Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Today brings quite a moving post at the always excellent Waiter Rant. The post is about people in pain, who usually treat those around them poorly. A sample:

I go back into the dining room. The old man’s staring off into space. His watery blue eyes remind me of a fearful child scanning the horizon, wondering who’s going to be the next person to hurt him. He looks like the world broke him like a dollar bill and didn’t give him back any change. The world’s full of people like him, hurting folk who, for whatever reason, are profoundly cut off from the human race. Unable to form or maintain relationships, but craving social contact nonetheless, they hang around the periphery of normal human activity. You see them all the time, walking around the mall, eating alone in diners, hanging out in Starbucks - surviving off the residual energy of other people’s lives. Relationships for these people are superficial encounters with waiters and cops, doormen and librarians, pretty girls who, trying to feel better about themselves, toss them two minutes of conversation while waiting in line for caramel lattes. Every restaurant has at least one customer fitting this description. Maybe it’s an old widower who sits at the same table and orders the same thing every week. Maybe it’s the uptight Yuppie guy hiding behind a book or the daytime spinster drowning nightly dreams of Mr. Right under a sea of Cosmopolitans. I can tell this old man isn’t coming here just for Zuppa di Pesce. He’s trying to satisfy a hunger no amount of food will sate.

Possibly the most moving part for me was Waiter's conclusion:

As I walk back to my newspaper I listen to the sound my footfalls make as they echo off the tiled floor. There were people like this old man at The Bistro and there’s sure to be more people like him here. I’m suddenly reminded of that line from the Gospels, “The poor will always be with you.”

Scriptural reflection aside, I’m happy to leave the old man to his soup. I’m not in the mood for hurting folk today.

I can hear Waiter's compassion and care, and I can also see his sense of boundaries and proportion... and the pain at not being able to make everything better for everybody everywhere.

This is why I make an effort to be gracious to the people I encounter in hospitality professions. I know I don't always succeed, but they are doing important work - ministry, in fact, though they may not think of it that way - and they encounter all sorts of folks every day.

I still remember the big family dinner we took part in, shortly after my husband's grandmother passed away. We had all gotten together in Connecticut for the funeral, about fifteen of us, and we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant that night. We had a great time together, and really enjoyed our dinner. At the end of the meal, one of the waiters who had helped us said, "Congratulations on your family reunion." My husband said, "Actually, it was a funeral." And the waiter was momentarily speechless. I know it was strange that we could gather and have such a good time together, when the context of our gathering was death, but the waiter took it in stride and offered his condolences. The hospitality we enjoyed at that restaurant had been impeccable, and it had allowed us that interval of togetherness and cheer on a dark day.

When I remember, which I'll admit isn't as often as I would like, I will offer a prayer for the people who work at the restaurant or hotel or wherever I am. I will thank God for their work in hospitality, which plays such a big part in all of the bible, including the gospels. And I will ask a blessing on them. Of course, I try to always remember to thank them in person, too, and to thank them with my tip as well. They say the devil is in the details, but God is in the details, too. And sometimes, a little detail like a smile and a thank you can make such a huge difference for someone who is overworked, stressed by dealing with this wide variety of mostly-crazy humans, and maybe not in the mood for hurting folk today.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Something to be thankful for

Today has been a rather stinky day, but keeping this blog is a discipline, so I spent some time seeking something to be thankful for.

Before I left the house for my class tonight, I emailed a friend, told them I was having a stinky day, and asked for prayers. On checking my email during break, I saw that they had written back promising prayers. That felt good - that someone a thousand miles away, whom I have never met face-to-face, cares about me and is thinking about me.

It reminds me that I need to be more intentional about caring for the people who aren't a thousand miles away, the people I live and work with. Thanks be to God!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Best Spiritual Advice Ever

I want to make sure this set of advice gets seen, because it is the most amazing set of guidelines I've ever seen, thanks to one of the wisest companions on the journey that I have encountered:

If you are serious about making a spiritual connection with a power greater than ourselves, try the following suggestions:
  • Let go of big things and embrace little things.
  • Ignore loud things and listen for quiet things.
  • Put aside obvious things and seek out hidden things.
  • Forget easy things and learn hard and ancient things.
  • Stop saving your life and start losing it.
  • Let your thinking and believing become doing and serving.
  • Quit trying to arrive and become at home on the journey.
  • Lose your road maps and find a wise guide to walk with you.

Love the idea of God with all your heart, soul, mind, body, life, work, and strength. And while you're at it, try loving other people as much as you love yourself. You won't be able to do either of these, but trying will be very good for you.

Do these things all of your days and forever. Do these things and live.

Holy cow - it sounds so simple, doesn't it? One of the things I've learned along the journey is that the answer really is simple. It just isn't always easy.

I recommend reading the entire post here, but be warned: this gem came in the midst of some other stuff that, well, I just didn't enjoy reading. No, that's not right. I always enjoy reading RLP - it was just a topic that annoyed me as much as it did him.

Thank you, RLP. I need to print that out and post it at my desk as a daily reminder.

Update: Okay, so I removed the completely terrible title. This one is less, erm, in your face, but much more me.

Here's a Surprise...

... I'm an Introvert!

You Are 20% Extrovert, 80% Introvert

You are quite reserved
You aren't afraid of social situations...
But you very much prefer to go it alone
And why not? You're your own best friend!


I was blog-hopping and perusing earlier today, and I found a blog post written by a clergyperson who had been struggling with depression. In the comment thread, I found another member of the clergy admit that they were about to head to the doctor to discuss anxiety and OCD for the first time. This clergyperson was scared and in pain, and used the word b***s*** to describe the illness. Then they said that they never used to use that word before the illness.

My question is: Why not?

Okay, now that may seem like a strange question, coming from someone who is abstaining from harsh (and especially foul) language this Lent. But I remember the first time I heard a priest cuss, and how much it meant to me. You see, when one is ordained (or whatever process is used), one does not cease to become a human being. One does not lose the ability to be angry, or to be startled, or to hurt. One still whacks the bejeebers out of one's thumb with hammers, and one still finds oneself stuck in unremitting traffic, and one still has all kinds of bad stuff to deal with. So why shouldn't one cuss?

Now, I'll admit that a person who is in authority - a potential role model - probably should not indulge in profanity in front of impressionable youngsters. But that same person needs to able to relax and feel comfortable in front of his or her peers. And that person's congregation needs to be reminded that clergy members are human beings, too - beautiful, unique children of God, who are just as vulnerable and frightened and anxious, and lovable and precious and wonderful, as everyone else.

I remember several years back, when I was looking for a new therapist. I wrote an email to the rector of my parish asking for a recommendation, and one of my criteria was, "I want a therapist who will tell me I'm full of s*** when I'm full of s*** - in those words." He had exactly the right person for me. It was great.

