Friday, December 28, 2007

Year in Review: Gratitude Version

I've been sorting through things and organizing. The second bedroom in my apartment has become a junk room of sorts, instead of the office I intended it to be. It's my goal to sort through all of the stuff that remains in boxes, take what I don't need/want anymore to a thrift store, and thoroughly clean the whole apartment during my break. I also need to complete some paperwork that has hung over my head for a couple of years and get it turned in. It's my plan to have that project finished during my break too, so that it's no longer causing me guilt. I would estimate that I'm about halfway done with my projects for this break. Another couple of days should be enough to finish up.

I like the idea of cleaning and organizing at the end of the year. When I lived in Korea and later in San Francisco when I pastored a Chinese Church, I learned about the tradition in those cultures of thoroughly cleaning house before the beginning of the New Year. I've intended to do it for many years myself, but this is the first year that I actually made space in my life to do it. It has given me a sense of anticipation about the coming year that I like. It helps me feel that I am approaching the new year with more intention about receiving the new things that it has to offer. I guess there's nothing magic about the change in the year, since it is important to me to daily work to be open to the newness the day offers, but the process of cleaning and organizing has helped make me ready in a way I've not experienced before. I like it.

As the year closes, I find myself reflecting on all that the current year brought to me. I have a lot to be grateful for:
  • A new faith tradition that has nurtured the sense of freedom that I've needed to reconnect with God;
  • Friendships that continue to develop and grow;
  • The trip to No. California and Yosemite, which helped me become more fully aware of the importance of place and nature for my spiritual experience;
  • The foxes that took up residence alongside the river across the street from where I live, creatures that made this place feel magical and beautiful to me, who reminded me that much about my life right now is "in between times;"
  • The gift of a new level of honesty with my mom about who I am when I came out to her, though I'm learning that coming out is not a one-time experience, even with the same people in my life. Choosing to live with integrity with my family is a continual challenge;
  • A group of women who are willing to help me work on the difficult things I'm trying to face, while also reminding me of all the good things I've accomplished in the past few years;
  • A cat who is so much fun to watch play and who freely offers her affection (she's resting on my chest as I type, occasionally reaching up to lick my nose);
  • The experience of losing out on the job I hoped would be mine and finding that the person who got it has been such a bright spot in my life since she came this summer;
  • The joy of running again and seeing my body change in the process, of accomplishing more as a runner than I thought possible in such a short amount of time.
I'm sure there's more, but that's a start. As I look back over the list, I'm struck by the fact that everything there is something I will take with me in some form into the new year. So much to look forward to!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Sour cream cookies are in the oven and the house is filled with the smell of cinnamon and sugar. It must be Christmas!

Wishing all of you a day filled with things that bring true peace, love, joy, and hope!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cooking by the blog

You all have done a great job of posting some mighty appealing recipes the past few weeks! I'm making some of Jo(e)'s relentlessly healthy bread right now. It smells SO good! It's making my mouth water. I can't wait until it's done so I can eat some. It's a recipe that can't go wrong. If it's got cinnamon in it, it's going to be good.

In a few days I plan to make Yankee T's Christmas Morning Coffee Cake. Ditto on the cinnamon with this recipe. Of course, the butter and sour cream in this one won't hurt anything either. :)

On New Year's Day, I'm going to make Cheesehead's Olive Tapenade for my olive-loving friend from city west of here. It looks fantastic. I'm anxious to try it out. I will, however, skip making the cheesecake recipe she shared today. Not. Going. To. Do. It.

Tomorrow I'm making some homemade tomato soup using a recipe I found on the Food Channel website. It looks good and easy to make. It's cold here, with a light dusting of snow on the ground. It seemed like the thing to have. I'll have apple crisp and caramel sauce for dessert to keep the house smelling good.

Oh, the timer just went off. Let me go get the bread out of the oven.

I'm back....YUM! It's fantastic! I can see why it doesn't last around Jo(e)'s place!

I love having time to cook. It makes the house smell warm and cozy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A different kind of Christmas wish

The reading below was used in a holiday memorial service at church this week. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders as I listened to it. I've struggled for a long time to find a way to welcome the joy and magic of this time of year, while maintaining some sense of integrity regarding the other emotions it evokes in me. Mostly I've swung from the extreme of choosing to be jolly to the point of ignoring everything else to choosing not to celebrate at all, as I did last year. Neither extreme is what I want, but complicated family stuff and losing Speaks-Few-Words when I left Always-Mom have filled this time of year with a mixture of emotions for me. I have yet to find a graceful way to enter into the holiday season without just gritting my teeth and holding on for dear life until it's over. But, I think I'm getting closer.

I found this reading very affirming. It helped me name that part of the problem for me is a certain social expectation that the season is "supposed" to be light and joy-filled. Hearing these words helped me lay down my own expectations that Christmas needs to be anything but complicated for me. So I offer this to you...

I Wish for You a Complicated Christmas
by Bruce Marshall

I wish for you this year a complicated Christmas.
Not the Christmases of simple joys and warm memories that we feel obligated to strive for,
but a season in which there is room for the complexities that occur during this time;
A season of complicated memories, of happiness and pain, of comfort and loss,
of disappointment and fulfillment;
A season of gifts, some that remind us of the relationships that sustain us,
some that remind us of the silliness and excess to which we are also subject;
A season of joy that also has room for sadness, because gladness and sorrow
take place together;
A season of busyness that also grants us time to pause;
A season of bustling that also allows for quiet;
A season of celebration that also encourages time for reflection;
A season of stories and songs about which we have complicated feelings,
some fill us with the warmth of nostalgia, some make us cringe with discomfort,
and some bring messages of truth and hope that we still yearn to hear;
A season of light that brings us to see more intensely the shadows of our lives;
A season of hope that underscores how far we still must travel to realize these dreams.
It is in this world of complicated feelings and memories that a star appears and shines above,
drawing us forward with promises of peace and goodwill, offering glimpses
of the path that still lies ahead.
_______________

So I wish for you all what I wish for myself.... A Christmas that acknowledges that hope dawns not in the uncomplicated joy of guilt-induced denial and happiness; it comes in the messiness that is life, full of complicated feelings and memories, drawing us to a child born not in the sterility of our clean, reverent nativity scenes, but in the messiness of a kennel, surrounded by indifferent animals and travel weary parents.

I am learning that true hope comes when I search for it with integrity. May it be so for us all this year!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Buttes!

Apparently there are a lot of buttes around Pullman, WA. JM tells me the "e" is very important, though, I'm sure if you left the "e" out, the sentence would still be true.

Anyway, budget and work schedule permitting, it appears in February I will get to see what all the fuss is about buttes. Work is requiring a trip to Oregon, scheduled at a time when it would be easy to add on a weekend with JM, which might give us a chance to do a follow-up to the Great Yosemite Adventure of 2007.

Hey, JM, are there any mice bears around those buttes?

I am thrilled that my work travel will lead me west! Now, I just need to find a way to the Northeast!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Appreciation

I've done a good job of sharing my frustration about being without electricity here. What you haven't heard is the appreciation I've also felt. Now that my head is a little clearer and I've had a night's sleep with a wonderfully cuddly cat who slept peacefully, purring much of the time, either on my chest or at my side leaning in as close as she could, I want to share some of those things and then I'll happily move on to something else. I know I've worn out at least one friend with my single-mindedness this past week. Heck, I've worn myself out with it.

So on to appreciation....
  • One of my friends here invited me to join her and her partner at her mom's house where the power never went out for more than a couple of minutes. Her mom and mom's husband were fabulous hosts. They made me feel comfortable and at home. They dealt graciously with the interruption to their lives that having three extra people (and a couple of others, as well as another two dogs one night) brought to them. T's mom, L., who blogs at Tranquility Base, baked for us several times, and made some fabulous lasagna and chili. It was a great place to be this past week.
  • It's hard to express how deeply grateful I am for my good friends T. and J. who have taken me into their lives freely this past year. Hanging out with them helped make things more bearable this past week. J. and I met through Seeker who was reading both of our blogs and took note of the fact that we were moving to the same city within a few weeks of each other. Shortly after I moved to town, J. and I got together. Through that connection, I found my church and some of the best friends I've ever had! So in addition to my deep gratitude for T. and J., I'm grateful for Seeker who suggested I e-mail J. It seems pretty random, but I know better! :)
  • L. and T., her husband, have five dogs. They, along with T. and J.'s dog, were great fun to be around this week. I love dogs and would have one of my own in a heartbeat if my lifestyle would allow for me to take care of it properly. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with them and having them around. I tried to sneak one of them into my car when I left, but they all know they have a good deal where they live. None was willing to go with me. :)
  • The property owners for my fourplex were so attentive and concerned about our situation this week. I'm grateful to be renting from great people.
  • The guys who restored power to our building and who worked in our neighborhood were from Georgia. I don't advertise where I live here, but I can tell you, it's not anywhere near Georgia. People from all over the country have been here to help us restore our power. I am very grateful to them for their hard work!
  • My boss has been wonderfully supportive of me and my difficulty concentrating this week. I'm grateful for the afternoon off yesterday when I'd reached my limit on dealing with the stress!
  • My friend L. who lives in city west of here, where there also was significant damage though she was spared any herself, checked in with me every day and helped keep me sane. I'm grateful for her friendship too.
  • And my favorite moment from the week was at church on Sunday, sitting in a sanctuary that was lighted and warmed only by the bright sun pouring through the tall, clear glass windows (the church still has not had power restored). We sat down for the service, busily swapping power outage stories when the service started, and the choir opened with, "Give us power, O Lord! Give us power, O Lord!" It took a few seconds, but in no time the place erupted in laughter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Capacity

My capacity for calm, reason, and kindness in the face of the inconvenience of losing my electricity and being displaced is, apparently, 9 days. Good thing the good guys from Georgia Power showed up at 2:00 this afternoon and restored my power. My sanity was returned to me immediately.

