Friday, November 30, 2012

friday five: corners that thrive

Here's an intriguing ff from RevGals. I wish I had the means to shop more often and be better acquainted with what's out there! Nevertheless...

1) If you suddenly received a ton of money and could open up some kind of store or service just for the pleasure of having it (assume it wouldn’t have to be too financially successful!), what would it be?

I want to have an artisan's gallery that would incorporate: 1) a gathering space for knitters or others doing hand work (a beverage counter would, of course, be available), 2) pet-friendliness, 3) the proceeds of which would benefit animal rescue groups. 
2) What service or store that no longer exists do you miss most?
The fabric store and greeting card/gift shop in the center of the town where I grew up
3) What local business do you think you could make better if you were to take it over? And if you don’t mind sharing, what changes would you make?
No particular business comes to mind, but efficiency and poor customer service bug me like crazy. I would want to help improve those aspects of any business.
4) What spot nearby seems to be impossible for businesses to survive in?
Oddly enough, locations near Walmart. Restaurants, in particular, have trouble.
5) We’ve all seen stores that combined books and records, beer and laundry, or coffee and whatever. One of my favorite places to get coffee in Honolulu is a cafe and florist, and there is a car garage that’s also a diner in a town nearby. What would be a cool hybrid of two disparate ideas for somewhere you’d like to hang out?
Fabric store and coffee/tea shop! I don't see these as disparate, necessarily, and I understand why it would be a challenge to put them together. That said, bring it on!
Unsolicited Bonus--some of my favorite names for food places: Play with your Food (at a theater), Food for Thought (at a museum), and The Readers Feast (book store).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

thankful thursday

Dusting off this weekly opportunity to reflect on gratitude, although that won't become obvious until deep into this post...

Yesterday was Ken's birthday (as most readers here know, since we also keep up on facebook). It was a pretty rockin' day, if I do say so as the unbirthday girl. A little background, first... 

Sunday we went to worship at St. Augustine's Chapel, the Episcopal presence at Vanderbilt University. The chaplain at St. A's is one Becca Stevens, about whom I wrote a couple of posts ago. For a variety of reasons St. Augustine's is one happening place. In recent years the chapel membership has outgrown its designated physical space on campus, so they now meet for their principal service at the university chapel. On this particular Sunday the music was a combination of traditional--from The Hymnal 1982--and offered by local musical artists. Remember that this is in the heart of Music City, so when I refer to local musical artists I'm not talking about people who can simply carry a tune. The congregation includes a modest sample of greys (you know, retired folks), families with young children, and everything in between. The pulse is palpable, and I felt very much at home. On this particular day I had the honor of being asked by Becca while I was receiving communion if I would come to the altar at the conclusion of the service to give the blessing. 

The reason for our presence at St. Augustine's that day was two-fold. One, we had never been, and we are looking for a place to worship (now that I don't cry through worship this effort has taken on a higher priority). Yes, it's a little bit of a drive to get there, but that is true of any Episcopal Church for us. Two, Ken wanted to connect with Becca about arranging for a work project by the Templars to lend a hand at  Thistle Farms. On our way out the door at the end of the service we made arrangements with Becca to be there yesterday at 9 am. 

When we arrived at Thistle Farms that community was engaged in a meditation circle, a regular event there. Those present identified themselves, a practice that incorporated us as visitors. I do not exaggerate when I say there were probably 70 people overflowing the space, including students from an area high school, first-time volunteers, regular volunteers, board members, staff, Magdalene House residents and graduates, and who knows who else. I felt the gift of blessing being folded into that experience. 

I won't detail our time there, but
will say that it is an impressive operation of thoughtful, visionary, grace-filled ministry that touches many, many lives, and inspires many more. We now consider ourselves part of the Thistle Farms family (and have a bumper sticker to claim it)!

