Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Home Again

Late last night as we sat in the dark airplane, anticipating our arrival at 9:30pm MST / 11:30 pm EST I wondered, as I so often do on airplanes, who made the itinerary? Who thought it was a good idea to depart at 7:45 in the evening (which ended up being 8:15)? We treat departures and arrivals with breezy laughter when we make the schedule months in advance, as in, "Oh, that's a bit early, but at least we'll have daylight when we get there" about a 4:15 wake up call for a 7:00 am flight; or "wow, that's a late night for the kids but we don't have school in the morning so I'm sure it will work great." Forgetting, of course that Dad still has work and Mom still has five loads of laundry, two grocery runs and lengthy unpacking to do the next day!

But I cannot complain - we're home again safe after a great trip and the piles of Christmas gifts are making for a fun, quiet day for the kids. I'm on the fourth load of laundry and only one grocery run to go. Thinking this will be an early New Year's for all of us, but everyone is healthy and no one contemplates a run to the ER, as we did last year at the peak of my illness. I look forward to putting this day and this year behind me, behind all of us, as we move forward into the light, into new anniversaries of healing instead of sickness, and new memories of time with family and friends.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Closing Time

So the day has come when dirty laundry gets thrown into suitcases and presents are dismantled and thrown into the spare bag, which had to be packed three times to get under the 50 - pound weight limit. The family skits have been performed and the resulting You Tube video viewed thirty or forty times. Little baby Evie is sick and all the moms suspect an ear infection. Dads are on their phones or computers, taking conference calls or scheduling the rest of this holiday week. The time has come to say good-bye.

As we approach the dawn of 2014, I am reminded of this line from "Closing Time" by Semisonic: "Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."   Goodbyes will be hard but we have thrown out invitations to visit Denver and received invitations to visit Dallas and Toronto. The children have cemented bonds with their cousins and will have stories to tie to the DVD full of family photos that we carry home. Another sedimentary layer has been laid down in the collective family memory and who knows what roots will find a hold in this ground.

We're all off to more adventures; one group heads to the Rose Bowl to watch Stanford win (!) and one group to visit more family in Cincinnati. Others head home to Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Dallas, and the patriarch and matriarch will stay in their hopefully clean and blessedly quiet home. Eternal thanks to Bill and Connie for this week of bonding and best wishes to all for a healthy and family-filled 2014.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Generosity & Giving

Last night our kids had their third round of Christmas - present - opening thanks to generous uncles and aunts who recently arrived. Good books, family photos, barbeque sauce and wool socks joined the piles of packages looming in the two back bedrooms we're using. I wonder if the children know how lucky they are to be surrounded by loving family and showered with gifts. It's even hard for me to fully grasp.

When surrounded by giving people it seems there are two choices, to sit back and passively receive or to respond in kind and find ways to give back. I read an article yesterday in the Shambhala Sun about generosity and giving. The author challenged his readers to devote a day to giving: finding small ways to help whenever possible, and noting how this makes you feel. I'm going to try it today.

I have a great example in my mother-in-law, Connie. She's been shopping, cooking and cleaning for guests for the past week and yesterday cooked a meal for 24 people. Connie is like my mom, Ann, in that she easily puts the needs of others before her own. I admire them so much as this has been a struggle for me, especially in the twelve years since Aden was born.  Kids demand first place in your attentions, and though you have to adapt and take care of them it doesn't mean the job is easy or fun. It's definitely a huge shock after the roaring teens and twenties of "me" - dom.

But I'm slowly getting the hang of it, and practice makes better, if not perfect. A New Year's resolution I can start today.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Post Christmas Observations

Christmas shows battle with family home videos for space on TV screens. Dieters try to escape the ubiquitous bowls of red-green Hershey kisses and peanut MnM's  on their way to wrap presents or find an empty chair. Multiple travelers eye the bathroom and furtively plan to relieve their indigestion at a quiet moment. Hostesses plan days of menus while grocery lists proliferate on neon paper and fly about the room like snowflakes on the winter wind. Pictures from weddings, baptisms, and reunions cover the walls as if several photo albums exploded their contents and stuck to the wallpaper. Everywhere you look are reminders of family history and traditions and special occasions where people who love each other gathered in fine clothes and smiling faces. I am also reminded of how young I once was, and how the children once were tiny.

Now dirty dishes proliferate, growing mounds of wrapped packages receive hourly inspections from dirty-fingered gremlins - cousins of all ages, shapes and sizes. Piles of gift cards mix in with boxes of playing cards and holiday photos are taped above the fireplace. Christmas-themed puzzles lay on the folding table, unpieced, for the bustle of holiday prep leaves scant opportunity for piecing together of puzzles, unless it's the puzzle of who gave me this gift? The spectre of many thank you notes loom in the distance.

Behind it all plays holiday music with the special theme of joyful laughter. Someone's laugh is the same frequency as "the clapper" for the Christmas tree lights and the lit strands go on and off with each bout of merriment - setting off fresh rounds. Daniel sits on "Santa's" lap and critiques his shoes, moustache and glasses frames, until poor Santa declares "Enough!" Grown cousins pass around the home grown bootleg whiskey and cough or spit out the fruit soaked with liquor before the curious eyes of children.

After the presents are unwrapped, the excitement drains out like a river basin after the flood. In its peaceful wake Lego's are assembled, quarters are placed in collection folders, and new electronics are studied. Family skits are plotted and laughed over and no one can remember the name of the horse in the "Jingle Bells" song. The perfect Christmas may have happened only once, 2,000 years ago, but this one is pretty darn close.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas Blessing

We're in Ashland, Ohio, for the holidays, enjoying solitaire games, ping-pong tournaments, hot chocolate on cold afternoons, raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens. So far we've had a chance to catch up briefly with Rob's brother John and his wife, Katie, along with their 6-month-old daughter, Evie, our newest cousin and niece. Today brought brother Ron and his wife Kelley, and tomorrow welcomes aunts, uncles and cousins galore. I'll be offline for the next two days, as I'm sure all of my readers will be, as well. In place of updates, please accept this Christmas blessing.

At Christmas

Touch someone you love.
Feel the connection warm
On your skin, the lively
Pulse within.

Register the glow of a waning
Moon as it breaks the ancient
Night. Welcome back the
Tidal light.

Seek joy where it dwells at the
Root of everything. Dig deep
Below daily trials, cast off the
Weight of your miles.

Remember the unwed mother
Who escaped the stones.
Before Herod sent his  minions
Her child was born.

Allow his love to lift
Us together, set us down
In this special place.
Feel his embrace.

- Laura Dravenstott

Thursday, December 19, 2013

From the List of 31 Essential Poems

A poem perfect for this moment in time, by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Louise Gluck.