I'm happily blogging from my warm(ing) apartment, on my own internet connection, music blaring in the background, with the world's clingiest cat resting on my chest!

Home, sweet home!

I have a whole new appreciation for St. Casserole and those whose experience of loss and displacement after Katrina was far worse than what we've had here, and truly sorry it took my own experience of this kind of storm damage to gain such awareness.

ETA: Thanks for your prayers, thoughts and good wishes this past week!

Monday, December 17, 2007

What day is it?

Day whatever....still no power.

That's all, because I can't seem to focus on anything for more than five minutes right now. Me? Not a lot of fun to be around these days.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Lessons

Sometimes it takes a major ice storm for a person to learn important lessons. Here are a few I need to make note of:
  • It's not a good idea to take every pair of dress pants you own to the dry cleaners at once. If their power goes out, it may be awhile before you see them again.
  • There's a great deal of comfort that comes from a daily routine.
  • Sometimes there's nothing better than sitting down in the stylist's chair, having her massage your head, and give you a good haircut.
  • Just because your most immediate neighbors have their power restored doesn't mean you will too.
  • Heroes sometimes wear coveralls and hard hats.
  • Crisis can reveal the best in people and the worst.
It's possible my power will be on tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Refugee

I still don't have power. They are now saying it will be mid-week next week before everyone who can receive power to their home is back up. I've shifted my thinking from "maybe tomorrow" to "hopefully next week." I'm one of the most fortunate people in town though. I have a place to stay where there is power, hot water, and heat. The cable and internet connection is spotty, but even that is reliable enough that I can rely on my typical coping mechanisms for stress relief.

I'm still at my friend T.'s mom's place and taking it one day at a time. I may go to city west of here over the weekend and stay with L. just for a break from all of this. Her city has been affected too, but her area seems okay. She at least has power, as do her mom and grandmother.

I spent some time at my place this morning. I've missed PPBob and have been concerned for her staying in the cold apartment. She seems fine though. When I got there today, I climbed into bed and pulled the covers over my head with her in my arms. We stayed there for an hour or more. She played with me for a long while, and climbed all over me. Then she laid down and went to sleep leaning against my stomach. I fell asleep too. It was short, but it was a taste of home.

The seminary has wifi in spots and enough heat and power to make it possible to be there, so I'll go into the office tomorrow. Several staff and faculty families have been living at the seminary for the past few days. It won't be business as usual tomorrow, but I'm hoping it will provide enough sense of the usual routine that I won't feel completely exhausted at the end of the day. One of the great mysteries of the past few days is how it can be so tiring to do nothing. Hmmm...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ice

After our little jaunt through downtown big city south of here, we returned home to ice in our fair city this afternoon. When I say ice, I don't mean a little coating of it here and there. I mean ice so thick the view of this city is transformed for good. Trees are down everywhere. Power is out to over 200,000 customers. The streets aren't icy, but they're littered with limbs and downed power lines. Standing outside, the breaking limbs sound like gunshots. Sirens can be heard all over town, and in some locations there's a dull roar of generators running. It will be some time before the city returns to anything resembling normal.

We went to my apartment first. I checked on PPBob, made sure she was warm enough and well cared for, then unpacked and repacked my bag. Everything at my place is fine, except for the fact that there is no power. We went to my friend T's place from there. Trees were down all over their yard. One limb fell with such force onto a power line that it ripped the electrical box off the side of the house. I fear it will be a long while before they can return home. I watched as a limb fell across the street onto the church van. We loaded up her car with her dog and stuff and headed over to her mom's, where there is power and heat.

We are safe and sound, full of good warm food and content with a wireless network set up to accommodate all of our internet habits. Classes are canceled at the seminary tomorrow, but I may have to go in to work. We'll see when the morning comes.

The ice hit where my mom lives too. She's been without power since yesterday early morning. Fortunately, my nephew drove down from Kansas City to pick her up and take her back to his place. I was worried about her, but there wasn't anything I could do. I don't much like that feeling. My nephew just called to say they arrived safely at his place. I'm so relieved to know she's safe with someone who can look out for her.

Click here for a slide show from the local paper. It's really very surreal.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

2:48

We did it! In 2:48, which is faster than we expected, especially given a pit stop and a couple of stretch breaks. It was not warm here, as predicted. Fortunately, I planned for that and while we were running I was fine. Waiting outside for 45 minutes afterward left me chilled to the bone, but now I'm showered and tucked into my bed, warm and content.

At mile 12, I thought about Jo(e)'s comment to my last post. There were people yelling. Our bibs had our first names on them big, written big enough that people on the sidelines could see and yell for us by name. For a moment it hit me that I was in the place filled with many difficult memories, doing something I never imagined I'd be doing a year and a half ago. Tears filled my eyes. Of course, it could have been the cold wind blowing around the corner, but I don't think so. The tears kind of took my breath away. It's hard to run and cry at the same time. We went on and finished strong. The best sign of the day was just after the one more mile to go marker: "Your feet hurt because you're kicking ass!" You have no idea how that lifted my spirit!

And there was a nice cold beer waiting for me at the end! Tonight it's fajitas and margaritas for dinner to celebrate!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Excitement

I leave in a couple of hours for city south of here to run the half-marathon tomorrow. I went to Target this morning to get a new running outfit. I had planned to buy a new running jacket. Instead, I need shorts and short sleeves, as the weather will be unusually warm and humid. A warning went out by e-mail today to dress for warm weather and to begin taking in plenty of fluids now. And just a few weeks ago I wondered if it would be too cold to run comfortably! L. kept telling me about the year her brother ran the particular race we are doing. It was 19 degrees with strong winds on race day for him! I'll take the 60-degree weather we're expecting. Particularly since my new clothes could be purchased from the clearance rack for under $10 for the whole outfit!

Race start time is 9:00 a.m. CST tomorrow! We hope to finish before noon. Yes, that's slow. What's your point? My only real goal is to finish. After 12 miles in strong winds last weekend, it feels very doable. We've already started looking into doing another half-marathon in late March. Perhaps then I'll set a particular time goal. What I wanted to achieve by planning to run this race has already been accomplished. I've run farther and more often than I would have if I hadn't set the goal. The additional weight loss is a nice bonus too!

I'll return on Monday and will offer a race report then. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pre-half-marathon randomness

The half-marathon is in three days! We ran 12 miles on Saturday, half of which was into 30-mile-per-hour winds, so I'm hopeful we'll make it on Sunday. I'm glad we're headed south of here. There's a chance of freezing rain in my fair city on Sunday. That would not be optimal running weather!

My mind is about as scattered as the weather these days. I'm swamped at work. I'm in the middle of the usual holiday blues that I'd hoped to do more than endure this year. It's just that this time of year seems to be a good time for the demons of past mistakes and discontent to set in. I predict by January, they'll be gone.

There's a post brewing about attachment and this time of year, but it's not ready yet. I'm conscious of my desire to be somewhere else, not in terms of my actual living situation, but somewhere else financially, somewhere else in my relationship status, somewhere else with family, somewhere else with work. If it sounds like discontent, you'd be right. So my new mantra is "Everyday, do the work you have." I need to get my attention back on to what's here now, in front of me, instead of wishing I were somewhere else.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Seeking suggestions

It's nearing the end of the year, a time when my thoughts turn to goals. I will be discussing my work-related goals with my boss soon, so those are beginning to take shape. I have some professional goals that are fairly well defined as well, though they could use a little more work to make them more specific and measurable. I am developing a goal for personal growth in the area of relationships that I will ask some people for help shaping and actually working on it. A few weeks ago, I got serious about setting some financial goals, and while those still need some more concrete definition, I'm good to go in that area as well.

There is another area where I'm planning to set some goals, but beyond a couple of things that I've already been doing to some extent, I'm not really at all sure how to proceed with it. I want to set some goals for writing. I'm not talking about dissertation writing, though that is a part of my professional goals and will have an effect on any additional writing goals I set. I am currently striving to write at least 30 minutes per day on the dissertation. Like it is any time I develop a new habit, it's hit or miss with that, but I know what to do and just need to do it. After the first of the year, I will need to start setting aside larger blocks of time to write on it so that I can make some serious progress. That will limit my available time for other writing, but I need to focus some on other writing to keep my soul alive. Getting the dissertation done is, in part at least, something I feel I have to do in order to get to some of the other things I want to do.

