Monday, December 27, 2010

A Balanced Spirit

Last year some lay leaders of the church started to worry about burn out.  There was also a feeling by some folks that we had fallen out of balance in our ratio of sermons and projects devoted to Justice, and those devoted to the spirit.  Personally, I have been in a phase of my own spiritual path where just work and spiritual work were one and the same, but I recognize that everyone is at a different place on their journey.  Everyone has their blind spots, so ministers rely on their trusted advisers to help keep balance in the ministry.  I  tried to imagine how this year I could bring more spirit into our community, with an emphasis on renewal for those folks who were at the edge of burn out.

In conversation with the Worship Team, we decided that on Sundays when the children and teens are not  in the service, we would use the time usually reserved for a story for quiet meditation. The Board decided to be  conscious about including not just a chalice lighting and reading at the beginning of each meeting, but a 10-15 minute spiritual practice that reflected the spiritual life of that day's leader.  I decided to focus a handful of sermons over the course of the year on renewal- starting with an early fall sermon about how Unitarian Universalists can observe a sabbath.  I also decided that our Adult RE offerings would focus more on heart and spirit than on mind and hands; Dream Work in the fall, and Evensong in the winter.

I forgot that this plan, if it was truly an effective one, would change me, not only my flock.  First of all, it has been so delightful to have a place to bring my dreams after a number of years without a dream group.  My dream journal went from about 1 entry a month, to a couple every week.  The folks who came for the dream group are incredibly intuitive and insightful, and the whole process has been lovely.  I have also had to dust off my favorite meditation manuals, and share some basic Buddhist meditation practices with the congregation in worship.

A few weeks back I was feeling kind of discontent- like my persona was out of sync with who I really wanted to be.  In a fit of inspiration between washing the dinner dishes and putting my son to bed, I removed all the little objects that had accumulated on my altar, dusted the whole thing and started from scratch. I found myself thinking about those objects and colors over the next few days as my mind wandered, making changes until it was balanced and somehow reflected some freshness I wanted in my life.  That same week I lead a  workshop with our worship team on "Leading Meditation in Worship", and realized afterward how long it had been since I had meditation with anyone except my yoga class. By the time I arrived at the Dream Work class on Thursday, I could see a trend -- the feeling-tone of my inner life was changing.  There was a freshness, a curiosity there which I hadn't even known was lacking.

Of course we are still holding public forms about how hydro-fracking will effect our local economy and eco-systems, and are in the middle of a holiday food drive for the local food pantry, but our focus on renewal brings a different tone to our work togehter.  How incredibly blessed I am to serve a congregation that notices when we are out of balance, and believes in the value of restoring that balance.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Having and Aquiring

Last week I preached about mindfulness during the holiday season. I used shopping as a primary example of how our "wanting" knocks us off our center, and posited that the way to end the stress of wanting is not through finally "having it all" but through mindfunless and returning ourselves to the present moment. (We've been thinking a lot about Buddhism lately, in case that wasn't obvious).

One of the wise folks in the congregation noted, during the talk-back time, that perhaps there is a difference between acquiring and having.  She suggested that our society is better at acquiring than at having. In response I voiced the ethic we hear time and time attributed to indigenous peoples- using every part of hte buffalo or deer or any animal killed in the hunt is a sign of respect to the animal.  Here in this time and place when we go hunting it is for inanimate objects like smartphones and sweaters, and we have abandoned this ethic completely . 

It wasn't until I got in the car for the drive home that I realized what wonderful food for thought she had offered.   As the great Ben Franklin said "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." I don't know about you, but I have more stuff that I can use. Seriously.  I mean, how many of us have more books than we will ever read?  I know all you knitters out there have a stash that will most likely be passed on to your grand children.  More importantly, when I clean out my closet for the season and pass on the clothes I am "done with" what percentage do you think are actual "worn out?"  Part of the reason that jeans with pre-fab rips and faded splotches are in style right now is that no one keeps their pants until they are ripped and torn.  Maybe it is all about the thrill of the hunt, acquiring new things more than really using and appreciating the things we have.  There's always the option of becoming renunciates, but if we are going to stay in the world, we are going to have stuff.  What would it be like to really have it, instead of just acquiring it?

