Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring is here!

Yesterday was absolutely beautiful. The sun was bright, the sky was clear blue, and everywhere around are signs of life. The ornamental pear trees are in full bloom, and we have many streets lined with them in southeastern Virginia, like the picture. I remember riding the bus to junior high school, back in 19mrmphty-mumble, and how inspiring it would be when the pear trees would bloom along the boulevard my school was on.

There are buds on our cherry tree (I first typed "cheery tree," which is pretty accurate, too). In a couple more weeks, the dogwoods will bloom. I've always loved dogwoods, especially the ones that blossom in pale pink. The dogwood is both the state flower and the state tree for Virginia, and in early April, you can see why. In looking for a picture this morning, I found this legend about the dogwood, which is highly appropriate for the approaching weeks.

A few years ago, I was driving up to northern Virginia for a business meeting, and I stopped at a rest stop along the interstate. It was a warm but very blustery day, and as I walked back to my car, it looked like it was snowing, despite the sunny blue sky. The wind was whipping the blossoms from the cherry trees, and the petals blew around in the air. It was absolutely beautiful.

Most of all, I look forward to the azaleas blooming. Since they're a fairly attractive evergreen, and they grow like weeds here, April brings a riot of color from blooming azaleas - brick red, pale pink, orangey-pink, white. And, because I am a twisted soul, they make me laugh because of a hilarious interchange in the Steve Martin classic The Man With Two Brains. The doctor (Steve Martin) has brought his femme fatale wife (Kathleen Turner) home for the first time, and the gardener and housekeeper are waiting on the front step to greet them. She looks at them and says, "What are those assholes doing on the porch?" And he chuckles and says, "It's pronounced azaleas." So every spring, I drive past the gorgeous blooming azaleas, and think of this scene, and laugh. See? Twisted soul.

On Saturday, a little drama unfolded at my finch feeder. There was a pair of tufted titmice at the feeder, happily eating seed without having to compete with the grackles at the larger feeder. After about five minutes, a black-capped chickadee came over and started bitching at them. Seriously! He landed on the bar at the top of the feeder, and started complaining at them rather loudly. He flew at the titmice, so they flew away. The chickadee started to eat, but the titmice came back. There were a few more interchanges like this before the titmice gave up and went away, and the female chickadee came to eat with her mate. I thought it was funny.

Even better, on Sunday, I finally caught a glimpse of the cardinals I'd been hearing. The female was on the rail of our deck, right next to the larger bird feeder, and a few minutes later, I saw the male, in his red glory, on the some-kind-of-pine-looking tree in the back corner of the yard. (You see - I've trotted out the names of all the plants and birds that I know, and now the vastness of my ignorance has been revealed. Would you rather talk about statistical analysis? Sigh, I didn't think so.) On the topic of Virginia state things, the cardinal is our state bird, and they are so cool to watch. The males are fantastic, but I love the understated beauty of the females. It looks like they're nesting in our pine-looking trees again, which is just fine with me!

Just so you know... blogging may be light this week, as I'll be traveling to northern Virginia for business meetings. Or, I may be bored and unable to sleep in a strange room, so I may post bizarre things at 2am. Guess we'll have to see!

Saturday, March 24, 2007


This has been a mostly quiet day. I woke up, and with my fuzzy eyesight, thought the clock across the room said "6:55." I've been waking up around 7am most weekends (to my annoyance), so I savored the cool morning for a moment, then stretch and got up. When I put on my glasses, I found that the clock said "8:55." Holy crap! My daughter had to be at school for All City Chorus at 8:30! My family must be really angry with me! I found my son working on homework at his computer, and my daughter and husband were gone. I hope she didn't feel bad that I didn't give her a good-bye hug and kiss (and her latest thing - pats on the head). I can't wait to hear them sing this afternoon. I remember how amazed and inspired I always was by things like all-district band. The concerts would give me a high that lasted for hours, unless something happened to bring me back to earth all at once.

I came downstairs and cleaned the hedgehog cage. That little critter is too funny. I love to listen to her tiny feet running in her wheel.

It is much cooler today than yesterday, when the thermometer topped 80F (26ishC, for those of you who measure things with those newfangled units). I'd be happiest if the temperature only went above 75F a couple times a year. I'd much rather be chilly - and able to snuggle up in sweaters and blankets, drink cocoa, and watch a fire - than hot.

I had two interesting dreams last night. The first: I was at a meeting at the diocesan office, and was being told that my application for postulancy to the priesthood was being accepted. Since I haven't given any kind of thought to that for about six years, it took me totally by surprise. There are some very appealing aspects of the priesthood, but there's no way I want to be rector of a parish. No THANK you! I have great admiration for the clergyfolk I know, because I know I don't have what it takes to pastor a parish. Teachers, too. As a child, I always wanted to teach, but increasing self-knowledge in high school and college led me to conclude that spending 8 hours a day trapped with 30 of someone else's children was not something I would be able to handle.

The second: I was about to go onstage to play saxophone in a competition. Now, I dabbled with the alto sax in high school for a short time, so I could play in the jazz band. The fingerings are very similar to the flute, but I only played at it for a few months. In the dream, the sax had a double reed (like an oboe or bassoon) rather than a single reed, and I had to wet it. I did not have a cup of water, like most oboists I've seen keep with them, so some of you may come up with Freudian associations for wetting one's reed. I put the reed on the mouthpiece and fastened the sax to the strap just as I went onto the stage, and then woke up.