But, the truth is, I'm a novice when it comes to the whole writing thing. I want to believe that there is more for me than writing the occasional moving blog post. I want to step out a bit and develop more as a writer, but I have no idea what to do. I was a chemistry major in college. I had a composition class that was very good, but it focused on the mechanics of writing, and didn't cover anything in the way of how to develop as a writer. So, I feel a little lost. Here's what I plan to do: go back to the project I started last year and later abandoned--writing for 15 minutes a day about something I observe during the day; journal every day.

What suggestions do you all have of things I can add to this plan?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Things that make me happy two days before Thanksgiving

  • Seeing a bald eagle fly over the river and land in a tree along the path where I ran this morning
  • A chance to cuddle with my sweet cat who would NOT let me journal this morning
  • Discovering that I had to go TWO sizes smaller, instead of the one I expected, with the new jeans I bought today
  • Cold meatloaf sandwich and sweet potatoes, leftovers from dinner last night with good friends
  • Dinner tonight with the group from church that I went through the new members class with (we've added a few others since then too) where I will get to hold a baby, chase a toddler or two, try to get a very shy four-year-old to talk to me, and enjoy the company of good friends
  • Life in a place where I can know and be known, love and be loved

I'm off to my mom's tomorrow. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Upon coming home

I'm home. I drove around 1900 miles the past four or five days. To put that in perspective, I did some calculating this evening. For that amount of driving I could have gone to see Jo(e), with a detour to see Yankee T, AND made it almost half the way home. Or I could have gone to see Julie.

My back hurts from sitting for so long.

I had entirely too much time to myself....way too much time to be inside my own head. It's scary in there!

How do you know if a cat is glad to see you come home? I can't tell. With dogs it's easy. I went over to some friends' house tonight. Their dog put her front paws in my lap and looked at me adoringly, made me promise I'd never leave again, and assured me that she is mistreated by her humans. Of course, if I'd been there this morning and left to return this evening, she'd have looked at me the same way. So, who knows?

Tomorrow I run twelve miles. Who wants to take bets on whether or not I make it?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another first

It's gay week in my world, I guess. Today I talked about care in the coming out process with the introductory pastoral care class at the seminary. I was nervous about doing it, because, well, it's the first time I've done that. It's also the first time in a long time that I've taught anything in my field, so naturally I worried about it far more than I should have and probably increased the anxiety level of a few others in the process, and while I regret that a little, I doubt I could have gotten through this the first time without that level of anxiety.

Now, I'm off on a trip for awhile and the crisis of the evening is figuring out what to do about a cat sitter, since the one I had lined can't do it. Aargh!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Movie and panel

The movie "For the Bible Tells Me So" is showing at a local independent theater. At the first showing today, the theater was full. It is a well done documentary. The stories of the families featured in the film are compelling not so much in their uniqueness, but more in their ordinariness. The film does an excellent job of showing the difficult struggle gay and lesbian people and their families have in coming to grips with the Christianity's failure to embrace their gay and lesbian members. If it comes to your area, I urge you to see it. I plan to buy a copy to share with my mom.

After the first showing, the local LGBT center hosted a panel discussion, of which I was a member. Though I didn't really think about it until later this evening, this is the first time I've told my story in a public setting. I'm pleased with how things went, and amazed at the crowd that came out on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon to watch the movie and listen to the discussion. This really is a great place to live, not perfect, but definitely the right place for me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Today, I ....

  • Slept a lot
  • Wrote a little
  • Had lunch with a friend
  • Hiked in the woods
  • Sat by a pond to pray
  • Watched a large, dead limb fall from high up in a tree and splash into the pond
  • Checked the branches overhead to be sure there weren't any dead ones ready to fall
  • Slept a little more
  • Ate a cinnamon roll with a heavenly maple frosting
  • Punched the lights out on Slam Man
  • Watched a movie with friends
  • Stayed away from the computer
  • Stared at the cat who was staring at the wall

It's been a good day!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Coming up for air

I'm alive and kickin'! Just busy....
  • Traveling...for work
  • Not saying "no" to opportunities at church
  • Preparing to be on a panel in between showings of this film at the local independent theater this weekend
  • Preparing a lecture for the pastoral care class at the seminary next week
  • Running
  • Spending Saturdays at the farm (well, the last three weeks, anyway)
Hope you're well.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Volunteer

Fun fact from the farm: There's a volunteer papaya plant growing out of the waste heap on the edge of the garden. I haven't revealed my location here, but let me assure you, I do not live in papaya growing territory. The plant is about five feet tall, and has four pieces of fruit forming out of thick waxy white flowers. It looks very exotic.

The farmers have a solid reputation as local foods evangelists. Imagine the surprise on the faces of those who eat a dish they make using a "local" papaya!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday night

It's 9:00 and I'm tired. The cat hasn't moved for the last 1o minutes. She's hypnotized by the pull string on the overhead light in the bedroom. She's talking to it in a high-pitched nervous tone. I don't know what threat it poses, but I sit here assured that if it makes a move, PPBob will get it.

It's been a terrific day. A ten-mile run with two friends got the morning started. Later, I went out to the farm to work in the garden. Another friend came along. We helped harvest the last of the peppers, pulled up cages from around pepper and tomato plants, and then pulled up the plants to make room for garlic. The sun was shining. There was a light breeze. We worked to the sounds of goats bleating, dogs barking, roosters crowing, and cats meowing.

We had a lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese, but I guarantee you, this wasn't like the lunch your mom made. The tomato soup was homemade using tomatoes from the garden. The cheese was smoked cheddar from a local dairy, and topped off with a spicy green sauce that is locally made. We ate a few black cherry tomatoes and some tasty little red peppers while we worked.

Something inside of me shifts every time I go out there.

I came home and slept for about 30 minutes. The alarm woke me from a deep sleep. For a good thirty seconds, I had no idea what day it was, why I was waking up, and where it was I had to be. Fortunately, I figured it out, because the day ended with a moon-rise party at a friend's house. Their place is up on a hill that overlooks the city. The deck provided the perfect viewing of a deep red moon coming up on the horizon. Lots of good food and good company accompanied the moon.

And now, with the assurance that the cat will keep me safe from the evil pull string, I am going to sleep. I can't keep my eyes open any longer.
________________
ETA: PPBob finally jumped off the bed and found something to occupy herself with. A minute later, she jumped back up with a little flower between her teeth. One of the kids at the party gave me the flower and I'd put it in the zipper of my sweater, but forgot about it when I took the sweater off. I guess she found it and thought she should bring it to me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thinking about writing

I had a conversation with a friend last night that was interesting. She asked me about how I use writing to get unstuck or to process things. I've thought about that before, but I'm not sure I've ever described it in the way I did last night. I told her that writing, for me, is a way of paying attention, of noticing as much a given moment holds as I can, and that in seeing, really seeing in that way, I often find what I need.

In the past almost three years since I started blogging, writing has been an essential part of the healing process. Once I started writing about things that mattered to me, I felt the self that I'd let get so numb and hidden slowly return. I began to feel again. I began to have hopes and desires and opinions and perspectives that I was prepared to voice.

What I didn't expect was the powerful way in which writing for an "audience," instead of just in my own private journal, would affect me. For one, it never occurred to me that what I was learning as I reflected and wrote would actually help someone else or hold any meaning at all for another. I credit that miscalculation to the sense of disconnection I felt from the world at that time. In isolation, my experience never seemed much like the grander human experience. Writing helped me connect to a grander narrative, not always one that is already written and accepted, but one discovered in the process of writing and listening to how others responded, a co-created grander narrative, I think. As I shared what I was learning, others would share how it resonated with them and new meaning would emerge. It's a process that I've come to love.

For another thing, I never expected anyone to think I wrote well. Self-expression was frowned upon in my family. Utilitarianism was the order of the day in exploring vocation in my house. What was valued was skill or talent that would lead to a good-paying career. My parents' sacrificed so much to offer us kids a chance to be educated for that very purpose. My sense of commitment to them and the heavy sense of responsibility I felt to fulfill their dream left me closed off to careers or educational opportunities that were largely focused on self-expression. So, I spent hours in a chemistry lab, analyzing experiments to find solutions to benefit the greater good of humankind, like finding a cure for cancer or some noble task like that, while my friends were reading Shakespeare and talking about Foucault and writing stories and poems for the school's annual student publication. I envied them, but not enough to "waste" my time on such pursuits. And I ignored my own dreams expressed to my therapist (and her strong encouragement) and pursued a PhD in pastoral theology and counseling rather than a PhD in homiletics. Educational choices have always been made out of a greater sense of usefulness than out of any sense of passion.

Well, that sounds much worse than it all was for me. I was fascinated by science and I love the discipline of bringing theology into conversation with cognate disciplines, but what has become more apparent to me in the past year is how much I've deprived myself in an effort to focus on the higher value of usefulness. I don't want to do that anymore. I think that's why I write. It's the way in which I'm most comfortable expressing myself. Many other ways tap too much into an unshakable self-consciousness. And, I just love putting words together to describe things, to find meaning in things.