Having skipped breakfast by default to get on the road earlier, we were starving when we left TF at 10:45. We thought we'd find a place close by, but ended up back in town near Vanderbilt, and headed to Pancake Pantry. PP is a Nashville institution, boasting pancake options that puts IHOP to shame. On weekends the line extends outside the door and down the sidewalk for a very long way, that is how popular this place is. Even at the hour we arrived the restaurant was full. We had a great meal (pastrami for me!), and felt the continuing touch of blessing's outstretched hand. 

Our next stop was to pick up our flooring before coming home, and while we were driving Ken shared some reflection on the day's scripture reading from the morning during his prayer time. The psalm made reference to "a blessed man," and we got to talking about how one could be blessed even when one's life didn't feel blessed. As you know, these are challenging times for us, and we feel the weight and stress of a multitude of what might be considered burdens. We are careful and grateful to acknowledge our blessings. We are also aware that our days feel like breathing while an elephant sits on our chest. In such circumstances I am especially grateful that I experience hope almost without ceasing, trust with conviction that better times lie ahead, and have faith that many factors are at work on our behalf--beyond our comprehension or our anticipation. God is good all the time, as the saying goes, not just when life feels good. Both realities coexist, and it's okay to say so. 

So my thankfulness today comes from a deep place forged through surviving trials that have littered my path in earlier years. That I can laugh, smile, muster energy and continue to seek purpose for my life bears witness to my journey through the refiner's fire. The dross is not all gone and the work is not yet done, but the core is stronger than ever to withstand the heat. It is exceedingly uncomfortable to be in the fire, but today I give thanks for being upright, on my own two feet. I give thanks for fortitude that makes it possible to put one foot in front of the other. And I give thanks that when the tears of grief, desperation and sadness overflow they give way to renewal and perseverance. Though bruised, I am not beaten. One day this chrysalis will have served its purpose and release the new life being transformed within. I may not be having fun, but the taste of gratitude is a regular guest.

Monday, November 26, 2012


see below for details
I haven't been here much. Truth: life is hard these days. I stay busy with a variety of activity like looking for work, cleaning the house, errands, volunteer work, and other assorted projects. None of it feels particularly share-worthy, though, you know? I'm not a big fan of blogs that simply catalog the day like a diary. I mean, who cares, really?

I do feel that some catching up is in order, however, so disclaiming the previous sentence, here goes (in no particular order).

We had Thanksgiving at home. Our plans to go to Melrose for the week and share the holiday with the kids got derailed by a little reality. We're not in as tip-top shape as we might like, and our aging bodies don't respond well to the toll of travel. When you add dogs to the mix in an environment that requires more care than what they need at home the work level gets ramped up. Then there's the fact that this is the time of year that requires making and maintaining two fireplaces to generate heat in a house that isn't insulated. We love Melrose, but when so much effort is expended to be comfortable over a period of days, the phrase "diminishing returns" enters in. We also would have had limited time with the kids. We are beyond eager to see Kenneth and Trisha, whom we rarely see and haven't seen for a real visit in more than two years. It appeared that we would see Ashley and the boys for a handful of hours. The scale tipped clearly toward remaining home. We did ache not being with our family over the weekend. Just because we made the right decision for us doesn't mean that it didn't come with a cost.

Since we were home we were able to participate in the regular monthly Templar "sweat equity" opportunity of helping to distribute food to elderly poor in a neighboring community.  We are always grateful for chances to be useful. With the time at home we are also now busy ripping up carpet in the living room and hallway to replace it with laminate flooring, thanks to a sale that couldn't be refused at Liquid Lumberdators Lumber Liquidators along with a good financing program. A gift card for Home Depot also allows us to seize this opportunity of moving furniture all over the place to update the look in said living space with some fresh paint. We are too embarrassed by the state of the carpets to document the timely "before" look, but pictures will be forthcoming with longer-ago images and the new "after" look once we reach that point. As I write, most of the living room carpet, padding, and 1001 staples are gone from the living room and half the hallway. Emptying bookcases stands between us and getting the rest of the carpet up, but that task is on today's to do list. 

