and the next thing you know I'm feeling wrapped in divine love. I should do this more often.

4) Journaling. Exploring the down side helps me get things sorted out. Even if I don't resolve or come to terms with what is dragging me down, the process of writing serves as catharsis.

5) Creating. During a particularly dreadful period I made a Lenten stole that, to this day, is my absolute favorite. I came to understand something about the relationship between having the blues and creating art during that period, and it has served as something of an object lesson for me.

Bonus. I can take or leave Jingle Bell Rock, and have no favorite rendering of it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

seat back straight and tray in up and locked position

I love labyrinths. I love the lure of them, the grace of them, the magic and the mystery of them. I love what they do to me when I walk them.

The picture of this labyrinth is from All Saints Episcopal Church in Corpus Christ, Texas. I snagged it from my friend Jan's blog.

There are three things that capture my attention here. The first is the candles. I'm a sucker for candlelight, and when you add one layer of sacred mystery to another, cool things happen. At least in my world. Don't they in yours?

The second is how the angle of this shot makes one set of lights look like a runway. And the third is what's at the end of that "runway." That's my buddy down there propped against the wall, the Sinai Christ Pantocrator. I painted/wrote him last spring.  Remember him? Yes, that's him to the right.

I just think it's cool that runway lights in a labyrinth culminate in this icon. I mean, it's a bit irreverent, sure, but isn't it also perfect? From a place of centering to take off into the sacred mystery of the Christ is like a prayer come true.

Think about it. You don't get to sacred mystery by closing your eyes and clicking your heels. You don't will yourself there. It takes a certain amount of anguish deciding what to pack, then schlepping your luggage to a terminal where you spend some time waiting in that neutral and anonymous, all-sorts-of-humanity-surrounding-you environment. As you wait for the appointed hour of departure the demands of what was left behind begin to recede while you watch a mother fully engaged with the antics of her young child. The teenager two seats over is fully engrossed in texting a friend, and you imagine the priorities of his world. Behind you the newspaper rattles as a grandfather shakes the folded sections for a closer view of the clues to the daily crossword. The pace of getting to here, to now, has slowed to the point of clear observation, and you hear your own breathing. Breathe in--and the strangers around you melt into a single awareness of humanity. Breathe out--and your collective concerns and pains and struggles and triumphs are released to the heart of God.

And then it's time. Down the narrow hall, through the cozy plane entrance and row eight, row ten, row fourteen and your seat is ready and waiting. The chatter of journeying companions becomes the prelude to the act of departure, the taxiing, the whine of engines whose pitch creeps up as the wing sweeps wide and into position for takeoff.

The open cockpit door reveals a glimpse of the halo in the distance, illumined by headlights. The hand is raised in benediction, the book of wisdom and will is held gently against the body broken. "Come," he says, eyes meeting yours, and the seat backs are straight and the trays in their up and locked position and the rumble of the wheels and engines blur into the melody of journey and anticipation.

The dark of night embraces all that you release as your head tips back against the seat and your heart leaves your chest and you say, "I come."

Monday, December 06, 2010

in honor of those who serve

Maybe it's because I'm a soft touch. Or because my son spent six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now trains soldiers to do what he did. Or because I'm teary a lot these days. But this just tears me up.

Thanks to my friend Jay for sharing it with me.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

feeling snuggled

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.  
Albert Camus

Winter has finally arrived here, evidenced by minimal overnight snow flurries (teasers!) in the wheelbarrow outside the backdoor (used to haul firewood from the back of the yard).  The evidence is also abundant when I take the dog out, which is all too frequent (but that's another matter). 

However frigid the temperatures are outdoors, however, inside we are pretty much toasty. The glow of the Christmas tree lights is enough for me, but we have, additionally, the benefit of a fire in the fireplace. Ken loves his fires. And I have begun baking. 
This biscotti, while suffering from stunted growth, is nonetheless very tasty. Cherry almond, a la The Food Network. There are two miracles associated with this creation: the recipe called for tried cherries, which I actually had on hand; and turbinado sugar, which I also had in the cupboard. The turbinado has been languishing for longer than I'm sure it desires. I bought it some time ago in an effort to find a workable cooking/baking substitute for processed sugar, and then, bingo! a use for it!

I'm also eying a recipe in the catalog that came with Ethel: cheddar ale soup. Need I say more? I will be gone all day today, and tomorrow's schedule looks unpredictable, so I'm thinking that Tuesday might be the perfect occasion to concoct some of that. 