Friday, December 03, 2010


When I first moved to California, I was amazed to realize that the 12 foot tall tree in my friend's front yard was fuchsia.  If you've lived in the North East, you know that Fuchsia is  a hanging plant for porches in summer time.  In California, they outgrow their pots and live to a glorious and ripe old age.  They became a favorite plant of mine, and when the landscaper accidentally chopped one down while clearing out scrub I was sad for years.

So this summer when I saw a sweet little Fuchsia in a 4" pot at the nursery, I just couldn't resist.  I had to learn for myself whether they could overwinter if taken indoors.  I missed that first frost, though, and though I took it in the next day, its few leaves started to fall off one by one.  I had hope though- I remember one Fuchsia in my California Garden had been trampled flat during an outdoor party, but somehow made a full recovery.  Sure enough, my Ithaca Fuchsia is sprouting new leaves.  I don't know if it will be enough to make it through the winter until it can face the out of doors again, but I had to try.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wealth n stuff

This is what it's like to be an american:

In this country I know I am solidly middle class.  Not a lot of money for luxuries, but a roof over our heads and food to in the refrigerator.  Some days I feel really deprived not to be able to afford all the things I see on TV... I mean, we can't even afford smart phones!

Then I remember that 1 in 5 people in the world do not even have access to a pit latrine. 


I guess that makes me rich.  It's just hard to remember sometimes.

That's what it's like to be an American.

Monday, October 18, 2010


A friend of mine teaches theater and English to High School kids. She was describing one fall how she began the year explaining to her students through various exercises and literature that each person has a unique voice, and encouraging her students to find their own voice. I hope her students are quicker than me, because I've been pondering that one for a full 4 years now.

I didn't realize I had any particular voice when I preach until I noticed it started to change. I was looking at an old sermon from a few years back and remembered how erudite I used to sound. Over the past few years, however, my focus has changed from trying to sound learned and polished to just helping the good folks stay awake on a Sunday morning. I went from trying to sound like a minister to sounding more like a conversation over coffee in the social hall. Come to think of it, my coffee hour voice has changed too since those first awkward days of my internship: it's a lot more relaxed and, frankly, sometimes downright goofy. So as near as I can tell, finding your voice is some combination of using the hardwear and software that nature and nurture provided, and letting some of your Self leak through the editing mind which protects us all from the worst of bad jokes and rambles.

But, in the words of the immortal Bill Cosby, I told you that story so I could tell you this one. About 2 years ago now I bought myself a mandolin. It had been almost 20 years since I dropped out of music school, and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to make music again. A singer is so much more independent and useful if she can accompany herself; but sadly the barrier was not simply the mechanical learning curve of training muscles to play a new instrument, but one of voice. It seems the same technique that makes "Quando m'en vo" sound lovely is just plain awkward when put to the task of singing "High Shelf Booze " So here I am, starting from scratch, finding my voice all over again.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


1976 Wendell Berry writes "The Unsettling of America." I was obliviously enjoying Elementary School.
1986 Those Farm Aid concerts let us troubled teens know that we must save the family farm.
2010 The "Locovor" movement is sweeping the nation. Organic food has made it all the way to Walmart. America is starting to understand that this movement is not about saving a few family farms, but is about protecting everyone: our health, our land, our environment

Wendell Berry saw it all in 1976.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

That sinking feeling

Last week I was driving through Ithaca and I have to confess that I was talking on my cell phone. As I pulled onto Estey I saw the police officer, and I saw him see me. I hung up immediately, but as I sat at the red light, I watched the patrol car make a leisurely u-turn as he pulled up behind me with his lights flashing. There were times in my life where I would have been furious about that traffic ticket, but now it has a different effect on me. First, I was really glad that I was going the speed limit and had made a full stop at the light. Second I though “I am getting this ticket because I broke the law. And it is a law because it has to do with my safety and the safety of my community.”