And I woke up with a line from Billy Joel's Christie Lee going through my head: "She didn't need another lover, all she wanted was the SAX." I've been singing that blasted song all day, and I knew the earworm will haunt me until I find that CD (if I even have it) and listen to it. And... it looks like I don't have that CD. I'll have to listen to Vienna instead, which is one of my favoritest songs, because he could have written it to me. "Slow down, you crazy child; you're so ambitious for a juvenile, and if you're so smart, then tell me why are you still so afraid?"

A little while ago, we had a Glue Stick Emergency, and had to run up to the grocery store for glue sticks so that the son could finish his poster for school. When we got home, I had a slice of whole-grain toast with crunchy peanut butter on top, and had to defend the fundamental goodness of crunchy peanut butter over creamy. I can't believe that this isn't obvious to everyone!

But overall, it's been a relaxing day so far. I needed one of those. Peace and joy be with you today!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Five: Rivers in the Desert

Hooray! It's time for this week's Friday Five!

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19, NRSV

As we near the end of the long journey toward Easter, a busy time for pastors and layfolk alike, I ponder the words of Isaiah and the relief and refreshment of a river in the desert.

For this Friday Five, name five practices, activities, people or _____ (feel free to fill in something I may be forgetting) that for you are rivers in the desert.

  1. A majorly important lifeline for me is the Magdalen online community. I've been a member of this group since early 2002, and a member of other online communities with many of the same members for about five years before that. There are some very special people in this community, who are always there when I ask for prayers or support. And they know who they are. :-)
  2. MUSIC! I listen to a wide variety - from classical to sacred to rock, with a touch of jazz and some folk music for good measure. My all-time favorite bands are Carbon Leaf and Chicago. There are some songs on the about-seventeen "greatest hits" compilations that Chicago has put out that always move me. And, if I'm in my car, I sing. Sometimes, when I'm listening at work, it's hard not to sing, but I know my officemates will know I'm insane if I start singing at my desk.
  3. Writing - I suspect that most of us will say this, in one form or another. Sometimes I write an email to a friend (see #1), sometimes a blog post, sometimes a journal entry, although I have little patience for writing longhand any more.
  4. The blogging community has been so caring and generous and supportive. While Cute Overload rarely fails to bring a smile, there are plenty of you brothers and sisters out there are are incredibly inspiring.
  5. And last but not least: prayer. Centering prayer, verbal prayer, the daily offices, intercession, the Jesus prayer, a rosary... just reaching outside of myself, to the Divine. When my daughter was in the hospital recovering from her surgery, and I was spending the long nights with her (sleeping very little, as it was a hospital), intercessory prayer made the nights shorter. Lifting up other people in prayer was a powerful help to me in a dark time.
Thank you, Songbird! I needed a reminder of the things that give me life.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I saw the following billboard on my way to campus this evening:

Regent Law
National Champion
Negotiating Team
<<<and a picture of two lovely white people>>>

And I laughed out loud. How exactly does one get to be a champion negotiator? Doesn't one preclude the other?

The even funnier part is that Regent University used to be called CBN University, in Virginia Beach. You know, the university founded by Pat Robertson. Given what we know of Mr. Robertson, I find it hilarious that his school would produce champion negotiators. But, well, whatever!

(I'll try to get a picture of it, but driving 65+ mph on the interstate is not exactly conducive to snapping photos.)

Conversation on the Way Home, Part II

This afternoon the hubster picked up the son on the scooter, since the weather was so perfectly beautiful. So when the daughter came out of the school, it was just her and me in the car. We chatted aimlessly, and then she said, "What's f-" and interrupted herself.

"I'm angry, Mom."
"What is making you angry?"
"People keep killing Nature.... What's for dinner?"
"Dead Nature."
"What kind of Dead Nature? It better be FRIED."



I just got back to my desk from lunch. A little while ago, my husband called from his cell phone, saying, "I'm about five minutes from your office. Want to have lunch?" I said sure, and hung up. (Well, you know, we said good-bye first. I wasn't raised in a barn.*)

So I locked my workstation and went out to the front sidewalk. It is a gorgeous day - sunny, about 60F, with light breezes - and I enjoyed just being out there. I sang the venite softly while I waited, because it just seemed appropriate. (Okay, so I'm a strange duck. And this surprises you?)

I was expecting him to arrive in something like this:

Instead, the hubster arrived on this:

He hopped off, opened the storage compartment, and pulled out this:
... which has a mirror-finish visor on it. (It just needs a big white daisy on the back!)

We actually bought the scoot for me, because motorcycle parking is ample at the university, and I could take the carpool lane on the highway, but it's too tall for me, and I have a hard time getting moving from a stop on it. I've only ridden on it in a parking lot, not on the road, so I was a little nervous. Anxious. Frightened. Nail-bitingly terrified. So I swallowed, and I took a breath, and I hopped on. Okay, it wasn't so much a hop, as an undignified stretch, but I've never been able to mount a horse gracefully, either, especially with my short little legs.

We went around the corner to a sub shop (hoagie, grinder, hero, whatever), had a quick bite, and rode back. The bike was admired at the sub shop, and when we returned, I grabbed a couple of co-workers to show them the bike, and especially my PINK helmet. When I made the daisy comment, the ladies smiled and nodded, and the men said, "Okay, I've got to get back to work."