So although dear Monsieur Camus wasn't talking about warmth inside the house as his invincible summer (that's also a post for another time), warmth of this kind works for me these days. And it should only get better with the arrival of cards and letters, getting the tree decorated, and, well, some more time in the kitchen!

Sending you wishes for a lovely warm day. And week.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

meet ethel!

Ta-da! This is the newest member of our kitchen family, a KitchenAid Artisan mixer. Hooah!

Last weekend with all the black and cyber sales going on it suddenly occurred to me that this long-sought mixer might be on sale at Williams-Sonoma. Why there? Because we have unused gift certificates from W-S from when we got married. I know, can you believe it? That was four years ago! Here's the thing though. Only a handful of months after the wedding I started to sell Pampered Chef, and, go figure, I could get fabulous kitchen products for way less money, AND with guarantees from PC. Why spend top dollar at Williams-Sonoma?

So I got online last Monday and, sure enough, this mixer was $100 off the regular price at W-S. BAM! as Emeril would say. Our gift certificates just covered the cost, and all we had to pay was tax and some shipping.

Can you hear me singing in operatic tones? I won't ask you to picture me doing the happy dance, but let's just say that there is great happiness here in the Cedar City with the arrival of Ethel. She needed a name, and it was the first one to come to mind. I can't explain it.

I was tempted to get red, but the most consistent color among our appliances is black, so there ya go. She's classy, Ethel is. I can't wait to see her in action (which will happen this weekend). We'll be humming together. You're welcome to join in.

Welcome, Ethel!
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Friday, December 03, 2010

friday five: 'tis the season

At RevGals Kathryn writes: Whether a RevGal or a Pal most of us in this cyber community have enhanced responsibilities during this time of year. We also have traditions - religious and secular - that mark the season for us in a more personal way.

For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you.

And the bonus? Tell us one thing that does absolutely nothing for you.
1) Wrapping presents. I love wrapping presents. 
2) The tree, and any other decorating. There is usually a wreath on the front door, and since we took the convenience route and have artificial wreaths, those one-time purchases are ready to go on our front windows as well. Depending on the house I have sometimes hung wreaths in the windows indoors. I also decorate the mantel. I am my mother's daughter, after all!

3) Baking. I do less of it in recent years since my husband can't eat sugar, but I've just got to do it. Especially if it's snowing. Which in this part of the world is minimal.

4) Holiday movies. Whether old standbys like It's a Wonderful Life, or newer, Lifetime Movie schmaltz, movies are part of the deal.

5) Music! I prefer traditional carols, but I have a fondness for I'll be home for Christmas and Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, among other secular tips of the hat to the season. 

6) Christmas Eve Candle-light Service.  There's just one secular word for it: magic.

7) Christmas cards. I love getting peoples cards and reading their letters. This is the yin to the yang of sending our card/letter.

Bonus: What I can do without is the commercialism and the traffic near any shopping center. Fortunately the latter doesn't interfere with my own daily routines (I cringe for people who live in such areas), but on those occasions when I need to venture out into the shopping world I brace myself.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

the bs report

Our book study group met yesterday. We are reading Peter Gomes' The Good Book, which offers insight about reading and interpreting scripture. Yesterday's discussion was on the bible in America. I confess that when I first read the chapter heading I didn't think I would read anything new. Silly me.

As one might imagine, any discussion of scripture will include the perils of interpretation. Gomes alerts us to three particular danger zones in this area. He refers to idolatry of the book itself, the literal meaning of the text, and the imposition of culture on the text. He challenges the conservative who resists change, and the activist who promotes change, to reevaluate how we might be guilty of one or more of these idolatries as we read and interpret scripture.

I've got to say that his challenge got my attention, and in so doing raised a significant question. If we are to beware of our bias and dismantle the lens(es) through which we read the text, what lens do we now use to understand and interpret it?

When parables, allegory and metaphor are used it would seem clear that stepping back from any literal interpretation is the only way to look at the text and seek meaning from it (unless, of course, one is a literalist,). But don't we often take literally other aspects of the text? I am of the camp that understands scripture to be the story/history of God's relationship with his people. In the telling of that story what is important is not what is said, but what is being communicated. In other words, the story doesn't have to be true in order to communicate a truth. The details of a story may or may not be accurate, but in the details we find clues to what is important about the story.