I'll admit that I can sometimes have quite a potty mouth. My officemate laughs at me, because I try to refrain from cussing in the workplace. When something goes wrong, I usually explode with a "GOD BLESS IT!" She knows something's seriously bad if I use the d-word or even the s-word. Now, I don't think I've ever heard her swear in the two years I've known her, but maybe she's just more even-keeled than I am. I'll admit that there are places and times when a swear word is not appropriate, and that there are places and times when it's not a big deal.

I think there's another lesson here (actually, I'm sure there are many) - sometimes an illness, mental or physical, makes us just a little more human. It can open our eyes, and the experience gives us more compassion for others who are struggling with similar issues, issues that we just hadn't noticed before. We humans are a rather short-sighted, self-centered bunch, in general. We pay attention to the things that help us the most, and we tend to ignore the things that just don't affect us. So mental illness brought this clergy member to cuss? Maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe it will make this person a more sympathetic human to their congregation, to their family, to the other people that they face every day. Maybe not. It's not for me to say.

But I will say this: what mental illness can do to us is b***s***. It stinks. I have not yet revealed on this blog my particular diagnosis, but I'll say that I do have one. I will also say this: it has brought me great pain, great struggle, and tremendous growth. I would not wish the pain and the struggle and the hardship and the heartache on anyone. But I also would not trade the growth and the learning for anything. And for that, I am thankful.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


We just had an early dinner. It was pure comfort food:
Cream of Potato soup (with shredded cheddar and bacon to top it off)
Surry smoked sausage from the Fresh Market

It was perfect for this grey, rainy winter day. Warming, filling, and comforting. I needed that.

A shameless plug:
My kids and I have been playing with the haiku form - three lines, with 5 - 7 - 5 syllables - and trying to see who can compose the most terrible, awful, horrible haiku. The results have included groaners, mean ones, gross ones, and some hilariously silly ones. We started a blog together - Horrible Haiku - so that we can play together and celebrate our perversion of this ancient and beautiful art form. Now, when I listen to my internal dialogue, I start counting syllables. And (hee hee) so do they! We invited their four older cousins and a couple other family members to play with us, and I'm thinking about some games to play on the blog - posting a picture one day a week for inspiration, having a word of the day that everyone has to use in a haiku that day, silly stuff like that.

I'm re-learning a couple of things that I'd forgotten. Play is good; fun is good; intentional silliness is good; and it's important to build a little "recess" in the middle of all the work. Also, beautiful art can be inspired by the most simple, mundane, or even goofy things. Games help to get the creative juices flowing, and when we're having fun, we're more creative and more productive. I am thankful to have recalled these lessons, and I hope my kids, nieces, nephews, and other family members enjoy their word-play as much as I do.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lenten Reduction

I highly recommend Lenten Reduction from the blog Don't Eat Alone (with props to Real Live Preacher for highlighting it). There are some very real, very deep truths here.

No matter how many times I make demi-glace, it’s always time to do it again.

No matter how many meals I make, there will always be another ticket.

No matter how many times I hear I’m created in God’s image (even if I’m a firefly in the universe), I will always need someone to tell me again.

This reminds me of a line I read in one of Madeleine L'engle's journals, which wasn't original to her, but was quoted from somewhere else. Basically, the line went, "The problem with life is that it's just so damn daily." This is the problem, but it's also the joy... and the source of the Benedictine motto ora et labora. Work can be prayerful, and work can be prayer. Life can be prayerful, and life can be prayer. It is our choice.

And I'll tell you, we don't make that choice once and for all, either. We make it in every moment of every day. Today, it is a joy for me to make dinner for my family; yesterday, it was miserable drudgery. Today, it is a joy for me to take phone calls from coworkers who have questions for me; tomorrow, I may resent them. But no matter how many times I make dinner for my family, I have to wake up in the morning and do it again. And no matter how many questions I get from a coworker, there's always one more.

And no matter how many times I hear that I am loved and valued and precious, I will always need to hear it again. And to say it again, too. Dear one, you are a beloved and precious child of God. Come back tomorrow and read it again. Because you are.

One of these things is not like the others...

Can you tell which one?

(Hint: One is from the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and the other two are Angel, Half-Blind Pet Hedgehog Extraordinaire!)

Update: My son convinced me this morning that there is more than one right answer to this question, which is true of most questions.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Five: Companions on the Way

From RevGalBlogPals come's today's Friday Five:

Dante had Virgil as a guide. Before he had younger siblings, my oldest child had an imaginary friend named Patrick. Betsy had Tacy. Laura Ingalls depended on her brindle bulldog, Jack. All of them were companions on the way.

As we take the beginning steps of our journey through Lent, who would we take as a companion? Name five people, real or imaginary, you might like to have with you as guide or guardian or simply good friend.

For my five companions, I will choose...
St. Teresa of Avila for her wisdom, reverence, and wonderful sense of humor,
St. Francis de Sales for his compassion and love,
Tinkerbell, to remind me that attitude and a little intentional mischief aren't always bad things,
Mary Magdalene, because she has accompanied me along the way more than once, and
The Lady Raven Mudpaw von Wigglesbutt, my loyal and loving Australian shepherd, who rarely leaves my side when I am at home.

Physical Therapy as a Spiritual Discipline?

I returned to physical therapy this morning after a ten-day hiatus for our trip to Florida. It was painful, but not as bad as I'd feared. (Isn't that typical?) I noticed once again that the repetition of the exercises is calming and soothing, at least when they aren't causing pain. When I have three sets of an exercise to do, with rests between sets, I usually time my rests with silent prayer. After the first set, I pray a silent "Hail Mary," and after the second set, I pray a silent "Our Father," which gives me a little more rest time before the final set. And when I am finished and leave the building, I offer heartfelt thanks that it is over. :-)

Seriously, though, the discipline of going to therapy twice a week and of doing my exercises at home each day is an important one. It's not easy - I'd far rather be doing something else with my time than playing with hand weights and surgical tubing - but it is helping to heal my body, the body that God has given me stewardship of during my short time in this world. I am thankful for my doctor (the meanie who is making me do this) and for the physical therapists I work with (the meanies who keep making me do this on a regular basis) and for my job with a flexible employer who allows me the time and freedom to take care of my body.

I am feeling pretty bummed today. I'm tired of being in pain all the time, and I don't like my new furniture arrangement at work. I found the chair in the office that would go the highest and set it to the highest setting. Then I put a couple cushions on it, behind my back, and a footstool beneath my desk. I find myself reluctant to leave my chair now, because I have to jump up to get into it. And, despite all of this, I'm still not sitting high enough to have my arms in a good typing position. I've put in an email to human resources, asking what the process is for getting alternative furniture - a desk that can adjust to a lower height and maybe a different chair - what kind of documentation I need and whether they want to get a consultation from an ergonomist.

