Friday, December 19, 2008

Before the Storm

Last night schools began issuing closings for today. A storm is on the way, they reported. But I am more the "I'll believe it when I see it" type. The snow from last week's storm had finally shrunk to a few islands of ice. Roads and sidewalks were finally clear again. When I drove my son to school this morning the roads were clear and dry. I ran some errands wondering if the Holiday Party our church had planned for the local Kid's Cafe would need to be canceled. I walked to yoga, but a sign on the door said class was canceled in anticipation of the storm. Still no snow. I went home, rolled out my yoga mat in front of the window in my study, and the first few flakes drifted down from the sky. "It begins" I thought. I am so glad to be here in my warm home with no place I need to go.

Monday, December 15, 2008


The first big storm of the season started Thursday night. The drive home from my son's soccer practice was tedious, as a steady line of drivers white-knunckled their way down the winding 2 lane road where rain had recently turned to a steady snow. The great thing about living downtown was once we were home we could put on our boots and mittens and walk down to the commons to see the ice-show lit up as the perfect white flakes came steadily down hour after hour. By Friday morning when the Snow Day was declared, all signs of last night's snowball fight were covered in 8 inches of fresh powdery snow. When we heard the clink of our neighbors metal snow shovels on the sidewalk, and the crunch of snow the whole family bundled up and went outside to clear our sidewalk and our car. Thank goodness we have just a short strip of sidewalk, because the snow was heavy and wet, and even with that little bit of shoveling I woke sore the next day. Having a small yard, my son and I used every inch of fresh snow to make snowballs and snow angels before returning gratefully to the warmth of our home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In the Present

When my son was very little, he would open a gift, and become so engaged he would only emerge a half hour later from the bliss of a new toy. As he grew up I noticed how adults encourage kids to open them all at once, because our adult attention span cannot sustain the hours it would take to open all the gifts at a birthday or other holiday if the child actually used and appreciated each one. "Aunt Martha has to go, quick, open her gift" When my son was very young he actually went on strike "no more gifts!" We had to save some for the next day. Now standard Birthday protocol at it's most polite is that all gather round, rip of wrapping, display gift, say thank you, set gift aside. It is rude to open a gift as it is handed to you. It is rude to play with a gift right after opening it. One delays gratification so one's guests don't get bored.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has a wonderful book called Miracle of Mindfulness in which he writes..."[Jim] popped a section of tangerine in his mouth and, before he had begun chewing it, had another slice ready to pop into his mouth again. He was hardly aware he was eating a tangerine. All I had to say was, "you ought to eat the tangerine section you've already taken."

How would opening presents look if we were really mindful? If we really "ate" each one as we opened it? Might our children feel "full" after unwrapping their pile of gifts? Might Aunt Martha not be proud to see her nephew enjoying his gifts so completely, even if hers was still in it's wrappings waiting? How might American culture be different if we taught our children to enjoy the present mindfully, instead of teaching them to consume?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Clip of the day

Wow, who knew Prop 8 was so hilarious. And when did Jack Black go political?


I was trying to explain to my son the theory of buying local. I did a bad job of it. I should have just said "the less gas it takes to get from where it's made to you the better." I tried to explain how if you buy things that are locally made you are putting money back into the local economy, and he asked me confused questions all the way through our trip to the co-op grocery store. Today I stopped at the brand new Silk Oak shop, and it made shopping local so clear. The lady who makes the beautiful silk screened clothes and bags lives here in my town. She could be the mom of one of my son's class mates. She might be in my yoga class. By having her store here on this corner, I get to look at something lovely as I walk by, instead of a boarded up building like the ones I find on the next block over. I feel the same way at the Co-op where there is local honey and local maple syrup on tap. Maybe my son will understand if I show him the flats of local eggs- they might come form a chicken we know!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I had suspected that I could walk to my Chiropractor, but never made the time to do it until my job changed to part-time. I got myself ready a half hour early, put on my ergonomically designed sneakers, screwed up my will power and headed off. About 10 minutes it took. It's almost the same distance as my walk to yoga, but in the oposite direction. And it's right next to a coffee shop and a children's consignment shop, making the whole thing a pleasant outing, yet for the first year I lived here I drove.

My husband and I have both noticed that even though we moved with great intention to a house where we could walk to stuff, it is hard to get past the mindset we developed in the car-centric community we used to live in. I got in the car to check out our local guitar store for a Mandolin strap, and my partner said "it's pretty close- you could walk." But I thought "who's got time for that? I'm a busy person" There was construction on the street to the store, and what with all the traffic lights and one-way streets, I was pretty embarrassed by the time I arrived at the shop few blocks from my house. He was right- it really was pretty close.

On my jog each morning I run past a river of folks walking up the hill to the local college. They walk past me in skirts and high heels, carrying briefcases, coffee cups, lunch bags. Some of them have special ergonomic walking shoes, but most just do it. People walk here. (This is partly because there are no parking spots closer than the ones in front of my house, which is why you can never find parking near us during the day) Our son knows that if we are going to the library or the toy store, we are going on foot. We've added the Guitar store, the sandwich shop, yoga, the chiropractor, and even the place where the "Living Wage" committee meets. Little by little we are changing our habits. Once we moved to a pedestrian friendly community, all we needed was the will and little extra time. And comfy shoes. Now if only I could find some that look good once I arrive.

What I miss

It's funny the things i miss from my old life. The drive down the Central Expressway blasting dance music. That yoga pose we used to do where you lunge low with your front foot on a block. Sunday night football games that end before bed-time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Found Us

After almost a year of waiting for the birds to find our feeder, I switched birdseed to the "Ithaca Blend" and even though it is freezing and wet, I see a bird near the feeder every morning as I peer out my window. Sadly, the birds are usually not eating, but watching this guy who seems to empty the feeder as fast as I can fill it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's all about the pretzels

Overheard at last night's study group:

"So panentheism says that god is in that bowl of pretzels?"

"Yes but God is not limited by the pretzels"

"Sally McFague says that 'God is sacramentally embodied; God is mediated, expressed, in and through embodiment, but not necessarily or totally'"

"So god is in the pretzels, but not necessarily and totally."

"I guess for me the thought of pretzels being empty of God makes me feel kind of weird. In my theology God is necessarily in the pretzels."

"But not totally."

Heart Centered

I love my congregation.
I don't mean "This organization has a lot of assets and dynamic energy for growth"
I mean I love them.
Sometimes it makes my chest hurt, the warmth and connection I feel for them.

I confessed this to my environmental study group last night, and realized I love them too.

This got me to wondering -- why am I so heart centered all of a sudden? My guess is that I now have the time to feel things. Working full time with a Silicon Valley commute and a small child I often felt numb. I wonder if now that I work part time, and most of that from home, I finally have time to feel stuff. I have noticed about myself that my mind zooms ahead of what my body can do, and my emotional body falls even behind that. "Go on ahead" it says "I'll catch up" Which is probably why I am often a grump on my day off- I sat still and my emotions caught up to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's Here

Right now the first real snow we have seen in Ithaca is falling in giant fluffy flakes. It is coating the grass and trees lovely against the night sky. The flakes are so big that I swear I could feel them through my hat hitting the top of my head as I walked home from yoga. Now if I can just find that brush thing for the car...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Robert Reich

I did not know this.
Robert Reich is so smart.
He's probably my favorite policy wonk.
No offense to Rachel Maddow.

Sharp left turn

Sometimes when you are writing a sermon, you realize that you are actually writing more than one sermon, and trying to cram them into one. This just happened to me. Realization dawned when I noticed I was up to 3600 words (2000 is about what my congregation enjoys). So those other 1600 words I had been working so hard on for the early part of this week all went into a special file I promise myself I will use later. Fortunately the 2 sermons were practically perferated, so it was not too hard to tease the 2 apart. I am surprised by what remains however. It is not at all what I thought my sermon would be about. The title on the order of service will not be the one listed in the newsletter I tell you what.