It's amazing to me, actually, that the Christian tradition lacks what the Jews knew was essential years ago: the Talmud: rabbinic discussions of the text that address the details as well as the ambiguity of it. I can't say this with certainty, but my understanding is that literalism is not an option in Judaism, even for Orthodox Jews. (Please correct me if I'm wrong).  The Talmud has been around since roughly 500 BCE.

I'm not sure that it's possible to strip away the influences that we bring to our reading of scripture, and hence, our interpretation. And although I initially thought Gomes was suggesting we do that, I think he is really warning us to keep our minds open to evaluating our interpretations against the possibility of bias. I do think I try to do this. As a self-professed liberal/progressive, for instance, I can hold in tension the difficult texts used to excoriate homosexuals while still affirming my belief that God desires for all humanity the experience of mutual love, committed relationships, and yes, sex within that context. I think I will forever live left of center, but I can still hear and understand how the text can be understood differently by others who hold different values.

In the end (or maybe I should say, at this point, since I'm not knowingly at the end of my life) I am most heavily influenced by my first and earliest experiences of recognizing the holy in my life: through the Holy Spirit. Through her I accumulate what I presume to be knowledge about God, and my experience, including the reading of scripture, is constantly sifted and weighed against that accumulation. It is all a piece. The biggest challenge seems to be when the weight of something new tips the balance of what has been. That's akin to what Gomes refers to as the guiding force of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The trumpet shall sound...and we shall all be changed." (I Corinthians 15:52)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

a poem for advent

A poem that speaks to me again and again as a companion in the spiritual live was written by Minnie Louis Haskins, an English schoolteacher, and read by King George VI during a Christmas broadcast to the people of England and Britain in 1939. My favorite verses are the very first, but all of it speaks to the heartbeat of Advent.

God Knows
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

Monday, November 29, 2010

one-stop shopping!

Today I am inviting and encouraging some Pampered Chef shopping! Orders of $75 or more will ship FREE today (Monday, November 29). The collections you see here are bundled and priced as a single item. I've included the "name," item number and price before tax (did I mention FREE shipping?).

Two of these bundles are less than $75. May I suggest adding a cookbook to make your order eligible? Our favorite is It's Good for You, full of delicious and healthy recipes (we love the fish tacos!). It's #2218. Or, stock up on one (or more) of our delicious sauces or savory meat rubs. The latter make great hostess gifts!
There are fun ways to package items, too. Add a tag to Batter Bowls and measuring products that reads, "You really measure up as a friend!" Or choose one of our great forged cutlery knives with a note that reads, "You're a cut above the rest." You get the idea, and I'm sure you could come up with ideas of your own.
Most of our products come with guarantees of at least a year, and our cookware and forged cutlery have lifetime guarantees. And did I mention that today when you spend $75 your order ships for FREE?
 Don't delay! You can't go wrong with any of our products, and if you want recommendations or have questions, shoot me an email, I'll be glad to assist you.
Even if you aren't able to take advantage of this great offer, please share this great news. When you refer a customer to me today I'll send something special your way. Just think of me as a satellite branch of the north pole. 
AND! Last but not least, our cookie press (item #GV79) is 20% off this month, so don't hesitate to add one of those for the baker in your life (which may, in fact, be you!).
Click here for Happy Shopping, and may you have a Pampered Day!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

the color purple

I'm a sucker for the liturgical year, and Advent is one of my favorites. It's a bit ironic that, growing up in a family whose faith tradition was distinctly not liturgical, we honored Advent. We had a wreath and candle on the dining room table that was lit with ritual. We had a large calendar that Mom made that hung on the back of the front door. At times we had individual advent calendars, and though they were pretty and glittery and held their own mystery, the one that I shared with my brothers was preferred. The house was also decorated according to a theme of the season and the season to come. The twelve days of Christmas featured partridges in pear trees, or any of the other assembly; the magi took their places on top of the piano, on the mantel, or elsewhere in the house; heralding angels carried their harps or trumpets; doves of peace from Christmas card fronts formed a line down the wall... We made our way through Advent with anticipation, permeated by the signs and symbols of what was to come.