*Okay, the "I wasn't raised in a barn" thing. One of my favorite bad religious jokes is this one: Jesus dashes out the front door to play, leaving it swinging open behind him. Mary shouts to him, "Jesus, close that door! You'd think you were born in a barn!" Ba-dum-bum.

Calling All Geeks!

Of your goodness, dear readers, I need recommendations for an inexpensive X client for Windows.

I get to play DBA today, on the Solaris server that's all mine (my precious!). I'm a little daunted at the task, because

  • I haven't worked in X for about 6 years
  • I haven't worked with a version of Oracle later than 8i (yes - the government network I work on just upgraded from 8i to 9i in the last quarter of 2006), and this is 10 (g I think?)
  • I am a designer and developer, not a DBA
  • I will have to learn how to manage and use BI Discoverer
  • I received last week a 12-pound box of Oracle CBTs that go over all this stuff - like I have two weeks to spend perusing CBTs when I have work to do!
I am reminded of my assembly language class in college. In assembly language, you're programming just one level above the ones and zeroes (bit-twiddling, as we called it), so it's very easy to mess things up. We were using 8088s, and all our work was on 3.5" floppies. I once succeeded in turning on the "busy" light on the floppy drive - even though it was not accessing the disk - and then locking up the entire machine. What fun!

I'd prefer not to do this in a professional environment, and have to call the guys in Minnesota several times in a day to ask them to hit the reset button for me, because I've hosed the server again.

UPDATE: Holy crap! It turns out that I have to install Oracle 10g. And Warehouse Builder. And BI Discoverer. And make sure they're all patched and updated. Oh yeah, and have all that financial information ready for the program management review next week. I am toast.

UPDATE #2: Okay, so it's not quite that bad. It looks like all those components are installed, just not running. Of course, I have no idea what gets kicked off in what order, so more research is in order. I'm pretty good at research, but I don't like having to be researching when I want to be doing. It's turning into a roller-coaster of a day.

Music Night and Some Silliness

So last night, in celebration of Bach's birthday, I played the E-flat flute sonata (My favorite! It's actually more of a duet between the flute and keyboard, especially the first movement), and then pulled out the Suite in B Minor, which has the Badinerie, which seems to be installed on most cell phones as a ringtone. I was not confident that I'd make it through the Badinerie, since I haven't played it in, erm, about 8 or 10 years, but I made it. Of course, I can't whip through it at the blazing speed that Sir James Galway does, but I gave up comparing myself to him years ago. And then, because I didn't want to be done yet, I dragged out Carnival of Venice, which is a fun showy piece. I made it through most of the variations, but the really fast minor-keyed one made my fingers shudder. After a good laugh, I pulled out Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, which is loads of fun. I tried the Fugace movement first - a super-fast fugue - and had to stop because I was laughing so hard. I've never done more than try to read through that movement; I haven't practiced and prepared it, so it sounds miserable under my fingers. So I went back to the opening movement, and the slow movement that follows, both of which I know pretty well. It was fun.

All of my music is in The Cat's Room. She can't stand it when I play flute in there, or when one of the kids practices violin, or when any of us play at the piano. She flees in disgust. Next time, I'll blockade the door and bring out the PICCOLO. Heh heh heh...

In an impish mood yesterday, I was thinking about ringtones you would assign to various people. Like, what's the best ringtone for a massage therapist? Your boss? (Ride of the Valkyrie? Night on Bald Mountain?) An ex-spouse? (I Will Survive? I Used to Love Her (But I Had to Kill Her)?) Mother-in-law? I had myself cracking up at some really obnoxious ones, but most of them seem to have slipped my mind. I think that would be a fun game to play with a friend sometime.

I'm in a strange mood this morning. It is payday, which means that I get to take money from my employer and give it to all the people it really belongs to. Sigh. But tomorrow is Friday, and my daughter will spend much of the weekend at All-City Chorus. Beyond working on some economics questions for school, I don't have much planned for the weekend. I treasure weekends without much planned. On other notes, I have a follow-up with my orthopedist to learn about the MRI results tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is also the farewell lunch for the most senior manager in this building, who is moving to our headquarters in northern Virginia. He is very funny, and I will miss him here. My employer is moving on getting me a short little desk (22 inches! Seriously, measure 22 inches up from the floor - it's teeny!) and a stand to elevate my screen back up. I'll have to use an external keyboard, but I already have one. My desk is going to look very odd when it's all put together. But if it helps, it's worth it.

I hope you find joy today, and if not, then maybe a little goofy, silly fun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Conversation on the Way Home

As we drove home from school today, we were having a light conversation.

Abruptly, my daughter made a pronouncement. "I am angry," she said.

I responded, "I'm sorry you are angry, hon. What is making you angry right now?" (I was secretly pleased that she was expressing herself in such a mature, forthright, appropriate way.)

"I'm angry because people keep killing Nature," she said. She paused for a moment, and then asked, "What's for dinner?"

"Dead Nature," I said. And we all busted out laughing.

Something light for today

It's been a heavy few days for me, and I'm not sure when things will lighten up. It's like my sky is covered with thick, dark stormclouds. It looks like when the storm comes, it will be a doozy, with whipping winds and stinging rain and fierce lightning and violent thunder. But now, there is a very heavy sense of expectation, of foreboding. So... something light.

Yesterday, I brought home the two Rilke books I'd placed on hold. They are heavenly.