Monday, November 10, 2008


When Congress approved a bill allowing off shore drilling, they were sure to include the restriction that drilling must happen at least 50 miles off shore.

Recently we have been watching a lot of super hero movies on Family Movie Night. In at least two Batman movies and one Spiderman movie the hero solves the problem of the ticking bomb by throwing it "away" into whatever body of water is handy.

Lately Scientists have let us know about the growing dead zones in the oceans, which are not only deeply uncool of us to perpetrate on our oceanic friends, but also is impacting jobs and food supply for those human communities who have relied on the fish who used to call those now-dead areas home.

I know that the Spiderman movie is make-believe; what concerns me is that the media is portraying and perpetrating this deep-seated idea that what happens under water is not relevant. If our archetypal heroes don't notice what harm they do to our eco-system, we know this reflects our own unconscious assumptions that what happens 50 miles off shore is not worthy of our consideration. Regardless of what we teach in school about the water cycle and "where food comes from" on the deepest level we are are forgetting our dependence on the part of our ecosystem that exists under water.

Friday, November 07, 2008


My generation uses the word "guy" to mean "person" especially in the form "you guys." I have a plastic box marked "guys" in my son's toy cabinet that is filled with little rubber dinos, sharks, and cartoon characters of both genders. So when a woman from my church pointed out to me a couple of years back that "guy" is actually NOT gender neutral, I was skeptical, and almost dismissed her point since the usage is so widespread, but I hung on to her challenge and have been chewing on it ever since.

I was only a little girl when our church hymnal was reprinted to include gender neutral language. This was back in the day when people used the word "Man" when they wanted to say "Human" or "Humanity." To my young ears this was preposterous. Man means an adult male person. Duh. How anyone could say that it was gender-neutral was beyond me. Recently I remembered how hard the feminists of my mother's generation worked to get across the idea that "Man" and "Person" were not the same word.

When one looks up Guy, one finds that the use of the word to refer to people of all genders is not primary. The first definition is "Man"


Suddenly I realized I am not going to be able to use the word "guy" any more without feeling weird about it. This is especially tricky when one is talking with folks whose gender is in transition, or has been a cause of some pain or discomfort. When someone has transitioned from male to female after a long hard struggle, maybe the word "guy" doesn't honor that journey. Ouch. I wonder how long it will take me to switch over from "guys" to "folks". Or maybe an old fashioned y'all would feel more inclusive. I'm going to have to get a jar to stick a quarter in each time I screw up until I get it right.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Prop 8

Wait, I just heard that it looks like Prop 8 will pass in California. I've put my Kleenex box away. It's time to get back to work. Sigh.


I had imagined celebrating an Obama victory. I thought it would feel something like the Eagles winning a really important football game: I imagined myself cheering and jumping up and down. But at 11:01 when they called the race for Obama I was silent. My husband and I opened our bottle of celebration wine, and tears ran down my face as I tried to process the enormity of what has just happened, as I tried to exhale after holding my breath all these months. This is real. It can't be taken away. History has turned a corner, and we can never go back. MSNBC alternated between numbers and graphs, and video of Americans, grocking this new reality, who knew exactly how I felt.

As the great orator and president-elect Barak Obama began to speak a feeling crept up on me that I soon recognized as pride. We had done something together, we the American people, that shone for all to see. I have always loved my country, but recently I have been ashamed of her actions in the world, and as a liberal growing up in the time of Regan and Bush, have felt like my role in this tribe was as dissenter and critic. But last night the American people chose the candidate that took the high road, the candidate who spoke of hope and unity, and the candidate who crossed a barrier I was resigned to believing would not be crossed in my lifetime. And he won by a landslide. Dear readers, I think I am going to run out of Kleenex before I am done wondering over this turn of events.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Gathering Dark

The prospect of my second winter in the North East is making me nervous. We started getting ready ridiculously early this year; bringing in tools, denuding our son's fort of carpet and toys, pulling sweaters and gloves out of storage. For a month now I've been waiting anxiously for the winter. But of course it doesn't come all at once- it's like the cartoon sequence of the comic hero whose free fall is broken by a tree limb momentarily, only to resume a fall broken by subsequently lower and lower branches. The cold snaps, and plateaus and snaps again. On a day like today when the sun is shining, I am happy to put on my warm socks and take another 500 pictures of leaves in various stages of their fall process. But last week when it rarely got out of the 30s and the clouds never lifted the winter darkness loomed oppressive. Now that daylight savings time is over, the growing night is upon us. I am ready to hibernate, and can't believe that life plunges forward when we should all clearly "shelter in place".

Please Vote

Please vote tomorrow. So much depends on each of us participating in this decision. And if you can vote between 9-4:00, this will help reduce the crowds for those who must vote before or after work. Both campaigns have worked hard to register new voters, and we'd hate for them to get discouraged by long lines in the evening.

Trickle Down

When the banks started to crash I had an almost giddy sensation realizing that those who were feeling that pain were mostly stock-holders and folks in "wealth management." None of my bank accounts closed, and I felt (aside from the declining value of my 401k) like things would be okay for those of us not involved with high finance.

I don't feel that way any more. It's true that none of those folks closest to me have been laid off or have lost their homes, but we feel more and more like we are on board a roller coaster that is just headed over the crest of a very high track. The questions of how long the drop will last, and whether our safety restraints will protect us as we hit the bottom is anyone's guess. I am not optimistic, and yet we continue to be employed and can still pay our bills, so the descent is still for us in the realm of anxious imaginings. Yet we know from recent experience with the oil industry that while corporations are slow to share their profits (Exxon Mobile had again record profits even while passing on burdensome prices to consumers) they are always ready to share their losses. I have no doubt that the losses felt by so many at the top are trickling down, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

in the mean time, I am grateful each time a paycheck comes, knowing there are no guarantees. We batten our financial hatches and wonder when and how hard the economic storm will hit.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Tonight we drove up to the top of Dawes Hill to celebrate Sowain with friends. With a ritual journey into the underworld. We bundled up for our walk through the woods, but even before the sun set, we were all wishing we had one more layer (my son on his hands, me on my feet).

My son got to process under a dragon's tail, and hold his own candle. He was sad that there was not more pomegranate seeds and whole wheat bread to eat during the ritual. (yes, this is the kid who normally refuses all food that doesn't fall into plain pasta category)

My son spontaneously told the story of how the Rainbow Bird brought light to the world.
Mama spontaneously told the story of how Persephone became a part-time hospice chaplain.

Our favorite quotes:
"Never go into the Underworld without your friends"
"It's COLD in the underworld!"

10th Anniversary

Today I celebrate the 10th anniversary of my ordination to the UU ministry. 10 years ago today on a dark fall evening my friends played drums and cello, extended their hands in fellowship, charged me, told tales out of school about the time I chose "the path less traveled" in ritual class, and laid their hands on me as I became a for-real minister and got to us "Rev." at the beginning of my name. I think back over 10 years of ministry, noticing how much I have learned, and how much more there is to do and to know.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not From Around Here

Here is the retreat center where I spent a few days this week my new colleagues. The snow started falling the first night, and fell until the third day. I suggested during a business meeting that if we were having a conflict with our fall date, we might move the retreat to January or February. A good hearted colleague who had beat me in shuffle board the night before started her response "You're not from around here, so you wouldn't know..." as she explained that folks tried to avoid traveling across the state during the winter months.

Sometimes I feel like I'm a long way from home.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

This week I head off to my first UU Clergy Retreat in my new district. I have met a couple of my local colleagues, and they are very nice but suddenly I miss my California colleagues deeply. I was an intern in that district, I served alongside those folks for 10 years. I've carpooled, hiked, told jokes, knitted, worshiped and drunk margaritas with those guys. I've confessed to, sought advice from, given advice to and analyzed dreams with them. They were with me through rough times and sublime. I miss my PCD colleagues.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I confided, once, to a friend that I felt quite competitive in yoga class. If there is a pretzel to get into, I want to be in it. If there is a strength pose I want to hold it as long as anyone else. If the ashtanga series calls for 50 chaturangas, I want to do them all. I told him that some mornings I would be overly aware of a yogi nearby, watching her practice, wanting to compare. He was shocked "I didn't think yoga was supposed to be like that" he said. "It's not the yoga." I said "It's the ego."