As a priest I bear the responsibility of holding the Advent reins, and offering up the power that the season holds for us. I come to it anew this year, traveling with a congregation that seeks to do much while lacking the resources to do what it desires. On parallel tracks, we look to use what we have, trusting that God will bless the effort and multiply that blessing in the lives of others. I recognize, too, that when God is setting out to do a new thing we dig in our heels and resist the breath of the Spirit that carries change.  That Spirit-wind comes anyway, and rattles the foundations where we have planted our feet so firmly. Our world shakes and things fall down around us, leaving us disoriented and discomfited. That describes my world these days. I am guilty of railing against it rather than shifting my rhythm and being in the tumbled mess that surrounds me.

In fact, it's not a mess at all. What surrounds me has comforted me against the pinions of hardship and the disappointments of my own limitations. Having recognized that, I can now lift my eyes to the metaphoric cracks in my walls and the leak over my head. I can respond to God's invitation to be part of the repair and renewal, and in putting my world back together we can choose new patterns, new colors, and new rhythms to suit the world in which I now live. Doing so helps me breathe.

I like purple. Some shade of it seems to suit just now.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

the eve of advent

Have I mentioned that I love Christmas? This weekend I'm enjoying browsing web sites for deals. Found a few at places where I have gift cards, which makes shopping a gleeful experience. Can't argue with free shipping, either. And discounts!

The tree is up, and later this morning the ornaments and other decorations will come down from the attic.

My Christmas cards/postcards have arrived.

I've got lots of jam that can be used with cookies.

I've got a handful of presents that can be wrapped and put under the tree.

Seasonal music is abundant.

Ah, life is good.

If you missed seeing reader-submitted Thanksgiving photos at the NY Times web site on Thursday you really should take a look. There are lots of pictures, and every one of them made me smile (when I looked there weren't 1000+ of them, but I did look at hundreds of them). It's a feel-good kind of slideshow. It also really made me miss my family thanksgiving.

We ended up having leftovers on Thanksgiving. We made a fabulous tuna recipe the night before (layer it on lemon slides, season with salt and pepper, then saute onions, garlic, tarragon and thyme mixed with some breadcrumbs to layer on top, then cover with more lemon slices and bake. So good!), so finished that off. The day was underwhelming, but that was actually okay. I cleaned the kitchen, and that was a great thing!

So what are you doing this Black Friday/Shop Small Business Saturday/No-shop weekend?

OH! And before I forget, Pampered Chef has free shipping on Monday for orders over $75. I'll post the link on Monday to my web site, but if you want to stop browsing online go ahead and start looking! Pool orders from friends and family to reach the $75 minimum. There are also some great bundled deals. And, if you email me ahead of time I might be able to work out a 10% discount for you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

shades of life

As acknowledged here, the last few weeks have been a bit on the blah side, but things are looking up.

I needed to do a little shopping yesterday, and while I was out I encountered all sorts of seasonal temptations. I soaked up every sensory bit of it--the music, the colors, the displays, even the smells! I may not be able to enjoy shopping with abandon, but there are deals here and there that can be considered, and it's almost a happy challenge to find small, inexpensive things that have meaning. I love Christmas. I have great memories of the season and the traditions of my youth that stir when the weather gets cold and the calendar ticks toward December. When confronting disappointment I often tell myself not to dwell on what I don't have, but to make the most of what I do have. Time to employ that sentiment this year. Time to shape our own holiday and bring meaning to it for this stage of life. We can do this. Si, se puede!

But wait, there's more! Ashley called last night with the news that they're pregnant again. Baby number three is due to arrive in July, right around the time when they are scheduled to move to their next post. The timing is accidental, number three is not. Time to get busy with some "new baby" plans and creations.

And speaking of getting busy, Advent is around the corner and there's work to be done! A quick warm-up of what's left of my coffee and then it's nose to the grindstone. Tis the season!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

tuesday tidbits

In an effort to climb out of the slump I am in I actually wrapped my daughter-in-law's birthday presents yesterday. Her birthday was ten days ago. With any luck she'll get them before the month is over!

I read an article on Huffington Post the other day about how celeac disease (gluten intolerance) can impair memory and concentration. I've got some serious issues related to both, so I think I may just try a gluten-free diet for a few weeks and see what happens. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants? Next doctor's visit, I'll ask him to check it out. Fortunately I happened upon an awesome blog that features gluten-free recipes. We'll see how this goes.

My husband just informed me that he's moved past Thanksgiving. To him, it will be just another day of the week. Apparently a combination of things has led to pulling the plug, but the only explanation he offers is that he's "done." Alrighty then!