Celestial Music
I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she's unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling over it.
I'm always moved by disaster, always eager to oppose vitality
But timid also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
According to nature. For my sake she intervened
Brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
Across the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to God, that nothing else explains
My aversion to reality. She says I'm like the child who
Buries her head in the pillow
So as not to see, the child who tells herself
That light causes sadness-
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
To wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person-

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We're walking
On the same road, except it's winter now;
She's telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial music:
Look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
Like brides leaping to a great height-
Then I'm afraid for her; I see her
Caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth-

In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
From time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It's this moment we're trying to explain, the fact
That we're at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar doesn't move.
She's always trying to make something whole, something beautiful, an image
Capable of life apart from her.
We're very quiet. It's peaceful sitting here, not speaking, The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering-
It's this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Centered like a bad picture

I re-read my blog post from yesterday, about how the meditation and prayer had helped center me over the past few days, which have been difficult here in Centennial. It's true that the prayer has helped me, but it's not true that I've been centered. Or rather, I am like a picture frame that's not hung quite right; you might push the corner with your index finger and temporarily get a straight line across the top, but a few seconds after you let go the frame slouches to the left and everything gets wonky.

I want to be what Richard Rohr calls a "Kingdom person." He writes: "They are surrendered and trustful people. You sense that their life is okay at the core. They have given control to Another and are at peace, which paradoxically allows them to calmly be in control. " (Richard Rohr, Adapted from Jesus’ Plan for a New World:The Sermon on the Mount, pp. 110-111)

This is my goal, and I am so far from it. On Sunday night I was out with a few friends and my anxiety over the school shooting, a difficult situation at church, and a friend's illness came to a head and I found myself spewing like Mauna Lea, defending the Common Core State Standards in Math and English, which I know fairly little about. My emotions, which I had tamped down all weekend for the sake of Rob and the children, were finally having their way with me. The round eyes across the table and the haste with which the topic was changed, let me know that I was in over my head.

 I am finding that emotions need to be processed rather than suppressed, in order to come out in productive ways rather than seeping out in random conversations with unsuspecting friends! So a few more crying jags may be in order, a few difficult conversations need to be held, and a little self-forgiveness practiced. I have to believe that even Kingdom People have a rough day now and then.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

St. Teresa of Avila

I have been meditating on a short, simple prayer by St. Teresa of Avila, a beloved Catholic saint. As I was raised Catholic, this feels a tiny bit like coming home, and also like a journey into completely unknown territory. But St. Teresa's prayer has helped me to center myself over the past few days, and over the past six weeks or so that I have used it. I hope it may be helpful to you.

Let Nothing Upset You

Let nothing upset you;
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing;
God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing;
God alone fills every need.
- St. Teresa of Avila

Monday, December 16, 2013

One Suffering

"There is only one suffering and we all share in it."
- Lady Julian of Norwich

At this moment what I really want is to write about Christmas plans, gifts purchased, and cards received, but I cannot. My heart is still heavy over the tragedy at Arapahoe High School, and about this mad, crazy world that we all live in. This morning as I prepared to swim, the locker room television flashed scenes from the Harvard University Science Center, which stood right outside my window all of freshman year. Apparently there was a bomb scare, and the Science Center - along with three other buildings - was evacuated. It appears, most fortunately, that no one was injured, but finals were cancelled today and I bet that students were far more stressed than relieved by the turn of events. Boston has suffered much in the past year. In a way, Centennial, CO, and Cambridge/Boston, MA are twin cities.

But as I had that thought while swimming freestyle down the sunlit length of the pool, Lady Julian's quote immediately came to mind. We all share in each other's suffering. When the event hits close to home in a geographical sense, the emotional impact is often greater, but even when events occur on the other side of the world, we can share the pain. We are far more good than bad, more kind and loving than vicious and hurtful, and more desirous of joy than sorrow. I do believe that.

The Buddhists have a practice called tonglen, which is a method for dealing with our own pain and the pain of others tenderly and compassionately. I'll let Pema Chodron explain it for me:

"The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be. 

We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and who we wish to help. For instance, if you know of a child who is being hurt, you breathe in the wish to take away all the pain and fear of that child. Then, as you breathe out, you send the child happiness, joy or whatever would relieve their pain. This is the core of the practice: breathing in other's pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open, and breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever you feel would bring them relief and happiness."
From, Dec. 16, 2013

So today I'll attempt tonglen for Claire Davis, for the family of the shooter, for students and law enforcement here and at Harvard, and for all of us who want to share relief and happiness instead of fear and suffering.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Prayers for Arapahoe High School

I was getting an IV for chelation today when I got the robo-call from our school district that all schools were on a secure perimeter due to an incident at a neighboring school district. On the drive home I tuned into AM radio and was horror-struck at the news that a shooting had occurred at Arapahoe High School, a facility only a few miles west from us, on the same cross street. As I neared home I saw police cars racing to the scene and heard the sirens.

It's far too close to home. I've been crying all afternoon and now I have to pull myself together to present a calmer face to the children. Since I had called Rob sobbing, he came home and we'll go get them together - a rare enough event that will have them thinking - but a comforting one, I hope.

Please join me in praying for students and parents at Arapahoe HS. These tragedies have gone on for far too long, and we all want our children safe. No one should have to get the call that Arapahoe parents received, or Newtown parents, or Columbine parents. Let's pray that we can help create a better world for our kids.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Come to Him Running

A new and already dear friend told me about the following quote when we met last Tuesday. It's beautiful phrasing tells us that God loves us far more than we can imagine. I repeated this passage to William last night when he was having trouble sleeping and the most beautiful smile spread across his face. I hope that it has the same effect on you:

Says the Almighty:

"I am at My servant’s expectation.  And I am indeed with him when he makes mention of Me.  If he remembers Me secretly in his mind, I will likewise secretly remember him in My mind.  But if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I will make mention of him in an assembly far better than it.  If he draws nearer to Me the distance of a hand’s span, I draw nearer to him an arm’s length.  And if he draws nearer to Me by an arm’s length, I draw nearer to him by a fathom’s length.  If he comes to Me walking, I will come to him running."

- A Holy Hadith, slightly modified from the translation given by Mahmoud Ayoub in his Islam: Faith and History,  found at

Just think - if we draw closer to God by a hand's width, he will move toward us the length of our arm; if we move toward him the length of our arm he will come a fathom closer, and if we but take a few steps toward God, God will come to us running. I can only imagine the embrace when God reaches each one of us. May this blessing be yours today!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Monday morning I received an email that William's basketball practice had been switched from Thursday to Tuesday from 7 - 8 pm, a time when Daniel has hip hop, Aden has Klife, and I had a cross fit session. I thought I forwarded my reply directly to Rob, saying "need help with boys b/t 7 and 8 Tuesday."  I signed it LYL, Laura, as I normally do.

Lo and behold I sent that email to the entire team, a fact I only realized that evening. Several of my amazing neighbors and parental teammates had replied saying they could help me, ignoring the terse tone of my email and lack of proper asking graces. Rob and the kids thought it was hilarious that I had told the entire basketball team I "love you lots."  Daniel, in particular, was in stitches rolling around on the couch telling everyone that I loved William's coach. I don't even know how he understood the situation, but apparently making fun of mom is good sport for everyone.

The thing of it is, I do love you all. This neighborhood and other blog-reading friends brought our family six months of meals in my illness, and took care of our kids' transportation and entertainment needs. This year, our neighbors are contributing to make Christmas happen for three other families in the school district who are on free or reduced lunch and need some help. We planned another three weeks' of meals for dear friends who have a serious surgery next week, and we just generally have each others' backs.  To all of you - LYL. No, seriously, I do.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Mandela's memorial service takes place today. The government expects over 90,000 people in the stadium, with up to 200,000 watching from screens around Johannesburg. In honor of a great man, I want to share some of his words that read like prose poems and inspire the human spirit.