Today is J.S. Bach's birthday. Happy birthday, dude! I'll have to play my favorite sonata (the one in E-flat) tonight for you. Here's hoping my fingers can still keep up with that third movement! (It's #10 here, played by a very young Rampal, but 8 and 9 are my favorites.)

Last night, I went to class. This class is being taught by video teleconferencing, at four different centers. I am very thankful that I'm not at the campus center, where the professor is, because at my center, we spend the class griping about and mocking the professor. She has a positive gift for avoiding questions, and uses every trick in the book to shut down open discussion. The examples she uses are all out of everyday life. It's nice to have some examples from everyday life, to help us relate to the material. But then, give us some examples from industry. We're in this class to be trained as managers. I don't need an MBA to manage my kitchen, thankyouverymuch. Every week, it takes longer for me to settle my mind after this class. I get home around 10pm, and I have to get up at 6 the next morning. But every week, I'm up later, reading, blogging, web-surfing, to try to release some of the tension. Well, only five lectures left, and then the final exam.

I have at my desk here at the office, two poems by Hafiz that are placed inside magnetic frames and hung on my overhead storage bin. One, you've already seen. The other is this:

We Should Talk About This Problem

There is a Beautiful Creature
Living in a hole you have dug.

So at night
I set fruit and grains
And little pots of wine and milk
Beside your soft earthen mounds,

And I often sing.

But still, my dear,
You do not come out.

I have fallen in love with Someone
Who hides inside you.

We should talk about this problem-

I will never leave you alone.

Can you hear God's voice there? I hope so. I found this poem in my desk at home a few nights ago, when I was idly rummaging through the drawer. I'm so glad I found it!

Hmm... let's see if I can find a gratuitous cute pet picture to close with. Ah, here's a good one!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I mentioned in a comment on another blog today that I'd had a fantastic conversion experience in 1997. This was strange to me, because I am a cradle Episcopalian. I figured fantastic conversion experiences only came to people who had no religion. Of course, at the time, I wasn't practicing any religion, just trying to get along.

The context is this: I am 25 years old, married for 5 years, with a 3-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. My husband is taking a month-long class at a training center 200 miles away, so he commutes there for the week and comes home for weekends. I don't sleep as well when I'm alone in the big, empty bed. Although I don't realize it yet, I am reaching the tail end of my first documented hypomanic episode.

Each night, I dream the same dream. In the dream, I am walking through hallways in a building. The walls are white, and there are white doors with brushed chrome handles and no windows. I am looking for something, and in the dream that something was very certain, although I never did know what it was. I would walk, and walk, searching and searching. Then I would round one corner, and God would be standing there. I would react in increasing levels of frustration and/or disgust. "I'm not looking for you." So I would turn, and keep walking and walking, searching and searching.

I dream this dream night after night. I have no idea what it means, and it's frustrating me. Finally, one night, I walk and search, and I turn the corner and see God standing there. And in a fit of pique, I put my hands on my hips and say, "What?!? What do you want?"

God does not say anything in response, just looks at me, with those eyes as big as the oceans. And I wake up. On Sunday, I go to church, for the first time in about five years.

There have been a number of consequences that stemmed from my decision to go back to church, but nobody ever said it was easy to be a Christian. And if they did, they were a maroon (in keeping with my lenten fast from harsh speech, I don't want to say, well, you know), or at the very least completely ignorant of the gospels.

Last night, in the room where most deep thinking takes place, as I indulged in a long, hot soak, I thought about this conversion experience, particularly in light of the Benedictine vow of conversion of life. Under this vow, one promises to continue that conversion experience, to turn to God day after day after day. I was reminded of the merry-go-rounds that we used to play on at the playground. If you want to look at the center while the merry-go-round is spinning, you have to keep turning your head back, because the natural motion turns you toward the outside. Conversion of life is similar - we have to keep intentionally turning to God, because the natural motion of life sends us looking at all the other stuff out there.

And this reminded me of the annual council of the Diocese of Southern Virginia in 2004. The Rev. Frank Wade was the keynoter, and he talked about centripetal and centrifugal forces. He said that God is centripetal force - pulling things together - and that sin is centrifugal force - pulling us apart. His address was a poignant one and a powerful one, and that image of God as centripetal force has stayed with me.

So I'm going to stay on the merry-go-round for a while, but I'll keep turning my head toward the center, where God is, where God draws all of God's children.


From about six different directions in the last month has come to me mention of the poet Rainier Maria Rilke. When that kind of convergence happens in my life, I assume that there is something here that I need to look into further. I've got a couple Rilke books on hold at the local library, but until I can pick them up, I wanted to do some reading online. On this site, I found an English translation of The Swan, which is lovely. It begins thus:

This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.
(Just a taste - you'll have to follow the link to read the rest.)

I also found this quote, which I should probably have framed:

I am learning to see. I don't know why it is, but everything penetrates more deeply into me and does not stop at the place where until now it always used to finish. I have an inner self of which I was ignorant. Everything goes thither now, what happens there I do not know.
-Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

I am much looking forward to reading the books. It is difficult for me to read poetry, even though I've written many (which, by pure dumb luck, included one or two good ones). I read very fast - I devour books - and to read poetry you must slow down, savor the words, listen to them with the ear of your mind. So I tend to keep poetry books in places where I have a few minutes, not much more, just enough for a single poem. But from what I've read this morning, I may devour these books of Rilke, and then hold on to them a little longer for proper savoring.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring, maybe?