The physical therapist recommended this morning that I try mousing with my left hand rather than my right for a few days. That effort is not going well; I'm mostly using the touchpad at the bottom of my laptop, while the mouse sits to the left of my computer, almost completely untouched.

I'm also feeling very disconnected and isolated lately. I moved from one team of seven people that were very close to each other, to a new team that has really only two people on it - me in southern Virginia, and my counterpart in Northern Virginia. We don't have any sort of regular, formal communications set up between the two of us - it would feel goofy to schedule a weekly conference call for two people. I send a weekly status report to our manager and copy my counterpart on it, but I don't get a lot of warm fuzzies in return. And truth be told, I'm not sure how to reach out, or even who I should be reaching out to.

I miss my old team, and I miss my classmates at Virginia Tech, and I'm not coping well with all of the stresses and changes that have happened in my life over the last six months.

But I have a silent retreat coming up... some quiet time between me and God. I plan to bring some books (bible and Book of Common Prayer, at a minimum), but to try to minimize even taking in language from reading or putting out language by writing. I may bring a journal to draw in - I can't draw worth beans! - but I'm really going to strive for a non-verbal, non-intellectual experience. We'll see how it goes.

Thanks be to God for the opportunities to heal ourselves. May we find the strength and the resources to take advantage of those opportunities, rather than continuing to beat our heads against all the stresses and changes of our short lives. May we know that we are beloved children of the Divine - know this from the hairs on our heads to the nails on our toes. And may we encounter the peace that passes all understanding today - no matter how fleetingly.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Odds and Ends

On my way to work this morning, I was behind a car with a license plate that said simply

Now, hopefully you're more mature than I am, and didn't catch a fit of the giggles from it. It's probably somebody's initials, but there was only one thing my brain could make of that letter combination.

Speaking of this, if you're familiar with the MBTI, I am very much a J rather than a P. I have a friend who was in a committee member with her bishop a few weeks after they'd gone through an MBTI exercise together. The bishop, a ***P, was reacting to an issue in a rather predictable way, given his type. And my friend - lacking that same piece of her brain that I lack, the one that filters your thoughts before they come out of your mouth - said, "Bishop, your P-ness is showing." She reports that there was shocked silence before everyone realized what she had meant and burst into laughter.

On a more mature note, my sister is a researcher in psychology, and she works with titi monkeys.

Okay, so I guess that wasn't any more mature, either. :Sigh:

Our hedgehog, Angel, has become better adjusted to the hours we keep. She now emerges from her igloo (or rolled up blankie) when we're awake to play. Last night she spent a couple hours on her wheel, which made me very happy, because I hadn't seen her use it yet. She's gradually becoming more sociable. She still huffs and pops when we take her out of her cage, and when we handle her too much, but if you just sit her on your lap, she'll find a warm and cushy place on you where she'll settle in for a good, long snuggle.

I took a risk this morning, and posted one of my favorite poems by the Sufi mystic Hafez, in place of one of my typical quotations. Now, I don't know whether anyone actually looks at the quotations I've been sticking up on the white-board in the kitchen, and I haven't heard anything about this one yet. The wife of the former rector of a church I attended several years back was a Sufi scholar, and she introduced me to the poetry of Hafez, which is amazing. When I reaffirmed my baptismal vows before the bishop, I'd asked her to be my sponsor, and as her gift to me, she gave me this book, and I treasure it.

There are many things to be thankful for today - cases of the giggles, a little intentional immaturity, family pets, ecstatic poets, and all the people around. Not to mention Earl Grey tea and Diet Dr Pepper. :-)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Give it up for Lent

When you mention the word "Lent" to a random stranger off the street, if you get something more than a quizzical look, it will be, "So what are you giving up?" I usually try to take on a spiritual discipline rather than giving up something I like, but these usually last about as long as a New Year's Resolution.

Once again, this year, after a hiatus, I have decided to fast from harsh speech during Lent. You see, refraining from speaking harshly begins to train your mind not to think harsh things about others (or yourself), and that's A Good Thing. This is always a struggle, because I frequently think (and say) harsh things in traffic while I'm driving. In fact, my first harsh words this Lent came not quite 17 hours into it, at 4:58pm, when I said, "So why did you need to cut me off like that, you a-?" I broke off, realizing what I was about to say. And then I realized that the entire thing was harsh speech, not just the "a-" part of it. So I took a breath, and I said instead, "Abba, you know that I'm in a hurry to pick up my son from school, and I realize that all these other people are probably in a hurry to get home or to pick up their children or to do other important things in their lives. Please bless these people in their cars around me, and help me to love them, even when I don't particularly like them."

I've prayed that prayer before - "Lord, help me to love X, even though I don't particularly like her" - and with powerful results. It really does bring about a change of heart - a conversion of life - when I'd been beating my head against the issue for days or weeks or months. "God, please help me to love her," is such a big change from "What can I do to make her like me?" That prayer puts the focus back where it belongs, onto living in a right relationship with our brothers and sisters, and with God. It is not about how many people like us, or even about whether we can get that one person to like us, but about loving God, and loving our neighbors.

So that is what my Lenten fast is about - loving God, loving my neighbors, and trying just one little thing to live in better relationships with them. We'll see how it goes.


I just took an hour away from my desk to participate in an Ash Wednesday liturgy at a lovely Episcopal Church down the road. It was moving and healing and wonderful.

The short version of the story is: I've been to my parish church maybe twice since I had a really bizarre experience there last year on Palm Sunday. That experience was the when I realized how strongly I felt that I was being pushed out of the parish family, and it stung. I didn't understand why - I still don't - and I'm finally able to begin talking about it after about 10 months. But the ministries that I participated in began to fall away from me, and other people were scheduled to perform those ministries rather than me. When I offered help, it was politely brushed off. This may all have been coincidence, or not. I don't know. I am prepared to give my brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt, but it all still stings a bit. It doesn't help that the parish is in search for a new priest right now, and I've given much thought and prayer to the idea that maybe I was setting up these feelings in myself because I didn't want to let go of our former rector. But that thought and prayer led me to the conclusion that this wasn't the issue.

I have been craving worship, though. I've been hungering for liturgy, for standing and kneeling with my fellow Christians to praise God, to give thanks to God, to ask God's forgiveness, and to break the bread and drink the wine together. So today, I got to the church about 15 minutes before the service, and I sat with eyes closed and soaked up the silence.

This particular building is an older one, and a real gem. It has several creaks and groans that give it character. Silence is different, at every place, and at every time. Sometimes it's pure, absolute silence, with no sound at all. Sometimes you hear insects and birds. Sometimes there's a dog that barks right outside. Sometimes you hear the traffic on a busy road. And sometimes, in a lovely gem of a church, you hear the kneelers creak and the pews groan. And then you smile widely when a young mother bustles in two minutes before service time, her four-year-old daughter behind her, stage-whispering, "Momma, wait up!"