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.
There is no such thing as part freedom.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Work from the Floor

"The first product of self-knowledge is humility."  - Flannery O'Connor

William had his first two basketball games on Saturday. In the first half of the double-header they faced a tough team who had just won 42 - 2. Our boys hustled their socks off and pushed that team to a much tougher 20 - 16 game (we lost). They sprinted up and down the floor, hit that same floor hard to fight for a jump ball or a rebound. My second-grader, Daniel, who is just learning the game of basketball, was impressed by how much of the action took place from the floor. "You can pass from there?" he asked William.  "Sure," said big brother, "you can't move from that spot so you have to do something with the ball."

This exchange reminded me viscerally of a letter I read from "Sugar"  (Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild) to an aspiring writer who was bemoaning her lack of success at a young age, and feeling paralyzed by the gap between her need to be great and her "limitations, insecurities, jealousies and ineptitude."  I've just gotta say - I have SO been there. Sugar shoots back an amazing letter, leading with the quote from O'Connor. She later explains the origins of the word 'humility':

"The word comes from the Latin words humilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That's where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep."  She explains how the book came about:

"I 'd finally been able to give it because I'd let go of all the grandiose ideas I'd once had about myself and my writing - so talented! So young!"  We were most of us there at one time, with high expectations and no idea of how to achieve them, sure of our potential greatness and depressed because greatness sure takes a long time to show up and make a circle around the room. Sugar describes this as being "up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done."

And here's the best part. "We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it's hard to write, darling. But it's harder not to. The only way you'll find out if you 'have it in you' is to get to work and see if you do." Hallelujah, amen.  When you're down on the floor you can't move so you had better get to work and do something with that ball. In basketball, in writing, in relationships, in all things, get on the ground, open your mind, and get to work.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


"I have finally seen the light
And I have finally realised what you mean
And now I need to know is this real love
Or is it just madness keeping us afloat?

From "Madness" by Muse, lyrics by Matthew Bellamy

It's madness to send your child off to school at -8 degrees Fahrenheit....
Madness to casually time the skid of your minivan as you take a left turn out of your driveway...
Madness to lift your head to survey the echoing cavern of pod C at the detention center, temporarily filled with forty men in orange and red jumpsuits, listening to you teach basic Spanish and English . . .
Madness to make it to tutoring, Spanish class, basketball practice, Scouts and a band concert in one day  . . . 
(and sheer relief that two of those were cancelled due to Arctic chill),
Sheer glorious madness to order Christmas cards and spend three hours updating the Christmas card address list  . . . 
Because last year, I couldn't do any of it, not at all.

Thank you, God, for the sheer glorious madness of participating in this life!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Poems Every Woman Should Read

My poetry teacher forwarded a link to Anne Barngrover's List of 25 Poems Everyone Should read ( which she had posted in response to Oprah's list of "Six Poems Everyone Should Read." (  Barngrover's list is a great resource, and she compiled it with the help of other writers and critical readers. The divine Miss Emily Dickinson has four poems on that list, and I've included one below. I'll periodically visit this list when the mood strikes or when my daily life is devoid of inspiration. The poem I've chosen today fits my mood as I transition from certain groups or activities that occupied my time in the past few years to others that can help me explore new directions.

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

The Soul selects her own Society --
Then -- shuts the Door --
To her divine Majority --
Present no more --

Unmoved -- she notes the Chariots -- pausing --
At her low Gate --
Unmoved -- an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat --

I've known her -- from an ample nation --
Choose One --
Then -- close the Valves of her attention --
Like Stone -- 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Garth on Parenting

Last week I caught an interview with Garth Brooks that Ellen DeGeneres aired on her show. Garth gave up making music for a long stretch between the 90's and 2009 - no tours, no records, no nothing - in order to raise his three children. Ellen commented on how amazing that was, and he quickly responded "Oh no, that was a gift from God that I was able to do that, and I am convinced that 99% of parents would do the same thing if they could." He added, "I thought if I could stay home and be with them, the time wouldn't go so fast, but it still just flew right by."  Wow. I know intellectually that I am super lucky to stay at home with my kiddos but I haven't always felt that way. In fact, if I had family members around to watch my three I would have wanted to work more - so I'm not sure how right he is in his estimate of 99% - but I have to say the interview made me appreciate my position.

Now is all the time we have with our loved ones, and if they're our children, the time is even more limited, because they are definitely going to leave (or probably, almost, keep our-fingers-crossed definitely). How precious is the commotion around the dinner table, the daily homework tutorial and snack time in the afternoons, the holiday decorating tradition. In his interview, Garth went on to say how much he loved holidays like Thanksgiving, because "For three minutes you get 'em back at the same table and get to love on 'em a little bit." I can't imagine a time when we won't have that on a regular basis, but it's coming as sure as the after-Christmas bills.

So to all of us, working outside or inside the home or doing both, let's raise a glass to where we are now and to the time that we have with our loved ones. It's life's little guarantee that everything will change, so here's to messy, loud, infuriating and amazing kids, and the time we get to share with them.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thank Full

Black Friday here, weather at a pleasant 60 degrees Fahrenheit and credit cards holding much hotter. Though we don't "do" Black Friday by visiting big box stores at odd hours of day and night, Rob and I get online pretty early to score the deals. This morning I was at Sports Authority and Swim Labs sites over breakfast while upstairs Rob was shopping at Best Buy and Home Depot. Cannot wait to get the credit card statement for our overlapping hour of productive clicking.

The annual hype over Black Friday deals was matched by the higher-than-normal hype over starting shopping ON Thanksgiving. Editorials slammed the idea of making employees work on the holiday and criticized shoppers who lined up en masse to make their minimum-wage hours filled and busy. Since my thoughts turned to shopping early this morning I can't stop to criticize, but I will comment just a bit.  If the whole point of Thanksgiving is to stop and be filled with thanks for our blessings, how healthy can it be to immediately turn to our wishlists and focus on what we are lacking, missing, wanting?  It seems that the window for feeling full (of turkey, friends, family and pie) is closing and the doorway to feeling a consumerish angsty want opens earlier and earlier. It would be better if we flipped the holidays, if we spent one day on shopping and buying what we thought we needed, and the next thirty on giving thanks for what we already have.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Paleo Cooking

After a month or so of "cheating" by eating gluten free cookies, brownies and muffins made with grains, sugar, and more sugar, I'm returning to clean paleo in time for Thanksgiving. I pulled out my Mama's Coconut Blend Flour, a whole bunch of eggs and my favorite canned pumpkin. So far today I've made Pumpkin Pancakes and Cranberry - Pumpkin muffins from my Practical paleo Cookbook. The kids gave the muffins four stars but were less thrilled by the pancakes (I burned them).  I've also made a wonderful Spiced Orange Cranberry sauce (see below) with  no added sugar. The last thing on my list today is to make Paleo Pumpkin Bars with Vanilla Frosting My friend, Heather, made these for a school bake sale and they were amazing. Actually, everything that Heather makes is amazing so I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that my bars come out looking something like hers.It's fun to see how many creations can come out of a kitchen sweetened only with honey or maple syrup or dates, but those handy-dandy mixes just sneak up on me in the grocery store and jump into my cart when I'm over looking at the kale. I'll try to keep myself honest by posting some paleo adventures here. Enjoy your cooking and eating!