If you have hung out with me, you will know that I am not generally a competitive person. I rarely push a point to win an argument. I usually bowl a 40 and I'm okay with that (mostly). I've been running an 11 minute mile for 10 years now and still I'm out there 3 times a week poking along in sun, wind or streaming rain. Generally I'd rather have peace and good feelings than a victory. Then I started taking a vigorous form of yoga, and suddenly I wanted to be the best.

When I moved to Ithaca and started at a new yoga studio, I somehow felt I had to prove myself. Most of the poses were familiar, but there were new variations, new juxtapositions. We were doing a lot more arm balances and wheels then I was used to, and when my wrist started to hurt I didn't listen. It's also true that I was doing a lot more keyboarding and driving in my new job, and a lot of heaving lifting as we moved into our new home, but regardless of the cause of the injury, I only felt it in yoga. At first I pushed through the pain, but finally I admitted to my teacher that my wrist hurt and asked his advice. He encouraged me to hold back, to use props, to skip certain poses, but my ego just could not let me skip some super-cool pose that I'd been working on whenever the rest of the class was doing it.

Months went by like this until finally something in my ego just broke. I had to give in to the idea that my wrist might never be quite right. I saw a physical therapist, I used my props, I started working on some of the forward folds I had never mastered in Ashtanga while everyone else was getting better and better at an arm balance I had always wanted to learn.

And one day I realized the pain was gone. I slowly put some weight on my wrist, and brought poses back into my practice one at a time. I still use a wedge for many poses, and I know now to stop when my wrist gets tired, and that some poses just aren't worth the cost. And somehow during all that my ego softened. I got used to setting up my mat 3 rows back and doing my own thing. And though I can now do wheel again and Eka Pada Koundinyasana, my ego is much softer. I sometimes wonder if I will keep getting better now that I don't crave competition on the mat, but I kind of don't care. I wonder if this is part of the wisdom age brings; things fall apart and teach us something about what remains.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Make a Big Deal of It

My yoga teacher in Willow Glen used to very carefully lead us into a pose, through all aspects of form, alignment and breath. And finally when we were fully in the pose he would say "now make a big deal of it"

This phrase rang in my head this weekend as the church celebrated its bicentennial, and held my service of installation. My dear colleague from California traveled 3000 miles with her toddler to preach the sermon, 2 friends from seminary drove all afternoon having preached that morning to say words in the service. My mom and sister and mother-in-law drove all day to be part of the celebration, and family, new friends and colleagues drove from the Ithaca area and all over the district to be part of things. I was so proud of the worship service. All the words and music these dear people offered came together so powerfully, that it left me feeling "wow, and that was just the beginning of whatever it is we have been called to do together!"

Here's a favorite moment: Over a dozen children, who had been waiting patiently in the nursery for the service to begin, lead our processional wearing fabulous glittery, feathery wings. Even the teenagers and some of the visiting kids wore wings (including my little niece, who looked FAB in her little red wings that matched her dress). My son had said "no, I don't think so" to wings, but I brought them anyway. He hurries over to me shortly before the service and says "Mom, I think I changed my mind" and spent the rest of the afternoon finding out how best to get his silk-rainbow wings to catch the wind as he ran and jumped over steps and down the halls. Our children's story featured a chicken, and the story-teller got an earful when he asked which of our kids knew about chickens -- because our kids know chickens, I tell you what. All the music was beautiful. Our choir had to import a tenor from Binghamton to make sure we had 4 part harmony and sang my favorite hymn accapella. But really it was when my husband's clear voice started to sing "I Hear Them All" as he and my sister-in-law strummed their guitars that the tears started to roll down my face.

So I had worked and hoped and lost sleep to make sure the Heritage Sunday service and the Installation service would be the very best I could help create. I should have known that the congregation was also losing sleep and rolling up their sleeves to make the weekend stunning. There were volunteers in the kitchen of the church from before I showed up on Saturday until after our family caravan left Sunday night. I couldn't believe how they transformed the place. Now this is a beautiful historic church building to begin with, but the volunteers of the church had really made a big deal of this. Fresh flowers on every table. Personalized red satin robins on gift bags for every visiting dignitary. A hand-made cake designed by a member on the theme "roots and wings." A catered dinner for the Bicentennial celebration and tons of yummy home made food for the Installation. As I brought my last load of stuff to the car Sunday night, a volunteer ran after me with 2 giant baskets of flowers: "for you" she said. I thought of the volunteers that would be at the church vacuuming and restoring things to Sunday-morning condition while I started the long drive home to Ithaca. I had Monday off, but most of these volunteers had to be at work bright and early. The gratitude was almost too heavy to hold. The energy of many hours of work, of months of planning released over those 2 days of celebration like a powerful wave washing over the whole community.

Now that the last of the guests has flown, it is time to begin the process of sifting and sorting, of processing, of trying to express gratitude, of saying thank you for a multitude of unexpected gifts. I hesitate even to start knowing that in such an outpouring of love and creativity and hard work, I will probably never even know all that went into making it possible. But the celebration is all of ours to share, and is something we can all be proud of. We did it, and it was beautiful. It was a big deal.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Last Harvest

This weekend the first big frost struck, and so with great ceremony we harvested for what we expect to be the last time. (Except the parsley. There always seems to be more parsley. Want some?) We harvested much sage, some oregano and lavender and a little marjoram. And Zumpkin. Some of you will remember that the only child of our gigantic flowering pumpkin plant seems to have been fathered by a zucchini. We let Zumpkin grow as long as we could (he got a late start) but couldn't risk another frost. We are looking forward to dressing Zumpkin up for Halloween.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In just one day

This weekend the colors on the trees were almost fluorescent in the bright sun. Some hills without evergreen trees showed not a hint of green. Then the rain and wind swept in yesterday morning, (during my morning run of course) and it was like running in a blizzard of yellow and orange, as the freshly fallen leaves laid light and fluffy on the ground. Trees I photographed Sunday full of colorful leaves are now bare. Suddenly we are in the cold gray days of fall, and the bare branches show through the luminous colors of the leaves, the sun diffuse as it bounces off the low hanging clouds.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


My grocery store starts with the bakery, the produce, the organic stuff, then dairy, then the gigantic inexplicable gift-shop thing that takes up as much room as the produce section. By the time I leave the produce and the organic section I am feeling pretty good about my environmental footprint. I found an all-natural non-aerosol air freshener that smells like vanilla (score)and I suck it up and pay more for organic milk because, hey, milk is kind of an intimate thing when you think about it, and even my dad who always exercises great fiscal restraint gets organic milk. But after the journey across the great gift-shop divide I am now in the land of things that come in boxes and don't qualify for the organic section. And I'm buying PAM. That's right. Synthetic oil in an aerosol can. Okay, this one says "all natural" but it's still an aerosol can. I struggle and waver, but half of the recipes in my favorite "Eating Healthy" cook book call for the stuff. I put it in the cart next to my locally grown apples, my organic milk and my non-aerosol vanilla air freshener and the integrity of my whole shopping trip comes into question. My cart is tainted now, and this is just the first row of the processed food section. I wheel my cart through the gift-shop-thing on the way out and see a reusable pump spray for oil in the "schmancy cooking gear" section. It's $25. And here I've already blown my pocket money for the week on CDs and books. I will save up, I decide, for some future redemption.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What is it?