It's a good thing I hadn't yet seen this comic strip last night when I posted about the arrival of spring. I may not have hit that Publish button.

The Not-Prodigal Son

Mother Laura has posted an excellent sermon on the parable of the prodigal son. I encourage you to read it.

One of things that always leaps out at me in this parable is the older son, as Laura points out. This situation is incredibly unfair for him. He has been faithful, hard-working, helping his father. His brother has taken away a large part of their father's fortune, and has squandered it in a short amount of time. And now he comes crawling back, ready for his humiliation. If I were the older brother, I'd be thinking, "Teach him a lesson! Let him see what an ingrate he was! Let him live here as a laborer for a while before allowing him back into the family home!" And these are not inappropriate thoughts for the situation. They are very human, very earthly. They are driven by our need for fairness, for bringing "justice" by punishment.

But this is not what the father does, is it? The father decides to be "the bigger man." He doesn't just stand by the gate and wait for his son; no, the father runs to greet him, to embrace him, to kiss the cheeks that he kissed when his son was an infant. The father hugs him and holds him and welcomes him back home. And then he throws a huge party to celebrate. "My son is back! My boy, whom I love and adore, has come back home! Yes, he messed up, but now he's here with me again."

And the point of all this is that God has chosen that God doesn't want to be the Great Cosmic Judge, who metes out "justice" by punishment. Instead, God wants to be the Lover, the Beloved. God wants to run to us, to hold us, to embrace us, to tearfully kiss our cheeks, to whisper that God never lost faith in us, to tell us that God has always loved us and always will, to stroke our hair, to hold our cheeks in God's hands and just look into our eyes. God loves us tremendously, profligately, extravagantly, even wastefully. We just can't appreciate how much God loves us - loves me, loves you. The only comparison we have is to a parent. And you know what? I'll bet that while those of us who are parents can see how much we love our children, we still have trouble imagining our own parents loving us that much. And comparing God's love to a parent's love is like comparing a drop of water to the ocean. If we have trouble conceiving how much our parents love us, then how much harder is it to imagine God's love?

We often treat God like crap, pretty much the way the prodigal son treated his father. We doubt God, we lose faith in God, we say pretty words to God in prayer that we don't mean, we lie to God, we hide from God, we blame our shortcomings on everybody else. I remember once telling my confessor that I wanted God to f*** off and leave me the hell alone. I thought he would be shocked and dismayed, but he wasn't. He smiled gently and said, "That's a very authentic prayer. I think God likes authentic prayers." I was incredulous. I mean - isn't telling God to f*** off, like, the most terrible awful sin ever? But I realized, he was right. Jesus rails against hypocrisy in the gospels, and it's a terrible hypocrisy to pray "God, I thank you for this lovely day, and I praise you for your glory, and..." when what we're thinking is, "Oh my GOD, this day sucked! I wish you'd never stuck me on this awful planet, Lord, and while we're at it, just go the hell away and leave me the f*** alone!" As a parent, I'd have a hard time hearing that. But God? If there's any being in the universe who can handle being told to go away, that would be God.

And the wonderful part - the Good News - is that even when we treat God like crap, even when we tell God to leave us alone... God still loves us. Flawed, unlovely, miserable, unworthy us. You. Me. God loves us, even when we're the complaining older son who wants to see his brother punished. We are loved. Tremendously. Profligately. Extravagantly.

"You are my beloved child, and with you I am well pleased."
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


For me, the one thing that tells me more than anything else that spring is here is the blooming of the forsythia. It has those bright, sunny yellow blooms, and it grows wildly, riotously. It bursts out in all directions, and cannot be held in. When I hear the expression, "Spring has sprung," the picture that firmly appears in my mind's eye is a joyous forsythia bush, exploding in yellow blossoms. It rebels against the grays and browns of winter. It shouts out in joy. "Winter is ending; life is beginning anew. You are alive, and I am alive, and God is good."

I saw my first forsythia blooms of 2007 on Saturday. I do this little thing that annoys the bejeebers out of the rest of my family for the brief couple of weeks when the forsythia are in bloom. I sing out "For-syth-i-a!" in a way that sounds very much like the Ricola guy. Whenever I do it, they get annoyed, and after two or three days, they'll try to distract me when we're about to drive past a forsythia bush, so I won't sing it. And then yesterday, with Becca in the car, I spotted one of those riotous, joyous yellow shrubs, and I sang out, "For-syth-i-a!" And Becca laughed. She told me that even though it usually annoys her, she had missed it. She'd been waiting for me to spot that particular bush, so that I could sing out with joy at the coming of the spring.

FORSYTHIA! Winter is ending. Life is beginning anew. Birds are nesting, and eggs are incubating, and little baby bunnies are getting ready to be born. You are alive, and I am alive. And God is good. Peace and joy be with you today.

A Sunday Story: The MRI

Friday afternoon, I had an MRI for my shoulder. I wasn't dreading it, but I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, either. My daughter has had three MRIs of her back before (the entire back, not just one section of spine), so I'd witnessed the process although I hadn't been the direct participant.

