Monday, December 10, 2007

Johnny Pewsitter

How strange it has been to sit in the congregations on Sunday mornings. It's not just that I'm used to being up front -- it's also that for me being in church on Sunday morning has been primarilly about community.

I attended the same church from the time I was dedicated until after I left for college. I was recognizable to many adults as the child of my mother and father, who were church musicians. Being at church was about the familiar, about knowing and being known. Before too long I was a church musician myself, and a leader in the youth group. During my high school years I HAD to be at church each Sunday to sell donuts after the service.

For most of my adult life I have been on staff at one church or another. Sunday morning was a time when there were so many people you wanted and needed to talk to, that it was a bit of an adrenaline rush. Sunday morning was a time when you were part of a team working to create and facilitate. On Sunday mornings I was sometimes envious of the parents and families who could talk and play together, who went out for lunch after the service. Now I understand how hard they worked to create that community for themselves.

In my new congregation, my son and I slip in the back as service is beginning. I feel like it's been a big day if I can figure out where to put my snow boots and where my nametag is. Attending regularly on the Sundays that we are in town and I don't have to preach at another congregation feels like a major commitment. I don't serve on a committee. I'm not working on any church projects.

I understand now that for the majority of the people sitting in pews on Sunday morning, the experience of listening to sermons and singing hymns is the totality of their relationship to church. They may not have a sense of connection to the other individuals in the pews, and they certainly don't have any business to conduct. When I was in seminary, the theory of church life was very community centered. This probably developed in response to a cultural articulation in the nation at large that people longed to participate in community, and felt it was something lacking in contemporary life. Now I understand that the congregation may be a primary community for those who are in leadership, for those who have attended for many years and been lucky enough to forge that connection, but for Johnny Pewsitter that one hour worship on Sunday morning is equal to church. The relevance, power and warmth of that service is primary. (I remember with some chagrin the times when I failed to protect that time from the creep of church polity and business.)

My son seems likewise adrift in his new church home. Being a PK (Preacher's Kid), he was practically a celebrity in the congregation I served since before he was born. He spent hours every week playing in the nursery or on the playground while I took care of church business. He was so comfortable in worship that he often joined in leading stories, or helping facilitate some aspect of the service, like passing out shaker eggs for a song. Church was a place where you knew people and they knew you. Church was a fun, safe, familiar place that stayed the same even when you changed schools or advanced to a new class. His church friends were the ones he dreamed of when the dream called for a companion. When we left, the artists there made him a quilt that now hangs on his bedroom wall. His new congregation cannot yet offer him anything to compare.

I have to reach deep to answer his question: "Why do we have to go to church?" Each Sunday I set the alarm clock and brave the cold I ask the same question. If you are not going to church because it's your job and your calling, why is it that we do this thing together each week?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cold Bones

Part of the reason for our move was to try something new, to experience a different pace of life. We knew intellectually that any change takes energy, and proposes challenges, and we knew that we wouldn't really understand what that felt like until we were in it.

Now we are in it. The cold, the dark, the snow really do change the daily-ness of life. Living in Ithaca really is different: the cold, the different quality of light, the different texture of the air. I believe the days are even shorter because we are further north. The hills are different. The trees are different. The local economy is slower. On first glimpse the differences seem negligable, but as we move through the cycle of the year, the feeling tone of my days, the colors of my dreams have changed.

The cold and dark of winter here, the layers of snow on our neighborhood have drawn us indoors. Even leaving the house to buy groceries seems counter-intuitive. It has made us more introverted and home-centered. I am becoming a little hobbit, or other hole-dwelling archetype.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Cold Wimp

I finally got a set of gear together to get me through those morning runs. Some nice fleecy warm pants, gloves, ear-warmer, thermal top and an old IU sweatshirt. I had even warmer pants in reserve. Then winter turned it up a notch. I looked out at the 4" of snow coating the un-shoveled sidewalks, and the snowflakes swirling in the wind. I decided to join a gym.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A plan for the cold

I finally got my special cold-weather running pants and was so excited that finally I my legs would be warm on my early-morning run this winter. No luck- still cold! And it's only November! How do people who live in cold places run all winter?

Perhaps I should take my example from the squirrels; double my body weight and get a fur coat...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Itinerant Preacher

Today I preached my first itinerant gig in many years. It went well, the congregation was very warm, but it still felt weird. It felt weird just to leave afterwards and ride off into the distance. Preaching is such a relational act, and I put so much of myself into it, that it's diconcerting to preach out of context, not to hear the response to your part of the dialog.

My son came with me because he wanted to help with our children's lesson "Tacky the Penguin" which we had done together at our old church. He was clearly thinking about the old church on the long ride out into the countryside, because he mentioned missing his Sunday school teacher, and missing his close friend who was there at church with him almost every week, and often played with him while their moms were in a committee meeting together. After we arrived at the church gave ourselves a tour and introduced ourselves to some of the children, I think my son felt the strangeness too. The form of UU worship is so familiar, and we know "Tacky" by heart, but everyone around us was new to us, and perhaps he felt like I did; somewhat like an odd penguin in a Hawaiian shirt and purple bow tie.