I've been thinking more lately about how I want to give writing a more prominent place in my life. I don't have any answers for that yet, but it's something I'm seriously considering. And I'm putting my thoughts here to create some sense of accountability for them, to keep in front of me the importance of not slipping into that place where usefulness is valued in such a way that self-expression is sacrificed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A turtle in the sun

The wind blows. It gusts with such urgency, heaving from deep inside the lungs of the earth to expel all that is left of summer. In its wake the air slowly grows cool and crisp. Leaves turn to gold and red and surrender their hold on the branches of the trees.

I hiked to a small pond on a nature preserve. Something inside beckoned me away to a quiet place to reflect. I sat on the soft ground, dead leaves crackling under my weight. I looked out past some trees at the edge of the pond to a log that was protruding through the surface of the water. A turtle had been resting there, soaking in the warmth of the sun. He was no longer there, but a quick glance around the pond revealed his whereabouts. He was swimming. The chiseled, angular shape of his head looked like the tip of a branch floating across the water.

The pond was full of clear, fresh water. It was darkened by the shade of the trees that surrounded it and the layer of dead leaves that had fallen to the bottom. My thoughts turned to the dark that had enveloped me for several days. It sneaked up on me from behind, reaching around to cover my eyes. It refused to speak. I hadn't been able to name it.

Sunlight filtered through the high branches of the trees, yet the water remained dark until gusts of wind rippled its surface. Small waves caught the light and spread it across the dark surface in glittery explosions like fireworks in a summer sky. As the wind died down, the pond darkened and settled again.

I asked the autumn wind to blow through me. I begged it to awaken the dark surface of my grief with ripples of sacred light, explosions of truth and meaning, of joy and hope in all that has come from what is no more. The wind spoke to me and said, "You are a turtle. You wear your fear on your back, retreating, hiding at the first sign that someone sees you, knows you."

I wanted to argue, but I surrendered instead, breathing deep, allowing the truth to reach inside me. "Yes," I said. "I am known in this place. It scares me, yet I long to know and be known more fully."

The air grew still for a moment. I sat with the tension of my awareness. The feeling's familiarity turned fear to dread. Tears began to flow. The wind spoke again. "Fear's call to retreat leads you into the dark waters of your grief. You swim in that darkness, looking up occasionally, checking to see if it is safe. I am the wind blowing through you. I am a fierce autumn wind. I have the power to break loose the hold of that which is dead inside of you, making room for the new to take hold."

"Why do I hold on to the old, dead things? Why does it feel safer than the new things I've worked hard for?"

"You cling because you do not yet trust the new things to be different enough to change you. You cling because you do not yet trust that you are different."

"Then what must I do?"

The autumn wind breathed deep and let her words ride on the gust of her warm breath. "Trust is a leap of faith. You are different. You can trust yourself. You can trust those around you, but you must have faith. Surrender and let me blow through you. I will turn your fear to trust."

I laid back on the soft ground, fists tight and teeth clinched. The warm breeze blew across me, relaxing the tight muscles in my face, my arms, my stomach. I took a deep breath, letting the autumn wind sweep through me. It blew with such strength that I feared losing everything, that it would sweep away even that which is new. I cried out, clinching my fists in anger, demanding that it take only the dead things. The gusts continued and I felt myself relax again. A deep peace and calm held me. I looked up. The pond had a new layer of dead leaves skimming across the top like tiny sailboats at the mercy of the wind.

And the turtle was on the log, legs and neck stretched out to soak in the autumn sun.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A little light....

Things are lightening a little today. I went to dinner with some friends last night and said some things out loud that helped me be clearer about what's causing the darkness. There's more to be said, and I will do that soon.

This morning, I got up and did the five-mile maintenance run. Doesn't that just sound fabulous?! Yeah, it makes me smile just to call a five-mile run "maintenance." Saturday, I'll make the first attempt at 10 miles. The possibility of finishing a half-marathon (13.1 miles) was real enough today that I registered for the one we're planning to run in December. When I clicked on the page for registration, an option to create a fundraising page was offered. The proceeds from the race are going to a local (in the city where the race is being held) children's hospital that offers its care free of charge to the families of the children who require it.

SFW was a patient in this hospital when he was a child. He saw doctors at the hospital yearly for a variety of the conditions he lives with, until he turned 18. In a few days, he will celebrate his 20th birthday. I accompanied him on a number of his appointments at the hospital. I was skeptical, certain there had to be strings attached to the whole "free" thing, but there are none. From the minute you walk in the doors of the hospital, all attention is given to the child's care and recovery. Money is never mentioned. Never.

So, I decided to set up a pledge page. I hate fundraising, but this is as easy as it gets. For one, I really, really believe in this cause. For another, I need a way to honor the child/man I love but can no longer see. And for yet another, I need a meaningful way to celebrate the accomplishment that running a half-marathon represents. I am not the same person I was two years ago. So much has changed for the better, and while there is still pain from all that I've lost, I have a good life. A very good life.

I invite you all, without an ounce of self-consciousness, to join me in this celebration. If you'd like to make a donation, go here. Regardless, I hope you'll join me in celebrating all that has happened in the last couple of years. I have so much to be grateful for!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Darkness

I've been in a really dark place since I woke up on Friday morning. I've tried a multitude of things to shake it, but nothing's helped much so far. Do you think if I ran around screaming at the top of my lungs that might do it?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Things I'm pondering tonight....

  • What would it take for me to get my own place in the country?
  • Why did the cat just look me dead in the eye and pee on my clothes lying on the floor instead of in her litter box? Do you think she's pissed because I came home with the smells of an entire menagerie on me last night?
  • Why does everything taste even better when you eat outside on a cool, quiet evening?
  • Is there enough water in the world to quench the terrific thirst I've felt all day since my morning run?
  • Is there any way I can work in a camping trip before the end of the month?

Another reflection

It's not yet 6:00 and I'm already in my pajamas, sitting in bed while I blog. I could easily go to bed now and not get up until morning, but I won't. I'm tired and relaxed, so it's hard to keep my eyes open. Last night some friends and I went out to the farm, walked around outside, petting goats, and admiring the vegetables. We cooked dinner and ate outside. With little more than crickets and an occasional dog barking for background noise, we had a calm, crisp, quiet night to enjoy each other's company, some good food, and a peaceful retreat from the city. And then this morning, I got up early to run (9 miles, thankyouverymuch!) and worked for a few hours, so I'm mush, but I've still got laundry to do, a phone call to make, and Sunday School to prepare, so I'll have to find some way to stay awake.

I've been thinking a lot about my last post. I appreciate the comments, though my intention at the time wasn't to sound quite so shaky about my own sense of who I am in relationships. I think the last question grows out of a desire to understand what are realistic expectations of my self and anyone else in a relationship, and to honor the fact that in my experience love's constancy has not been felt fully in one relationship. My mom loves me. I'm certain of that, but it is not the kind of accepting love that offers me the freedom to be myself fully with her. That's not likely to change, though I will remain open to that possibility.

How do I integrate this sense of disconnection from the people in my past into my life? My faith? My understanding of who God is? It would be easy, perhaps too easy, for me to immediately go to a conviction that God is capable of consistent, unconditional love, but people aren't. But I find myself shying away from an old habit of projecting my unfulfilled longings and wishes onto God in a way that makes God just the idealization of humanity.

Given what I've been through in the past few years, I can't imagine doubting the constancy of love. The problem, I think, though, is that I've located love within those who do the loving. I've found myself wondering this week if love is something that exists independent of the people we know who love. Maybe it is a force in the world that we open ourselves to and become vessels through which it can flow both to ourselves and to others, but which can also become blocked from time to time. If that is true, my experience of never really experiencing a constant accepting love from any one person doesn't have to lead me to the conclusion constant love does not exist. The truth is, though no one person has offered that kind of love, there hasn't been a day in my life when I didn't experience love. Though those who have loved me, and whom I have loved, have changed, love has remained constant. I can see that only when I separate it out from the individual people in my life.

And if that is true, then maybe that force I call love that exists independent of us is really God. The one great principle of Christian scriptures which I have clung to, particularly in all the shifts and doubts in my own faith, is that God is love. In some ways that has been my creed, my only true statement of faith. And it is one I can honestly say fits with my experience. Deep conviction in its truth helps me accept impermanence as a reality of life, and to welcome the gifts it brings.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Impermanence: First reflection

I had a brush with my past yesterday that's left me in a reflective mood about the impermanent nature of relationships. I used to think that as long as I remained committed to a relationship, it would last a lifetime. Unfortunately, I've often mistaken stubborn refusal to give up to be the equivalent of commitment, but I think I've been cured of that. AM hooked me on that word commitment. I've gotten a good glimpse of what stubborn and commitment will do to a person when that commitment is in no way mutual or healthy.

I'm in a new city, have been for a year now. Most of my closest friends are people I've known for less than a year. Until a year or so ago, I still had contact with my best friend from first grade through my early adulthood, but when it came time to update her with my new contact info after I left AM, I never managed to get it done. It's been years since we had anything in common to talk about. She grew distant after she learned that I, a woman, became a pastor, and being the stubborn one, determined not to give up on the relationship, I maintained contact for years, hoping someday my "commitment" to our friendship might persuade her to accept me. It never happened and something glorious in my changing understanding of commitment after all the heartache with AM freed me to let that relationship go too.