My appointment was at 3:10pm, and I was to arrive at 2:40 for check-in and preparation. I got there about 2:30 and checked in at the front desk. After filling out my paperwork, I sat in a chair to pretend to relax with a magazine (sometimes pretending actually makes it happen, so that's what I was hoping for), and within three minutes, they'd called me back. I was assigned a little dressing room and told to change into scrubs. I could leave my socks and underdiddies on, but the bra had to come off. (<sarcasm>Oh, please, can I keep it on? </sarcasm>) When the technician left me, and I closed the door, I had to choke back tears. Of all the places I could be, this was one place I did not want to spend my Friday afternoon. And I really wanted someone there with me, even though there wasn't room in the little dressing room, and they wouldn't be able to come back to the MRI machine with me. But still, I never said I'm always rational. So I took a deep breath and changed, then followed the technician back to the MRI room (with a quick pit stop, just in case - my mother taught me well!).

Very quickly, they gave me Magic Expanding Earplugs and put my shoulder into a contraption that I didn't get a good look at. They laid me back on a pillow, strapped me down, gave me a panic button, cushioned me on all sides, and hit the button. As I slid back into the tube, and the ceiling was maybe an inch and a half from the tip of my nose, I felt a wave of panic. AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! I DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS!!! I realized that it would be a Very Bad Thing to keep my eyes open during the 30-minute procedure, so I closed them, and felt an immense wave of relief. With my eyes closed, it felt like I was snugly tucked into my bed at home. It was warm and soft and cozy. I focused on my breathing, and took inventory of prayer and meditation practices.

Recite a rosary? No, the prayers are too repetitive - they would set my mind free to think about where I am. Centering prayer? No, again, too much chance of thinking about what's going on. Okay, something more liturgical. I have Compline memorized, as I pray it every night in the dark silence before going to sleep. It is a short office, nowhere near 30 minutes long, but I knew I could extend it with intercessions. I had found intercessory prayer to be tremendously comforting while my daughter was in the hospital, and I was trying to sleep in the room with her.

So I began: The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night, and a perfect end. Amen. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. I felt my entire body relax, and by the end of the general confession, before I got to the opening words (O God make speed to save us; O Lord make haste to help us. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, Amen) I was entering a meditative trance. Through the psalm, the gospel scripture, the Lord's Prayer, I was in another place. Yes, I could still hear all the bangs and thunks of the machine around me, but my spirit was somewhere else. I began naming everyone I could think of to whom I have a connection - family members, coworkers, fellow students, fellow members of online communities to which I belong, other bloggers, people I love, and people I have a hard time loving. I did not pray with much specificity for any of them, simply held them up to God, because God knows best what we all need. (Which can be sooooooo annoying, when what I think is best is different from what God thinks is best. That "big picture" view, rather than the me-centered view, really changes things.)

Three different times, they shifted my position in the tube slightly. The first time, I opened my eyes, thinking, "They can't be done already!" When the movement stopped, I closed them again. The other two times, I barely noticed. At one point, Murphy's Law kicked in, as it is wont to do, and I had the most incredible itch on the side of my nose. I had to hold in laughter, since you're not supposed to move in there, because of course an incredible itch will manifest itself when you're strapped down and can't scratch it. Then I took a breath, and returned to my intercessions, sinking effortlessly back into that meditative state.

It was a strange meditative state, because the noise did increase my heart rate, and kept my body from relaxing fully. But my mind was much better able to cope with my surroundings than it would have been if I'd insisted on remaining in full conscious control the entire time. I really did "Let go and let God," and it may have been the first time in my life that I've been able to relinquish control in that way. (Heck, it may end up being the only time in my life!) But it certainly made that experience much less unpleasant than it could have been. And when the technicians pulled me out, they said I was one of the best patients they've had. That was cool! But they didn't have a lollipop for me, so I pretended to pout as I said good-bye, which made them smile.

Relieved, I changed back into my clothes and left the building. I was incredibly thirsty, and as my heartbeat slowed back to normal, I desperately coveted chocolate. I met my husband and son in their short interlude between school and laser tag, and we stopped at a coffee shop. Husband had a spring water, son had a decaf cinnamon latte, and I had a clementine juice / sparkling water thing that was very refreshing.

And that's what I did on my Friday afternoon.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A couple of random comments

I had my annual performance review yesterday. On the Ides of March. Despite that, it went well.

This afternoon, I need to try to find some sort of faux gold coins - either the plastic ones or the chocolate kind - for my pot o'gold for tomorrow. This should be a fun shopping excursion.

Last night, the temperature dropped by more than 15 degrees F during my class. When I left the building in my short-sleeved shirt, it felt deliciously cool, and inspired a haiku:

Cool wind on my skin
smells of fresh mulch and of rain
springtime has arrived.

My former boss visited from Minnesota this week. He has always been impeccably professional, but I had grown very close to him over the last four years, and whenever he arrived in the office, I just wanted to hug him instead of shaking his hand. On this visit, since he's no longer my boss, when he arrived, I went to greet him with a hug, and he seemed pleased and surprised. When he left for the airport, rather than extending a hand to me, he reached out both arms for a good-bye hug. When he offered his hand to my officemate, she said, "What! I don't get a hug?!?"

Even though I'd rather be relaxing at home, I'm looking very much forward to my first flute gig of 2007 tomorrow.

Our new bird feeders have become very popular. I've seen plenty of grackles (of course), several juncoes, some mourning doves, and a lady cardinal. And I love to watch the squirrels try to get to it the feeders! The finch feeder remains untouched as of yet, but I remain hopeful.