I've been asked back to preach later in the fall. I'm really glad. It will feel good to be in dialog with a congregation again, even if they find a permanent minister to fill their pulpit right away . It's a small UU world up here, and I hope to be here for at least a decade or so. It will be good to get to know the neighbors.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I got a job! A real job, with cubicles and office hours and health insurance and everything. It's one of those 9-5 jobs I've heard so much about, except it's really 9-4:30. The position is "Housing Choice Voucher Caseworker." It has something to do with helping people get into section 8 housing. We'll know more September 10. And just in case I started to miss leading worship, I'll be filling the pulpit of a small congregation about an hour out of town at the end of September. And they even have a children's message in their liturgy!

I still don't know what my ministry will look like 10 years from now, but I have health insurance, a pulpit, and work that helps people. It's a good start.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Last week as it was getting on towards Lammas, I hopefully went online in search of folks to celebrate with in my new town. Turns out the Pagans in Ithaca have thought this through and have a web page for folks like me. I got myself signed up for the yahoo list, and sure enough in came an open invitation to celebrate Lammas with a coven out in Freeville. By coincidence, last week I had a fresh bought of existential angst, and in trying to remember how I usually deal with my angst, realized I hadn't been to church since my ministry partner and I led that big multi-media intergenerational service back in June. I was glad to see that this Lammas ritual was open to children, because I hate leaving my son to go worship. If I'm going to be apart from my son on an evening or weekend, it should involve margaritas and live music. I want to go to rituals where a mom can be a mom.

My son was in kind of a bad mood come Sunday, so I packed up all his favorite snacks and CDs for our drive into the country. "I'm not going to know anyone" he worried. "Me either" I said, "We will have to make each other brave." He brought teddy along for extra courage.

We were doing great until the ritual actually started. While we were calling the directions and casting the circle Nick starts to say loudly "This is SO boring" and many variations thereof. For a moment I was angry. It reminded me of all those times that I've been leading worship, and it's my son who doesn't seem to know how to act during a service. Then it hit me. How would he know? Every time he's been to a service I've been leading it. He's never had his mom sit next to him explaining what on earth is going on, or even why we need to be quiet. At that last service in June, Nick walked right up to the pulpit while I was preachifying, and tugged on my robe to ask if he could go back to the childcare room. I said afterward that when I'm "telling a story" he needs to stay in his seat and not come talk to me. He said "Really? Why?"

So it was time for a new paradigm for experiencing worship together. I put aside our 2 lawn chairs, and spread out a blanket on the ground. We snuggled in close together, and very quietly I explained some of what was happening. Finally it was time to make corn dollys to burn. Quiet time was over and now we could really talk about stuff. They provided straw and yarn and little wooden stars. It was the stars that got his attention. He REALLY didn't want to burn it though. I figured there were enough for us to have 2, one to keep and one to burn. We talked about wishes, and gratitude, and leaving things behind. I won't tell you want all we said, because I DO try to give him a little privacy. He asked me to put his dolly on the fire (star tucked inside) and I said what he had told me to say. I realized that often as a parent and educator I try to encourage young children to wish for noble things, the kinds of mature things that adults wish for. Again I had an inner shift. I should honor the things that ARE most important to him right now in his own image of his life. Like Playstation for one. When I mention Playstation, he gets a real picture of what gratitude is. It has been a solace and a joy to him all summer. Ritual is a space where you get to feel your actual feelings. If you are bored or angry, this is a time when you can be honest about that. When it's my turn I can imbue my dolly with lofty adult things, including my own adult anger.

After the ritual I walked him around to all the altars, and we tried to guess which one was which. I was surprised to find that Water is still the West out here (I figured it was a Bay Area/ Pacific Ocean thing.) And then he was ready to GO I mean GO. We went to meet the family for Sunday Night BBQ at a local bar, and he was MOST glad to see them. But he held onto that star. And all on his own, he had an idea that he could put glitter on his star and use it as a wishing star to keep forever. So of course we did (I got one too once he had this great idea) And when we woke Monday morning, we both felt lighter. And Nick was talking about his star, and about wishing for things, and letting things go that you don't want anymore.

Which all goes to show: almost every ritual has a couple of boring parts, but sometimes they work their magic anyway.

Friday, August 03, 2007


The other day our mortgage broker asked me "occupation?"
I wasn't sure what to tell her.
Unemployed Minister?
Home Maker?
Mother and Wife?
I went with Minister.
It turned up on my final application as "Unemployed."

Now I do believe that once you've been ordained into the ministry, you are a minister as long as you live. I believe there are as many kinds of ministrys as there are ministers. But now that my vacation has ended (and with it my paychecks) I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to be doing when I get up in the morning.

I'm starting to realize how rushed I was in my minister-mom role back in Silicon Valley, because now when I take the time to cook food from scratch, keep the house tidy, drive my son to swim lessons or camp, and get everything in order for the purchase of our new home, that seems to fill up a day pretty well. But still, if I don't get a couple of hours of I-am-working-at-the-computer-on-important-things time in the morning, I start to question my reason for being. Sometimes I think that my work is applying-for-a-job, but you can only send out so many resumes each day. Finally I called up the Tompkins County Religious Task Force for a Living Wage to see what the local justice-loving clergy were up to. I met with them last week. They are very cool.