It leaves me in an odd place though. With the exception of my family, I have no regular contact with anyone who has known me for more than 9 years. That's hard to admit. Though I have new ways of framing it, I still worry that it is a reflection, somehow, on my character (or lack thereof) that I haven't managed to remain close to anyone from my past. That sense of failure is heightened by the reality that I am not close to anyone in my family, for essentially the same reasons that I have no contact with any friends from the early part of my life. With a record like that, it's hard not to assume it's my responsibility.

But the gift of the past few days is a new opening to accept the impermanence of relationships, a willingness to lay down the judge's gavel and open myself to a more freeing way of looking at what's happened. It's brought a lot of things into question for me. I don't know that there are a lot of answers yet, but there's a new sense of grace, I guess, that seems to permeate the way I'm looking at what has for years felt like failure. Here are some of the questions and thoughts I'm left with:
  • Where have I learned to place such high value on permanence in relationships, to assume that commitment means sticking it out no matter what?
  • Accepting impermanence doesn't mean assuming relationships will end, I think. It seems to me that it is probably more a shift in orientation toward the nature of all relationships. It's a surrendering of control over the outcome and an acceptance that change in the relationship is inevitable. Sometimes the change strengthens the relationship, deepens it. Sometimes it leads to separation. Sometimes it just means the relationship is different.
  • If impermanence is accepted as a reality and embraced as something to be valued, rather than dreaded or feared, how, then, does my understanding of important theological categories like reconciliation and unconditional love shift?
  • My experience is leaving me with the question, is there a love that remains constant through all those changes? I have some relationships that I've maintained throughout my lifetime, but I would hardly say they're characterized by unconditional love, a love that is constant, unwavering, that is able to accept me for me who I am.
  • And, ultimately, I guess I wonder if I'm capable of loving and accepting in a way that I long to be loved and accepted myself.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Slowing down

Do you know the feeling you get when you drive fast on the highway for a long period of time and then stop and get out of the car, but you still feel like you're moving? If I remember correctly, my driver's ed teacher gave that feeling a name, "velocitized." He named it because he believed that the feeling of moving at a faster pace is what leads people to get tickets. The fast pace feels normal, so it's hard to slow down in a speed zone. There's a temptation to keep pushing on the gas pedal to get back up to the speed that feels "normal."

I feel like that after suddenly slowing down from a busy pace between work and church. I'm caught between feeling like I'm still moving at a high speed and wanting to look for things to do so I can keep moving. It's hard to focus. My thoughts are all over the place. And slowing down is making me aware of some things I've neglected because they needed quiet, alone time to give thought to them, but the temptation to rush out and find something to do so I don't have to think about them is pretty high. It isn't that they are necessarily painful and difficult to face. Honestly, they aren't. It's just hard to slow down and shift gears to focus on something that requires a slower pace.

I've been trying to focus on a post about touch and the difficulty we have in this culture with negotiating what's appropriate and what isn't, while deeply craving it from those we love. Re-reading that sentence, I'm struck by how much more powerful it would be if I went back and rewrote it in first person. When I say "we," I mean "I," but that feels pretty raw and it's hard to slow down enough to be that vulnerable right now. I suspect that's why I can't get the damn thing written.

I've also been thinking a lot about relationships and how hard they are to maintain for the long haul. It amazes me that we ever really understand each other and connect. I'm struck by how easy it is to let things get in the way, to move away from doing those things which nurture the connection with others and slip into ways of interacting that seem on the surface to provide a sense of connection, but really only mirror it in less than authentic ways. I used to think that being vulnerable with people I don't know or barely know was the hardest thing. I've decided that it's really much harder at times to be vulnerable with the people I know the best. And I've decided that it's really a matter of faith, or lack of it, actually that results in that difficulty. It doesn't require much faith to be vulnerable with someone you barely know. There isn't anything to lose. Yet, the surest way to lose those we love is to shy away from vulnerability. Oy. I marvel that we ever get this relationship stuff right.

Ah, I know this is grief talking. The pace since things with L. went south has been fast enough and we've maintained enough contact that I haven't really let myself go there. She's out of the country on vacation, and things are slow, so I can actually pay attention to it now. It's a good thing to do, but frankly, I'm ready to get the relationship thing right at some point in my lifetime.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Studies in language

Two days. Two scenes. Two moments captured in a single phrase...

Day 1: Scene 1:

I visited with a prospective student who came in with chewing tobacco in his lip.

Oh, yes. He did.

He is finishing a bachelor's degree and wanted to know if he used the university's exchange agreement with us to take a class at the seminary in the fall, would it also count toward his master's degree when he begins study with us. To which I said, "Oh, no. We don't allow double-dipping."

Oh, yes. I did.
_____________

Day 2: Scene 2:

While in chapel we sang a hymn this morning, the words to which were printed on the order of service so that we didn't need hymnals. Most of the hymn was lost on me when my mind stuck with an accidental phrase, a reference to "heeling love." I laughed at first, imagining love like a loyal, obedient dog. But then I was moved. What a marvelous image to picture love's step-for-step, constant presence, always keeping pace however fast or slow I might move.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Not dead

I'm alive, and well, though busier than usual. Between work and church, I've managed to occupy most of my evenings for the past few weeks.

I had a conversation with the boss today that I hope will help me free up some time to work regularly on my dissertation. I negotiated a later work day so that I can spend 30 to 60 minutes each morning writing. The regular writing will help keep me moving, while larger blocks of time on free evenings and weekends will help me get bigger pieces done. The key for me is regular daily writing. I can't rely on using a big block of time here and there. It needs to become a habit. Attaching the writing time to my morning routine which I live by religiously should help with that, I hope.

I am working on a post about some things that have occupied my thoughts lately. I hope to have it up in a few days. Until then, I hope you all are well.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The preacher's jar of words

This is the story of two preachers. One preacher was older than the other by several years. Both were well-respected around the country, and many people would travel great distances to hear them speak. Their ability to communicate spiritual truth was legendary. And there was a deep abiding respect between the two.

One week the two were invited to talk about their work and to preach for a group of preachers. The older preacher went first. He spoke words that reached into the very hearts of his listeners and touched them in ways that evoked more than mere ascent, a sort of benevolent intrusion, he would say. When he spoke, it was as if he knew each one personally, knew exactly what image was needed to bring heart, gut, mind, and memory into perfect agreement, allowing the words to soothe and stir and touch them in ways they never thought possible. Many said it was the best sermon they ever heard. No one argued with them.

The next day the older preacher was asked to introduce the younger preacher. They sat next to each other on the chancel. His small stature seemed to shrink even more next to her tall, slender frame. He rose from his seat, stepped up to the podium, and gazed at the crowd with a pensive look. When he spoke, he said, "On my back porch sits a jar. It's a mason jar. I put words in that jar, words that I will need later, words that I discover as I go about my day."

The auditorium was captured in hushed attention. The afternoon sun poured through the stain-glassed dome above, adding a hazy light to the already faded colors in the sanctuary. People sat quietly in time-bleached, velour-covered seats, green like the color of moss on a tree trunk, some wearing the stains of tiny drops of wine. One move and the decades old hinges of the seats creaked like rusty gates, but no one noticed if anyone moved.

In his self-described piccolo voice, the man continued. "One word," he said, "sounds like a 'honk' as it flies over. Another smells like a buffalo's breath. And one is like the silvery gleam that springs from the water when the sun hits a trout as it swims in the river." One by one he described the words in his jar, his words painting pictures and evoking memories for all who would hear.

"I am nearing the time when I will no longer have any use for these words," he said. "When that day comes, I will walk over the mountain to Barbara's house." He glanced back at the younger preacher, a smile barely inching from the corner of his mouth. "I'll leave the jar on her porch. I won't knock on the door because she probably won't answer even if she's there, so I'll just put the jar down for her. She'll know what to do with the words. She's the only one I trust to use them well."

The room grew ever more still. Listeners glanced at each other but none dared speak. The words he spoke carried such weight and significance that each knew she'd been witness to an intimate exchange. The older preacher stepped from the podium and made his way toward the chancel steps. The younger preacher sat with her head down, unable to move. The older preacher descended the few stairs from the chancel and stopped. The younger preacher finally stood. And as she stepped toward the podium, she turned to face him, and with the same smile shyly peeking from his lips, he bowed to her, and she bowed to him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Perfect

6:00 a.m. 58 degrees. Well hydrated. Well fed. 6 miles run. Non-stop. Pace: 30 seconds less per mile than usual.

It's a fabulous morning!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

From farming to writing

I'm off to the lake for a few days of re-familiarizing myself with my dissertation. With some luck and discipline, I might actually write something. No internet connection where I'm headed, so you'll have to wait until Tuesday for an update.

See you soon!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Eating locally

I went to the farmer's market this morning. I go occasionally, but I've decided to make it a regular habit. I am eager to experiment with eating from what's available locally, rather than letting my eating habits be driven entirely by what I want or what sounds good.

Our meals over the weekend were a mixture of things from chain grocery stores, a natural/local market, and the bounty of the farm. I'm not sure what I expected, but it really surprised me how much better things tasted. For dinner on Friday, I grilled some buffalo steak that the farm's owners left for us. I marinaded it in olive oil, red wine, and rosemary. That was paired with roasted tomatoes and eggplant, fresh from the garden, coated in olive oil, garlic (from the farm - yum!), and basil, and topped with fresh Parmesan cheese. We had some corn on the cob too, and dessert was vanilla ice cream topped with maple syrup and maple and brown sugar coated pecans.

