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)


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