This came in the box from my CSA farm this week. I am totally stumped. Anyone know what on earth (or wherever) this is?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mandolin Update

The A Major chord is my nemesis. Curse you A Major chord!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Flying Water

Lest you worry, as I did, that the recent security prohibition against bringing liquids through security is all about making you purchase a bottle of water at the gate or on the plane (That's right- water is now no longer free of charge on some airlines. It's a frightening part of the tide toward water as commodity rather than water as basic human right) it turns out you can bring an empty bottle through security. I have now accomplished this multiple times, and on a recent flight the security officer asked "empty bottle?" and sent me on my way, suggesting that it wasn't just an oversight that allowed those empties through. There is almost always a water fountain near the gate, so there's no need to be a tool of water privatization or to go thirsty.

p.s. The photos above I took of a fountain labeled "water interest" at the Detroit Airport on my layover there.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sun's Work Undone

Driving down I 78 from Harrisburg to Reading, listening to the Hackensaw Boys "Sun's Work Undone" after 2 days of non-stop travel my heart is full of North Dakota again. There we were, uncle, brother, various cousins and nieces gathered from Seattle, Montana, Colorado, New York, Baltimore and all corners of North Dakota, hearts wide open. The world shrinks when a grief is observed. Though now half a continent away, I am once again in that warmth of being surrounded by family, my sister, my dad, my various cousins, making music, cooking, re-connecting after a long time apart. And somehow we held my Uncle's death in a way that affirmed life.

At the cometary we wondered aloud if the coffin would be lowered into the ground while we were at the graveside, or if they were waiting until we left. I commented that in some traditions lowering the coffin is part of the ritual. A cousin said "We don't do that here,it's hard enough as it is, we don't need to make it harder." We walked across the well-trimmed grass to visit the graves of family lost in earlier years, clustered together around the matriarchs and patriarchs. Afterward there were sloppy Joes, pasta salad, apple bake and scalloped potatoes that are comfort food in it's essence.

And as I'm driving through central Pennsylvania, I miss that comfort and closeness and warmth. I talk to my dad later in the day. The hard things persisted for him long after my sister and I were safely on our pre-dawn flight home. Uncle's possessions, his home, his legal affairs. Things left unfinished and unresolved that must still be resolved one way or another. It is heavy, though not so heavy as before. There is a stark grittiness to it that persists. Loss is real. Impermanence is real. This is why we gather. This is why we come together in a profusion of family, why we cook and make music, so that the stark reality of loss and the grit of living are only one layer of experience. They are co-arising as the Buddhists would say. I listen to the song twice. My heart is full.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I think I might be in the middle of writng a bad sermon. Bad sermons happen for lots of reasons, but this is in the genre of "probably you only needed 1 minute to make this point" combined with "I don't really want to talk about types of ethical reasoning while holding the heaviness of my Uncle's death." That is to say, I'm writing a head -centered sermon without enough facts and research in a week that I really want to be writing a heart-centered sermon. I was not so worried as I worked on it on Tuesday and Wednesday, but today is Thursday and all substantive changes need to be made today. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Uncle

Yesterday my Uncle died. It was a long struggle with cancer that began just before we saw him on our cross-country journey last summer. I will be traveling to North Dakota to be with family next week, but it feels strange to be so far away right now, going on with my daily routine, defering grief.

Though Uncle was a man of few words face to face, he was famous for his long letters. I don't think he felt a proper letter could be less than 10 pages. I received my last letter from him after he had already fallen into a coma. It was very upfront about the realities of his pain and the short time left to him, and descriptive (as his letters always were) about the daily routines of his life, now in the nursing home where he would spend his last days. I am slowly letting go of my sadness that my last two letters to him are probably in a pile of unopened mail, arriving too late.

I spent the rest of the night last night with the big box of letters I pulled out of our storage room, pulling out the plain white envelopes with Uncle's distinctive handwriting on the envelopes. I don't think it was easy for him to write. He worked at those letters. Suddenly I am exceedingly grateful for each one.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Expecting! (a pumpkin)

Our pumpkin vine has finally made a baby! I'm so proud. Here's the thing- we don't know who the dad is. Doesn't it look suspiciously like a zucchini? No matter whether it ever gets orange, we are going to paint a face on it this Halloween if it makes it through the frost.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The End of Summer is Yellow

There are orange leaves on a few trees, but it seems to me the color that precedes the fall reds and browns is yellow. I'm guessing this flower is goldenrod I see covering vast open fields as I drive to and from work. Thank goodness I keep a pocket camera with me at all times.

One of these days I am going to leave for work an hour early, load up the good camera, and try to capture the beauty of my drive.

I did a search for a cafe in a town near my church, and learned we are in "God's Country." It is called this not because of the conservative politics and religion of many who live out that way, but because of the stunning beauty.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I'm learning to play the mandolin. There -- I've said it. I don't think I've learned to play a new instrument since, gosh, 1981 maybe when I started studying flute with my mom. It's really weird to learn a new instrument as an adult. You EXPECT a 6 year old to sound creaky and inaccurate when playing a new instrument, but adults are supposed to be polished and smooth. I'm treating it as a spiritual discipline. If I've learned anything from yoga it is the power of the regular practice to train muscles and mind over time. If I can learn to stand on my head as an adult, surely I can learn to play the mandolin, right? Surely if I just repeat the things I know, and some new things on my edge, eventually transformation will happen, right? Surely after 19 years of music lessons, including 5 years of University and conservatory study, surely I know something about how to repeat and refine until a thing is pleasant to listen to? I try to have this faith, because I know sure as I know my own name that between the first thrill of picking up my new instrument, and playing something that is pleasing to hear will be a long journey.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Plant Tomatoes

Want to change the world?

Plant tomatoes
Or cucumbers
Or an apple tree

My world is changed
When dinner comes out of my earth
Picked by my hand

I understand something
(Forgotten at the Supermarket)
Standing in a patch of cucumbers

Want to change the world?

Plant tomatoes for someone else
Start a community garden
Grow food on the commons

Imagine walking down Main Street
If the trees all bore fruit
And the fruit was coming ripe

The earth is a food pantry
Make sure the shelves are stocked
For the feast.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


After attending a workshop with Starhawk, I signed myself up for her blog. It is really something to know that whether there is a protest at the RNC or at the GTO, I will get something in my inbox from Starhawk, witnessing the conditions of the designated protest areas, who was tazered, what activists from around the world are at the protest, and how a good witch responds. She is an inspiring example of someone who takes her fame and notoriety to the streets again and again, though I'm sure she could be safely at home in Marin tending her garden, teaching ritual and writing books.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Pratchett Sermon

Well, it finally happened. Terry Pratchett has finally made it into one of my sermons. In fact, our morning's text is from "Witches Abroad."

I have read so much Pratchett in the past 2 years that everyone asks me if he is my favorite author. The answer to this is not easy. I would have to say Pratchett is not my favorite "writer." He's not a poet, and I do not ever fall into raptures over the beauty of a sentence (Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorites for that). Really, he's more like a friend. He keeps me company, he's funny, he gets my mind off my troubles, and he has great ideas. I will be very sad when he leaves us.

Now that I'm thinking, here are some of my other favorite friends that I've never met:

Brian Eno
David Byrne
Ani DiFranco
Saul Williams
Wendel Berry
Ursula LeGuin
Michael Franti

My joke

Here is the only joke I've ever made up:

Q: What's the difference between a rut and a groove?

A: Whether you want to get out.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Community Organizers

There are many things I would like to rebut in Gov. Palin's acceptance speech, but the one keeping me out of my garden right now is her position on Community Organizers. When she and Giuliani belittled that profession, I was so shocked I had to take stock of my world-view on that point. See, I thought everyone admired community organizers. When Jesus was mentioned in the Unitarian Universalist church I grew up in, he was unfailingly mentioned in the company of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Susan B. Anthony. What do those four have in common? They were all Community Organizers! So I learned as a little girl, sitting in church with my legs dangling off my seat that there is literally no higher calling than to be a community organizer who works to bring justice and peace to the world.

Obviously, not every organizer is going to change the world like Martin Luther King did, but the local organizers I met in California worked hard in a job with high stress and burn-out. They empowered people to be part of the political process, and to express their needs to the decisions makers in their community. Organizers must have an intimate knowledge of the politics of their community if they are to be effective, and must be responsible to the people they serve. You can't get a group of hockey moms and dads out on a Tuesday night to plan an action if they don't believe they are making a difference and that their self-interest will be served. (If you want to see a real-life bunch of organizers I admire deeply, check out PIA).