On Saturday, we had a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, gathered the night before, whipped with fresh goat milk. We picked green, yellow, orange, purple, and red peppers to dice and add to the eggs. Some onion (from the grocery store) and garlic rounded out the flavors. We had a fruit salad with organic yogurt on the side. It was filling enough that we skipped lunch. Dinner consisted of a locally-raised organic roast, stuffed with garlic, and cooked with potatoes, carrots, and onions, deep-fried squash blossoms picked that morning, roasted garlic, salad, homemade yeast rolls, and a peanut butter-chocolate pie made with fresh goat cheese from the farm.

Sunday was our last day there, so we added some fried zucchini and homemade biscuits to our leftovers. I ate so much at lunch I felt full for the rest of the day.

Now this is a diet I couldn't sustain and expect to keep the weight off. It is also more time-consuming that I can manage, but the fact remains, I can eat far more locally than I do, and what intrigues me about the possibility is that it will encourage me to be creative about meals, rather than just relying on the old stand-by bowl of cereal or salad or whatever processed food strikes me at the moment.

It amazes me that this appeals to me at all. For years my father had a garden, a huge garden that often fed far more than his own family. I worked in it with him, but only because it was expected of me, not because I had any interest in it. I regret that now. I wish I had learned more from him. But this weekend the experience of walking out to the garden in the morning and eating something picked for breakfast, and gathering eggs the night before, and drinking milk from a goat I milked touched a place deep inside of me.

I was aware all weekend of a deep sadness, a grief I guess, that is still hard for me to articulate. There was a powerful experience of connection and a sense of rightness about what we did this weekend. We slowed down and cooked creatively. We enjoyed the beauty of the world around us. At each meal and throughout the weekend, we expressed our gratitude to the land, to the animals, to those whose work helped produce the bounty we enjoyed. We enjoyed each other.

It's what a connection to the land does for me every time I take time to experience it, and yet my city life seems to feed a disconnection. For now, I see promise in choosing to eat differently, to visit the farmer's market regularly and let what's available prompt my meal planning.

But... I wonder how much longer I can be content to live in the city, how much longer I can ignore the deep longing to live closer to the land.

Farm livin' is the life for me

I'm slow to report on the weekend. It's been busy since I got back, but I confess the hard part about writing this post is putting into words what the weekend was like.

First let me say, all animals are still living. Phew! There was an if-fy moment on Saturday morning when Jacques the 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier started terrorizing a chicken, had it trapped against the coop, leaving it lying motionless on the ground. I chased Jacques away and picked up the chicken to see that it appeared to be breathing poorly. I checked it for wounds, but found none, so I put it back on the ground. She jumped up immediately and ran away in a squawk. Damn chicken! Damn dog! I think they cooked up the plan when they found out the city girls were coming. You know, like you did when you were a kid and a babysitter was coming for the evening. Sheesh.

I milked a goat on Friday evening, but I was slow. I will say, however, I was thorough and every drop went in the bucket. Caring for the chickens became my "specialty" though, and I took to it like a champ. I even stuck my hand under a resting chicken to check for eggs. She pecked at me the first time, but I was quicker the next time and managed to do it without injury. Pretty gutsy, no?

Everything was slower at the farm, but it felt like we worked hard. We did chores and cooked. Oh, yeah, we took naps too, and played games, but there wasn't much time for anything else. The thing is, I liked it that way. The work we did felt purposeful. And the time spent together was great.

On Saturday night, we stood outside and looked up at a sky full of stars and later watched a spider weave a web. It was good to slow down. Maybe I'm wrong, but I really feel like I could get used to that kind of life.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Early dispatch from the farm

So, later today I'm off to the farm, where as far I can tell, we intend to eat a lot of good food and work to keep things alive.

I called T who, along with J, is already at the farm. The 7-acre sustainable farm. Morning chores had just been completed. I needed to check on what supplies to bring in from the grocery store, and to check on the kinds of cooking appliances we had available to us. The conversation became rather surreal right after I asked if there was an outdoor grill, and T went outside to look:

[Door opens and (I'm not making this up) a chicken clucks]
T: Well, there's not one in the back yard.
L: [laughing]
T: What? Can you hear the chicken?
L: Yes. You're on the FARM!
T: I know. Okay, no grill in the front yard. Let me look in the garage.
[Meow, meow]
T: Hi, barn kitty.
[Cluck, cluck, cluck]
T: Lawn mower, trash can, dog food. No grill.
L: Okay, well, we can fix the steaks indoors, but I was planning to cook corn on the cob in the husk on the grill. But, I can...oh, wait! They don't have a microwave do they?
T: NO! They're not going to put those microwaves through their healthy food!

So it goes.... Lessons in healthy, sustainable living for four city girls await!

I leave you, surrendering my need for the conveniences of the modern environmentally-unfriendly kitchen, for the comforts of chickens clucking, goats bleating, and cats meowing.

See you Monday!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Resurrection

This time last year? A couple of trips up the stairs to my new apartment left me winded.

Today? I ran five miles!!!!!

This time last year? I moved to a new city, hoping to start a new life. I knew no one.

This weekend? I'm spending the weekend with several close friends.

I knew it would be good here, but I had no idea how good!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday random thoughts of clearing cobwebs from the Brick Wall

The blog appears to be all but forgotten. I fear it will continue to suffer neglect, but I'm not really sorry about that. Even if I was, I wouldn't apologize. I've apologized at least two too many times in the last 24 hours. And I'm not sorry about that either.

It's BUSY around these parts, but I feel the need to point out that the end of the week marks the first anniversary of my move to this fair city. Do I need to remind you that I love it here? I didn't think so.

I ended my 3-mile run (well, there was a break in the middle of it) hardly winded today. The key? Eating more calories and protein. I've been starving myself, I guess. Not intentionally, mind you. I just hadn't adjusted for the increased activity. Feels pretty good to be running strong again!

On Friday, L. and I will join two friends on a 7-acre sustainable farm for a few days of attempting to keep things going while the owners of the farm have a much needed vacation together. Yes, you read that right. The owners are leaving town. In their absence, we will feed goats and chickens, milk goats, check tomatoes in the garden and eat the ripe ones (well, I won't, but the others might. Eat them, that is. I don't like raw tomatoes. But I'm not sorry about that either.) T and J have been thoroughly trained in the chores. L. and I will learn when we get there. Clearly, there will be stories to tell. Stay tuned.

For the small role I play in a required class here, I have been named "adjunct faculty." That means I get to process with the faculty at convocation tomorrow. Wearing full academic regalia. Since I don't have even partial academic regalia, I tried on a robe that a retired minister donated to the seminary today. When I put it on and stuck my hands in the pockets, I pulled out an old handkerchief, wadded tissue, and an assortment of throat lozenges. I think the President and Dean were as grossed out by it as I was. For this grand occasion, I will pose as a Disciples of Christ minister, wearing a master's hood from my PhD school, which fortunately has the same colors as my master's school, as every school I've ever attended has the same colors (purple and white!). I really need to finish that PhD so I can have a good excuse to get my own duds. Or be ordained. Or both. Did I say that?

I'm taking a week of vacation starting a week from Wednesday. I'm planning to head off to a lake cabin (owned by L.'s family) and work on my dissertation to see if I can actually expect to be able to write before I petition to be re-admitted. How luxurious does it sound to be headed off to a cabin to write? Have I mentioned that I love it here? I thought so.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What happened to summer?

If my phone records are any indication, I'd guess about a third of my summer was spent on the phone. I'm not complaining, just looking for a decent explanation for why I'm staring at the downward slope of August, will be at new student orientation all day tomorrow, and have the first day of the class I help with on Tuesday when it feels like summer only began a few weeks ago.

Truth is, time management became a bit of an issue for me this summer. I got really busy at work. I started spending a significant portion of my evenings on the phone. Many weekends were spent getting to know L. There's a certain amount of energy that I derived from all of that, but at 42, there's only so much staying up 'til midnight and getting up at 5:00 I can take!

The first sign that things were out of control was the decision to hit the snooze button when the alarm went off and grab 30 more minutes of sleep. The only problem with that is that meant ditching my morning ritual of coffee and journaling before I run. It worked okay for a few weeks, but it finally caught up to me week before last and I started noticing a familiar weepiness and edginess and general narrowing of my vision to the point of feeling disconnected and powerless.

L. and I acknowledged our need to negotiate an ending time for our much-beloved evening conversations, and doing so has helped considerably. I've gotten back on track with getting up on time and journaling again. The difference it makes is undeniable.

The lesson in all of this for me is that if hitting snooze to get 30 more minutes of sleep means I miss journaling, it's not worth the extra sleep, no matter how tired I am.