But more to the point, I remember once a man in my dream group shared a dream in which he lost his wallet. The group suggested that if it were our dream, it might be about how we often confuse our work with our identity. Losing the wallet was a reminder that "I am not my job. I am not my work." When I was in seminary I remember being introduced to the Buddhist concept of "being" rather than "doing". It all seemed so obvious then. Who would value doing over being? Who would confuse their work with their identity? Well, me, it turns out. Wouldn't it be ironic if that turned out to be my work right now?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Counting Your Chickens

Sometimes, folk-tale lessons aside, it is very hard not to count your chickens. Right now we don't own a house. We are under contract to own a house soon, but really, it's not our house. No one seems to be mowing the lawn over there, but it's not actually our house. We should get our son registered for school, but we won't actually own a house in that school district until the day before school starts. My partner needs a new driver's license, but if he gets one now it will have the address of our sublet preserved under laminate for the next 10 years. To qualify for our no-fee mortgage, we have to get a new checking account with direct deposit at the credit union. Do we order checks imprinted with the address of a house that we don't actually own?

We did finally break down and call the moving guys, because it's going to take them over a week just to get our stuff out here, so we are just going to have to cross our fingers that we actually have all the chickens we think we have, and that when the truck pulls up in front of the house, it will belong to us. One time as I was growing up it so happened that the financing was not ready on the day of close, and we didn't find this out until all our stuff was packed into the moving truck. That was Friday. All our stuff was on a truck that could not be unpacked until, at the earliest, Monday when we hoped the financing would be ready. Eventually everything was straightened out, of course, but it is memories like this that remind me that things rarely unfold according to plan, and how does one plan in a universe where you can't count your chickens until they've hatched?

I believe the fancy theological term for this period in our lives is "interstitial" (alternately, "liminal" will do in a pinch). We are in a place of between-ness. No longer what we were, but not yet what we are becoming. In reality, all beings are in a process of unfolding all their lives; just because the Peet's coffee always has Carrot Ginger muffins, doesn't mean they will have one this morning, but some transitions have poor visibility- the future, even the immediate future is just out of sight; you haven't even found a bakery that sells muffins yet.

So here we are camping out on the limen and trying not to count chickens.

Friday, July 20, 2007


As soon as we moved into our Ithaca sub-let, I noticed these flowers blooming in our next-door neighbor's yard. Full circle from my last pre-move blog in June. In a way I got to see those flowers bloom after all.

So here we are. We've been in Ithaca for 2 1/2 weeks, and the reality of it is pretty intense. Dreams are kind of light and full of energy. Actually building a new life is heavy. I feel sometimes like I'm walking under water. Each act takes so much energy, like clearing a new path through the forest.

The other thing about dreams is that they are huge and full of possibilities. Reality is very particular. Not "a house in Ithaca" but this house. In one afternoon we looked at, made an offer on, and went under contract for the home we hope to live in for at least a decade. It is beautiful- the most beautiful house we have ever lived in. It has a small yard: big enough for running through a sprinkler, or having a picnic on the grass, though not for Frisbee. It has a couple of garden beds that I can't wait to start weeding and discovering. It has no driveway, no garage. It's walking distance to the cool part of town, which also means the traffic is too intense for my son to walk by himself anywhere beyond our block. I woke the morning after we made the offer in a panic- realizing that by buying this home, we let go of all the others we dreamed of: the ones with big back yards, the ones in quiet neighborhoods, the one with a 2-car garage that would make a giant studio. I feel like a character in a science-fiction show looking down at my arms as they re-materialize after a long journey in the transporter. Who am I, really, in this new life.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Last Lilly

When we put our house on the market, I planted some bulbs to hide our hose. The tulips bloomed right away, but the lillies kept growing and growing and growing. Finally little buds emerged, but these split into many smaller buds which kept growing and growing...

Finally this past week the lilliess were taller than me, with many buds of different sizes, but not a blossom. I had hoped that on the last day in the house the biggest, orangest bud might bloom, but it was not to be.

We left the lillies, the herbs, the trees and the birds for the new owner.

I will miss them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

good news from the plant world

I have this orchid that was given to me with a whole slew of other orchids about 9 years ago. All the rest have died, but there is this one that perseveres, though it looks old and tired. When my plants were evicted from our home to make the house more "sellable” I pulled my orchid out of the midst if its browning companions, gave it some new soil, (had to drive to 3 different nurseries to find the fancy "orchid" soil), tried to find it a little more sun here in my office, and crossed my fingers.

Then, just last week not one but 2 little shoots poked up out of the soil. Hope and rebirth embodied.

mid life

I think Ani Difranco and I are having the same mid-life crisis:

"i think i'm done gunning to get closer
to some imagined bliss
i gotta knuckle down
just be okay with this

'course that star struck girl
is already someone i miss."
(from "Knuckle Down")

Monday, May 21, 2007

Country Music

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be listening to country music and reading Fantasy/Sci-Fi I would have made a very funny face. And yet here I am driving around with Gillian Welch and the Dixie Chicks in my console (and Bjork too if truth be told) and cruising used book stores for Terry Pratchett's back catalogue. It's almost like once I'd overturned the parental taboos of my childhood, I had nothing left but to overturn my own self-imposed taboos. Or maybe I just like finger-pickin' and stories about the end of the world.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

When they hand you the microphone...