So here's to the Community Organizers of our great nation. You are my heroes.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I was checking out a display of local art in a local coffee shop, and next to the watercolor prints of local gorges and Ithaca landmarks was a card listing "10 things to love about potholes" and another listing "10 ways to recycle Birkenstocks". Potholes, gorges and Birkenstocks, there is a sense that this is how one can sum up Ithaca. Potholes and gorges- I am right there with you. But the Birkenstock thing gets at the creepy underside of Ithaca. As a proud Birkenstock-shorn American, I'm not trying to disown my lifestyle choices, but I am warry that people really do have the perception that all Ithaca-ites would resonate with this joke. But I'd like to suggest that not everyone in Ithaca is an over-educated, affluent hippie. There are undoubtedly folks in our community who have never listed to Bob Dylan or Joan Baez, and for whom Birkenstocks are culturally irrelivant. Having spent the last year inspecting the homes of low-income families and reviewing their finances, I have to add to the conversation that folks who are living in subsidized housing on food-stamps and $75 a month childsupport do not wear sandles that retail for $119.95. I'm not saying Birkenstocks are creepy, or poverty is creepy, I'm saying the idea that Ithaca is homogenous is creepy.

Everyone in Ithaca can see the gorges if they want to. Everyone who has ever ridden a bike, car or bus through Ithaca feels the potholes, but if you think that Ithaca can be charachterized by birkenstock references, please drive your Cornell-butt down the hill and notice that Ithaca is an economically and culturally diverse community.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Seeing Biden

Who knew when Sen. Biden of Delaware marched down the streets of my Mom's neighborhood for the New Castle Separation Day Parade (you know, celebrating the separation of Deleware from their opressive Pennsylvania overlords) that we would be seeing a lot more of that grin.

Seeing red white and blue

By the time I was the age my son is now, I had seen President Nixon resign in disgrace. Since then there have so many Regans and Bushes I don't believe I have ever felt hopeful about presidential politics. This week, watching the Democratic National Convention on NBC, I have to admit to feeling excited, feeling moved and yes, even feeling hopeful. We let my son stay up late to watch Barak Obama accept the nomination. We said "You may not know it now, but this is a very important moment. When you are grown up, we want you to be able to look back and remember it."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer's End

After some June and July days so hot it caused existential angst, August has been pretty cool. As that first cool breeze passed through the yoga studio, a fellow student said "looks like fall is on it's way!'' Another added "have you seen all the apples coming in?" "No!" I wailed, filled with denial. Our son had only been off school for one month, and I thought the cool day was just an anomaly. But since then it has never gone above 80 in Ithaca, and it cools off every night. And on our trip this weekend to New Hampshire to see our dear friends, we noticed that each tree-covered hilltop had at least one maple tree willing to declaim with orange foliage that summer was at an end. I suppose the fact that my son goes back to school next week should have given me a clue, but I am in serious denial that fall could be at hand. I despair my pumpkin plant will ever bear fruit, though it has beautiful blossoms and huge leaves. We are dashing out this afternoon to enjoy one of the last days the swimming hole at our nearby state park will be open for swimming this year. The sun is bright in a blue sky, so I am hopeful our boy and his friends will not mind the cold cold water. I think this is what "they" mean when they say "seize the day."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gross Things

Don't read this if you are having lunch. Gross Things are happening in my garden. This is not the spring garden filled with new growth and exploding with hope. No, bugs and old-age have caught up with my plants by now. One of my cucumber plants is drying out and withering. Age? Disease? The tiny baby cucumbers are black and nasty looking. My exotic bean plant that only made one bean now is a place where flies go to die. What's stranger, is that the plant looks great and healthy from the top, but the underside of several of its 8 leaves are covered with dead flies. We called an "environmentally friendly" exterminator to "neutralize" the wasps nest under our deck, and I showed her the flies. She said "wow, I've never seen anything like this. Can I take this leaf (covered in dead flies) back to my boss?" She, and an environmental ed teacher I asked who was also stumped, both postulated "maybe they stick themselves to the leaves after they reproduce as they get ready to die so that the babies can eat their carcass?" Thanks, I feel much better.

But still there are good things growing in the garden, and I can't ignore the big healthy cucumbers and abundant parsley crop just because their neighbor has become a fly graveyard, can I? It reminds me of the time I brought the lettuce mix from my CSA portion to work, and when I opened the bag to wash the lettuce, a spider crawled out. A co-worker said "I would throw the whole thing away!" As if all lettuce doesn't have an insect or 2 on it at some point in it's life? I tried to focus on the fact that the spider proves that my food really was raised organic, but that little white and green "organic certified" logo is so much more tidy looking. I ate my salad anyway, but I was very suspicious of every bite.

Also it looks like my pumpkin plant is going to be a purely ornamental flowering vine; visions of my son and I picking a pumpkin from the garden and carving it for Halloween are withering on the vine. Suddenly I know on a whole new level what it means when a farmer says "the crop failed." Imagine if it was not just your Halloween pumpkin, but your mortgage money for October and November? God bless the Farmers is all I can say.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Morning and Night

Quite late in the growing season I planted a few vines to see if this would help our tiny yard feel more like a rainforrest, and less like a cubicle. My vines love me.

One is a morning glory, a gift from my mom. Each morning when I let Dog out, I see the profusion of luminous purple blooms.

It turns out the Moonflower is from the same family of vines, but waits until around sunset to open its giant luminous white blooms, while the Morning Glory goes to bed early. By morning the MoonFlowers have curled in on the selves and faded. A day when I don't make it out in the evening to see the magic one-day-only moonflower blooms is almost as sad as a summers day without a nectarine or peach.


While traveling last month, we ended up watching a TV show WITHOUT TIVO! (Please friends, don't try this at home). Without being able to fast forward through the commercials, we were subject to the musings of our 2 sponsors, BP and Chevrolet.

First, here is British Petroleum letting us know how DEEPLY green they are, and generally wagging their fingers at us about how it's important to get behind alternative energy. (I think they bought a small solar company somewhere or something. They are very self-satisfied about this). I wanted to do some fact checking before I bashed them for greenwashing, and found that all I have to do is link you to this article and I can go back to my Carrot Ginger Muffin. Or, if you don't like so many facts and numbers with your coffee, help yourself to this outraged YouTube roundtable discussion.

But on to an easier target. Chevrolet. Their animated commercial advised us that men could save water by not running the tap while shaving. Women, they asked, do you really need to wash your hair every day? How about getting a hat, or a kicky up-do?

This is greenwashing at its finest. The problem is not the manufacturer of the Chevy Tahoe (14 mpg city, 19 highway) but those of us who insist on washing our hair. This, friends, is the true calling of the car companies- water conservation. You can tell they feel passionately about it. Female Chevrolet execs are now all wearing hats to show their solidarity. You might think that a car company would show their commitment to a greener world by recommended car-pooling, or taking the bus. But never mind. I'm wearing a kicky up-do right now. World saved.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Plant Comes Home

Some of you may remember Plant, the only one of my herbaceous friends to make the journey with me from California to New York. For the past few months, Plant has been living in my window at the agency where I have been doing Casework for the past year. Well, Thursday I said goodbye to my co-workers, and plant came home. Friday was my first day as parish minister to my new congregation. I confess that I was pretty burned out by the time we loaded up the station wagon and headed east, but right now I feel like I am coming home after a very long absence. "Oh, ministry! I love ministry! I put years of discernment, passion and preparation into this work," I suddenly remember.

I am very excited to be working with this caring group of folks. I have never served a "Family Size" congregation before, so all new challenges lay ahead. But plant and I have come home.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Still Growing

In addition to the herbs and cucumbers growing like weeds in my garden, two more things are growing.