I'm still troubled by how quickly the summer passed though!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Two days and a fox

We walked out the front door of my apartment building. The sky had not yet opened itself to the morning light. The darkness hung over us, our way lighted by the soft orange light of the street lamps in the park across the street. With ice chest and an assortment of bags in our hands, we made our way down the driveway toward her car. I looked up at the river bank and noticed the familiar orange triangular shape of a fox's head and quietly stopped. She took two more steps and stopped, looking back at me for an explanation. I pointed to the fox and whispered, "Look. The fox is on the river bank. It's the first time I've seen her this far up the path. I think she came to say hi to you."

We watched for awhile and walked on to the car. With her things loaded and the car door open, I reached for a hug and we embraced for a long time before she got in the car to leave. I stood in the street watching as she turned her car around and headed out. A knot formed in my stomach when she drove away.

Two days. We'd had two whole days together, and she stepped in with such ease and comfort that it felt like she'd always been there. They were days filled with grocery shopping and movies, a walk in the park and breakfast out. She sat at the breakfast bar Sunday afternoon and watched me while I prepared dinner for some friends who joined us Sunday evening. Laughter and conversation and comfortable silence filled the house all weekend. I can think of a thousand ways we could have spent the weekend and it would have been as good, but I can't think of anyway we could have made it better. She agrees. It was full of those things that infuse life with joy. We both felt it.

And I've been wondering all week why the fox came to see us. She seems to come at moments of significance. Her presence has been so frequent and common this spring and summer that I shouldn't be surprised, but seeing her on Monday morning felt magical. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think she showed herself to us for a reason, but it is not for me to impose the meaning I desire, though that temptation is strong. What does it mean when the animal of the "between times and places" comes as we part ways for yet another week, holding each other one more time, trying to make it last until we're together again the next weekend?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Facing the truth

This weekend I was able to face a truth from my past that has long been hard to accept. I've come close in the past, but have never been able to actually admit it until now. With L.'s loving companionship I was finally able to do it on Saturday.

We were looking through some pictures from my childhood and college years when she noticed the unfortunate truth. I denied it at first, but after awhile I had to admit it was true, and for the first time these words came out of my mouth:

I once had a mullet.

You have no idea how hard it was to say that. The conversation went something like this:

L.: (looking at pictures from college graduation; it was 1986) Oh. My. God! That's a mullet!
Linda: It is not!
L.: Yes it is. Look! You had a mullet. It's long in the back and short on the sides and front.
Linda: It isn't a mullet. It's sort-of-a-mullet, but not a mullet.
L.: It's a mullet.
Linda: It's not long enough in the back to be a mullet.
L.: It's nearly to your shoulders. Admit it. You had a mullet. There are worse things in life.
[long pause while I stare at the picture]
Linda: Okay, if I say I had a mullet will you think less of me?
L.: I already know you had a mullet.
Linda: Okay, I once had a mullet. I was young and stupid. It was the '80s. I've learned from my mistakes.
L.: Now, don't you feel better?

In my defense, though, as mullets go, it really was just sort-of-a-mullet.

At least I never wore long tube socks pulled up to my knees with shorts. Much.

Picture added for you to vote: Mullet? Too close to call? Not a mullet?


This was the picture in question. It's from a newspaper article (me? newsworthy? I know it's shocking.), so the scan quality isn't so good. Nevertheless, I'm confident you'll agree with me. This is not a mullet!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ugh!

It's 8:30 p.m. The sun is down.

It's still 100 degrees outside. Ugh!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Seen on a truck at a local eatery

The following phrase was seen spray-painted on the back of a truck at a local Mexican restaurant:

Thudbutt Doobies

It's raised a lot of curiosity around here. Any guesses what it means?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cereal night

I have a group of friends who have gathered for dinner on Wednesday nights during the summer. We've rotated homes and have feasted and visited and held each other's children every week for the past two and a half months. Conversations have led to some of the group helping one family put in a new patio at their home. One dinner was a meal out, purchased by a member who won $10,000 in a radio contest. We've had hamburgers grilled out, eaten hot dogs and brats, savored smoked salmon, eaten in restaurants, listened to good music. Each week is different. Always, we have a good time and enjoy each other's company.

Last night, however, must go down as the most unique plan we've had thus far.

We each brought a box of our favorite childhood cereal. Boxes of Apple Jacks, Cookie Crisp, Fruity Pebbles, Honeycomb, Cap'n Crunch, Lucky Charms, and Life filled the table. Mimosas were made for the "adults" in the group to enjoy before dinner, and a stack of styrofoam bowls was placed in the middle of the table. Each person looked over the choices and made her/his first selection. Each had his/her own strategy for sampling. Most of us ate some of each kind.

The only one with any sense, 4-year old Jade, slipped a box of Kashi Heart-to-Heart on the table about half-way through the sugar-fest.

The conversation around the house was lively, peppered with laughter and stories. The tastes brought back memories. Chad sat on a chair in the living room, eyes closed, a slight hint of a smile on his face. He started waving his hand over a brightly colored bowl of Fruity Pebbles, transferring his carefully crafted wine-tasting skills to the evening's event. The bouquet of fruitiness instantly took him back to a year in his childhood. "It's 1983," he said. "I'm sitting at the table in the kitchen, the sun barely up. Oh, this is so good."

"How old were you in 1983," I asked. Mike and Emily waited with me for his answer.

"Ten."

The year was a special one for me. "That's the year I graduated high school."

Mike chuckled and announced as he rolled his eyes, "I graduated from college that year!"

Emily, who was sitting on the floor holding baby Roman in her arms, a bowl of Cookie Crisp resting next to her, smiled shyly as she shared, "I wasn't even born then," and her contribution was met with groans.

I love this group of people. We met when we went through the new members class at church together back in January. I still don't understand what brought the group of us together. There were others in the class. They were included in our earliest plans to meet regularly, but many of them never responded. Others joined us at first, but eventually dropped out. We range in age from 21 or 22 to post-retirement age. But, Chad said it best after Emily's comment last night, "This group is ageless. I love that."

He's right. For such a wide range in ages, we share a lot in common. Most importantly, I think, is our common desire for community, to have friends we can count on, people who will love the children, who help put in a patio, who show up for opening night at a member's art show. We are friends who offer to "take out" the other candidate in a job search. We are people who will pray for a baby who has a seizure and stay glued to the computer waiting for a report from the EEG the day he went to the doctor, nervously checking in with each other as if he was our own flesh and blood, hoping, praying that his anxous parents would find peace and comfort in our concern.

And we are a people who can playfully return to our childhood, sampling the sugary sweetness of styrofoam-like marshmallows and the waxy/oily aftertaste of chemically-induced fruitiness. We are a people who can wonder together why Apple Jacks don't really tast like apples, who enjoy the mouth-tearing crunchiness of Cap'n Crunch, a people who celebrate the brillance of chocolate chip cookies in milk for breakfast.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Neighbors

Some good friends from PhD city moved to my current town this summer. It's great having them here. Tonight there was a knock on my door. I'm not used to that, so it took me awhile to get to the door. I was on the phone and had to get off, and then I had to make myself presentable. I missed them at the door but looked out the window and noticed it was good friend, D., and his son, B., so I went downstairs to let them in. They were on a bike ride in the park across the street and B. got thirsty, so they stopped at my place to get a drink. When they left, B. asked D. if the two of them could sleep at my apartment sometime. :-)

You know, it's a really simple thing, but a place really starts to feel like home when people know where you live and just drop by.

But I'm going to have to learn to wear more than a tank top and underwear around the house if I want to get to the door in time. ;-)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Full

Hello, blogworld. My name is Linda. I usually blog in this space, occasionally even writing something of depth. I realize you wouldn't know that from looking at the last several weeks of posts. It seemed important to remind you. :)

Today was one of those days where I had a deep sense of the fullness and beauty of life. Though the weekend was marked by the obvious absence of someone who has become very important to me (I have no idea what to call her, other than by her name, which honestly seems just fine to me). L. has been off reuniting with her college pals for the weekend. Judging from the time of the text messages I've gotten this weekend, I'd say she's had a great time. I'll get the whole scoop later tonight. I have plenty to fill her in on myself.

Yesterday, I ran the farthest I've run so far: 3.25 miles over a 4-mile course. Distances have improved steadily this week, after a near meltdown early in the week because I wasn't where I thought I should be. I got my expectations in check and thought back to advice given me by coaches in the past. The bottom line: I have to pay close attention to what my body is saying and not push through on sheer will. Some people can do that. I can't, but when I work with my body, I do fine, better than I expect most of the time. The end goal in all of this is a half-marathon in December. Right now, it seems daunting, but I keep reminding myself that the months ahead will grow cooler, and as they do, I'll improve. The heat and I don't get along especially well.

After my morning run, I went hiking for an hour and a half with a friend. When I got home, I ate a big breakfast and collapsed in bed. I spent the afternoon with friends, came home around 6:30 and managed to stay awake long enough to get some laundry done, but not much else. It was that good kind of tired, physically worn out from working. I slept really well and woke up refreshed this morning.

This morning was filled with great food, good friends, and a wonderful church service. I feel full, satisfied with all that makes my life so good here. I missed all of this so much during July. It's good to be getting back in to the old routine again.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Running partner

Lately when my friend and I run in the mornings, a fox runs alongside us, guarding the den from my friend's dog. The dog is really not much of a threat, but the fox doesn't know that. She runs in a wavy pattern through the park alongside us, getting sometimes within two or three feet of us. As she runs, she barks at us. When we reach the end of her territory, she stops and watches to be sure we keep going the other direction.