Sadly, the sub-floor is not pretty thanks to Miss McKinlee's bladder habits (and yes, some of our habits, too). We will be applying sealer and some patching to prepare the floor for the new flooring. It's a big job, but we are highly motivated (I mean, the Christmas tree can't go up until the job is done!), and we are trying to pace ourselves physically so that we make daily progress without needing to over-medicate Ken with pain management. And if I may brag here for just a moment--I've gotten quite good at staple removal!

Last week a colleague died, and in reviewing his life and accomplishments in his obit I was taken with the closing line that was clearly written by him: in lieu of memorials please show a kindness to someone in need.  Amen to that! This week I'll be giving some time to help rescue efforts for 65 dogs that were retrieved from what looks like a dog fighting and breeding environment. The dogs are being housed about a mile from where we live, which makes it very easy to show up and be put to work. This opportunity appears to be an answer to a prayer, about which I may write tomorrow (if I remember). 

In the meantime, I hope your holiday was satisfying. We're enjoying leftovers and soup, and are thankful for what we were, and are, able to do. Here's a prayer to more of the same, all around.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

what happens when some of becca's light spills on you

This has been the weekend of the autumnal convent and investiture for the Priory of St. Andrew, our "local" arm of the Grand Priory of the United States of America, Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Templar. It was the first "C&I" for Ken and me since our investiture in April when he became a knight and I, a Dame, and also an assisting chaplain.

This was a big weekend for us as newly minted knights and dames, and also because since my investiture at the last convent I experienced a quick elevation to acting chaplain for our priory (the existing chaplain needing to step away for a period of time to take a sabbatical). I had a role in the service, a homily to present, prayers and blessings throughout the weekend, and a part in the postulants' vigil Friday evening. The experience, without having any real training or cheat sheet to follow, felt a bit like being thrown into the deep end, but I survived with only a minor scratch of embarrassment when I blanked giving the final blessing at the close of last evening.

We were honored last night to have as our guest speaker Becca Stevens. I know Becca as a colleague in this diocese. We cross paths in that capacity and have had a few occasions to get acquainted under other circumstances. The rest of the world knows Becca as the driving and inspiring force behind Magdalene House and Thistle Farms. The two are distinct but intricately connected outcomes of Becca's ministry to women of the street recovering from prostitution, trafficking, addiction and abuse. Magdalene House is the residential arm of the program, and Thistle Farms the business portion that makes high-end personal products like body lotions, healing oils, candles, room and bug sprays and more. Thistle Farms provides jobs, training, confidence and then some to these women as they do the tremendous work of leaving behind a life that resembles nothing of the kind. Becca began this ministry 15 years ago with six women, and over those years her efforts have grown exponentially, touching and healing not only the lives of the women served but those who get to know this story and are moved by it.

Each year the Priory of St. Andrew chooses a charity to which it makes a fairly significant donation. This year's choice was Magdalene House/Thistle Farms, and as a result of that choice Becca was invited to be our guest at dinner last night, speak for a few minutes, and receive a check for $5000.

Becca's resume doesn't prepare you for the person you meet. In addition to the incredible results that bear witness to her work and the recognition she has received locally, she was honored last year at the White House by President Obama as one of 15 "champions of change," she has raised more than $14 million dollars since Magdalene's founding in 1997, Thistle Farms products are sold in more than 200 retail outlets around the world, a new commercial undertaking--the Thistle Stop Cafe--will open in January, and she oversees what are known as "infusion" weekends so that others can come to learn about the Magdalene Model to replicate its efforts in other communities. Oh, and she serves as chaplain to the Episcopal community at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Clearly this is a woman who has the capacity to run a billion-dollar empire. I don't know when she sleeps. I do know that Becca is probably the most humble person I know. She doesn't wear shoes when she leads worship. Her dress is modest (she prefers jeans) and her hair long. She has a razor-sharp sense of humor.