First, just when every other nursery in town was closing up, and knowing it was very late in the season to start, I found a few pumpkin plants left at my favorite nursery. The 2 I adopted each had about 4 lovely flowers on them, but as soon as I put them in the ground, they shed the flowers and started fresh. Bunches of tiny new leaves are growing, as if to say "I was going to give up and live out my life in a tiny plastic pot, but now that I have the whole wide world to grow in, I'm starting over with a more ambitious plan."

Second, we are growing a fort for the boy. My mom came up and helped us get the frame erected. Now my husband works on it a little each day (when it's not 90 or storming) and my son and I hold or measure or screw. I'm hoping the fort will be full grown long before the pumpkins are ready, and well before the cucumbers even slow down. It looks like it will be a good harvest. Knock wood.

Early Harvest

These are the first 3 cucumbers I have ever grown in my garden. My husband made them into pickles. I can't believe I planted 4 tiny plants, and one was too puny to survive, and now they have grown to tower over all my herbs, sending tiny tendrils that can wrap 8 times around the wire frame while I sleep. I get down on my knees to peer into the leafy mountain, and here's what I see.

Honey, how many pickle jars do we have?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In case you need to know...

The propper proceedure when you drop your cell phone in the sink (or other body of water) is to immediately remove the battery to avoid the charges frying. Then put it keys down in front of a fan overnight. Then pray. This from the friendly guys at my local cell phone store.

Failing that, it's time for a new phone.

Monday, June 23, 2008

After the storm

Tonight there was another thunder storm, one of the strongest of the many brief storms to pass through our neighborhood. The rain came in slanty through the windows, the lightening was bright and the thunder loud. The power went out just as my son was getting ready for bed. Fortunately our bedtime book is digital, so we sat in a dark room while the last hour of light from the long summer days made 2 glowing rectangle windows, reading "Only You Can Save Mankind" on my PDA. And then it was amazingly quiet. Out the front door you could hear the sound of the generator from the nursing home down the street, but from my son's room only the dripping of rain off branches and a neighbor playing saxophone out an open window. Later I sat in the living room my husband had filled with candlelight remembering a time when we used to light these very same candles just to see yellow light flickering in a dark room. I haven't been that quiet in a long time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


We are all very wilty here in Ithaca. It has been near 100 degrees, but even when I went running this morning and it was 76 outside, the humidity is impressive, and it is hard to get a good breath. It has rained 4 times in the past 2 days, but still the plants are wilting. Each morning I water my pansies, and by the time I come home from work they are as wilty as I am.

Monday, June 09, 2008

More Fluff

I am obsessed with the fluff. Apparently it comes from the cottonwood tree. It looks like a snow flurry down certain streets and especially at intersections. I chased one around the parking lot at work with my camera for a silly amount of time, before finally finding some on the ground to share with you.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Where to find them

It turns out if you cross reference people who care about the earth, with people who care about the spirit, you get some very amazing people. How good it was tonight to sit in a room with people who already know that a thing worth doing on a Tuesday night is to gather at the intersection of earth and spirit. I am now floating around like the bits of cottonwood fluff filling the Ithaca air this week. What a joyful gift it is to find a group of people who talk and work well together.

Friday, May 30, 2008


My co-worker remarks on our lunchtime walk to the sandwich shop:
"Where i come from [Arizona] things don't fly around in the air
I mean, dust does,
but not, like, plant fluff"
And I notice that some plant is reproducing madly all around us as bits of white fluff waft by on the barely noticeable breeze.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Today is the 15th Anniversary of our wedding. The boy is going to his friend's for dinner, and we are going out to eat at a place where you can't even color in your menu. And I'm humming to myself "Fine Again" by Liz Phair:

Everyone wonders
How we stay in love
And I tell them
That it's hell when it's bad
But it's good
So good when it's good
And boy it is good to be back
To be back
To be back

Happy Anniversary Honey.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My New Church

I have amazing news. Last week I was called to be the Parish Minister of a church about 30 miles from my home. They are celebrating their 200th anniversary this year, and own two historic buildings. Most importantly, they are a really cool group of people. There are less than 50 souls all together, which will be an exciting challenge for me, since I have never served a "Family Size" congregation. There are about a dozen children who participate, and it buoyed my spirit to see how well they were integrated and embraced by the whole congregation. I had crossed my fingers that I might find a small congregation near Ithaca to serve once we decided this would be our new home, and my wish has come true. More, they are active and caring and creative and even have a drum circle!

The settlement begins August 1, but I am already ordering books on small church ministry. The commute is not ideal, and I regret the enlarged carbon footprint, but the drive is amazingly beautiful, and the little winding 2 lane route seems more restful than rush hour on the 101 or the 880 in California. (Auto Mall Parkway). In many ways this church is a foil to the last one I served. It will be a half time position in a part of the world with a slower pace of life. I will be the only paid staff of the church, so the office is empty most of the week. They kindly agreed to install a broadband link to the office so I could check e-mail while in the office; previously the church had no e-mail. (After the 100 e-mails a day I am used to in church life, this may be the biggest change of all). It is also an isolated liberal enclave in a conservative county. To quote the good folks of Monty Python's Flying Circus "Now for something completely Different."

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Spring Fever

Suddenly I feel everything has to happen in the spring. No time! No time! Even as we celebrated Earth Day at the end of April, I still had a sluggish winter sensibility. But in 2 short weeks of sun and warm afternoons, I must have picked up some of the frenzie of the plants in my neighborhood. Now I understand that with such a long winter and such a short growing period, all these plants have all their growing, flowering and seed-making to do, and suddenly they are all doing it right NOW. Even on Earth Day, when we celebrated in a sacred circle in DeWitt Park and were blessed with a day of glowing sun and surrounded by the flowering trees of early spring, the pastel petals only served as contrast to the dormant trees all around them. The sky was open and life was spare. Now the canopy is growing in around us, and I remember my one New York summer, the unstoppable verdure, and I see how much work these plants do in the spring.

And me, with my untouched garden; a few bushes and landscape rock put in by a seller trying to flip the house quickly, and the weeds growing like their lives depended on it. Remembering my garden in California which I used to plant all year round except in the rainiest times, I looked forward to gradually filling in my garden over the next few months. But Yesterday my neighbor told me, as she rototilled the whole front plot in front of her house, that by July 4 many local nurseries start to close up. That the whole vision for the year must be laid and planted in the spring. I couldn't sleep well last night. Suddenly each beautiful spring day is precious and fleeting. No time! No time!

Monday, May 05, 2008

For today

For all of today here is my favorite poem
found in an old Starr King Catalogue.
It is written by Holly Horn.

To surrender oneself willing to truth,
to earn it,
in every sense, to allow
a voice to the great unbegotten
mystery and, beyond that,
to listen,
is asking for trouble

Don't doubt it. But prepare for the aftershocks.
Store water, and cans of tuna fish.
Plan an escape route, and a rendezvous point.
Write messages with lipstick on the bathroom mirror
reminding yourself...
where the flashlight batteries are stashed, and how to find the pole star.

Keep a list of essentials
posted on the refrigerator: poetry, theology, an aria--
whatever works:
a ticket to Ravenna,
a menu from Provence,
a ballad to be sung at the tomb of Rachel.

And plan to go.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Very slowly springing

Two more spring flowers have burst into their very tiny bloom in my yard. (Anyone know what they are called?)

It's definitely spring now. The tiny green buds are beginning to come out on some bushes, the birds are singing all morning their many different tunes, and the bulbs in the sunny yards are blooming. I haven't renewed my gym membership, and am determined to run in the real world until the next snowstorm (which will hopefully will not be until next fall). My dear friend came to visit a couple of weeks ago, and said driving the 4 hours north it was like turning back the clock to a time before the dafodils had come out and temeratures were still in the 50s. The craziest part is that I marvel how warm it is outside, and check my handy outdoor thermometer (Thanks Dad!) to find that it is 54. A year ago I would of thought of 54 as cold. Now I know better.