J., the official wildlife photographer, got some pictures of the fox in the park. She posted one here. Isn't she cute?

ETA: Here's a picture of some of the wildlife in my own house. PPB asked for an occasional picture of her namesake, PPBob. Here she is trying to interrupt my morning routine...

Monday, July 30, 2007

In lieu of a real post

Via JM. Not much surprising new information here, but it's still interesting...

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The noise from my apartment?

I really am alone. I promise. There isn't some beautiful woman here with me.

That noise you heard? It was me eating some fresh sweet corn from the farmers' market.

Honest. It really was that good.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Introvert much?

The past week was busy. The assembly meeting for the denomination with which the seminary where I work is affiliated was a great opportunity for me to meet prospective students and others who know of possible students. For five days straight I worked 10 to 12 hours, a large portion of the time spent talking to people at the seminary booth in the exhibit hall, at a dinner and luncheon sponsored by the seminary, during a workshop I led, and over meals with colleagues and friends.

I managed the week really well. I returned to my hotel room relatively early each evening, though I did spend much of the time before bed on the phone. I ate well, drank plenty of water, and got up most mornings to run or walk. My energy level stayed pretty steady throughout the week, which, frankly, is a new experience for me at these things. In fact, I found the face-to-face time relatively energizing. It was a great week!

I returned late Wednesday night and went into the office yesterday. I was starting to wear out at that point, but kept my energy level up to visit with a prospective student who came to campus yesterday afternoon. I went out to dinner with some friends last night.

This morning I got up early to run, and after I returned and took a shower, I crashed and burned. I laid back down to sleep for a bit and woke up two hours later. I had a headache that made me nauseous. I got up to eat a little bit, answer some e-mail, and read. I fell asleep for another hour. I went out for a late lunch and came home exhausted. I read for a bit and then fell asleep for another three hours. My mom called and woke me up. We chatted for awhile, then I did some grocery shopping, and shopping for new shorts (smaller size again!!!!), then came home to a long phone conversation. The headache finally went away around 8:00 this evening, and I feel fine now, but to my surprise, I'm ready to go to sleep now. I guess it all caught to me today. Having a day to myself has helped tremendously.

Tomorrow, I'm getting up early to try to run 4 miles. It will be the longest I've run so far. Later in the morning, I'm going hiking with a new friend I met a few weeks ago. I hope after that to get some cleaning done in my apartment, and to write some about last week.

It's good to be home.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Return to PhD city: Day 1

I drive into town on a caffeine buzz. The mocha purchased an hour ago was an effort to undo the drowsiness from the allergy medicine and the lack of sleep for the past few days. It’s my second trip to PhD city in less than a week. Midweek I traveled to dream college town about the same distance away in the other direction. There’s been a lot of time on the road and my body feels it.

The northern edge of the city provides a view that I liken to hell. To the west just off the highway sits a monstrous monument to extravagance and wastefulness. An outdoor stadium built for car races, which occur maybe three or four times a year, sits empty most of the time. Its sheer size inspires awe, but in a horrifying way. It’s a scar on the landscape. To the east, a hilltop view reveals an endless sea of nearly identical rooftops, very little space in between, people riding on the wave of suburbia.

The traffic is already bad. I can see rain bursting out of the clouds to the south, tail lights and brake lights springing on like the high kicks of chorus girls at perfectly timed intervals as cars drive into the rain. The traffic slows and stops. I look ahead, but can’t see any problem. It starts up again, and just as quickly as it stopped, it resumes normal speed.

I’ve watched the city approach on the horizon for miles. I want to like this place in the same way that I want to like everyone I meet. It’s a city. It hasn’t done anything to hurt me. I called it home for eight years, but my return this time is met with the same lack of enthusiasm I felt as a kid when we visited unfamiliar relatives in Tennessee. No, it’s more like the yearly visits to the dentist when I was kid. Inside I’m kicking and screaming, desperately trying to break away so I can run as fast as possible in the other direction, and I probably would turn around, if only the drivers to my right would let me over to exit.

It seems silly to feel this way. It’s just a city, one that’s familiar to me. There are good things here. I don’t really understand why I loathe it so much. Last week I brought along a friend, fresh, unsullied eyes to see the place from a new perspective. It didn’t help. She started feeling sick about an hour outside of town. Coincidence? I think not.

I'm kidding, of course, but I do wonder why I have such strongly negative feelings about this place.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Changes

For weeks, maybe months, now, I've looked to the coming week as a hurdle to get over before I can move on to some things that I've been anticipating for awhile. I'll be on the road for the better part of the next several days. When I return, there are several changes that await...
  • We've had several changes in our office over the past few weeks, all of which have been good. I'm looking foward to those continuing changes, and am finding that indeed the decision regarding the position for which I interviewed in March went just as it should have. I'm anticipating good things to come at work in the months ahead.
  • I've cleared some space in my second bedroom and pulled out the boxes marked dissertation. Though it causes some trembling to admit this, the plan is to begin writing when I get back. I just want to see what I can accomplish between now and October 1. I'm going to take a week or two off in September and head to a lake cabin that belongs to a friend and do some more writing. That should enable me to assess by October 1 whether or not it makes sense to petition for re-instatement. If there seems to be adequate progress, I'm going to ask about re-admission in October.
  • I had a good chance to see some progress with running today, and efforts are being made to push myself with that. I'm anxious to see continued progress meeting some distance goals while I'm gone and after I get back.
  • I'm taking some steps to become more involved at church. When I return, I'm going to look into joining the lay care team. My excitement about the possiblilities of helping in this area are growing. I've had some real desire to be doing pastoral care again.
  • Some changes are going to happen with the blog and my blogging habits upon my return. I've been contemplating several possibilities, but haven't decided what I want to do yet, but will decide while I'm out of town.
Wishing you all well in the coming week. I'll check in when I can.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Am I dreaming?

Since I left work this evening, I've had a series of encounters that leave me wondering if I've actually awakened from a long nap. It started when I left work in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. Rather than wait it out at work, I decided to brave the rain and go on home. I had a late night last night and an early morning today, so I thought I might catch a nap before my evening kicked into full swing. I should have stayed at the seminary.

The pouring rain that I ran through at work to get to the car turned to serious lightening, then hail that sounded like five-pound bricks hitting the car as it came down. Cars were pulling off to the side of the highway and lining up under overpasses attempting to escape the hail. I drove on, again, desperate for a few minutes sleep.

When I got home, I waited in the car for a few minutes but could tell that the rain wasn't going to slow anytime soon. Since the hail had stopped, I jumped out of the car and ran to the front door of my apartment building, key in hand ready to unlock the door and burst inside. Except the front door was jammed, and the lock would not turn. I had to run around to the back of my building and up another flight of stairs to my back door to get in. By the time I got through the door, I was completely soaked. I stripped down and only after I collapsed on the bed did I realize that the electricity was out.

I don't need electricity to sleep, so I closed my eyes, and within a few seconds was sound asleep. The phone woke me about an hour later. The electricity was still off, so after I chatted with a friend and made a plan to talk more later this evening (thank the gods for the nap!), I went out to get some dinner. I chose a place with wifi so I could catch up on some e-mail and read a few blogs. When I walked in the door, there was a table on my right with a sign that said "Meet up," and on my left as I walked forward to place my order, I saw an older man holding a plate under the mouth of a young man while he threw up.

I'm not sure why I didn't just turn around and leave.

The only table with an electrical outlet was directly across the table from the one with the "meet up" sign. Two guys were seated next to each other, engaged in conversation, but not making any eye contact with each other while they talked. Snippets of their conversation floated over the restaurant noise and it became immediately apparent that they were waiting for some women to arrive. One of the guys was telling the other that he always thought you learned more when you listen than when you talk. One woman later showed, and the other guy proceeded to tell stories about his childhood. He was bent over at the shoulders, his arms resting on the table, his hands folded, but nervously wagging while he talked. The other guy looked the other direction and the woman listened with a disinterested look on her face. After awhile they got up and left.

A few minutes later the guy who was looking away walked up to me and asked if I was Marie or Amy. I told him no, and he went on to ask if I'd heard any of the conversation they were having. I looked at him curiously but didn't answer. He explained that they were there with meetup dot com and this guy showed up who was, in his words, "STRANGE!" He wondered if I was one of the two women who were supposed to meet them and had decided to sit close and just check them out.

Like I said, I should have just left earlier.

He left and another guy sat down at the table next to me, plugged in his computer, sat back, and proceeded to pull at his crotch. Not once. Several times.

And by golly, if I had electricity at home, I'd have left this restaurant by now. News headlines say there's a downed transformer in my neighborhood. It may be a long night.

I'm glad I took a nap.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Returning to former state

I'm going to my PhD town on Sunday for the day. It's the first time to return there since I moved in August of last year. A friend of mine is being ordained (and it will be a fabulous celebration), so I'm going down for the service. New friend from city west of here is going with me, for which I'm extremely grateful. Later next week I return to PhD town for nearly a week on business.

But, I'm really dreading going back there....