For my part, I'm starting Thanksgiving Day early by volunteering at the first annual Turkey Trot, a 5k fundraiser to benefit our local animal shelter, New Leash on Life. The race begins at 8 AM. Great way to work up an appetite for that big ole turkey dinner. For runners. Who will have a big ole turkey dinner!

I picked up a styrofoam tree-form to try to make one of those paper Christmas trees I posted the other day. Found some fun stuff to put on top. Stay tuned for pictures!

I bit the bullet and ordered Christmas cards. They have already shipped, so maybe they'll arrive today!

I hosted an Uppercase Living party last week, and we close out the party today. Can't wait til my free stuff gets here and I can put it up!

I'm grateful for my blogging buddies. Thanks for stopping by to catch up, and to say hello. You all are often the bright spot of my day!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

all I want for christmas

are these!

I had lunch with my friend Debi on Saturday and she brought me a catalog of things British. Among the goodies were these sun-catchers. To know me is to know that 1) I love dogs (and Border Collies especially), and 2) I love sheep! These are the perfect combination of two things that bring me joy.

Thanks, Deb!

Friday, November 19, 2010

friday five: gratitude up, with a twist

At RevGals Jan writes: With the American holiday of Thanksgiving being less than a week away, I tried to think of some questions for Friday Five that could be connected to this, but in a new way. So here is my one try:

Name five things that were unexpected in your life that you are now grateful for.

This friday five really challenges me. I think the twist that Jan is putting on the usual gratitude post relates to redemption.  What unexpected thing/event/heartbreak/disappointment was redeemed such that I can now be thankful for it. It's a sad reflection on my present life and circumstances that it is difficult for me to think of things to name here. But, I'll try!

1) Letting go, letting God. Once upon a time I loved a man who didn't love me back. The irony of this predicament is that he initiated the relationship, and we dated for several months. On my way to what I knew would be our last date, I offered up a prayer that God would make the relationship right. We enjoyed a good time together that evening, and as I headed home, I was enveloped with a sense of peace that all would be well. It took eighteen months, heartbreak, soul-searching, and prayer, and then one day, all was well. Through those intervening months God worked to redeem the relationship from broken romance to solid platonic friendship. It has been good ever since. It was my first significant experience of transformation in relationship, and was a powerful sign to me of God's working in my life. That's a gratitude "no brainer!"

2) Marrying into a military family. As a lifelong pacifist I never expected to be in a close relationship with anyone in the military. Imagine my surprise when I married someone retired from the Army!  My (step) son was an army Ranger when I joined this family, and he now involved in Ranger training. It is a regular challenge to be opposed to a military response to conflict while loving and supporting someone engaged in that response. Yet I am and I do, and that strange juxtaposition is made possible by love. That's the short version of my gratitude.

3) Aging. Okay, well, aging is expected, but what comes with it can be unexpected. The wisdom acquired through life's trials and tribulations, successes and failures makes it possible to endure all manner of insanity manifesting itself in the world. The farce that passes as our political system is one case in point. It makes me crazy on the one hand, but on the other hand I have learned to trust time and God's justice in transforming wrongs to rights. Sometimes I am disappointed in that realm, too, but I have learned to live with that. I have a deep and abiding patience and tolerance for the inane and thoughtless actions of others, and can let a lot of things roll off my back. I don't tend to waste energy on things over which I have no control, and for that I am very grateful.

4) Forgiveness

5) My childhood. In concert with efforts to attain better mental health through my life and "grow up," I've unpacked the events and contributing circumstances of my personal "issues" that stem from my family of origin. I never expected to look back at those same years through eyes that have yielded enormous gratitude for other aspects of my youth. I have done this,  in part, thanks to some of the our friday fives, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the questions and shared responses that have led to my reflections. Dysfunction notwithstanding, I had a great childhood.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

here, let me turn the other cheek

I can, and do, admit when I'm wrong.
I can, and do, say I'm sorry.
I can, and do, acknowledge that I failed to complete something I said I would do.
Mea culpa and I know each other well.

It's not fun to be wrong.
I don't enjoy hurting or disappointing someone (it's never intentional).
Failure makes me feel small, inadequate and incompetent.

Taking responsibility for something is difficult, but the good thing about pruning is that growth, and even fruit, follow.

It's another thing entirely when you feel the cold wind of being ignored or left in the dark.
It hurts when it appears that you, or your efforts, don't matter.