Last week the church had this wonderful goodbye party for me. There was yummy handmade food, beautiful handmade quilts, notes and good words, choir music and silliness. On my way home from the party, I realized that when I had my turn at the microphone to offer my thanks, I forgot to thank the 2 who have been most supportive of my time with this congregation: my son and my husband. During all those night meetings and weekend events, husband took over parenting so I could be a minister. Through the rough times and the joyful times of ministry, husband was my support and my rock. He also helped me remember that sometimes I needed to just relax and have fun. Thank you husband. And to my son who came with me to worship, to meetings, and to potlucks, who is always the last child in childcare, and who helps me practice my Family Chapel stories. Thank you son. You both gave so much, so that I could bring to this ministry all that I had to give.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Slow Surgery

Yoga, according to my teacher, is like slow surgery. He maintains that trough the consistant practice of asana, the body can be substantially changed over time. It's true! Imagine my surprise the first time I got my knee behind my shoulder, or touched my chest to my thighs. It's pretty mind blowing, really.

Sometimes in church life we want some kind of out-patient lasar surgery to make us into the church we long to be. It's good to remember that there is an alternative; that slow consistant practice can also lead to real and deep change. For example, last year our congregation formed a Conflict Resolution Team and adopted a Relational Covenant. Nothing magic happend to end all conflict forever, but with consistant application I see that change is possible. Perhaps if we keep at our daily practice we will be surprised at how we are transformed.

My teacher also says "Check your hands, check you feet, after class you get to eat" but that's for another time.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


So I just caught myself gazing affectionately at my incredibly cute, incredibly friendly, obedient, loyal, gentle, fun, snugly dog. I have had this feeling lately of discovering her for the first time, which is weird because back when I worked part time she followed me from room to room and sat at my feet while I worked at home, and I felt just this same way. So why this feeling of discovering a new friendship? Today I realized that she has been eclipsed by my son when he was a baby, like the moon comes between earth and sun sometimes. When you lap is always full of baby, there is no room for dog... incredibly cute, incredibly friendly, obedient, loyal, gentle, fun, snugly Dog. A blessing and a friend.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


In an hour I will be performing a memorial service for a dear woman at the church who always was kind and present with me and with my son. I have had this feeling of dread about the service for a few days now that has become quite acute. As any minister will tell you, being asked to perform a memorial is a tremendous honor. It is during such times that you get a glimpse of what is real and important about living and dying. But there is no getting around the fact that when people gather to remember one who has died, the room is filled with powerful emotion. It is hard to prepare myself to be with my own grief and the grief of the community. When I pull on my robe and walk into that room I will have to admit (on some level which my grief has not yet reached) that she is really gone.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Muir Woods

I made a final pilgrimage to Muir Woods, wanting my son to see it before we headed east. I asked if he wanted to go on a hike- to which he responded emphatically NO. So I asked if he wanted to go on a photo-walk to see plants as old as dinos, and that he was interested in.

I wondered if it would feel as magical as it did that first time, even with the rain and cold, and it was truly magical. My friend who studies Traditional Chinese Medicine assured me there is something about trees that can absorb the toxic energy of anger and stress. It sounded reasonable to me; if they can make food out of our old CO2, why not our anger as well?

So lovely it was to be in such verdure, so many shades of green, so lush, so fertile. So lovely to be surrounded by good friends gaping at Mother Nature's artistry, and breathing the clean moist air.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Spring is colder than you think

Seriously. I remember being a little kid and getting some cute puffy sleeved Easter dress and then having to wear a giant coat and boots with it. I always forget that the whole deal with spring being a transitional season is that it is having a winter/summer identity crisis. For every unseasonably warm day there is usually an unseasonably cold day. Maybe next spring I'll remember.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Creek

This is the creek I told you about back on February 6. Can you believe it's cement-lined? The little black dot way in the back is one of "our" ducks. We look for our ducks every day when we walk to school or the park. Today the water was so clear we could see the shadows of fish swimming. Friday I saw one of those amazing big white egrets. What a way to start the day.

Neighbor Trees

Today I went for a walk with my 5 year old son and his friend-from-across-the-street. I took pictures of some of my favorite trees I will miss when we move.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cycles and Systems

"We are part of multiple overlapping systems that we are not aware of" a colleague of my said years ago, and it rings in my mind today. I remember noting to myself a few springs ago that spring is not as easy as it looks- the bright sun and cheery flowers convince the mind that all is well, but the body has a hard job with this major changes of temperature, light, bits of things floating in the air, and the change of seasonal food.

(By the way, the blackberries this year are the best I've ever had. Eat some now before they fade!)

The emotional body follows along, uplifted by the growing light, confused by the body's transitions. So maybe what I'm feeling right now is just spring.

But I've also noticed that each year our congregational system shows considerable anxiety each spring as our Annual Meeting approaches. We have to approve a budget, and no matter how much money we raise, we always raise more great ideas about how to spend it. We have to elect new officers, and the worry that we won't fill all those slots disturbs the sleep of those who have to fill them. Congregational leaders have been working hard all year, and may be tired or burned out. Their term ends in April and we prepare for the transition of elected leaders in May. This year in particular the congregation and I are anticipating our impending separation. So maybe the weirdness I feel is from being part of that congregational system.

And moreover, we finally closed on our house. We went out to celebrate at the NICE sushi place. But within a day or two all 3 of us had weird tummy trouble and a hard time sleeping. (Even our dog seemed to have troubled dreams).

So do I feel the way I do because of the seasonal transition, congregational transition, family transition or personal transition, or are there other cycles and systems effecting me that I am not even aware of?

Really I'd just like to go through all these transitions without feeling any grief or discomfort. Is there something I can take for that?