I still have Holst's First Suite for Band running through my head, as it has been for about a week now. Thankfully, it's music of some complexity, and it's interesting, and I like it. But I'm a little tired of the earworm.

Peace be with you! May you have a joy-filled weekend - and be safe this St. Patrick's Day!

Friday Five: Whatcha doin'?

From RevGalBlogPals comes this week's Friday Five:

Well friends, this is one of those weeks when I simply must work today, which is normally my day off. I know, I know. We may tut-tut all we want, but the fact is, some weeks are like that. So, this week's F5 is simple.

Name five things you plan to do today.

Bonus: If today is about "have-to" for you as well, share up to five things you'd like to be doing today.
Well, I'm not a professional Christian who only works one day a week, so I have to work every Friday.

Hey - I'm JUST KIDDING - stop hitting me! Ouch! That hurts!

Okay, seriously now. Five things I plan to do today include...
  1. Having an MRI of my shoulder this afternoon. I haven't had this fun experience before, but my daughter's had three. I'm not dreading it, but not exactly looking forward to it either. (Silly story: when I pre-registered, they asked me about three times if I'm claustrophobic. I answered no, but perhaps a more accurate response would have been, "I can't be sure; I've never really tested that question.")
  2. Finishing my brochures. I'm playing Irish music on my flute at the Norfolk Botanical Garden tomorrow. This is not a paying gig, as I'm a Garden volunteer, but I'm planning to use it as a marketing opportunity. I designed a trifold brochure, paid a pretty penny for some nice, thick, glossy brochure paper, and have been printing them out in small batches. With the print quality set to "Best," each one takes a while to print. So I tend to set 10 fronts printing, then come back in an hour to feed them back in to print the backs,...
  3. Recalibrating my revenue forecast. Of course, I need information from other teams, so I may not be able to get this done today.
  4. Going to a free Carbon Leaf concert at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront tonight... IF the weather looks okay. That's a big IF, because the one-word description I keep hearing for today's weather is DOWNPOURS. My idea of a lovely evening is not sitting outside, in the cold, dark, blustery, downpour and listening to a band play from underneath a shelter. Maybe I've just turned into an old fuddy-duddy, though.
  5. Clean the hedgehog cage. This may not sound like a lot of fun, but it's a regular weekly chore that I rather enjoy. I flip on the radio in the kitchen to the classical station, and then take Angel out and put her in her Critter Ball so she can tool around freely while I work. I take everything out of her cage to be washed and sanitized. I remove the bedding from the bottom level, wipe out the floor, and replace the bedding. I get all the stuff put back into her cage and refill her food and water, usually setting out some treats for her. Then I take Angel out of her critter ball and give her a warm bath, maybe trim her little toenails. She enjoys her bath, and is her most personable and cuddly afterward. I dry her off as much as I can in a towel, and then wrap her up in a blankie for some serious cuddle time.
If I had my druthers, I would instead be spending this cold, blustery, downpour-y day doing the following:
  1. Sitting in my recliner, dressed in sweats, with a blanket wrapped around me.
  2. Drinking cocoa or Earl Grey
  3. Listening to beautiful music
  4. Reading my book
  5. And probably checking email and reading blogs, too.
I hope you all have a productive and meaningful day, whether you have to work or not.

A new diagnostic tool for depression

Okay, so when I first saw this headline, I started to laugh. I wanted to paraphrase Homer Simpson: Video games - is there anything they can't do? But the more I thought about it, the more plausible it seemed. I know that when I'm in a depression, it feels like I'm moving through jell-o. Everything I do is slower; even my thoughts are sluggish, as if there is jell-o lining my neural pathways. It doesn't surprise me one single bit that a depressed person would take longer to accomplish a task in a video game.

So... could we use something like this as a diagnostic tool for children, or in men? It's much more difficult to diagnose depression in children, because the symptoms present themselves differently. And when men are depressed, there are two fairly common features: (1) they express it more as anger rather than sadness, and (2) they don't want to seek help. This kind of test could be very helpful for patients who may be resistant to questions about their feelings. So goofy as the story is, it may well be good news.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Crock pot

Tonight I am thankful for my crock pot!

Each week, I usually sketch out a menu for dinners for the week, which we follow with some degree of flexibility. On my two school nights, I don't have a lot of time at home, so I try to plan simple meals for those evenings. Tonight, we had chili.

Last night, while I was preparing my dinner, I chopped onions, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and celery, and packaged them up in a big baggie in the fridge. I browned the meat, let it cool, and refrigerated it. I assembled my other supplies, and put the crock pot on the counter. This morning, at 6:30am, I combined everything in the crock pot, wrote a note to my husband asking him to do a couple of quick tasks with it, and then went on my merry way to work.

And when I got home with the munchkins, the house smelled delicious. We broke out the fresh, hot loaf of French bread that the local grocery store guarantees to have from 4pm to 6pm every night. We grabbed some cheese, pulled out our spoons and soup mugs, and pretty much attacked the crock pot.

It was heavenly. We had a hot, satisfying dinner, and I didn't have to put any work into it this evening, before class. I made it intentionally mild, so my daughter would eat it, and my husband and son added hot sauce to it. I used Cubano peppers this time, but I prefer Anaheims or Poblanos. I also snuck in carrots and celery, to increase the vegetable intake of my carnivorous (and bread-ivorous - if they could exist on meat and bread, they would) family, and none of them even noticed. So I'm incredibly thankful today for my crock pot.