Spiced Orange Cranberry Sauce (Yoga Journal, November 2013) 
1 organic orange
1 c water
12 oz fresh cranberries
5 Medjool dates, pitted and diced
2 tsp fresh minced ginger

1. Zest about half the orange and reserve the zest. Cut the ends off the orange, then cut away the peel and outer membrane of fruit in wide strips. Holding the orange over a bowl to catch the juice, cut between the inner membranes and fruit to release the segments into the bowl.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the orange segments (including any juice), cranberries, dates, and ginger. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until sauce is thick. Stir in the orange zest and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Today's Day

Thanksgiving Day approaches and even though I do not pride myself on my cooking, I am thrilled to fill the kitchen with cans of pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apples and cranberries. The week feels festive due to the fresh chill in the air, the scuddy grey clouds, and the three days of vacation starting tomorrow. Folks are getting ready to see friends and family and turkey trots, football games, and ice skating dates have been organized. Life feels more fun and more full of potential.

But we could, theoretically, live like this much of the time. We don't need a "Mother's Day" to celebrate our mothers, a "Father's Day" to remember our fathers, or a Thanksgiving Day to remind us to give thanks. These are things we can do all of the time, though we might not have a Hallmark card or special menu attached. Thich Nhat Hanh mentions the idea of "Today's Day" in your true home, where he writes, "Why not celebrate a day when we can live happily in the present moment all day long?"

Right now, in this moment, we live and breathe, we love and are loved. Though we would go broke and pass out from exhaustion if we tried to have the trappings of the holidays on every day, we can bring the sense of happiness and fullness to each moment Today. I am so happy that the sun is back out, that my washing machine works, that I'm well enough to shop and cook, that my kids are young and still like me. Enjoy Today's Day - there are plenty more to come!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gratitude for a New Outlook

We heard a good sermon yesterday, and Pastor Gary included in his text an anecdote from a visit that he and his wife paid to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. They had a kind porter named Jack, who engaged Gary in conversation about life as a pastor and author focusing on the work of the Spirit in the world. Jack, holding the view of many of us, I'm afraid, said "Isn't it hard to write about faith when so many bad things happen in the world? They're on TV all the time, in the newspapers - everywhere!" Gary replied, "I actually think that people are mostly good, kind and loving - all over the world. The reason negative events make news is partly because we are always shocked that people could commit such acts - and we're always shocked  because our 'normal' state is to be good, kind and loving."

Apparently Jack really liked that perspective and they talked several more times over Gary and Kim's stay. I also like Gary's perspective and I am grateful for Gary's story. In this Thanksgiving week I am also thankful for the good, kind, and loving people in my own life and the daily acts of kindness that they "commit".

Friday, November 22, 2013

Liberty Lost

I had eight ladies attend my class at the detention center yesterday and three of them will get certificates for attending all of the classes and doing their homework. We covered a fable called "The Horse, The Deer and the Hunter" - in Spanish "El Caballo, El Ciervo y el Cazador." The plot goes like this: a horse and a deer coexisted peacefully in a beautiful forest for a long time. One day, the deer made fun of the horse and stuck his tongue out at the other animal. The horse was infuriated, and chased the deer through the forest, but the deer was faster and more agile and got away. Each time they bumped into each other thereafter, the horse would chase the deer to no avail.

One day, the horse met up with a hunter in the forest and asked the hunter to ride him to find the deer, and take a shot at the deer with his arrows. The hunter did so, and missed the deer when he shot. The deer ran off and left the forest for good. The horse was satisfied with this outcome and told the hunter his services were no longer required, so he could get off and take the saddle and reins with him.  Well, of course the hunter was thrilled with riding the horse and had no intentions of giving the horse back his freedom; instead, he took the horse back to his farm and kept him in servitude forevermore.

The moral of the fable is that vengeance only leads to more trouble, but I missed the other main point of the story which was more relevant to the detainees - that the horse's punishment was the loss of his liberty. The ladies in class yesterday all picked up on the idea that vengeance is bad, but the horse's loss of his freedom had a much greater impact. I was entirely blind not to anticipate that; thoughtless until one of the ladies said "at least the deer got to go to another forest - the horse was locked up for good - just like me." She drooped as she said this, and could not lift her eyes to meet mine. She wore the blue uniform that signified her offense as lack of documentation alone, and I could not help but wonder, "what are we doing here?"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Certificate Day

Three inches of crisp white snow cover the slick streets and sidewalks this morning, but we were not awakened by a robo-call from the school district, so schedules proceed as normal. I'm glad about this, because I am headed back to the GEO / ICE Detention Center in Aurora today to teach the third of three classes in fables and writing. The female detainees that have attended my class (thirteen each of the first two days) have been a fun and enthusiastic audience. I conduct the class in English and Spanish, as I have more native Spanish speakers than English speakers. I don't ask their stories, but my imagination runs wild.

Consider the young woman who came to the first class and didn't say a word. When we passed out the fables on a handout she didn't take one, and when I asked about her language skills - in Spanish - another young woman leaned over and said, "she can't read or write in any language." Later I learned that the young woman was Mayan, that she had been in the detention center for a while struggling to communicate with anyone there. She had learned a few words of Spanish, but not enough to feel comfortable. Can you imagine living in a Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala or southern Mexico, braving a dangerous journey to the U.S., and then finding yourself in jail with a crowd of other women who speak foreign languages? How isolating, uncertain, and scary that must be.

That's just one of the partial stories I've gathered. I hope the four ladies who attended both classes so far come to class today to achieve their certificate. It will supposedly help them to make a good impression with the judge when the case goes to court; a sign that they have worked hard to better themselves. If anything stops the ladies from coming today it will be a meeting with legal pro bono services, work duty, court itself, or deportation. Quite different from my experience, driving free and clear on a snowy day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Let's Jam?

Time to make a switch in tone from urgent confessional to self- deprecation. What more perfect venue to make fun of myself than my guitar lesson?  To begin with, I had a haircut right before my lesson yesterday and went in to the lesson with tiny hairs scattered across the cheekbones on both sides of my face (which I only discovered after leaving, when I encountered my scary countenance in the bathroom mirror). I looked like I was growing facial hair in support of Movember!

In class, I had to make my way through the two new songs I learned with such concentration that the fingers on my left hand turned white from pressing down the strings and the tension in my left arm made my trick elbow swell. Relaxed and happy, I was not!

For though I love guitar, it brings out all of my perfectionist, rigid qualities. \While those qualities help me practice and focus and move forward, they are also restrictive. When my teacher says, "Let's jam,"  I hear "let's get crazt and make s$#! up!"  That's scary because the creative, plastic connections in my brain seem to have frozen over the last four decades. I have to ask him to show me how, and it feels like asking a child to teach you how to play in the sandbox.

