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.