We are headed to Florida on Monday where even their lows are higher than our highs. My inner sense of season is not going to know what hit it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Outing the Pastor

Recently at an agency-wide conference, a co-worker outed me as a minister during the “things you might not know about each other” brainstorm. Afterwards, over a beer, another co-worker profusely apologized for any time she might have cursed in front of me. There was some debate about whether the guy who hired me had adequately notified everyone that a pastor was working in their midst. (He felt he had given everyone plenty of warning, but that they just hadn't been paying attention.) Finally the shocking revelation that I was, at that moment, drinking a beer. People have some very particular ideas about what a minister is.


This morning I heard a woodpecker for the first time ever. I was at the end of my morning run, just a few houses away from my own. Because there are still no leaves on the trees, it was easy to follow the sound to its maker. He was a beautiful guy with black and red and white feathers, fluffy as if he still had his winter coat on. Since he let me look at him, I rushed home to get my camera. Yet somehow as the shutter was closing, he hopped further and further out of range. Fortunately I can still hear him tapping somewhere in my neighborhood.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Getting Out

This weekend my very first friend came to visit (met in a playpen, longer ago than I should mention). The Boy had a sleepover with his Nonie, Aunt, Uncle and Cousins, and me and my posse went to see Thousands of One. It was so great to be out in the world dancing. Dancing is a sacrament you know...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Welcome to Spring!

My husband and Son picked me up at work on the Equinox, and exclaimed as I opened the car door letting in a gust of cold air and a flurry of giant snow flakes "Welcome to Spring!" The following day the meteorologist called for sleet, freezing rain, hail, snow flurries and snow showers. We had them all. What is it called when snow is shaped like hail, but still fluffy and white, rather than hard and icy? I don't know either.

Yesterday the sun shone all day. I took a phone call on the back steps and discovered that my back yard has crocuses in full bloom on the sunny side, and the last of the melting snow on the shady side. Little green shoots of courageous bulbs are coming up all over the neighborhood. This morning the sun is shining again. The thermometer says 25 degrees.

Welcome to Spring!

Thursday, March 06, 2008


The sun came out again this morning! I think that's twice this week!

I was driving up Rt. 13 and the stands of bare trees were coated with ice. The ground was white with snow, melted and re-frozen. Then I turned East and the low morning sun was shining through the top branches, shining through the ice like they were all diamond glazed. I gasped with awe. It was a perfect moment, and I tried to some how capture it as I zoomed east on the two lane highway. I was yearning for my camera, but knew this moment was too amazing to get on film. I imagined myself pulled off beside the side of the road walking up and down the shoulder trying to get the angle just right, trying to capture the vastness and at the same time each shining branch. I came to a red light, where the electrical wires, also glazed in ice melting in the bright sun. Rods of ice 5 feet long fell 20 feet and shattered on the pavement. The combination of brilliant sun and the night's accumulation of ice had met for one awesome moment and that brilliance would burn away before the morning was over.

My Dentist

I went to a dentist today, for the first time since we moved. It just wasn't right. Sure they were friendly, and the office was decorated in cheerful colors, but my California Dentist did everything differently. She did all the work herself, without the aide of hygienists. She used old-style films instead of digital x-rays. She used the manual scrapey thing instead of the new sandblasters they developed while I was under her care. She was gentle and kind. She cleaned my teeth while I was pregnant, and gave my son his first ride up and down in the dental chair when he only had 8 teeth. Because of her, he loves going to the dentist. She recently sold her practice to spend more time with her young children, so even if I was still in California, I would have a new dentist now. But in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." I miss you Dr. W. You were a great dentist.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Winter Rain

Today I saw a kind of freezing rain I've never seen before. It wasn't hail, it wasn't snow, but there was a layer of it almost a centimeter thick on the ground. Weird.

Freezing rain
back to Rain

All in one day,

It's night now and the rain is dripping noisily outside.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Self Tending

In a recent article about personal practice a colleague of mine referenced “that small clearing deep inside myself, which is self tending...”

This phrase has really taken root over the days since it entered my consciousness. "Self-tending" describes something about the "self" we seek in meditation that I had never articulated before. It describes what I think of as the most amazing part of being "grown up" -- the knowledge that there is a part of myself which does not need healing and soothing to come from outside; it is self-tending. It calls to mind the word "autopoesis" which means we are also self-creating. This is one of the defining factors of a living system, that it be self-sustaining. Of course we are not a closed system; we inhale and exhale, but we are in some fundamental way self-tending.

The larger systems I am part of push and pull. What they ask from me sometimes takes me away from my self. But if I can just remember to return to my self when I am confused or depleted, I need only look for that little gardener inside who is already restoring and creating the living system that is my self.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Different Dream

The preacher said this morning that when he was a child in fundamentalist Sunday School he dreamed of a non-dogmatic religious education, one where you could ask questions and doubt.

I grew up in UU Sunday School, and wanted someone to tell me it was okay to believe in something. As a child beset from a very young age by anxiety about non-being, I needed something to have faith in. It is true that when I visited more conservative churches I was glad to know I didn't have to fit into a dogmatic box, but freedom from dogma is not enough for me. What I needed as a small child, and what I want today is simply something to get me through the nights when one feels adrift in an infinite universe, and your non-being sits like a chaperon in a dark corner of your bedroom making the "why" of life seem urgent and ever-present.

As Nancy Shaffer writes in her poem "A Theology Adequate for Night"

"But-- this may work in the night:
Something that breathes with us, as others
sleep, something that breathes also
those sleeping, so no one is alone.
Something that is the beginning of love,
and also each part of how love is completed,
Something so large, wherever we are,
we are not separate; which teachers again
the way to start over.

Night is the test: when grief lies uncovered,
and longing shows clear; when nothing we do
can hasten earth's turning or delay it.

This may be adequate for the night;
this holding; something that steadfastly
breaths us, which we are also learning to breathe."

That is my dream for religious education: to learn again and again that there is something steadfast in the universe, to learn how to remember it in the dark of the night, and to breathe.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Practice what you Preach

Every winter I say something like this from the pulpit:

"After the busy harvesting and preparations of the fall, winter can be a time to quiet down and look inside, to reconnect with family and self."

It's hard to practice what you preach.

I am the kind of person who is in constant motion. I get confused when I am sitting still. But this past week or two I have slowed so far down that I don't even HAVE a to do list. I have yarn ready for a new sweater for Dog, and It just sits there next to me while my partner and I watch the Firefly marathon on Tivo.

The downside is the angst, and the sense of being adrift.

The upside is that I am many-fold more patient than I have been since seminary. I sat with my niece this morning on our matching child-sized chairs and had an extended exploration of grapefruit and its many mysteries. My son has been giving me lessons in "how to speak Super Mario." I'm a slow student.

I haven't made any progress on balancing my checkbook, on the dog sweater, or on saving the world. In the mean time I'm going to listen to my own sermons and believe that season is coming in its turn.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stirring things up

Each time we unpack a stack of boxes, things feel weird for a while. It stirs up dust, that's for sure. It stirs up memories. But it must be stirring up whole eco-systems of microbes as well. Here are communities of microscopic fungi and bacteria ripped apart and relocated. If it takes we who have orchestrated the move and chosen the location of each object a while to get used to seeing that picture there, to get used to stepping around the corner to look in the mirror, to remember which drawer has the wooden spoons and which cabinet the light bulbs, imagine the change going on at a level so small we can't even see. It's more than dust we disturb in the unpacking process, and a multi-layered chaos comes over the house. The act of running a vacuum over the floor, smoothing a cloth over surfaces feels something like soothing an agitated person. Settling happens to all that was stirred up, a new equilibrium is reached, and we rest into a new wholeness.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Now What?