So I need to relax and practice "jamming" which hopefully will help my poetry, and quite possibly will up my smile quotient for the day. Sometimes it feels like I'm going back to the beginning, that I'm aiming to be 8 or 10 years old again, with most of what I've learned since then just excess baggage.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Weight of the World

Yesterday's post on my addiction to exercise was prompted by my annual visit to the ob/gyn. As part of the assessment I got my height and weight checked, and while the good news was that I 'grew' to 5'8 1/2 " due to yoga, I also gained another few pounds. I'm now at the weight that I kept more or less study for 6 years after being diagnosed with celiac and before I started marathon training. Though I am in a normal raange for my height and my personal experience, the weight gain threw me for a mental loop. I've gained almost 20 pounds since January, and though I desperately needed at least 15 of those, the extra five hit the 'calculate' button on my "American woman weight calculator."

I don't usually diet when I need to lose weight, though sometimes I cut out dessert and sugary snacks (never a bad idea). My bad habit, which started in college when I swam for an anorexic and weight-fixated coach, is to exercise like crazy to justify any calories I take in during the day.That is not safe or healthy for me to do anymore, so I'm left with trying on a new mode of thinking, which is that a few extra pounds + good health and energy to be a good wife and mother = a much better equation than being skinny, sick, anxious and temperamental. Though that comparison seems obvious, it's actually difficult to maintain after decades of brainwashing by the culture and after the bizarre amount of compliments I received on my appearance when I was underweight and running myself to death. Well-meaning friends and relatives told me frequently that I looked great, in an almost inverse proportion to how I felt. I am struggling to shake that off and to make sure I am clear in my own mind that feeling good is the most important measure of all.

Monday, November 18, 2013

My Addiction

No joking around or relevant quotes here; I am an exercise junkie and I am learning how to manage it. Call it recovery, or maturing, or just taking a new direction, but I have to be able to do some exercise to stay healthy and sane, while keeping an eye out for red flags. It's such a struggle when you have a "process addiction" like one with gambling or shopping or sex. These activities are nearly impossible to rule out entirely (like you can with alcohol or drugs) so the recovering person needs to reincorporate some "safe" level of the activity while making sure that s/he doesn't start to slide back into unhealthy habits. Take me, for example, I can safely exercise for about an hour each day, possibly for 90 minutes if there are breaks or if my heart rate doesn't get too high, but if I go over the 6 - 9 hours per week margin, I'll know I am sliding down a slippery road.

I've also decided not to ever sign up for a race or competition again, and I've posted that resolution on the blog before to keep myself honest. While racing I was so invested in beating my previous times and beating the other competitors, that I could become quite selfish by spending huge amounts of time and energy on these goals. My racing came at the expense of time with my family, and obviously at the expense of my health. It also enabled me to attach my worth as a human being to external things like places, times, and my physical appearance.  Now I am learning to attach worth to the place I share in loving relationships, and in developing my skills of writing and teaching (hopefully to the benefit of others as well as myself).

So if you ever see me training, feel free to stick out a leg and trip me up. I'll thank you the next day, I can almost promise....

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jhumpa Lahiri

I just finished the namesake by jhumpa Lahiri and I am in awe of her writing prowess. We read her book of short stories (interpreter of maladies) for book club and I was so impressed I vowed to read everything that she writes. Lahiri tackles the subject of acculturation, primarily from India to the US. She tackles much more than that, of course, but it is a solid thread in her writing and she helps readers to truly understand the dilemma of losing one's home country and setting down roots in a place without family or anything familiar.

I'll stop there with the explication and let you discover Lahiri's work on your own, but I do want to share this one line that struck home with me; the jolt of recognition and truth was so strong that I sat bolt upright from my slouch. In this paragraph, the main character (Gogol) reflects on his life after the failure of a relationship:

"They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend.Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end."

Yes, yes, and yes.  Our missteps shape us. Events that make no sense are the things that endure, and somehow we need to be at peace with the fact that our journeys through life are not smooth, do not 'make sense' in the traditional linear way, and contain events that we can not prepare to survive.

PS - I told my daughter about the decline in smiles from youth to old age and she replied, with a straight face, "Well, old men still smile more than guinea pigs."  (!) Made me smile . . .

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Smile as Salvation

"A creative tension in the second half of life, knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know, is a necessary one. All you know is that it is foundationally all right, despite the seeming contradictions and conflict. That’s why the holy old man can laugh and the holy old woman can smile. I heard recently that a typical small child smiles three hundred times a day and typical old men smile three times a day in our culture. What has happened between six and sixty? Whatever it is, it tells me that religion is not doing its job very well."
- Fr. Richard Rohr, Adapted from Adult Christianity and How to Get There

Rohr's email appeared in my inbox this morning with a welcome message; smiling is a form of salvation. He posits that only people comfortable with not knowing, who can laugh at themselves and accept the space between what they do know and what they don't know, can smile. I'm a bit stunned at the deterioration in the number of smiles: Rohr says we go from 300 down to 3 because religion isn't doing its job but I would also say that our communities and our overall society don't do a good job of encouraging the open space, the not knowing.  It reminds me of a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, "Knowledge is a barrier to understanding."  The more we think we know, the less we seek to understand. In the second half of life it seems that our job is to let it all go, all the constructs, definitions, goals and thought processes that we created in the first half, all set out in the driveway with a big "FREE" sign attached.

Smiling also changes the type and quantity of the neurotransmitters firing in our brain; it's been essential to my recovery from illness. That, and laughter. It's also an amazing way to approach people. When I smile at folks headed my way they light up in return, and the response is night and day from a situation that I approach serious and non-smiling. Maybe we need kind of a pedometer for smiles so that instead of counting steps we count the number of smiles toward salvation. I'm going to start now by sending my kids and husband off to their days with a smile.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Truth in Tea . . .

"A woman is like a Tea Bag . . . You can never tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Today I had time between appointments to have lunch at a wonderful place called In Tea. Over a delightful snack of gluten free cinnamon roll and iced pomegranate - cranberry tea with boba balls, I had a chance to write and reflect on the amazing strong women I know. Friends who have faced down cancer, who have suffered through the loss of parents, family members who generously give their heart and their time to those who are suffering, even dying; these women are my heroes and support. There is nothing that can beat their strength in hot water and tough times.

I crafted this poem with the ladies in mind:

What's in A Minute

What's in it, a minute?
A tearful good-bye when lovers part,
a racer's nervous dance ahead of the start,
an eclipse of the sun, the report of a gun,
a midnight phone call carries news to stun.
A whispered prayer delivered on your knees,
a cry for help, a passionate please,
a hug or a kiss, a sweet embrace,
many trials mere minutes can never erase.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Don't Water the Seeds of Suffering

"When we are irritated and we say something unkind to our child, we water the seeds of suffering in him. When he reacts, he waters the seeds of suffering in us. Living this way escalates and strengthens the suffering."  - Thich Nhat Hanh, Your True Home

I think Hanh did his research for this passage in my kitchen. This morning, as with many mornings, Daniel came downstairs loaded for bear. He sings and yells loudly, making an entrance and proceeding to shout, holler and stomp until all one or all of us, who were quietly reading or eating in the early morning calm, loses our temper and says something out of frustration and anger. How do we avoid getting irritated, or if we are irritated, how to avoid saying something unkind?  I'll have to think about my choices and get back to you. Certainly the image of me watering the seeds of suffering in any of my children makes me freeze in my tracks. I want to grow helpful things in their psyche, not hurtful ones. (And I don't need any help from them in watering the seeds of my own suffering!)  Just a thought on a slightly rough Monday morning when Daniel's excitement over the Veteran's Day assembly may have put him over the edge.  Both he and I - and our whole family - are extremely grateful for all of the veterans and men and women still in uniform. Thank you for your service.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Ability Imperative

"The ability imperative - If you can, you must."