And why was I assiduously going the speed limit? Because last year I was pulled over for not slowing down to 30 as I passed through the town of Van Etten. But you know what? Even if I drive exactly the speed limit, stop completely at every stop sign and never talk while driving again, I will still feel that little guilty jolt in my stomach every time I see a patrol car behind me. Why? Because I know I'm not perfect, and when I see those lights in my rear view mirror, some inner part of me does a quick moral inventory. It's like my own conscience is driving that patrol car,combined with some basic distrust of authority. And when the officer walks up alongside my driver side door, I wait for the verdict. "Do you know why I stopped you?" I run through possible traffic mistakes from the last half hour, gaps in vehicle maintenance (is that tail light out again?!) political party affiliations, failings as a mom. None of us will ever be perfect, that’s just part of being human. But I sure do pull over now when the phone rings.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Star Island

This summer my son and I took advantage of a clergy scholarship to visit Star Island. We had a few very stormy days which were discouraging, but quite impressive as the winds were so strong we could barely walk upright in certain places on the island. The hotel is over 100 years old, and I think they used every waste basket to catch rain drops that leaked through the ancient roof. There was yoga every day (VERY gentle) and on the day of the worst storm the swinging doors would swing open and closed with every gust of wind, and the back row got rained on about half way through class.

The sunny days were remarkably beautiful. I even got up the courage to go "Polar Bear" with the crew that meets out at the dock at 7:00 am. I was just so happy it wasn't raining I didn't care how cold the water was (and it was COLD).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


"Those people are just afraid of change" he said.

Sometimes I wonder if change has become it's own virtue. WE hear all the time the analogy of shark must swim or it dies.

But what about the brooding hen... If it moves the chicks will die? What about the hibernating bear?

Right now our culture is at incredibly fast rate of change, sometimes the change happens so quickly our culture, our capacity for wisdom can't keep up. Maybe sometimes slow gradual change is best. Maybe sometimes conservation of the traditional, the biological is appropriate. Change is not an absolute virtue.

The universe does not only expand away from itself, there is also gravity. If the 2 forces did not work in complementary opposition then the whole universe would have blown apart in its first moments. It was the slowing and cooling that allowed worlds to form.

Maybe being cautions about change is not a character flaw.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Unruly verdure

This spring my garden has finally grown into what it was meant to be- an unruly mess of green. There are maybe 4 plants back there that i bought at a nursery, all the rest have lived here longer than I have or planted themselves.

I am told a previous resident was quite a gardener, her tiny property bursting with flowers and life every year. But the next owner bought the house to "flip" and when they were doing much-needed renovations and updates, they also laid that black landscape fabric EVERYWHERE with a couple of shrubs poking through. That first spring in this house I was heartened to see tulips, columbines, snowdrops and crocuses peaking their determined heads up along the edges of the fabric. I relocated them from any weird corner of the yard that the landscaper missed and from what would later become the veggie patch. By this 3rd spring, my semi-tidy geometric patterns of tulips and other bulbs have grown into more organic shapes, and Columbines and Sweet Woodruff travel where they please. The Salomon's Seal has filled in the shaded areas so heartily I had to dig some up and give it to a friend yesterday lest it overwhelm the landscaper's azaleas, and the low growing woodland natives I got on my first visit to the native plant nursery that first spring. Those large patches of empty mulch that made up so much of my garden when we first moved in are now completely over-run with green flowering life. Occasionally I go out to "tidy things up" but with the exception of a few errant maple seedlings, all the occupants have received my express invitation. I wondered this morning if I should try to separate the tulips and the columbine a little bit, just to make things look more orderly, but as I've learned the hard way, a plant that is moved during the growing season will most likely stop flowering, and some will just give up on greenery altogether and spend all its energy on its roots.