My sister and her family came to visit this weekend. At some level I have been getting ready for this visit since we first rolled into town with our U-haul. I've been working since then on creating a home that was welcoming, safe for toddlers, and could sleep 7. And they, at the same time, have been trying to imagine a way to take 2 very young children on a very long car trip. Well, with a little creativity required for sleeping arrangements, we did it. The kids immediately felt at home on our giant puffy sofa, our dog magically did not bark once, resulting in this remarkable statement from our dog-phobic niece "I want a quiet dog like Dog" It was a proud moment for all of us. The adults stayed up too late to give us a glimpse of the old days before we had kids, and drank much coffee in the mornings. As the weekend came to a close, and we realized that we were only going to eat about a third of the food we had assembled, and I began to imagine all the fun things we could do "next time." I realized that if we really are able to stay in this house for 12 years as we hope, Ithaca could become a place that my niece and nephew remember and connect with and look forward to visiting: the place with the puffy couch, and the quiet dog, and the great library, and our family. I started to visualize fun things they could do when they are in Elementary school, and where they will sleep when they are teens.

But when their car pulled away from our curb, and we went back into the house, the quiet was unsettling. Now that we have had Sister's Family up to visit, and the moms and dads. Now that we have found a church, and a yoga studio and a library. Now that we have really warm gloves and have a plan for a winter storm, what comes next? With 11.5 years to go, (or the rest of our lives if we put down really strong roots) What now?

Monday, February 11, 2008


My brother-in-law asked me the other day whether I liked my current job, or if I was still looking for a new one. I actually stopped checking job postings at the prestigious private college in town when I started this new job, and haven't updated my resume since. I like the people, and the work suits me. I also like the 35 hour week, which is a huge change from the 60-80 hours people expect from each other in Silicon Valley. (I used to get nervous defending the 40 hour work week in sermons...)

But some days the work boroughs into my heart. Each week I inspect at least a dozen homes. We are just looking for basic health and safety things. Doors need to lock. No exposed wiring or jagged pieces of glass. For the first month or two I was able to keep my equilibrium no matter what I saw, but after a couple of really bad days, seeing and smelling the filth of a unit vacated by the tenant, watching a toddler walk through piles of garbage as I conversed with the belligerent mother, it started to slip past my defenses. I know I'm supposed to maintain a professional demeanor here, but yuck! I really feel for the landlord that's going to have to clean out the smelly brown water in the sink, and the dirty litter box that's been sitting for who knows how long among piles and piles of abandoned possessions. I wonder what it's like to grow up in a home where your parents can't even get motivated to pick the food up off the floor when a housing inspector is coming. I went home that night and scrubbed the stove until it shone.

Now I want to be clear; most of the homes I see are fine. More often than the images I described above, we see homes that pass inspection easily. I am often impressed by people's meticulous house keeping, by the knitters and quilters who are glad for a chance to show off their work. You sometimes can feel a home that is full of love even when everyone who lives there is away at work or school. But some homes are old enough, or were built of flimsy materials to begin with, that the drafts and the mildew and the overwhelming sense of decay is an inevitable byproduct of poverty. No mater how conscientious a housekeeper you are, the windowsills are going to rot if you have to pin a blanket over the windows to keep your home warm. Who knew when we left California that in my new life I would be witnessing these most private corners of people's lives.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Aging Spurt

I watch my son go through another growth spurt, and have decided I may be going through an aging spurt. I can't believe how much I seem to have aged since we made this move to NY.

It might be the cold, it might be the challenges to my immune system from a whole new set of threats. A wise woman at my CA congregation said that when she worked as a nurse in a hospital, she noticed that people who were functioning fine in their regular lives suddenly took a dive when they came to the hospital. It just takes less energy to do familiar things in familiar places. If you wake in the morning and aren't quite sure where your clothes are, it just takes more energy to make it through your day.

Or maybe that's not it either. Maybe I just haven't focused on the progress of my physical form since I was last paying close attention. That would be around the time my son was born, and my physical form was massively transformed as it grew and shrank and responded to new demands. I look at the pictures from 2002, when I finally looked not-pregnant again, and realize that's how I think of myself. But time keeps it's inertial pressure on the body. I assume it should be consistent and steady, but why shouldn't it happen in spurts like it does for my son? It's just harder to track when I can't mark the changes on the colorful growth chart hanging in the crooked hallway by our bathroom door.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


We had 2 big unpacking weekends, 20 boxes the first weekend, 12 this past weekend. We knew before we opened the first of this abiding pile of boxes that there was not room for it all. I was not sure what to expect. Could I really have 32 boxes of Knick Knacks? This was my fear. I went in with a very "take no prisoners" attitude. If I couldn't find a spot for it, it was going to goodwill. By the end of the weekend I had 3 boxes of books and 4 boxes of miscellaneous stuff waiting by the front door for a new home.

But these books were ones that had already been through 3 earlier purges. I wanted them to have a good home. I started by bringing the books to a local minister's gathering. I carried each of the 3 boxes up the church steps to the meeting. My colleagues carefully selected a book or 2, then I carried all 3 boxes back out to the car. Next stop, the used book sellers. Once again he thoughtfully looked at each book while I browsed the children's section, and at the end he pulled out about 8 books, and paid me $14 cash. Back to the car with the 3 boxes of books. Finally I headed to the Salvation Army, the last stop on my recycling journey. I pulled out the 4 boxes of stuff and the 3 boxes of books.

"We only take novels, cookbooks and children's books." Says the lady who staffs the donations dock.

I said "well pull out what you don't want."

"That's your job" she said.

So back in the car went all the assorted theology and cultural studies books. I brought them in to the office, and the crew in housing took all but 3. One I kept for myself- I figured it was destiny, and the others went back in the box. Turns out "Friends of the Library" will take them all. The last 2 books started our "friends of the library" box on the mud porch, next to the good-condition clothing that goes to younger cousins.

That night we finally got a bite for the very last of the furniture we've had listed on the Craig's List since the fall. I found homes for the printer and scanner that Salvation Army won't take, brought a 3rd load of re-usable moving boxes to co-workers, and the next day made a run to the Tompkins County Recycling center with a car load full to bursting of packing paper and boxes so big no one wanted them. Phew. Our porch looks like a porch again, and that double-wide hallway is now the playroom instead of a storage locker.

I won't bore you with the story of the second weekend of unpacking, because I think you can imagine. Let's just say there are 2 boxes of really great books in the cafeteria right now that I'm taking to Friends of the Library after work and leave it at that. William McDonough talks about trying to recycle as high on the food chain as possible- re-using boxes instead of making them into pulp to make newspaper or something. He is one of many who encourage us to be responsible for the ultimate impact of the waste our consumption creates. Moreover, I hate waste, and want to see the belongings I am responsible for (many of which are in great shape and which I have some affection for) continue to be useful and even loved. I didn't expect it to be such a big job though. Being responsible for things when they leave our home makes me much more wary about what I bring into my home. As my old friend King Me used to say "open space is something we give away without thinking, we don’t treat it as precious, but it is as valuable as the things we could put in that space.

I think I'll skip the used book sale this year...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Old Friends

Before we left California I had nominated myself "staff member most likely to be able to put her hands on a document." That was back when I had a 4 drawer lateral file cabinet at work and a smaller 2 drawer system at home. But the process of moving required a great winnowing of documents to stay, to put in storage, to recycle. And one little plastic file bin with a handle to accompany us on the trip. When we and our belongings arrived in New York, any given file might be in boxes marked only "Study 15" and come with pencils and sacred art, or might be in a banker's box marked "Worship 2002-2004". The process of gathering my papers and books into one cohesive system in my home office has taken quite some time. But tonight I swiveled the new office chair my husband assembled (the frustration of which took at least a year off his life) I pulled out the smooth wooden handle of the new file cabinet he assembled (we think it took about 5 years off his life...) to a hanging folder filled with songs for congregational worship, right where I knew it would be. It was a beautiful moment.

Now to my right, is a shelf at rolling-chair arm-level filled with the well thumbed books I turn to first when crafting worship. Above and below are bibles and other sacred texts, volumes on religion, theology, congregational life and scriptural interpretation. Downstairs is all my favorite fiction, and references on knitting, cooking, and living in Central New York. How can I explain the joy of being reunited with these books, like having old friends around me again.