The service began, and we listened to the readings and prayed the psalms and received the cross of ashes and then... celebrated the Eucharist. I so needed a celebration of the Eucharist in my life. I needed to hear and to say some of those words -

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
And even better
By him and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever. AMEN.

The priest was very welcoming - in fact, had recognized me from diocesan events in prior years - and a good friend is a member of the parish as well. He gave me big hugs and smiles and said it was great to see me. And it was great to see him, too. Almost everyone in the congregation there smiled and gave me The Peace, which was a little surprising to me since I was a first-time visitor and this was a somewhat different service from your ordinary Sunday morning. But it felt good, and I may go back again on a Sunday morning.

And I will share with you the traditional formula for the blessing after Eucharist, as this is my wish for you:
May the peace of God that passes all understanding
keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Jesus,
and the blessing of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -
be upon you and remain with you always.

(Note: I am not an ordained priest, so I am not authorized to pronounce a blessing. That is why I said very carefully - this is my wish for you. And it is. Go in peace.)


Well, we are back from Florida. We flew down last Thursday, spent Friday at the Magic Kingdom, Saturday at Downtown Disney (which should be called Hideous Suburban Sprawl Disney), and Sunday at Animal Kingdom, before flying home on Monday. I spent yesterday in an exhausted fog, but am beginning to feel a little more human today.

I was ill-prepared for the impact that the Magic Kingdom would have on me. I did not realize how much and how deeply the characters in the Disney movies had affected me all this time - the strong and beautiful princesses, the villains who are always defeated, the handsome and brave princes, the goodness that always prevails, the love that transcends all else. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom about a half hour before the park opened. After fifteen minutes or so, we scanned our tickets and approached the entrance gate. Shortly after, the welcome show began, with cheesy songs and dances, followed by Mickey's grand entrance on the train. I had tears streaming down my face by the time the show ended and the rope dropped... and we hadn't even laid eyes on Cinderella's Palace yet. When we were riding the carousel later in the morning, I caught a glimpse of one of my favorite characters, and I gleefully pointed and shouted, "TIGGER!" But alas, Tigger was too far away for us to get to before he moved on. While we were standing in line for lunch, my son hugged me tight and whispered, "Mom, this place has turned you into a little kid again!" And it had. I was blown away by being immersed so deeply into the Disney fairy-tale world, the world of dreams and archetypes, and I began to see why people spend the outrageous sums of money to go back there again and again.

The Animal Kingdom was breathtaking. The landscaping was beautiful, and the Imagineers had put so many intricate details into every place in the park - no matter where you looked, you saw a representation of an animal. The Tree of Life was amazing, and we'd never experienced anything like the safari ride before. I was awestruck by this park, but it didn't reduce me to childhood as the Magic Kingdom had.

I am very, truly, deeply thankful to my mother's family for making this trip possible. It was a family reunion, and will be the last travel experience that my 94-year-old grandfather gets to take from his home in Jacksonville. There were four generations of the family together at Disney, sharing the hotel, sharing meals, sharing our park experiences. It was wonderful and inspiring to see the children all together, especially my 15-month-old niece. I haven't even downloaded all our pictures to the computer yet, much less posted them on Shutterfly, but there are some I can't wait to see.

Update: While we did buy a few Disney products at the park, I am very very glad that we did not pick up this one (with props to BoingBoing, and with apologies to my Croatian coworker).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Today I am thankful for...

... writing my second poem since being prescribed a certain class of medicine in early 2000. Before that, I wrote poetry prolifically. The poems were constantly clamoring in my head, insisting to be put to paper. I would call it a blessing and a curse - and it was! - and then, within three or four days on the new med, the poems fell silent, and I did not hear them any more. And their loss was an ache inside me, an empty place in my head, a hole behind my breastbone. But I needed that med, and it literally saved my life.

In November 2005, my doctor and I finished weaning me off of the meds I'd been on. I faced this with some trepidation, but with confidence. I'd been doing really well for the last five years. I was not facing the drama that had been my daily (hourly, minutely) companion for so long. Life was good, and I was good. Over the last fourteen months, aspects of me have been re-emerging - aspects that I hadn't even realized were missing while I was on those meds. It was wonderful to welcome back all those pieces of myself, and I waited hopefully and prayerfully for the poems to come back. I'm still mostly waiting, mostly resigned to leaving that part of my life behind.

But then last night, as I sat in class (operations management - a rather boring lecture, with much hand-waving and ignoring of units of measure as we worked a quantitative problem), a poem began to speak to me. I listened, and let the words flow onto the paper. It is not my best work, by far, but it shows promise. And even though it's a rather depressing piece, I'm so pleased to have had a poem flow through my mind, to my hand, to the paper, once again. So today, I am thankful for this poem.

Where is the poetry in my life?
Where is the beauty in my soul?
Where is the joy I used to feel?
Why is my heart so cold?

Where is the music of the spheres?
Where is the rainbow in my sky
Where is the quick smile on my face?
Why is my laughter a lie?

Somewhere I lost my humor and grace,
misplaced my wonder and love.
I miss jumping puddles out in the rain
and catching the drops on my tongue.

I cling to my children, who smile at me,
whose lives are still at their start.
I soak up their beauty, their wonder, their joy -
young magic kick-starts my heart.

A little funny

Since I'm relatively new in my position at work, but I'm still doing mostly the same tasks I'd been doing for the last year, my team lead was asking me questions about what I do each month with the revenue information, and what my deliverables are, and when to expect them, et cetera. I told him some stuff on the phone, but then I followed up with an email to get everything laid out clearly.

So I opened up a new message in Outlook, addressed it to my team lead, filled in the subject header "My monthly flow," and started composing the email. A few moments later, I glanced up at the headers and saw what I'd put for the subject. Whoops! That's not what I meant! Ack! So I changed "flow" to "cycle," and went back to composing the email. A few minutes later, I glanced up again at "My monthly cycle." Argh! That's not what I meant either! What was this guy going to think?!? I pondered what to put, because cycle and flow are good words to describe what I wanted to say. I ended up saying "My monthly process," which was pretty good, and finished the email.

And then I chuckled for a few minutes over that whole thing. Just the way to impress your new boss - send him emails on your monthly flow! :-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Her Grace, the Lady Raven Mudpaw von Wigglesbutt

... really wanted to check out our new digital camera.


Thanks, dammit!

Okay, so I won't regale you with a laundry list of icky stuff. Suffice it to say that I have not been feeling particularly grateful today. I've been cranky about a whole lot of stuff, and following the "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all" principle, I have been refraining from blogging today.