Monday, April 09, 2007


Now that all the Geraniums have been stripped away from the base of a giant Mulberry tree in our front yard, I am seeing the roots anew each time I enter the house. They have such wonderful curves and bends to them. I fact, a lot of the trees in our neighborhood have cool roots.

Then I started looking at my feet last week in yoga, how the bones and tendons remind me of the exposed roots of an old tree. Feet are cool too.


Dear Baggers of the world,
The reason I bring canvas bags to your store is not so much that they are sturdy, and hold a lot of stuff, or that I get $.05 back. It's really about how I hate waste, and I hate coming home with a fistful of brand new plastic bags that I then immediately have to put out in recycling. The reason I bring my veggies loose to the checkout is the same. My spinach does not need it's own private bag, that twist tie holds it together fine. My shampoo also does not need it's own plastic privacy. If it really creeps you out to have spinach and shampoo touching, feel free to give each her own canvas bag. I brought 10; there are plenty to go around.

The same I implore of the good folks at the drive-through. The Salad you gave me was already hermetically sealed in a plastic shell. I only ordered one item; I'm okay without a bag.

It appears that your training strongly emphasized the value of using the largest number of containers per customer, (I too know what it is like to receive bizarre instructions from a trainer) but I invite you to join me in an underground rebellion against the proliferation of bags. What corporate doesn't know won't hurt them.

Ginger Root

Monday, April 02, 2007

Guide Mama

Recently I got asked to be a God Mama, or more precisely, a "Guide Mama."
It was this totally amazing un-expected thing to be asked.

It was particularly amazing because my son has 2 fabulous God Parents. God Mama lives 3000 miles away and thankfully is the ultimate pen pal (since she was in Elementary School. She was precocious that way.) God Papa is nearby and is so present and engaged whenever he and the boy are together. He has such a wonderful enthusiasm for the whole thing.
And I just kind of took them for granted- of course they would be great godparents.

But now I've been asked to be a God Mama, and got a neurotic rush of performance anxiety. I mean baby (I) has only one God Mama, and I don't want to let her down. And a God Parent is for life, right? That's the whole point. It's very unique to be bound for life by a promise to another person, especially one you have just met.

I can't wait to take her to an Ashram when she turns 14.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Out of Gas

I've been a little off my game recently. It's been one deadline on top of another, and I still haven't brought all the trashcans and frying pans back in from the garage (where they were stored for our "no one lives here, wouldn't you like to buy the place?" period.)

So when I noticed I was running a couple of minutes late for a meeting I made the conscious choice not to turn off into the gas station. "This is the kind of choice I make lately- I do a million errands and chores when I should be focused on being on time." It was only a mile or 2 later that my car stopped responding when I pressed down on the gas pedal. The car is going slower and slower, and I'm on 101, one of the biggest busiest highways in this part of the country. I'm trying to figure out whether I'd like to be stuck on an exit-ramp overpass, or on the shoulder of the highway. I've got my hazards on, but still folks are honking as they whiz by. I find a good sized shoulder and pull over.

A policeman stooped by almost immediately. I had been trying to dial the campus group I was going to visit, but when he walked up to the car the phone shot out of my hand into the darkness. I explained my predicament, he offered to call AAA and even loaned me his flashlight to find my phone. Before he left he reminded me to keep my seat belt fastened until AAA arrived. It makes sense, I thought. If I were hit from behind, it would be good to be buckled in. Not that I would be hit from behind, but it could happen, what with all those hundreds of cars coming up behind me at 80 mph in the dark. Now I am anxious. Moments are crawling by, and I'm flashing back on my childhood when my ride would be late to pick me up from play practice or school or whatever, and you prayed every set of headlights was for you, but it usually wasn't.

Finally in my anxiety (you know, theologian Paul Tillich's "fear of non-being") I call my husband's cell and get my son. He tells me a rambling story about vaguely complaining about the way I got his dinner ready before I left. Finally I tell him where I am, and try to make it entertaining. He listens patiently and then says "Is there anything else you want to tell me?"

Finally a set of headlights pulls up behind me and stops. As the man approaches the car I say "You must be either AAA or a serial killer" he replies "Yes one of those." I'm soon on my way to my meeting, and only 45 minutes late. I call my contact who kindly offers to meet me at the visitor parking lot so that wandering lost around campus doesn't add additional delay. They were all very sweet and kind, and it was great to be with them. Embarrassing and disconcerting, but ultimately everything turned out okay.

A few days later I was low on gas and cutting it close on a meeting. I figured I'd better stop for gas.

Monday, March 26, 2007


At a BBQ this weekend I met the 3-month-old baby of some friends I haven't seen in a long time. The baby slept peacefully for most of the party, and then started to wail. It was that kind of wail that makes mothers from all over the house come to see why the baby is being tortured. Baby, of course, was in mom's arms, and receiving loads of love and care. Finally Mom handed baby to sister who said, "Mom needs a break."

I suddenly flashed back to my son's infancy. He was a "colicky" baby, which means "crying for no discernable reason for many months." I remembered all those times my son would cry and helpers would say " I think he wants you" but really my son was just going to scream, no matter who held him, no matter what anyone did. (Although bouncing in just the right way while standing-not-sitting would help somewhat). And come to think of it, it was my sister who understood and would hold him even when he was screaming, so Mom could just go somewhere 12 feet away and take deep breaths.

My partner hates the word Colic. He thinks it's just a word doctors use to make themselves feel better about how there is nothing they can do to help you with your screaming baby.