In time I will process and let go of feeling isolated and marginalized. Today the sting of collective arrows have laid me low. It's no wonder that every part of me hurts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

o christmas tree

I realize that today is the ides of November, and no, we have not begun any Christmas here. But there's something going on at my favorite local university that the Development Office (I think) is putting together that has got my creative juices warming up for action.

This is the first year that Cumberland will host "Trees of the Hall," a live auction of decorated Christmas trees. From the event page on facebook:  
This first time event is a scholarship benefit for underprivileged children to attend Cumberland Arts Academy. Beautifully decorated Christmas trees brought to you by sponsors and friends across Wilson County will be available for purchase during our live auction. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be served and entertainment will be provided by the Cumberland Arts Academy Suzuki Violin Players as well as the Cumberland University Choir.

I love stuff like this! The event is just two weeks away, so it's late in the game to try to get a tree put together, but I'm already brainstorming ideas for the church to contribute a tree next year. What a fun way to do outreach! There are so many ways to get creative with a project like this: do a tabletop tree, pick a theme, a color for ornaments, blah blah blah. We've got lots of talented and artistic folks in the church, and we could work through the year to create or collect ornaments. We've also got a member who works at Lowe's, and I've already got plans to talk to him about getting a pre-lit tree at a discount (better yet, donated!) at the close of this year's Christmas selling season. I've already talked to our outreach coordinator, and she's on board! Can you tell I'm excited?

In the meantime, is this tree (pictured) not just the cutest thing? I came across it looking for a picture to include in this post. It's made of paper, and probably takes about 30 minutes to make. Let me at it!

I have not been feeling particularly excited about Christmas this year. we have no money for anything. When I think about a card I don't think there are any pictures of us that I would want anyone to see. The weight gain in this house is not a pretty thing. But even if we had a picture, the cost of cards (we send about 150) and postage pretty much exhausts any discretionary spending we might have. It will probably be just the two of us this year, and unless we think of some way to spend the day that is interesting and stimulating, well, big deal. If Christmas day wasn't smack up against Sunday I'd suggest going to Gatlinburg, but since we can't even get out of town until midnight Christmas Eve, there's not much point. Sigh. We'll think of something.

For now we'll focus on simple pleasures and find blessings in small things. That's what life is about, after all.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

chowder, by request

Corn Chowder with Chicken and Curry

½ cup chopped bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped green pepper,
      seeds and membrane removed
2-3 teaspoons curry powder (optional)
1 cup diced pared raw potatoes
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ bay leaf
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk, divided
2 cups whole-kernel corn
2 cups diced cooked chicken
Chopped parsley (optional)

Sauté bacon pieces slowly until lightly browned. Add onion, celery and green pepper and sauté until lightly brown. Stir in curry (add to taste). Add potatoes, water, salt, paprika and bay leaf and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes.  In a small saucepan blend flour and ½ cup milk. Bring to the boiling point and blend with soup mixture, removing any lumps. Heat about five minutes. Heat 1½ cups milk until hot. Add milk, corn and chicken and heat through. Do not boil soup. Serve and garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

Makes about 8-9 cups.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

riding the poetry bus

When it comes to poetry I'm a peculiar bird. When I try my hand at it I usually do okay, but for whatever reason poetry usually is off my radar. A few of my blogging friends, however, enjoy poetry a great deal, so I am reading and enjoying more and more of it. My friend The Bug participates regularly in some writing challenges via other blogs, and this week one of them piqued my interest enough to give it a go. I have lifted the following (in italics) from her blog:

The Poetry Bus is being driven by the amazing Karen at Keeping Secrets (really, you should check out her poetry). She has us thinking of Robert Frost and forks in the road. She says:

The challenge for passengers this week will be to write about one of the following:

(1) a time you had to choose between two clearly divergent paths; (2) a time you were called to walk a path you didn't choose for yourself; or (3) a time you refused to travel the path you were called to follow. If these won't work for you, write anything about a choice you made.

I'm going with number 1. It is title-less. 

How is it
that love lives
where like can find no home?

The lure of love
brushed past the ragged edges of 
dis- too many things,
and blazed a trail that,
just in time, 
would host the thundering hooves
of heartbreak.

Worse, dreambreak.

Shards of broken images
stared back at me
from that place of 
imagining a world
through which I was meant 
to dance
and sing
and play
and splash
in puddles of joy.