But, you know, that's not what the practice of maintaining this blog is about. It's not "don't say anything at all," but "If you don't have something nice to say, find something nice, no matter how small or seemingly trivial." And if I derail the Train of Toxic Thoughts long enough to look around, there's plenty of nice stuff out there.

I have been listening to some of my most beloved music today: Dvorak's New World Symphony, Mars and Mercury and Jupiter from Holst's The Planets, Holst's two suites for band, Rimsky-Korsakoff's Capriccio Espagnole, and a whole slew of overtures that I enjoy. Great music is definitely something to be thankful for.

I am also thankful that I had a selection of microwaveable meals in the freezer here at the office. it meant that I didn't have to go out in the chilly rain to pick up lunch... or starve, either.

I am thankful that I have three days off from work coming up - for a full five-day weekend.

I am thankful that I put the finishing touches on a major deliverable I've been working on - it's a forecasting tool with some automation built in, to allow managers in my company to compare budgeted, actual, and forecasted amounts for five or six different categories of revenue that we get on this project. This is only the first version, and there are several more enhancements I need to put into the next version, but there's a great feeling with coming to a conclusion with a product that you've built. I'm hoping for some good feedback on it - and not just "it's nice" but useful comments and questions that will help me add enhancements that will help people do their jobs.

So the prayer I offer today is this: when you are surrounded by ick, and the toxic thoughts won't stop wending their way through your mind, may you step back and notice something that makes you smile, no matter how fleeting.

Monday, February 12, 2007

An indiscretion

Today's post on Out of Nowhere - Indiscreet - is a lovely one. It begins

It is a custom for the college of presbyters (aka the clericus) of a diocese to present a new bishop a gift at the time of ordination. This is often a piece of episcopal hardware or haberdashery. It was thence altogether refreshing for the Tennessee clergy to make, instead, a contribution in the bishop-elect’s honor to the Episcopal Relief and Development Jericho Project for rebuilding Katrina-demolished homes in New Orleans. Louisiana was the home diocese of the new bishop.

Please read the whole piece, which is short and snappy. Lane+ is a treasure.

Happy Monday!

No, that wasn't sarcastic - I honestly think this will be a good Monday. And because I think that, it probably will be.

I seem to be fully recovered from that godawful migraine of Friday night. Yesterday I wasn't quite right, but I faked it so that we could get a lot of stuff done in preparation for our trip this weekend. So thank you for your prayers and virtual hugs.

Over the weekend, I spent quite a bit of time working through the creative problem-solving process with the "fuzzy issue"

I would like to participate in a discussion group about spirituality in management and business.
The process includes a great many brainstorming (divergent thinking) steps, and these were very fruitful for me. Especially helpful was the problem-mapping part of the problem-definition section of the process. In this step, you take a challenge ("How might I establish a local group to discuss spirituality in work/business/management?") and ask the questions Why? and What's stopping me? From these, you end up building a map that can look like a big spiderweb, with arrows connecting "How might I" challenges written on sticky-notes. I have my action plan for how I want to move forward with establishing the group - involving making personal contacts first.

But what was every bit as meaningful to me was the set of challenges that came from a branch of the map that started with "How might I make time for individual work on work and spirituality?" What sprang from this challenge - the whys and what's-stoppings - were a set of intentional practices to initiate, recommit to, or continue. One was, to be very intentional about posting in this blog, and to make sure that I don't overlook things to be grateful for at work because of a silly feeling that they are not sacred because they involve "filthy lucre." Another was, when I arrive at my desk each morning, before I jump into the day's duties, to find a quotation that is somehow spiritual, uplifting, or inspiring, and to print it out and post it on the whiteboard in the office kitchen. Another was to listen to a hymn when I sit at my desk, before jumping into my workday. Some of the ideas were things I really want to do, but just haven't been able to overcome inertia - commit to a daily practice of morning prayer, a daily practice of lectio divina, a daily practice of centering prayer or some other form of meditatio/contemplatio. I may get to those, but for now, the blog, the quotation, and maybe the hymn will get me started.

Today I'll be typing up my work on the project so far, so that I can send it to the professor. This has been a very helpful exercise for me, and I'm grateful that I've had the opportunity to learn the process and to apply it to a personal issue. Even if nothing ever comes of the discussion group, there have been some nice revelations, and I appreciate that.

Peace be with you today. May you encounter joy today - in fact, may you actively seek joy today, looking for it under every leaf and branch and rock, and may you find it. May you see and hear and feel beauty in the world around you, and may you know that the Divine is active in your life and in your world. May you perceive the infinite love of the Creator: you are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I owe a thank you

... to Katya of Seeking Chivalry for the quotation in my tagline above. She offered several to me, and a link to where I could find more, and this one really sang for me.

Thank you, Katya!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Starting to feel like a human again

Yesterday was Friday, the last day of the workweek, and I was tired. But when I returned home, I knew I had in front of me: making and serving dinner, cleaning up after dinner, cleaning and disinfecting the hedgehog's cage, giving her a bath and trimming her nails, a volunteer shift in the library at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, my creative thinking project, reading and homework for two classes, some database application work for one of my husband's clients, and maybe some work for my job, as we try to reconcile the billed and unbilled revenues for 2006 before our financials are audited next week. Just thinking of all this made me even more tired.

Shortly after the kids and I got home, Rob repaired to bed with a headache. Robert and Becca went to the back yard to play with the dogs, and I sat in a chair as tears streamed down my cheeks. After the kids came in, I got dinner going while they worked on homework. We ate dinner, and we cleaned up together. Then they went back to their homework, and I started working on Angel's cage. I put her into her critter ball; she huffed at me when I woke her up, but then settled down and appeared to have fun tooling around the kitchen floor while I washed her cage accessories. Then I changed out the bedding and put her cage back together. I warmed her bed in the microwave and got it set up under her hide box. Angel loves her baths in the kitchen sink. I put in about an inch of nice, warm water, and she clambers all around. I'll splash water over her back, massage her quills, and then rub her soft belly fur. While she's in the water, I trim her nails. Then I pick her up in a towel and massage her as dry as I can, and we relax in a warm, soft blankie until I'm confident that she's dry. Last night, Rob and the munchkins were upstairs during all of this, so I sat on the sofa, cradling my little quill-rat-pig (FYI: hedgehogs are related to neither rats nor pigs; it's just a fond pet name) while listening to some soft classical music. And as I sat there, I started to experience that peculiar disturbance in my vision that heralds a migraine. Greeeaaat. Just what I needed, on top of throbbing shoulders, and all that work ahead of me for the weekend: a migraine.