I kind of like the word; it works as a euphemism for "a special kind of hell" so that you can talk about it with other parents without sounding like a bad mother.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Large Trash

This is the season when piles of large trash bloom in our neighborhood each year. In front of almost every house is a pile of stuff, some piles large enough to fill multiple pick-up trucks. Still-usable furniture and broken furniture are mixed in with tree clippings, old cardboard boxes, bits of broken glass, appliances, bags of used clothes, stuffed animals, baby gear and straight-up trash.

As I jog each morning I am hypnotically drawn into the details of each pile. The waste is maddening. A charitable organization comes around every few months to pick up used clothing; why didn't people set out their used clothes one of those mornings? Or just drive the 2 blocks to the Good Will? And why is the "clean green" (plant matter) that we all put so carefully in our green bin each week laying here mixed with broken glass and melting cardboard? Couldn't the city have 2 separate large trash periods- one for non-plant stuff and one for plant stuff? What about a recycling amnesty period, where you can bring out all those old cardboard boxes without having to break them down and tie them with twine? What if the city helped sort through all this stuff and recycle the mattress springs and other special metals that don't go in your weekly curbside bin?

But here it all is, pile after pile. It all gets shoveled up with a back-hoe, and carted away by a tractor-trailer truck to be land-fill. Seems like at least 3/4 of it could be recycled or reused, but instead it's all mixed together in giant truck-sized piles that make me feel silly for putting each piece of junk mail and every paper-towel tube out on the curb each Tuesday in a brown paper bag.

I'm going into hibernation. Please wake me when large-trash season is over.

Monday, March 19, 2007


For years now my co-minister and I have been fretting about "messaging" (This is a word they didn't teach us in seminary. We had to learn it from "West Wing".) How many times would you have to say something before most of the folks in your congregation heard you? How many times could you say something before folks said "enough already." It turned out both numbers were much higher than we expected.

Last week a woman complemented me on a recent sermon. She said something like "it's nice to have a break from all that talk about the environment." I was thrilled! Apparently it takes 2 years of non-stop messaging to get to some kind of saturation point. (And with only 3 months to spare...)

I wanted to call my co-minister and say "We did it! We did it!"
Can you call someone on their maternity leave to talk about messaging?


Yesterday, as I dashed to my office to get a roll of painter's tape, I had to walk around our 2 oldest classes of youth who were all on the sidewalk looking at a huge eagle sitting on the very tip top of a fir tree. 2 entire classes had been completely disrupted over an eagle sitting, and were quietly gazing upward. I was so glad the teachers had their priorities in order. No matter what else the children learned yesterday, they learned that seeing an eagle is worth dropping everything, calling all within earshot, and being quiet for.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

bedtime worries 2

Tonight's Questions:

Where should you go in a tornado?
Are there tornados in New York?
What if there is a War in California?
What if there is a World War?
What happens if you don't have any blood in your body?

I swear, I just read him "Mush, a dog from outer space"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

bedtime worries

Lately my son (N) has been worried at night.
After I turned out the lights and tucked him into bed on Tuesday he asked, "What happens if an earthquake comes while I’m asleep and I die? What happens if you and Dada die?" We had just read a book called "Meteor" by Patricia Pollaco, which is a fun book in which nobody gets hurt, but which reminded him about earthquakes, and so we explored many questions of earthquake safety and existential angst.

Last Night I tell him I have to go do our taxes and he asks, "What happens if you and Dada go to jail?" I realize we had read, "Henry Climbs a Mountain" the week before. This is a cute picture book about the time Henry David Thoreau was thrown in jail for refusing to pay his taxes to a state that allowed slavery.
Me: I would call your uncles and aunts, and they would take care of you until we got out. But we're not going to jail
(N) What if they were all sick?
Me: Then we'd call your grandparents (I name them one by one)
(N) What if they were sick too?
Me: Then we'd call your Godpapa or Godmama
(N) What if they were all sick?
Me: Then we'd call our friends
(N) What if everyone was sick except the police?
Me: (after some thought) then the police would call Child Protective Services to make sure you had a safe place to stay while they tried to get your family on the phone.

I think the words Child Protective Services sounded comforting to him, and he was quiet. I remembered when I was a child wondering what it would be like to be all alone in the world, and knew he probably just wanted to know that it would still be okay for him to be a child. That there would always be an adult who could make sure he had a place to stay and food to eat.

I wonder if there is anything I could read him tonight that will lessen his angst, and make him feel secure in his life, or if all the transition and growing in his young life will inevitably well up into bedtime worries.


As we walked back into our renovated home I took a deep breath in and wondered...
What's our carpet made out of?
And what kinds of chemicals are in our paint?
And what kind of cancer are we going to get from breathing in all these fumes?
And how did I get the whole way through this process without ever asking about green options for carpet or paint?
And how come I didn't re-landscape with native plants?

Must learn something about native plants in New York. Maybe next time I'll be ready.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


We did it. The house is in escrow. This massive weight is lifted off my shoulders, and I realize I've been clenching those muscles for months now.

I want to write little notes to the couple who (God willing and the creek don't rise) will live here starting this summer and introduce my plants one by one.

It's as if the plants were waiting too, because just now (after the open house is totally over) the back yard is covered with tiny white petals from our spring-blooming tree. Just now are our tiger lilies growing robust green stalks by inches each day. Just now are the wisteria vines and lilac trees starting to bud.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

102 days

Friends and companions are starting to say, "let's be sure to se each other one more time before you go."