But, no.
Wisdom called out, 
my own clarion call to hold me back 
and protect the heart 
whose breath lifts the wings of dreams.
In the shadow of wakefulness 
my world went still, 
and gray. 

And it waits. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

friday five: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

At RevGals Singing Owl writes: I am looking at the weather forecast with a sigh of resignation. You see, our glorious unseasonable stretch of sunny days is ending and rain mixed with snow is in the forecast. The weather guy actually said, "This is probably the last nice day till spring, folks..." So, I am trying to plan ahead. Help me out, please. When it is cold outside:

As a transplanted Yankee to the temperate middleness of Tennessee, I miss snow! Sure, winter is cold, but there is nothing comparable to the quiet and gentleness of snowfall, nor its first-fallen beauty. Without snow you can't build snow forts, make snow angles, or watch your dog's euphoric behavior romping in it. To me, snow is a kind of bliss. It's okay, you can call me crazy. I can take it.

1. What is your favorite movie for watching when curled up under a wooly blanket?
I confess that my movie-watching isn't seasonal, so as long as I'm toasty and warm it could be anything on my "watch" list. My preference is drama.

2. Likewise, what book?
Anything that absorbs me and is well written.

3. What foods do you tend to cook/eat when it gets cold?
I love homemade soups and stews. I've got a great minestrone recipe from Canadian Living (they know about winter!), and my personal favorite is corn chowder made with bacon, curry and chicken.

4. What do you like to do if you get a "snow day" (or if you don't get snow days, what if you did)?
Bake cookies. Especially if it's before Christmas.

5. Do you like winter sports or outdoor activities, or are you more likely to be inside playing a board game? Do you have a favorite (indoors or out)?
When I was young and impervious I loved playing outdoors, and my family skied. With age, outdoor activity isn't my cup of tea. My favorite indoor activity is to work on a jigsaw puzzle. With a fire going. And a full pot of tea. Alas, our youngest dog makes jigsaw puzzles essentially impossible.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

the bs report

I think that I get more out of our bible/book study that the other folks that attend. We are reading The Good Book, by Peter Gomes, as a means toward understanding what the bible is (and isn't) as we read it and allow it to form and inform our lives of faith.

In the chapter on interpretation that we discussed yesterday I got sidetracked by this statement: "[the bible] is the record of holy encounters between people and God, encounters that have been reckoned to be decisive and compelling, and that have been preserved from generation to generation because they remind each generation of the presence of God in their lives and the search for God when the divine absence is felt." (p. 34)  The latter portion about divine absence is what catalyzed a stream of consciousness that I fear left my companions in a cloud of confusion while I attempted to ponder the connection between the experience of divine absence and the development of faith.

The question I posed, more or less, was this: if we don't experience the absence of God, is it possible for faith to develop? I used the analogy of separation anxiety felt by children when they first experience being "left" by parents. The experience of the parent's return builds trust that when parents leave, the child has faith that the parent will return. It's not a perfect analogy, by any means, but it was the first thing that occurred to me.

I have had my own struggles with this. My faith became established through the powerful experience of God's presence. Desert times ensued, and I emerged from those. Based on the former experience of God's power/presence, I hung on, trusting that God was at work on my behalf because I believed that to be true, even though I could not point to evidence of it being true. Over time, however, my faith has become more a matter of mind than heart. It has been a while since I have felt the deep, resonating presence of earlier and sustaining days. More often I feel disappointed in both God and myself, and I wonder how to repair the damaged connection that was once such a vital lifeline.

I watch in awe as others revel in a holy joy that eludes me, and yearn for that experience again. And I wonder how others remind themselves of the presence of God when absence--or distance--is the experience.  It is gut-work, and wearying, to hold on to the promise, even when belief is at hand. The fabric of faithfulness feels threadbare. I pray--yes, I pray--that it doesn't become fragile.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

double-edged ploughsare

It is always an honor to be asked to speak to a group. The idea that someone thinks I might have something interesting or valuable to say tends to stroke the ego. The flip side of that honor is coming up with something to say. People may think that asking a priest or minister to speak narrows the field: religion, or perhaps spirituality! The field is broad, however, and narrowing it to something specific in order to share something coherent can be a challenge. If I had a particular area of expertise on which to focus that would be one thing. But the request, "will you come speak to our group?" tends to leave me feeling some unease.