I decided not to take the migraine abortive - Imitrex, I think - because it usually leaves me messed up for a couple days. Instead, I took aleve and trazadone, and I went upstairs to lie down. It was only 7:30, but I went to bed. I woke up frequently during the night, which has been pretty typical of late, and finally got up at 7:22 this morning. I came downstairs and tended the beasties, and noticed that I was feeling incredibly nauseated. So I made a single slice of toast, fixed a glass of water, and sat on the couch with my eyes closed. Within about a half hour, the sunlight filtering in through the windows was too bright to stand, and keeping my eyes closed was a survival tactic, rather than merely a relaxation technique. My son wanted to work on his weekend chores, but he was kind enough not to vacuum anywhere near me, the blessed boy! And my husband decided that he would take both kids, so that the three of them could work our library volunteer shift today, so that I could have the quiet house to myself for four or five hours. The blessed man!

Although my head is hurting, I had not gotten my stomach settled enough to take painkillers until the last hour or so. I took a meclizine for the nausea this morning, and it seems to have helped, so I'll probably hit the advil bottle when I finish this post (so that I can take aleve at bedtime, if I need it).

So today, I am profoundly thankful for the thoughtfulness of my family. I am also thankful for the many medicines available to us, and that I have the ability to walk into my kitchen and select an over-the-counter med to help make things better.

Peace be with you today!

P.S. I added a picture of Spike to the post about her death, so you can see what she looked like.

Friday, February 9, 2007

A Gift to Myself

I have decided to give myself a birthday gift this year. I'll be turning 35 next month, and for my birthday, I'm planning a retreat at The Well in Smithfield, Virginia. I plan to keep silence during the retreat, except when I'm meeting with my spiritual director, and to do lots of sitting under the trees, and walking, and enjoying the water, and also lectio divina. I'll head out Friday evening after work, and return home Sunday around lunchtime. The last time I went on retreat was in 1999, and I know I really need this bit of recharging. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Last night I took the second of two midterms I had this week. The first, in operations management, wasn't all that exciting. It was 60 multiple-choice questions, some of them tricky, many of them obvious, a few computational. Last night was the microeconomics midterm, and it consisted of three essay questions. I wrote about seven pages worth of answers. The questions were (1) analysis of a regression equation, both statistical and economic, (2) a two-parter responding to the statements "If I have no paying job, then the opportunity cost of my time is zero" and "The reason textbook prices are so high and getting higher is that price elasticity of demand for textbooks is inelastic," and (3) an analysis of usury laws (setting a ceiling on interest rates). We had discussed all of these things in class, and I felt pretty good when I left the classroom last night.

One student got kicked out of the exam last night! The professor had stated very clearly, and more than once, that we were all to log out of our computers before beginning the exam. When one man turned in his paper, he whispered something to the prof, who announced that he'd be walking around the room and that all the workstations better be logged out. The professor spotted the student who had not logged out of his workstation, took his paper, and told him to leave. Wow. Whether the student was innocent or not, it is very important not to give the appearance of acting dishonestly. There are many situations in the business world - and, let's face it, the Church - where it is critically important to not give the appearance of dishonest or unethical behavior. Taking an exam is certainly one of those situations, for a student.

For my creative thinking class, I have to work an issue through the creative problem solving process that we learned, up through the action planning step. With two midterms to worry about first, I hadn't gotten started on this yet, other than just setting my mind the task of coming up with ideas for the issue to work. In an interesting confluence, I think I've found my issue. A few weeks ago, just before the Diocese of Virginia's annual convention, where they elected their next bishop, I was perusing the profiles of the nominees in that election online. I was particularly interested because my confessor, our Canon to the Ordinary here in Southern Virginia, was a nominee. I read over his profile, and was amazed and inspired by his words - his stories and his point of view resonated with me very deeply. One bit that sang for me was his discussion of forming a spiritual discussion group for men. As I work through my MBA classes, I find that I am increasingly less able to separate learning to be a manager from my spiritual life. There are spiritual reasons that I want solid training in management, and there is a spirituality to management that I think is often ignored, to the detriment of both manager and his or her direct reports. So I have been thinking it would be really cool to take part in a discussion group of spirituality in business or spirituality in management. And I get the deep sense that if I don't start this group, it may never come to be. So I think that's my issue for the creative problem solving process. "How might I start this discussion group?" We'll see how it goes. I might get it to the action planning stage and decide it's not worth the effort, or I might get increasingly excited about it. However it turns out, I'm sure I'll let you know here.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Ack! A Monster!

I have an assortment of little items on my desk here at work. There is a Virgin Mary, a man kneeled over with his face in his hands (the image of sin at work), a dragon, a funny monster, a koosh-like ball, an angel bunny, Rufus the naked mole rat from Kim Possible, some silk flowers, a mouse pad made for me by my daughter, and a little purple bug to attract bugs out of the software I write.

Yesterday, I noticed that the funny monster - whose tongue is sticking out of his mouth - appears to be licking the back of the Virgin Mary's head. It cracked me up. Here is a picture from my cameraphone (hereafter to be referred to as the CrapCam, ala Dave Barry) of the monster licking Mary:

That's the funniest thing I've seen this week, and I think one of the funniest things I've ever seen. We're all part of God's Creation, right? And I'm sure Mary would let the family dog lick her. Why shouldn't a big, funny-looking, blue monster give her an affectionate lick?

BTW: I have not moved Mary or the monster yet. They make me chuckle whenever I look over at them.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


The blog Caught by the Light has a great sermon posted on transformation - Caught by the Light: The Call of Tomorrow. A key paragraph:

Like Peter in his boat, and like the reluctant prophet in today’s reading from Isaiah, we are prone to hesitate when God in Christ pays us a visit and demands something of us. We know our own lives too well, which is at times both comforting and frustrating. Comforting because our lives and work are so familiar. Frustrating because the downsides of who we are and the challenges of our lives haunt us, sometimes doggedly so. But to break with both can be frightening.
It can be frightening to recognize God's voice and to actually listen to what God says and then make changes in our lives. But then God stands there ready to help us with the hard work of transforming ourselves. And what is life, but transformation? Hence the three vows that Benedictines make - poverty, obedience, and conversion of life.

Richard offers an image of ripples of change transforming us completely. The image of water has been a powerful one in my spiritual life. In spiritual direction, I once imaged myself playing in a rainstorm with Jesus. We were holding hands, skipping and running and jumping in puddles, as the rain pattered around us, washing the world clean. I can't say that this playful image has made a huge impact on me, but it's one of those alternate ways to see God. It's important to visualize God in different ways sometimes. Father is great, and the person Jesus who lived in Nazareth in the first century is amazing, but there are many ways to encounter God in our lives.

Another image that is incredibly powerful for me is to see myself as a stone, immersed in the river of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit runs over me, smoothing me and shaping me and - what's the word? - transforming me into the person that God wants me to be.