Before I go in June?

There are so many days between here and there. 102 approximately. I'm not dying or something, I'm just moving to New York.

All of those days I will still get up, listen to music, get stuck in traffic, go to work, be a mom, care about society, worry about stuff and celebrate stuff. There will just be more boxes around towards the end.

Is it going to get weird once people start saying goodbye? Will we be able to say "hi" again when we run into each other in the street? Can I call them to go get a drink or take the kids to the playground?

Let's think of it like summer romance instead. Those 6 or 8 weeks at summer camp seemed a world unto themselves; they were powerful and left memories I'll always have. A lot can happen in 4 months.

In spite of the tulips

Today is a sad day. I know the sun is shining, and the birds are chirping, and the pink tulips I planted in front of the house to hide our hose are opening in a hopeful way, but I'm sad.

My partner in ministry, with whom I shared the sublime and ridiculous of our work together, and of living on this earth, just began her maternity leave. Which is definitely a really happy thing. Her baby is so sweet, and they are such a beautiful family together. I had the privilege of holding that new life in my arms last night, and sharing that amazing feeling of magic that emanates from a new family. It's a dream come true.

I just miss my partner is all, and tangled up with that are all the other losses still to come: this congregation, this community, this place, this home, these dear friends.

But today is Tuesday, staff meeting day, and in place of our regular meeting, is this blog, which can’t come close to holding the sadness of ending our partnership, or the miracle of that precious new child.

Monday, March 05, 2007

deja vu

I have been having so many flashes of dreams entering my waking reality. Just now I had another one- about registering for housing at GA, about writing myself a reminder, and about flashing back to a flash back. "What was I supposed to remember?" I wondered "What was important about this?" Then I remembered the flash back of the flash back. Entirely ordinary experience says the flash back. It was a let down in the first flash back too.

I wonder if when I check in to my hotel, I will flash back on my flash back of this flash back....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

by size

As part of our ongoing effort to ready our house for market, I have just arranged all my books by size. Seriously. Over sized books, spiral bound books and books with staples on the spine were banned to the garage or to our storage pod. I keep finding a book that's just a couple millimeters taller than its neighbor, and have to get back into the fray. The funny thing is that I must have done this as a child, because I remember thinking about some of the really old books "yes, this one is just a bit taller than you think." If that won't feed a person's OCD I don't know what will.

Which brings us to the deep existential question here:

Why are books not a standard size? Or a standard set of 3 sizes? Why would one book be 2 millimeters taller than another?

Monday, February 26, 2007


This past week we had to be out of the house while we got the place painted and re-carpeted for the sale of our home. We thought- hey if we have to pay for a hotel every night anyway, why not see Leggoland. And hey, if we're going to be in Southern California anyway, why not Disney? So after the marathon of getting every piece of thing we own off of any piece of furniture we own and off of all the built-in bookcases, and packing for a 9 day trip (and of course work last Sunday) we finally made it to Legoland. The weather channel kept promising an intense winter storm, but we woke in a hotel WAY out of our league and very cushy, to a beautiful sunny day. Leggoland was perfect for our 5 year old son, and nothing makes a parent happy like a joyful child. There was something in the way the place was designed that felt sweet, that felt caring. I kept saying "We are so blessed" just to grasp hold of this peaceful, happy, sunny day with my family.

But soon enough we're onto Anaheim, where showers again loomed. And Disneyland is freaking HUGE by comparison, and not so child-centered as Leggoland. We got the boy to "Winnie-the-Pooh's Great Adventure" (or something. He gets so mad when I get the title wrong) and he even got a real hug from Pooh. My partner got his turn on Space Mountain, and with our life-goals achieved, we braced for the deluge, which in fact came while we were on Dumbo's Whirly Adventure Something (sorry Son). We stumbled back to our hotel satisfied, but a little overwhelmed.

Imagine our shock when the next morning the sun was shining gloriously. So glorious, in fact, that I seriously under-dressed. It was a relief to walk the park again with no goals and no rain to drive us. The day was lovely, and I was glad to have the time with my family, but I kept wondering about this notion that Disneyland is the archetypal story that drives our industrial-growth society. We long for a place like this where we can have all our needs met (with great competence and attention to detail, it must be said) as long as our needs are shopping, roller coasters and corn-dogs. But stay off the fences and walls, just keep moving on to the next 45 second ride, the next 30 minute line, the souvenir shop for each thematic area. The closing fireworks display was beautiful (by this time I had bought my souvenir sweat-shirt to make up for my bad planning) but the narrator kept saying "dreams do come true." I thought, "like going to Disneyland?" I am still wondering, is there any there there? Is it empty? But it was a good day, a memorable day with my sweet dear husband and son. And there was dancing (like real professional dancers with skills and all) in the parade, and fireworks, and free tortillas at the Mission Brand Tortilla Demonstration, and beautiful landscaping, and a tree house 3 stories high. And Winnie the Pooh gave my son a hug.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A place for birds

I am so thrilled that our buildings and grounds committee has gotten serious about putting in a new garden at the church. Maybe some native plants? Maybe a place for kids to plant stuff?

The project got a boost when the curriculum committee wanted to plan lessons for spring that included both gardening and building-and-watching bird boxes.