No, everyone in the garden is riotously happy, and making themselves right to home. As long as they don't start bullying the little guys, they are welcome to party all summer right where they are.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What local is

While we were in California we did a lot of grocery shopping- a couple of conventional groceries, some high end groceries, and 2 green groceries. I had decided to try to buy things that were local to California, partly to remind myself of the differences in growing seasons. I had forgotten that lemons grow in your backyard, and Strawberry season is in full swing by April, that in fact most of the strawberries at my Ithaca grocery store are shipped there from California.

So as I tried to remember what "local" was in the bay area, I noticed that the conventional stores had only minimal information, and you had to go hunting for it. One green grocery had the state or country posted on a sign near each kind of produce (Rhubarb from Mexico, eh? There went my plans for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie) I did pretty well rounding up California produce for our next meals (it is America's breadbasket after all)

Then we went to a store that listed the number of miles each fruit or veggie traveled to get to the store. That was when I realized that "California grown" food could come from 300 miles away! I managed to find a few things that were grown only 100 miles away, but the selection was much reduced. I began to remember that our CSA when we lived in the bay area was about that far from our home in Berkeley. I remembered that the only farm in Alameda county is some kind of historical agriculture preserve run by the parks department or something.

I try to shop local when I'm at home in Ithaca too. Both of my grocery stores have a little "local" sign they put on some produce, and when I can't find that I look for some shout-out to the fingerlakes region or New York State when possible. But often "local" means ithaca and its surrounds. The farm where I have my CSA is about 3 miles from my house, and we pass other farms on a drive of 10 miles in any direction. Local seems to be more... well... local where I live now.

But now I'm home and Strawberries won't be growing here for another month or so. And sadly, it is never lemon season in Ithaca.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Last Night

Being that it was our last night in California, we gathered one last time for dunner. We bustled from kitchen to studio: making dinner together and "bouncing down" the tracks from Thursday's jam. When all was ready we opened that totally righteous bottle of wine our friend gave us, and tried to feel the happiness of being together more than the sadness of parting. We knew we had to catch a 6:15 am flight, and a good friend had left that very day for her new home in Southern California.

Our son challenged all comers to a duel on Wii Fencing, and defeated them all soundly. Suddenly it was 11:00 and, anticipating our 4:30 am airport shuttle, the party came to an abrupt end. We never did make those lemons into lemonade, see the house where our son was born or make that pilgrimage to Willow Glen Yoga.

The next day we were stupid after a night of too little and too restless sleep. The taxi came to the wrong address, the bags were over their weight limit, and apparently the inferior Chocolate Croissant we got for Wuggie at the airport just before boarding was for him the last straw. (I didn't think it was possible to make a bad chocolate croissant, but Wuggie sure was disappointed with this one.) In desperation we paid the fee for in-air satellite television, and watched "World's Strictest Parents" and "Top Chef" marathons the whole way home. (Except Wuggie, who prefers the GPS channel).

Thankfully, Adventure Gramma met us at the airport and whisked us home to what had become a happy pack of cats and dogs while we were gone. Underdog had lost all fear and apparently had as much fun on his vacation as we had on ours. We kept our eyes open long enough to eat dinner and then faded fast.

The next morning we battled jet-lag and Gramma took us on a short walk to a historic coffee shop complete with waitress/cook in Revolutionary era garb. (Gramma is a total hero, by the way, for watching our dogs for 12 days, providing airport shuttle and historic breakfast outing).

We loaded the car four our 5 hour drive home. Home. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the tulips waited for us. Spring has just begun.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Last Day

Tuesday, in honor of our last day in California, we took Cal Train and the BART over to Berkeley. (It was a fun adventure for our son Wuggie, and pretty chill to ride with coffee and a book, but took nearly 2 hours. I can't believe we have friends who do this every day!)

Our son had been promised a Slurpee, and my partner wanted to visit Amoeba (how many hours we spent back in the day flipping through the used CD bins. Sigh.) Our brunch spot, La Note, was right near a favorite foraging ground of mine, Pegasus Books, where I had often serendipitously found a favorite author's most recent books in perfect condition. My luck had held up over 3 intervening years- brand new hardbound Octavia Butler and P.K. Dick for $5 each- even worth schlepping in my backpack the rest of the day.