Last week we visited the Kennedy Space Center, adjacent to Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was an amazing day; one of my favorite vacation days ever. We watched a video of the 1960's era race to the moon, and watched a video of the launch in a room with the actual equipment (monitors, phones, etc) used at the time of the Apollo launch. How antiquated and cumbersome it all looked! I probably have more technology on my phone than they did in a mainframe, yet they managed to reach the moon. I was overcome by the sense of imperative and drive, the energy and the dreaminess of that time. After the video we got to see the actual rocket, which is retired in a museum of its own.

We also watched an inspiring video of the shuttle program, featuring the shuttle Atlantis. At the end of the wonderful movie, which detailed 12 years of research and engineering work required to build and launch the shuttle. the movie curtains opened to show the actual Atlantis, on its side in another massive museum. I didn't expect it, and embarrassingly, I burst into tears. I felt transported by this sense of the ability imperative: if you can do it, you must, and I wondered where this imperative has gone to ground in this day and age.

The end of every presentation, especially the bus ride around the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad (we got to stand in the fire / blast zone!) ended with the words, "this program is over." The kids were sad at the thought of the space programs ending, and for the first time, I was too. I told Aden and William that the efforts of their time would be toward renewable energy and technologies to protect our future, and I hope I'm right. We need the dream to motivate us, not the fear, and dreams are beautiful.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Turnaround

Yesterday, my guitar teacher gave me a new song, and after we went through the chords for the verses and the chorus, he told me the chords for a "turnaround" which he wrote on the music for me. Such is my beginner state that I am unfamiliar with the "turnaround" and he explained that it is a short bridge between the chorus and the verse, a place for the guitar player to get the singer or listener safely back to the verse after the chorus. I liked the phrase and it stuck in my head today, particularly after I ran into a terrible traffic jam on my way to Boulder, and I had to get off 36 at Sheridan and turn around to come back home.

I called my spiritual director to let her know I would not make it and she wished me luck in finding a place to turn around. Isn't that just the trick in life - to figure out a way to turn around, or go over, under or through a difficult situation? I was reflecting on something I have been telling the kids in their difficulties: life is made up of challenges and obstacles. Any smooth sailing is just a brief interlude between the normalcy of having issue after issue. I used to think it was the other way around . . . but I was wrong. Now the "turnaround" has a whole new meaning for me. It's not just a sweet spot for the guitar to work its magic, but it's also the art of making the best of a bad situation, and going in a new direction.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For What Did I Take This Life?

I wrote this in response to a prompt from my spiritual director. Just another way of asking the existential question, "why are we / am I here?"  but the phrasing seemed to open me up to a different way of thinking.

A Domine

For what did I take this life?
To love God
Wherever I find God in me, in you,
In that which is hardest and heaviest and
In that which is light and joy-filled.

To express delight
When joy bubbles up in recognition of
Truth or beauty, in relationships or in
The outrageous pageant of the natural world.

To create things of enduring
Truth and beauty: my family, poetry,
Music and dancing, or opportunities to access these
For all who lack.

To share God, joy, creativity
In all the breadth of my activities,
In teaching, caring and enduring,

This day and every day that remains to me. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mama Love

"You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen.  But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your soul's own doing.  ~Marie Stopes"

Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty - they merely move it from their faces into their hearts.  ~Martin Buxbaum

Everywhere we went on vacation we were surrounded by families. Families from England, for the most part; it seemed as if all of England primary was on fall break in Florida. Also families from Spain, South America, and other states; young children teased their cousins, teenagers flirted with boyfriends or girlfriends, grandparents pushed strollers and held hands. All ages and stages of life were represented, and I noticed something. First, I am definitely getting older. Rob and I are now middle-aged and there is no getting around the wrinkles, gray hairs, and slightly more rounded profiles that go with it. Second, I can't possibly foresee the day I will bring a boyfriend or girlfriend on a family vacation. Third, that connection and love between families and friends that makes a mama or a papa beautiful.

The paunchy Englishman with a receding hairline who held his daughter in the dolphin pool? He simply glowed with good looks as he gave up his dolphin ride to stay with the little girl, who seemed petrified of the whole dolphin experience. The rounded English lady with pink lipstick who stood in line next to her excited girls and listened patiently and happily to their endless questions? A true beauty. The grandfather patiently holding a screaming baby (one of twins) in the airport as new parents got all of their paraphernalia together? He looked like Clark Gable.

People always say that personality makes one attractive, or not, but it's a truism that can be hard to really believe. Just like the expression that "days take forever (with young children) but the years fly by."  I absolutely did not believe that the years would get up off the ground and fly anywhere . . . until suddenly my guitar teacher is playing "Shady Grove" at my last lesson and I started to cry because Aden and William had that song on their "Music Together" CD, which was tedious at the time but in hindsight so precious and fleeting. I see that my elders were right about years flying, and they are right about affection and love creating beauty. I should worry less about my sun spots and thin hair than about my demeanor with Daniel, less about maintaining a certain size and more about expanding the size of my heart and the scope of my patience. I could always spout that statement at you, but I'm finally believing it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

One More Checked off the Bucket List

Visiting the world of Harry Potter was a fairly recent addition to my bucket list, but swimming with dolphins has been on the list for a long time. I even have a dolphin tattooed on my right hip, a mark I got after Aden was born to show myself how determined I was to have some independent existence and still do things that I loved. Yesterday I finally got to swim with a dolphin. Her name is Thelma and she is 22 years old. She's the mother of four and the grandmother of one, and she was magnificent. We had a short swim together, also a hug and a kiss, and I got to feed her a fish. I wish the ride could have been longer, but in all other ways the day was perfect.

Rob and I and the kids spent the day at Discovery Cove, an "all-inclusive" park themed on getting to swim with fish (and dolphins) and lounge in a Fiji-like atmosphere in the middle of Orlando. It was pricey, of course, but worth it. The whole family wetsuited up and lounged through the lazy river three or four times, drifting by otters in their glassed off enclave and emerging from the warm water to feed parrots and guinea fowl by hand in the aviary. We stepped over to the cold water pool to swim with rays and parrotfish, blue-black sailfish and sardines. William and I shivered our way past eels and sharks (in their glassed off pool) and delighted in the cavortings of a "special" turquoise parrotfish named Cher, who didn't know she was supposed to dislike humans.