So I invite you - as God invites you - into the hard work of transformation. But know that God is there, and grace is there. You do not have to transform yourself alone. Peace be with you.

A Host of Blessings

The last few days - and especially nights - have been frickin' cold here in southeastern Virginia. Now, I know that those of you who live in places like New England or Minnesota or Canada will find this laughable, but we're not used to cold temperatures. The last few nights have gotten below 20F, which is COLD here. I actually had to break out a hat and gloves when I went to class last night, and especially while I was filling my gas tank. We were supposed to get snow flurries last night - and we may have - but there was no evidence on the ground this morning. As much as I love a pretty, pristine snowfall, I am very thankful that I didn't have to drive to work through snow and ice this morning.

Last night, as I said good-bye to my family before I went to class, I noticed that my daughter was reading this blog. Too cool - a twelve-year-old who is reading her mother's blog! Maybe she just wants to know what I'm saying about her. I could make her mad by calling her the cutest little muffinbuns in the world, or addressing her as my pretty princess, or even discussing her bath and toilet habits as an infant and toddler, but I will refrain. Welcome, Becca-monster! I'm glad you stopped by.

My new laptop is finally, blessedly stable now. It hasn't given me a dreaded Blue Screen of Death since we reseated the DVD drive. When I let the corporate help desk know that they don't need to send me a new laptop, the lady said, "Wow, you're awfully technical for a Finance person." Um, yeah. I'm a software engineer at heart, and I'm married to a network engineer. We're both troubleshooters. I just laughed when I read the email, and decided it was a compliment. But I'm very thankful that everything is working now. And also thankful that the screen on this guy is larger than my old one.

Last night I had my first midterm in Operations Management, and tomorrow night I have my first midterm in Microeconomics. I feel pretty good about the midterm last night. I think I marked 5 questions out of the 60 that were questionable to me, and that's about 8%, so I will probably swing an A-. The econ midterm will have three (yes: 3) questions. It's not a big theory, formula-based class, but is more about applying the concepts to real-life situations. I feel torn between thinking I'm learning a lot, and thinking that everything I've learned was common sense anyway. :-) But that's what the authors of the textbook said in their introduction - that an introduction to microeconomics is more about teaching one how to think like an economist, which is a very common-sense-oriented way of thinking, once you know the framework. So I'm kind of nervous about the weight that will be allocated to each question, but the prof has been pretty lenient on his grading of our homework questions, which have been similar. I also have a project to do for my creative thinking class, but the professor teaching this class was nice enough to push out the deadline to Friday the 16th rather than Friday day-after-tomorrow, when we told her about our midterms this week. I'm very thankful to her for this!

I've been listening to music this morning, mostly sacred music. I bought an online CD that I'm very fond of - it's Acoustic Hymns by Mark Magnuson, and it is very soothing music while I'm working. The 13 hymns are played beautifully on acoustic guitar. I see that he has a wedding CD out as well, which is interesting to me since I play flute at weddings.

A story: in December, my children had the opportunity to see The Nutcracker live in Norfolk with their school, and I had to pick up my daughter after the ballet for a doctor appointment. I got there about 20 minutes before the end, and the ushers let me slip in the door and see the last part of the ballet. Within three minutes of slipping in, I found tears running freely down my cheeks. The revelation came to me suddenly that I have not had enough beauty in my life. I realized that I need to be intentional about bringing beauty into my life - intentionally listening to beautiful music, and exposing myself to beautiful visions, and actively seeking beauty in the world around me. Beautiful liturgy certainly falls in this category as well.

I am deeply thankful that there is so much beauty in the world that is just begging to be noticed and cherished. If you keep your senses ready, you can perceive so much beauty that goes unnoticed by those of us rushing about our daily lives. AND, I've also noticed that when my life has become frantic and I am stressed up to my eyeballs, that it's harder to perceive the beauty, but that it is far more important to soak it in. Beauty is very healing and restorative, if we only let ourselves perceive it. Thanks be to God!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Great God Almighty!

Great God Almighty, but the year 2007 has sucked so far! I already cataloged quite a list of sucky misfortune in my first couple of posts. My new laptop started giving me the dreaded Blue Screen of Death yesterday, and I experienced more than a dozen of them within 24 hours. It was incredibly frustrating. It looks like the culprit was most likely a CD drive that wasn't firmly pushed in, so it wasn't seated properly to its connector. As a result, the controller kept saying, "Hey, there was a device here, but I don't see it any more!" which was causing the blue screens. I was ready to throw something through a window last night.

I'll admit it - I feel stressed up to my eyeballs. Right now I'm working full-time - in a new position that I really don't understand, and I'm not making my early milestones because of laptop problems, so those vaunted first impressions are falling flat - and going to my MBA classes two evenings a week - with two midterms and a project this week - and going to physical therapy for my shoulder twice a week, and providing part-time database support for one of my husband's clients, and managing my freelance flute business, and taking care of the family, and trying to plan our Florida trip for next month and a big vacation for April. I just want to say "Screw it all!" and kick the family out of the house for an entire weekend so that I can have some peace and quiet and relaxation.

We were watching the Superbowl last night. None of us is really into football, but the Superbowl is an important American cultural ritual, and I do enjoy seeing the virtuoso playing once a year or so. But I just couldn't handle the noise. It grated on my nerves, and I desperately fumbled for the remote control to turn it off, off, OFF. The silence was soothing. This morning, since I knew I would be working from home, as my laptop was defunct, I turned off the alarm and just lay in bed for a while, letting my mind wander. After a half hour, the kids woke up, and I listened peacefully to the sounds of their early-morning industriousness. I'll tell you - those 47 minutes of stolen relaxation did more good for my mind, body, and spirit than the entire night's sleep.

I got an email today from a mother-of-the-bride, who is planning a ceremony for mid-May. She was the most organized I've ever seen when it comes to the music! They'd invested in a couple of wedding sampler CDs, so she had a bunch of music picked out for prelude, entrance, and exit music. I was way impressed! Unfortunately, a couple of the chosen pieces were things like "Andante by Mozart." Well. If you're not a musician, "Andante" just means "at about a walking speed." Something titled just "Andante" is most likely one section of a larger work, like a symphony or a concerto. I suspect that in this case, it's actually the Romance movement from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but I'm not sure. I found links to some midi files on the internet and sent them back to the mother, so she can help me clarify the ambiguous ones. But she's picked a good selection of music, and I had almost all of it. The one I didn't have is Winter from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, and I was more than happy to order that sheet music. It gave me the opportunity to order The Celtic Music Fake Book, which I've been coveting for months. :-)

My daughter is in the chorus at her school. Today she came home telling us that their yearbook picture will be taken on Thursday (three days away), and that they are required to wear concert dress. She also told us that their teacher is counting their appearance in class on Thursday in concert dress as a quiz grade. So off we went to the godforsakenWal*Mart to pick up suitable clothes for not a heckuva lot of money. It took some time to pick out the blouse, especially because they're in the process of remodeling the store, so the ladies' clothes are scattered about three different areas. And as we stood in line at the cash register, I was annoyed enough with the children and the store and the lines and the people and the noise to send Robert and Becca to a bench to sit while I finished the transaction. So on Thursday, Becca's wearing one of my black broomstick skirts, a white blouse, and a gorgeous pair of boots that were on clearance. When she put on the full outfit for us this evening, she was breathtaking.