I refer to the local nature of our priory in quotes because our geographic spread covers northern Alabama, all of Tennessee, western North Carolina, north Georgia, western Virginia and parts of West Virginia. As well-heeled and -everything else represented by this group it wasn't a surprise that a significant number of our members weren't familiar with Magdalene and Thistle Farms last night. But after Becca spoke and received a spontaneous standing ovation, one of our knights conducted an auction of three Thistle Farms products and two other items donated by members of the priory. Those five items raised an additional $516 to send home with Becca, and Ken witnessed a number of people essentially thrusting cash into her hands that included several hundred-dollar bills. As our prior noted when confirming that the group's intention was to direct the money raised by the auction to Becca's ministry, "we can't leave a waiting list of 100 women out there."

What I think makes Becca so compelling, besides her down-to-earth, no-holds-barred honesty, is that she makes it clear that the ministry to which she gave birth is about two things: love and healing. As she shares stories of Magdalene House and Thistle Farms her anecdotes reveal every day challenges that are encountered and the ordinary but grace-infused and organic response that she brings to them from her heart. Start with love, healing will follow. She recognizes the deep need for both in our world, whether in a room of women working to claw their way from a damaging past or a village where industrialization has robbed a community of its capacity to make its own choices. The recognition that all of us need love and healing and never failing to offer the hope that we may experience both is, I think, Becca's greatest gift to the world.

Today as I reflect on the impact her message had on me and on my heart, I can't help but want to reflect that hope myself in the world. There is consistency in that desire. Perhaps my prayer needs to focus on how that might come to be.

Friday, November 09, 2012

friday five: happies!

At RevGals Karla invites us to share our happies! A good thing to think about in the midst of "stuff" so that we all keep tilting toward the positive.

Without further ado, my happies today are:

1) After being down for the count on Wednesday with a full-on cold I am feeling MUCH better and ready to take on the weekend. A good thing, since we have a very full weekend of Knights Templar (good) stuff.

2) My claim for unemployment was approved. Yay! A full-fledged member of the 47%. Except maybe not, I actually pay taxes on that.

3) Election results. Relieved and grateful.

4) My beloved four-leggeds. A smile is never far when they are near.
Two out of three. Don't pay any attention to that strange color on the door.

5) Anticipating being with family at Thanksgiving and spending time with my grandsons. The adults, too!
Number 3 grandson, Jude, at his first birthday.

What's making YOU happy?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

prelude of, and to, thanks

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's going around. November is thankful month, and the challenge is to post (somewhere) each day one thing for which I'm thankful. Here goes, Day One.

Lotsa stuff. I don't mean that to sound flip. I've had a rough week, feeling a bit knocked down and dragged around by life and circumstances and bad timing and age and human frailty and all that stuff. One of the strategies for coping with depression is to do one thing in the day to which one can point as an accomplishment. It can be something as mundane as making the bed. It can be emptying the dishwasher. It can be taking a shower. It can be anything. Accomplishing anything when one is depressed is a triumph.

Today I did more than make the bed. I worked on a web site for my genealogy business. Though the host site came highly recommended by a friend I am not finding it very user-friendly. That is frustrating to me because I want results, but I have plugged away at it for several hours today and made a little bit of headway. Check!
I cleaned up some of the kitchen. Check!
I made marinade for the salmon for dinner, and will cook it. Check!
I finished the daily sudoku. Check!
The sun is shining, and that makes me smile. Check!
I got some Pampered Chef stuff done. Check!

Heck, I'm on a roll!

I'm thankful for every little bit of it, and more. Like the fact that Ken is building a fire in the fireplace as I write. Mmmmmm..... Like the fact that my dogs are happy. Like the fact that we have heat, weren't in the path of a hurricane or tornado, have power and light, and access to the internet and a world beyond our walls. I'm thankful for Melrose every single day of my life, but especially on those days when I am there, sitting on the porch enjoying the view (above--click on the picture for a larger view and take it in).

I'm grateful today to be above the morass that is depression, and that is a fine place to be.

We'll see what sort of thankfulness I can unearth tomorrow. See you then.


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