But the most fun of all was the dolphin swim. We only paid for me to do it, so I felt a bit amiss among the two British families in my group who came with two children apiece. But as I got close to Thelma and then waved to Aden, watching faithfully across the lagoon, I felt pretty great. Thelma and the other girl dolphins were supposed to switch out midway through the interaction, but one of the younger girls, Dot, decided she didn't want to go back into the larger lagoon, and so the trainers kept all the girls out and Dot winged around the groups, picking and choosing which activities she wanted to do. The reliable Thelma was in great demand as the trainers calmly communicated which dolphin they had and which they needed. Our trainer, Chelsea, said that was always the most interesting part of their day. They can't force the dolphins to do anything, so they just work with their charges as best they can. When a little English girl named Caitlyn asked Chelsea how to become a trainer, she said "study psychology."  I thought, hey - I'm a mother, I know all about this stuff - perhaps this could yet become my fifth career?  Add that one to the bucket list.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter area of Universal Studios was all that I imagined - and more! To see a real replica of Hogwarts, and then the village of Hogsmeade (crossed with Diagon Alley) was a real joy. Universal re-created the Three Bromsticks pub, the Hog's Head, Ollivanders Wand shop, Gladrags Wizardwear and, of course, HoneyDuke's sweet shop. We bought Bertie Bott's EveryFlavor beans from a woman also from Denver and purchased two rounds of butter beer from  a bar maid who wouldn't sell FireWhiskey to muggles. We didn't ask for Firewhiskey but witnessed a chap from Australia trying to do so  (at 10:00 in the morning, no less). The children were delighted, I was delighted, and all the adults and kids around me were similarly enthralled. To witness the power of a good writer and her imagination was incredible. It was the highlight of our day, and I could have sat in the Hog's Head all day reading JK Rowling and soaking up the atmosphere. Instead we proceeded to the Seuss area, the Hulk ride, the Spiderman / Marvel hero section, the Lost world and Jurassic Park. I felt increasingly disoriented as the day went on, but fun was had by all. Here are a few photos:

Friday, October 25, 2013

To Autumn

My poetry instructor said that my latest piece reminded him of Keats' "To Autumn" so I am publishing that poem below. I still need to do revisions on my own poetry before posting it to this site or submitting it anywhere else. I was reminded of how rough my own work is when I read Keats.  One last note - we will be in Florida next week and though I will bring my laptop I may not post as frequently. Cheers, all!

    SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
            To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
        And still more, later flowers for the bees,
        Until they think warm days will never cease,
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
        Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
        Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
        Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
            Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
        Steady thy laden head across a brook;
        Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
            Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
        Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
        Among the river sallows, borne aloft
            Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
        Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
        The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
           And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

- John Keats

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Forever Now

Forever is composed of nows.
Emily Dickinson 

The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.
Emily Dickinson 

A nun friend of mine once told me that Colorado is so close to God it's a local call to heaven. Again today,it feels like that is true. Yet the day started  as it often does, in a rush of stress, lateness and lost objects. Aden asked me to help her study last-minute notes for social studies, Daniel hated the snack I packed and couldn't get out the door for Reading Together, and William misplaced a Battle of the Books book that he needs to find and finish by - wait for it - tomorrow. When I finally completed dropoff this morning my heart rate was up and the hamster in my brain was sprinting away on its wheel. 

But I made time for a swim, and during the repetitive laps I got my brain to slow down, to focus on one thing at a time. I remembered a quote from Eknath Easwaran's Passage Meditations: "A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. A mind that is still is divine." Easwaran attributes the quote to Meher Baba, a mystic of India, and it reminds me of the quote "go slow to go fast." So I slowed down and focused on one thing at a time. I have yet to get to my poetry reading or my packing (or finding William's book) but I made cookies, had a gorgeous drive up to the Middle School, and spent a lovely lunch hour watching Aden's guitar concert. Afterwards, she was in a rush to get to science but waited for me at the bottom of the stairs where I had gotten pinned against the railing by a horde of 8th graders. She patiently explained that she was going to student council today, and then - in the midst of rushing middle schoolers - she lifted her face for a kiss goodbye. I couldn't believe that I didn't embarrass her - that she wanted me there and would even share an embrace in public. That moment was my forever now, my ecstatic experience. I'm so glad that we both slowed enough to share it. No task seems to large after that sweet moment. May we always go slow enough - and leave the soul ajar - to catch moments like these.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Awake to our Life

"We travel to see. We vacation to relax. There is a difference in intention, that is all, which separates the two things. When we walk through our lives we must be travelers, whether we mean to relax or not. We must always be awake to our surroundings, those rooms and streets and neighborhoods and cities which permit us to reside within or pass through." - Matthew Siegel

No one would want to leave Colorado this week. The perfection of the day is almost too much to hold in a wheelbarrow. Perfect strangers have called out to me, "how great is this?" and nearly given me high fives out of the joy of our sunshiny, Crayola day. Today place inhabits us, grabs us by the collar and refuses to be ignored. What a gift to be jolted out of to-do lists and mind games to recognize the gift of this high-altitude desert.

Rob just returned from a ten-day trip to India, and his observations of that trip have led him to a new awareness of how blessed we are in this country. The infrastructure - roads, electrical production and distribution, water - does not exist in the same way in India. I think one of the most outstanding memories Rob has of his trip is watching a fuel truck park itself in a river. When he asked what the truck was doing, befouling the wash-water and potentially drinking water of those downstream, the driver answered, "Oh, he's just washing his truck." And the truck driver proceeded to scrub and rinse his truck in the river. The air pollution was also notable for Rob, who noticed constant low lying smog on his trip out to the Taj Mahal (on a corporate - owned road). I know that he appreciates this place even more on his return.

Crazy as it seems, we are planning another trip: this time to Florida for fall break, and many of our friends also have trips planned. I hope to travel with intent and notice the different sights, tastes and smells, and the kids' reaction to all of the same.  We're excited for Harry Potter, lukewarm about Mickey Mouse, hoping to catch some time at the beach, and certainly some days to just relax. On days like this when I can't imagine leaving home for any length of time for any reason, this quote from my Stanford instructor helps me prepare to be excited to travel, to really notice and not be too busy in my head to take in all the wonders that exist. I also thought of a dear friend who is moving next week, and though I will miss her desperately, I know that she will be awake to her new surroundings, intentional and open to what comes. I hope she will relate her experiences to those of us back 'home,' and then, of course, I can't wait to visit. We can be awake every day as we travel through our lives, but sometimes the change of scenery is a good shot of coffee to our intentions.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pumpkin as Metaphor, Redux

I took the kids to our local pumpkin patch yesterday and snapped a few photos. I was also reminded of this blog entry from three years ago, which still receives a fair share of hits from readers, so I posted an edited version below.

“What would you rather have my friends
A chance to shine, or die here on the vine?
The better way seems very plain to me/
You will have eyes to see, and for that night, you’ll be
A bright lamp burning in the darkness”
- From “John’s Garden” Music and Lyrics by Peter Mayer
I took my eight-year-old daughter to her first real concert on Friday. Peter Mayer, a folksinger with incredible vocal and guitar skills, was the star and solo act. She and I sat enraptured while he worked his guitar-string magic, tuning the instrument as finely as a mother might comb and braid her baby’s hair. Many of his songs are humorous and many contain moral queries and speculate on life’s big questions, such as “is it better to go big and flame out or slowly fade away?”
The song above, “John’s Garden” addresses this question in a pumpkin patch on the eve of Halloween, when farmer John comes to tell the pumpkins that their lives will soon change forever. The big moment, the climax of their existence, is at hand and though it may be unfamiliar it will be glorious. When John leaves the pumpkins call a meeting and most are confused, scared and reluctant to become the jack-o-lanterns John has planned. One boldly speaks out and calls the promised eyes and candlelight a lie, a trap that will not be worth the sacrifice. Another counters with the verse I included, saying that their moment of glory will encompass splendor and vision (maybe even starlight!) and be worth any sacrifice.
On the way home I asked my daughter which were her favorite songs. “John’s Garden” was at the top of her list, and I asked her what she would decide if she were a pumpkin at Halloween. She quickly and decisively replied that she would want to die on the vine. Hmmm. She did not ask which option I would choose and I held my counsel, pondering instead her perspective. I asked why, and she said, “I don’t want to be carved.” Perhaps I would have answered the same way when I was her age, withholding my promise and potential from the mere thought of endings, of fading away, of bruising and carving.
Now, at what I hope is the midpoint of life, I tend to favor the road of the jack-o-lantern. I know life will carve me up (there are a few slices already), and if either original or reflected light burns within me, I’d opt to have it shine through the cracks. Hopefully the candle within is long and slow-burning as opposed to the short and stubby blackened nubs that we usually place in our carved pumpkins, but I have no wish to die slowly and peacefully on the vine. Who knows, if my jack-o-lantern self is not too bruised and blackened at the end of the party I might even be used in a pumpkin pie.