So what am I grateful for today? :Sigh: Little things, which are the most important of all. I'm grateful for the way my husband leaned over and kissed me on the forehead when I brought him lunch after my physical therapy appointment. I'm grateful for the way Becca smiled at me when I lent her a pretty hair ornament that tops off her concert outfit perfectly. I'm grateful that my children have left me in peace and quiet long enough to write this post. I'm grateful that our Australian shepherd Raven is curled up next to me, leaning against my foot. And I'm grateful that I'm here, able to write to you, participating in this life.

Midterm tomorrow night - gotta go study!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Waking up

I woke up this morning at 7am. This stinks, because it's a Saturday, but I have a full-day class today. I puttered around, getting ready for the day, and was gratified that my daughter got up at the same time to begin her day, too. It was nice to have her with me, to be able to look at her and hear her voice and hug her before I left for class.

On weekday mornings, I usually get up at 6, shower, dress, and head out the door by about 6:30. I may not see any of my family members until I pick the kids up from school in the afternoon. I miss them during the day. I can't wait to hear their voices again. (Well, at least until they start arguing...)

So today I'm grateful that my daughter got up with me this morning and saw me off to school. It was a small effort on her part, but it really helped shape the day.

Friday, February 2, 2007

A sad morning

Today is Candlemas, or St. Brigid's Day, or Imbolc. And this morning, when I came downstairs, I saw Spike, our albino hedgehog, and knew that she was no longer with us. Sure enough, her body was cold and stiff, and her spirit had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I was sad. My daughter took it much harder, though. She's 12, but she had never lost a pet before. She was devastated. I held my daughter for about 20 minutes, while she held Spike inside the little baby blanket. When my son came downstairs, we told him, and he sat with us for a time as well. Then he got up and got back into his regular morning routine, but Becca and I just couldn't get into the swing of things. Finally I fetched a shoe box, and we laid Spike gently inside, still curled up in her blankie. Becca put in a couple of Spike's favorite chicken treats, and then sat down to write a letter that she also put in the box. When the rain stops, Spike will be buried. Our "standard" hedgehog, Angel, is still with us. Being mostly nocturnal, she is very pissy in the mornings, so I tried not to disturb her too much as I tidied up the cage. But it was heartening to her her hissing and huffling at me.

As sad as I am, I am very grateful for the brief time that Spike had with us. She was a very affectionate little beastie, and she loved nothing more than to sit on my shoulder and snuggle against my neck. I came to find her red eyes endearing rather than creepy, and it made me laugh out loud to watch her slurping down mealworms or crickets just as quickly as she could.
She was great inside her critter ball, too - she would tool all around the living room... backwards, all the way. She never did figure out how to go forward in the thing. But Spike was a gift and a blessing to me, in a time when I needed a gift and a blessing. I will not forget her.

About 45 minutes later than usual, I had to tear myself away from my family, from my grieving daughter, to drive to work. In the car, I usually listen to books on CD these days. I just finished listening to a really amazing novel last night, and after my class had loaded up the CD changer with the next book: Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan. As I pulled from the driveway, I hit the power button on my car stereo (while at the same time expressing my dissatisfaction with the universe by repeating the F-word about a dozen times), and Marley's story settled into me. It is a hilarious and touching book, and I can tell you this after listening to only three chapters of it. And by the time I got to the office, I was ready to face the day.

So today, I am also grateful for John Grogan and Marley. And really, I'm grateful for all of our animal companions. They really do make life special - a gift and a blessing.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Beginning

It was January 30. I had my second cold of the year. I had bursitis and tendonitis in my shoulder, and it caused pain with just about every motion, despite the cortisone shot and the physical therapy. My son was about to turn thirteen. The prior week, I'd had a flat tire at 5:30 in the morning while I was trying to get out of town for a business meeting. I'd spent all day the previous Saturday in a class, surviving by drinking copious amounts of hot tea and sucking on sugar-free lemon drops. I hadn't slept well the night before, and I had a night class coming up that evening - the class that had the potential to be really great, but that was being taught in a very disappointing way - so I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of sleep that night, either. I had managers breathing down my neck from every direction - asking for data, asking questions about their data, asking where the data came from - in preparation for the management review in two days. And time after time after time, my computer crashed. Finally it crashed and wouldn't come back up.

I said a bad word.

Actually, I said several.

I went home to my network engineer husband. We swapped out the hard drive, but the computer still crashed. It needed the last rites. He kicked off a data recovery tool on the old hard drive, which was now unrecognizable, so that I wouldn't lose my work from the last week or so, since my last backup to the network. This would take hours. In the meantime, the managers were still calling me with questions, and I didn't have the data at my fingertips any more to answer them.

So I went into another room, a quiet room, and I sat in my chair. My cat Midnight nuzzled my leg, and I absently scritched her head and neck. And I remembered something a friend had told me a long time ago, when I'd sunk into my first major depressive episode:

Gratitude is the antidote to despair.

Then I remembered my first spiritual director, whom I'd met just a few weeks after my friend said this to me. And the exercise she gave me was to start a journal. And every day, at the same time each day, I was to take out my journal and start the page with "Today I'm thankful for..." or "Gee, I'm glad about..." or "I'm so happy we have..." or something like that. Just expressing gratitude and gladness about something. She said, even if it was the smallest little thing, or even if I was so upset that the entry was completely sarcastic, I needed to keep the journal every day. It took only a few days to realize that there is so much out there to be grateful for. And that we don't necessarily have to be grateful to God, or even grateful to anybody in particular, to feel gratitude. And that gratitude is, indeed, the antidote to despair.

So on January 30, sick, in pain, tired, frustrated, and angry, I decided to be grateful. And that night, after my class that is so disappointing, while I lay in bed settling my thoughts so that I could sleep, I decided to share my gratitude. For one thing, blogging will help keep me honest. Even if nobody ever reads this, I know that somebody might, sometime. So I want to try to journal every day - at least Monday through Friday - about some small thing that I'm grateful for, that makes me happy, or that makes me really, really sarcastic.

Today, I am grateful for google and blogger. Thanks to them, I don't have to write longhand, and I can journal about gratitude from any place that has a computer.