From there we walked to get Wuggie a Slurpee (which we consumed on a bus-stop bench where I learned that Berkeley has curbside pick up of kitchen scraps, and that there is an iphone app to find out which bus is coming when). Amoeba also did not disappoint- ah the thrill of finding old and new favorites in the dusty used bins. We even found a They Might be Giants b-sides CD for Wuggie Norple.

We walked up and down the length of Telegraph Avenue, (what a sunny, temperate, perfect day for a walk) then back to the Berkeley Bart with a short layover at Jupiter for a Cider, a hefeweizen and a Lemonade and it was time for the return commute.

Monday, April 05, 2010


After a couple of idyllic days in Marin, we loaded up the car and headed back down the peninsula for the Easter Party. Ham, egg hunting, lemon picking, wine drinking and tons of old friends. Somehow the hay bales out by the grill were transformed into a princess palace that enticed little and not-so-little kids alike out into the rainy California afternoon. A lovely party. We fell into bed exhausted and satisfied.

This morning we cleaned a little, did a little yoga, walked the dogs in the much welcome sun.

Now we are packing up the van for the A's home opener. Plenty of ham and beer left for tail-gating tonight.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Amazing things

Today our son suggested a photo competition during our walk in Roy's Redwood Grove- each of us was to take 3 photos of "Amazing things" which we would share, vote on, and award prizes upon our return home. The sun had finally come out; the day, the redwoods, and the wildflowers were lovely and many photos of amazing things were taken while the dogs zoomed at blurry lightening speeds up hills and across meadows.

After yet another scrumptious group-cooked meal, the slideshow and judging commenced.

Here were a few of my personal favorites.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Laying Low

After a day of nonstop music for the band and sushi and mini-golf for me and the boy, it was time for a slow day.

I was the last one up this morning, I think there were friends sleeping on every surface that was not already covered with instruments or cables. We ate a leisurely breakfast and packed up the drums and cables, laundry and Pokemon magazines while the Woodstock documentary played in the background. I think we're headed north today across the golden Gate bridge for a night of grilling and laying low. Tomorrow I am determined to hug me a Redwood Tree.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

This is happening

After dropping the boy off at his friends, walking the dogs, 4 hours of laying cables and soundchecking the drums, I think the band is finally ready to play...

Oh wait, no they are going to check the drum levels one more time...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

California, Coming Home.

"...It's too old and cold and settled in it's ways here
Oh, but California
California I'm coming home
I'm going to see the folks I dig
I'll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I'm coming home"

After preaching on Sunday we loaded up the family, the dogs and 3 suitcases and headed off on our great adventure. First to my Mom's house in Delaware to rest, reconnect, and ultimately to leave our 2 dogs in trustworthy hands (that totals 3 dogs and 2 cats at Chez Mom for the next week or so. I think they are forming a pack).

Flight out Monday dinner time included a near miss with our connecting flight in Denver (SO glad we did not have to spend the night on the airport floor) Our son decided over airport cheese-steaks that he would make an album to take back to his 3rd grade class for an "emergency share" after spring break. We immediately began taking pictures of all airport mundainity.

Arrived late Monday night- it's such a gift to be picked up at the airport after a long day of traveling. So good to be in a comfy home with old friends. Immediately the comparisons began- some things so familiar, some so strange. I know this seems odd, but the thing that seemed most strange was the flowering plants. The progression of blooms in Upstate New York is so slow and methodical- first the bulbs (crocuses and tulips) then the flowering trees, then the day lilies and Irises of high summer. Yet on my late-March walk through a San Carlos neighborhood I saw flowering cherries, tulips and Day Lilies all in full bloom. The two ecosystems are like apples and oranges. Speaking of which- lemon trees sagging under the weight of their fruit. Lemons- seasonal local winter produce in CA. I forgot.