When I was asked to speak to the Baptist student group at Cumberland University, therefore, I felt a twinge of pleasure mixed with angst. When I posed the question, "what would you like me to talk about?" I was a little surprised to hear, "tell us about your Quaker background." That did help narrow the field a bit, but still left lots of room to wander.

I wear the label "Quakopalian" with pride. I've been an Episcopalian for more than twenty years, and though I feel confident speaking about Quakerism, I thought it wouldn't hurt to dust off the cobwebs of knowledge before facing college students. Some of the things upon which I stumbled really lifted my heart. For instance, while reviewing some notes on pacifism I found these words written by young Friends: how many teens and young adults consider the implications of taxes and the military industrial complex, or standing in silent vigil as a means of "speaking out" against bullying? Talk about thoughtful, sensitive, deliberate decision-making! It took me back to my own days of going to conferences and weekends with other Friends (young and otherwise), writing letters to the editor, and participating in Good Friday vigils on the Boston Common. The Quaker emphasis on integrity (truth, in the above tiles), equality, simplicity and peace doesn't sound like the creeds or confessions of other Churches, but they are rooted deeply in scripture and reflect the life to which Jesus calls us. I learned more about the Christian life growing up in Quaker community than I have witnessed anywhere else in the Church in subsequent years.

The trip down memory lane was poignant for me, and yielded considerable fodder for reflection. Again I am reminded of the richness of my spiritual inheritance, but more than that I am thankful for the values that shaped me and gave me solid grounding for an authentic life. Whatever flaws are part of my nature, the nurturing gets enormous credit for who I am.

Thank you, Friends.

Monday, November 08, 2010

witwct? (to what is the world coming?)

I was getting ready to climb out of my corner of the sofa to head to bed last night when the newscaster made an utterance that caught me by surprise: "And now we'll go to blah-di-blah to get the LD on the story." Say what? Did she just use acronym jargon in a newscast? And since when did our local news anchors start using phrases like "lo-down" to refer to reporting?

It's sad, but true, that my life is so exciting that I'm posting about inane subjects like this. The good news? It's very early in the week, and there's plenty of room for improvement! Hope yours is more interesting that this post.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

a better day

The sun is shining this morning, and with an extra hour to pad my sleep last night, I am feeling considerably better that any of the last six days.

Granny has been laid to rest, pasta and sauce were served last night without incident, lots of students from the university came, and the church was filled with the sound of laughter and lots of voices. Ken and I are both worn out from yesterday's round-the-clock efforts, but at the end of the day we were content and ready to collapse. Once church is over today, there are no claims on us that cannot be deferred to the next day--hurray! In spite of knowing, throughout the week, that "this, too, shall pass," I am relieved to have reached today--without it's added burdens, pressures, and the need to step in and fill the breech that should be the responsibilities of others. We Really need to address that at church.

On my list of priorities, besides some badly needed time off, is to retrieve files from my laptop hard drive. We may be a week into the month, but there is still a newsletter that needs to go out! I will also propose to Ken that we catch a matinee on Monday. We both want to see "Red," with Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis (not to mention Mary Louise Parker!), and veterans get a discount at the local theater on Mondays.

May your day be blessed by light.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

quasi-rant alert

It's been one of those weeks.

Monday my computer screen went out. No computer. No files.

Tuesday election results sucked. 'nuf said. Well, there's plenty to say, but I won't.

Wednesday a member of the parish died. Fortunately she went peacefully in her sleep. She was 86.

Thursday the crush of funeral preparations (the bulletin, calling people to take roles, planning the service, conjuring up the skeleton of a homily) and last minute details for Saturday's Spaghetti Dinner and Silent Auction fundraiser hovered like vultures. I did manage to sneak in a massage, but the area that really needed attention--my neck--got short shrift (the good news is that I will get a 30-minute complimentary head and shoulder massage next week as compensation for that oversight).

Friday plumbing issues at the house manifested themselves, along with more funeral stuff, more fundraiser stuff. It all happens today.

I'm borrowing an unused computer from church so that Ken can reclaim his office, his desk, and his computer from my clutches. Everything needs to be installed and downloaded. Everything.

I'm trying to get some Pampered Chef business cooking as well, so add that to the mix.

I'm grumpy. I hurt all over. I miss Dooley (my dog). I want a real vacation. Maybe somewhere poolside with a book and a Cabana Boy, and someone who will do the cooking. Maybe an occasional drink with an umbrella in it. Is that asking too much?


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