Friday, October 18, 2013

End of Passion

No, not really the end of passion but certainly the end of this week's writing on the subject. The word has lost some of its meaning, as the word 'shank' does when you say it out loud over and over. After reviewing some of the quotes and opinions that I included this week, I may be cautious about using the word passion, being passionate myself, or being drawn in too close to fiery, passionate people. The flame burns, fellow moths. Instead, I prefer to think of myself as energized and enthusiastic about central things in my life; Rob and the kids, my extended family, friends, writing neophyte poems, playing beginner guitar, climbing mountains (albeit slowly) and eating a good chicken on brown rice tortilla.

I hope you have a weekend full of good  fall fun and plenty of occasions to get enthusiastic about life. I have a water polo game and a flag football game lined up,a fall festival on Sunday, and the - oh joy! - we get to pick Rob up at the airport on Sunday evening. So I'll be feeling good for all of you and grateful for you, too.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Referencing Shakespeare and Emerson

I was checking up on what Shakespeare has to say about passion, and again we have multiple perspectives. For example, "Passion, I see, is catching."  It's quite true in my experience that passionate people are the most interesting to be around, and that their energy can be contagious. But following passionate people, their energies and their causes can also be dangerous, especially if they are lacking in judgment, or mercurial in temperament. Shakespeare has praise for those who are not overly swayed by passions or their senses:

 "Free from gross passion or of mirth or anger/
constant in spirit, not swerving with the blood,/
garnish'd and deck'd in modest compliment,/
not working with the eye without the ear,/
and but in purged judgement trusting neither?/
Such and so finely bolted didst thou seem."

Shakespeare also gave this warning about passion: "What to ourselves in passion we propose, the passion ending, doth the purpose lose." (Hamlet, act 3 sc 2) It seems that the nature of passion allows it to flame and fade away, and if we want lasting effort or success we need to turn our energies and enthusiasm to the long effort rather than the volcanic short burst. As always, Shakespeare gives a nuanced and shaded perspective to one of humanity's most interesting emotions.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Feeling Deeply

"When we lose a beloved friend, wife, husband, child, parent, or maybe a possession or a job, we feel it is okay to feel deeply. But we must broaden that. We’ve got to find a passion that is also experienced when we have it, not just when we’re losing it. And we have it all the time." - Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 282, day 293
(Available through Franciscan Media) Father Richard Rohr

Last year when I lost the ability to do just about anything: laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, kids' homework help, I realized how much work people do on a daily basis and how deeply I wanted to return to doing the work of caring for my family. I remember telling a friend, "all I want to do is take care of my kids."  Now, a year later, I am not totally "well" but I can take care of all the daily tasks required of a mom of three, and I don't embrace them with the same passion that I expressed a year ago. The strength and ability to accomplish the daily routine has already been taken for granted, and I feel that I am not doing enough, instead of being grateful and joy-filled because what I can do, and be.

Rohr's statement returns us to the idea that passion, or feeling deeply, is from God and should be a constant presence in our lives. This application feels gentler than my initial concept of passion - feeling deeply is less threatening that the idea of a tidal wave overmastering me. But the effort to recognize our gifts while we are in the midst of them, of feeling each moment as it comes without being overpowered by our feelings, still feels like a huge big deal, which maybe can only be accomplished through a lot of time and practice.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Passion

Yesterday I rather indirectly compared eastern religious ideals of nonattachment and freedom from suffering to western religious concepts of the passion as necessary suffering and deep ties and commitments as a way of life.  Things are not that simple, certainly, but the difference in ideals can be striking. I still wonder if we can have the best of both worlds; being passionate about efforts and about the love we put into relationships while detaching from the results, the reactions of others, our need to be right.

Here's another quote on passion for your consideration, which separates passion from detached reason in a different manner:  "Man is to be found in reason, God in the passion."       -G.C. Lichtenberg.
This quote suggests that our passion comes from God and ties us to the spirit / creator energy. I struggle with this idea. If passion is from God then why does it lead to conflict, pain and suffering? Is there a pure essence of passion that comes from God that man corrupts and twists into darker forms? I find that when I calm my rational mind through meditation I emerge calm and passion-less, yet mystics say that we are closest to God at that time.

Just a few more ideas to struggle with; please post or email with your own thoughts!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Playing with Passion

Full Definition of PASSION (from

often capitalized
a :  the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death 
b :  an oratorio based on a gospel narrative of the Passion
obsolete :  suffering
:  the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces
(1) :  emotion passion
 is greed> (2) plural :  the emotions as distinguished from reason b :  intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction c :  an outbreak of anger
a :  ardent affection :  love b :  a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept c :  sexual desire d :  an object of desire or deep interest

This week I am going to tackle a subject that has been dancing around my mental periphery for some time: passion. I have always been a passionate person, pursuing relationships, sports, school, and volunteer work with vim and vigor - sometimes to my detriment. After last year's bout of overtraining to the point of hospitalization, I have been reading about, and practicing, techniques to be centered, focused and calm. Activities like meditation, yoga, practicing guitar, writing poetry populate my daily routine, and they seem to be helping to alleviate definition 4b - when passion means the feeling or conviction is overmastering. I don't want to eradicate intense feelings but I don't want them to master me.

Growing up Catholic, I always identified the word PASSION with the sufferings of Christ, and with suffering. It's interesting that Merriam Webster considers definition 2 (suffering) to be obsolete. I believe that passion can be equated with suffering, particular in terms of relationships or desires that are not achieved or do not manifest in the way we want. It's one of the facets of passion I want to eradicate. In reading Buddhist works, I've learned that the basic principle for that religion is non-attachment. Gretchen Rubin discusses this idea in The Happiness Project:

"But although I admired many of its teachings, I didn't feel much deep connection to Buddhism, which, at its heart, urges detachment as a way to alleviate suffering. Although there is a place for love and commitment, these bonds are considered fetters that bind us to lives of sorrow - which of course they do. Instead, I'm adherent of the Western tradition of cultivating deep passions and profound attachments; I didn't want to detach, I wanted to embrace; I didn't want to loosen, I wanted to deepen."

So ponder along with me the possibility of pursuing relationships, ideas, causes, pursuits with passion, while detaching from results. Is this possible? Can we have the best of both worlds? To be continued . . .