The long drives from friend to friend to yoga to "remember that little Vietnamese lunch place?" have the sensation of driving backwards in time. So many hours and years I spent on these roads, they are like old friends and strangers. The traffic I thought I remembered. What I forgot was that it takes at least 20 minutes to go ANYWHERE. Just when I was getting cranky about my 3-times-a-week 50 minute commute, I forgot that it used to take me 20 minutes just to get to yoga, 20 to get to my son's preschool and 25 in the other direction to get to work. Friends were further- 45, 50, 60 minutes to commute to friends. It sure makes my 6 minute walk to yoga back home seem precious, and my downtown neighborhood seem downright sleepy.

Okay, but I'm not here to do cultural analysis, I'm here to see friends. These are very very precious. Everyone has been so generous with their time and opening their homes to us. It is mostly joyful, but even though we have a full week left to our stay, there is a poignancy that underlays certain moments. But mostly the ease and gratitude of being with friends who know us in a steady, easy, comfortable (or as our son would say "comforting") way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When you meet the Buddha in the Road...

About 8 years ago I brought this Buddha candle to a gift-swap with my minister's group. About 7 years ago I scored this Buddha candle in the same gift-swap (my colleague had brought it back, wrapped with a pretty bow and barely stifling a grin)

I decided the big 4-0 was as good a time as any to burn it.

I remember the first time I saw a Buddha candle burning; it was at a fellow seminarian's house-party before I had really studied much Buddhism. I was so surprised to see a sacred image burning that I must have said something out loud. My host replied "oh, I think you have to burn a Buddha candle."

So I found myself this past weekend surrounded by friends burning the Buddha. One seemed surprised by this seemingly sacrilegious act, so I tried to explain about the doctrine of impermanence, about the sand mandala ritual (which lead to much reminiscing about the time we watched Tibetan monks destroy the sand mandala they had been building for days during the Tibetan Freedom Concert while "Rage Against the Machine" played barely audible beyond the chanting of the monks- hey it was my birthday I'm allowed a little nostalgia.) My partner and I both tried to explain the Buddhist Koan "If you meet he Buddha on the road, kill him" before finally resuming the non-theological aspects of the party.

In a whole night of festivities, we got only as far as the eyes. I find this hopeful; life impermanent in nature, but it's often a slow burn.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


We've all been worried about money. I'm guessing just about everyone in the country has had to cut back, or at least has lost some sleep worrying about job security or retirement plans. Goodness knows if you've got any credit-card debit right now all those lenders are putting the screws to already tenuous households. It's the worst recession in 40 years they say.

Last night a member of my congregation told us of the time during the great depression that his father was out of work for many months. They had no money for heat or money for food, so they rigged up the coal stove so that they could use the little coal they had for warmth and for cooking. Once a day the family had a bowl of rice with a little curry powder as weeks went by without work.

Suddenly everything popped into perspective for me. The house is warm, there is food in the refrigerator. There were presents under the tree at Christmas. I am wealthy beyond all reason.

Monday, January 04, 2010


"And I'm going to be 40!"
"[sob] Someday!"

In 1989 "When Harry Met Sally" came out, and I thought this was hilarious. Well Someday is close at hand. In just over a week I'll be 40 for real. It feels okay so far... ever since I was a kid I've felt like I was middle-aged at heart, so I guess I'm hitting my prime. Throughout my 20s I worried that mid-life would be boring, but somehow I don't mind cleaning, because it's my very own home. I don't mind staying in on Friday night, because I like just hanging out at home (our cozy hobbit-hole that we love) with my husband and son. And I don't mind spending so much of my life working because I love my job and felt such a strong calling to ministry that I spent 4 years in grad school and am still paying on the student loans. I chose this life, I worked hard for this life, and happily I spend enough time in my 20s and 30s dancing around burning sculpture in the Black Rock Playa or tangled in some kind of little yoga knot that I'm ready for something hew. Sure I miss the days of the Cyber Ball, sure it takes me longer to get into and out of some asanas, and my days of the bikini are gone for good, but I think I'm ready as I'll ever be for 40.

At any rate, I sure am going to take advantage of this great excuse to party.