So Sunday as I'm leaving church, one of the women on that committee stops me: "Look it's a robin" she says. So it is. One and then another

"They all live in that old oak." she adds. "The oak is supposed to come down in the new garden plan."

"Crap" I think.

"I'll have to ask my friend from Audubon what kind of tree we can replace it with that will be as good a habitat."

And now I'm deeply happy. I'm so glad the conversation will happen, that someone will ask about the birds, and where they will go if we cut down their tree.

A girl told me last week at church that they were studying the Rain Forrest at her school all year. I keep thinking, if only we knew about the birds in our own back yard, and thought about them with each choice we made, how powerful that would be.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Getting Out

Sunday was one of those days when I managed to get myself, my son, and a posse of parents and kids out of the church and into the community. It makes me nervous, because it's never as simple as you think it's going to be. This was set to be super simple- we were going to make up bags of helpful things for the families at the Opportunity Center. 18 bags, one for every family. We planned to do it this Sunday because it's a holiday weekend, and we always have smaller attendance, hence a more manageable crew to take on adventure. The thing about holidays, though, is that people don't like to commit to be anywhere. My program coordinator (M) and I were nervous that we didn't have a lot of advance commitments, but trusted that this would be great like all the previous special events, where people turn up at church even on a holiday, and want to be part of the fun.

By coincidence, we had just received a donation of FABULOUS papers and stamps from a crafter who had recently moved out of state, so we started the morning by making cards and notes for each family. The older kids were sorting out our donations into piles of like objects to create an assembly line for the bags. I had our math whizzes dividing our total sponges by number of bags, and adults bustled around seeing how we could make every bag come out even. A couple rushed off to the store to buy "everything else." ("Really?" I thought "That seems like a pretty big donation" but they really meant it! People can be so generous.)

As usual, some of the children were totally absorbed with the drawing and writing, and others were done in a few minutes and ready to run circles. I called them all together to read a story called "Tight Times " by Barbara Shook Hazen. The illustrations are beautiful drawings, very expressive, and the story always feels very real; what it's like for a family when times are tight, and how on earth you explain that to your 5 year old. The kids were so quiet and attentive while they listened, it really gives the impression they took it in. (I can only hope that was more than my projection.)

But still the shoppers were out shopping, and the running-in-circle kids were back to running in circles. We were due to leave for the Center, but we still needed "everything else." It is moments like these when I wish someone more patient and less anxious than myself was in charge.

But when "everything else" came, the children and youth lined up and filled their bags, the adults made sure the bags all came out right, (M)handed me a big pile of field trip forms and a list of who-goes-in-what car, and after I convinced my son's playmate to join us, so that my son would be willing to leave his water games on the playground, we headed off. Almost every parent of every child wanted to come, and each transported a few of the bags. By some miracle I was the first car to arrive, and there was our Case Manager (K) who was sweet and gracious, (and patient with our lateness) and took over being in charge. I had been to the Opportunity Center once before, but none of my posse had seen it for themselves. It is such an amazing space, with such care in aesthetics as I have hardly seen in a place designed to serve families experiencing "tight times." My son was devastated when I told him it was time to go. He just wanted to stay on his rock in the sunshine, out in the front open-space of the center.

I am leaving this church in June, leaving this region, and that means leaving behind places like the Opportunity Center. I just thought if these great parents and children could get to see it, they would want to stay connected.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

the ducks are back

There's a stream that runs near my house. I cross it every day when I run or walk my son to school. I guess it is still called a stream even when they line it with concrete. It's this amazing ecosystem that has, from time to time, fish and ducks and even the occasional crane. And every summer they stick a bulldozer in there and doze it all up. [Pause to restrain environmental rant].

Yesterday I ran by, and stopped to look at the tall green plants, taller than me I guess. And the little green ones. And the soft-looking dirt of the creek bottom. And the ducks. Eight of them. The ducks are back! That little cement creek managed to renew itself in time for the migratory season of our ducks. Amen and blessed be.

Monday, January 29, 2007


In preparation to put our house on the market, we took the realtor's advice and hired a landscaper to come make our yard look like a vacation wonderland. It cost as much as some cars I've bought, but it really does look like a special place. So why do I feel so weird? I feel weird because it's still winter, and most of the plants are still asleep- so even after all that work most plants are still a little droopy and dormant. I feel weird because it used to be my special place, and now it's kind of not. I feel weird because I usually garden in this micro kind of way where I can't pull out one tiny half-dead plant because I feel like I know them personally and I'm not going to kill them just because they are going through a hard time. These amazing professionals are of the "only the strong survive" philosophy and cleared out all my mutts to make room for big sturdy nursery-grown plants that will be very impressive when the house finally goes on sale next month. And they did it all in 8 hours, with a little follow up the next day. I feel like I was hit with a Mac truck of beauty and order and I don't know how I feel about that.

Monday, January 22, 2007

desk time

I can't believe I haven't posted in 2 months. But I guess that's about how long it has been since I had a minute to sit and think. Since the holidays ended, I have somehow had 4 to 8 hours of meetings a day (meetings defined to include groups, one to ones, classes etc.) I had a meeting cancel, which gets me down to 4 hours of meetings for the day. It felt so luxurious to have 4 hours in a row to figure out what all these things are that pile up on my desk on any given Sunday. I know I am still a couple hundred e-mails behind, and have an order of service due by 2:00, but I just had to give thanks for a little quality time with my desk.