(While we're talking about bread, while I was on retreat, they served various whole grain breads by Arnold Bakeries. The bestest, most wonderfullest, was their Health Nut bread. I picked up a loaf last week, and Rob and I have been savoring every slice. As amazing as it is for sandwiches (shaved roast beef, provolone, chopped cherry peppers, romaine, sliced tomato, vinaigrette), I think I like it best toasted and slathered with crunchy peanut butter. Mmmmmmm..... I'm thankful for that, too!)

Test, test, test!

Following a link on one of the blogs I frequent, I took an extended personality test this morning that is supposed to reveal your enneagram, and Jungian personality type.

The results are...

INFJ - "Author". Strong drive and enjoyment to help others. Complex personality. 1.5% of total population.
Take Free Jung Personality Test
personality tests by
The individual results were:
Introverted (I) 70.27% Extroverted (E) 29.73%
Intuitive (N) 55.56% Sensing (S) 44.44%
Feeling (F) 53.85% Thinking (T) 46.15%
Judging (J) 72.73% Perceiving (P) 27.27%

This was not a surprise to me. The N/S and F/T vectors have always been very close for me, and I was amused to see the I and J be as low as they were, because they're usually over 90%. Maybe I'm getting better at moving out of my comfort zone.

I was surprised to see the enneagram result:

Enneagram Test Results
Type 1 Perfectionism |||||||||||||||||| 80%
Type 2 Helpfulness |||||||||||||||| 66%
Type 3 Image Awareness |||||||||||||| 56%
Type 4 Sensitivity |||||||||||||| 53%
Type 5 Detachment |||||||||||||||| 70%
Type 6 Anxiety |||||||||||||||| 66%
Type 7 Adventurousness |||||||||| 33%
Type 8 Aggressiveness |||||||||||||| 56%
Type 9 Calmness |||||||||||||| 53%
Your main type is 1
Your variant is social
Take Free Enneagram Personality Test
personality tests by

These surprised me because I've always come out as a 3. At one point the scores indicated a 2-wing, but a later test came up with a 4-wing, which is much more uncomfortably close to reality. I remember the first time I tested as a 3. The test was in a book whose author is known to be un-fond of 3s, and her description ticked me off so bad I physically threw the book across the room. Now, if you know me, you know that books just aren't treated that way in my presence, so for me to throw the book, you know I was ticked off. Anyway, I am very much a perfectionist, so that description isn't inaccurate. I'll have to do some reading and introspection to see how I feel about this result.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lousy rotten stinky crappy week

Well, that subject header says it all, doesn't it? :-) I won't go into a lot of detail here, because my daily dramas are different from your daily dramas, and the things that push my buttons aren't necessarily the things that push yours. I'll just say that my full-time job, my two part-time jobs (self-employed - or more to the point, self-inflicted - ones), my volunteer jobs, my school, and my home life are all conspiring to drive me up the proverbial wall. And succeeding grandly, I might add.

I saw the orthopedist for my second follow-up today. It was a frustrating visit, but now I have an MRI scheduled for Friday, so we'll know a little more about what's going on in one of the shoulders that's giving me so much grief. The doctor seems to want to operate, since steroid injections, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatories don't seem to provide any relief. In the meantime, my employer has okayed getting me a different desk, once they receive the letter from the doctor.

Why a different desk? Well, I'm 4'9". That's 57 inches tall, which translates to "not very." It's short enough to qualify me as a person of proportionate short stature, and thus eligible for membership in the Little People of America. I don't have any of the many forms of dwarfism, but I live in a world that is designed for much larger people. I can't reach things without a stepstool; my legs dangle from every couch or recliner I've ever tried to relax upon, not to mention most chairs; when I type at my desk, my hands are almost level with my shoulders. When I was a sophomore in college, my Calculus III class was in a room with these really tall desks, but there was carpeting on the floor, so I asked (and received) permission to sit there during lectures. I took a desk for exams, but for lectures, it was the floor for me. The upshot of all this is that I'm even more prone to repetitive stress injuries - like carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder issues - than a person of so-called normal height. But the best things come in small packages, right? :-)

Tomorrow I have a meeting scheduled at the Norfolk Botanical Garden to discuss playing Irish music for them on my flute this Saturday, in honor of St. Patrick's Day. If the weather cooperates, the plan is to set up in the new Children's Garden, in which case, I will dress as a leprechaun. Maybe I'll even try to get them to pay for a little pot of gold for me - candy gold, of course, for the children. I think that would be fun!

So tonight, I'm thankful for simple things. Relaxing with the family for a television show. Fixing a little pot of soup for my dinner (leftover beef broth, leftover rice, leftover broccoli, and some minced onion and garlic - it was yummy comfort food), and reading a collection of Pearls Before Swine while I ate. The sustaining prayers of good friends when I reached out in frustration. A great big hug from my daugher when I tucked her in. The warm weather we've had the last couple days, and the big thunderstorms we're expecting tomorrow. And a place to let my hair down and be silly, which I plan to do as soon as I finish this post.

Tonight, I wish you all the peace and comfort of little things. May you notice the small things that are worth being thankful for, and may you appreciate them. And may we all try to be one of those small things to someone in our lives in the next day - a smile, a greeting, a hug, an email to an old friend, a phone call to a former coworker, a shout-out to a friend's blog. Peace be with you.

Monday, March 12, 2007


There's a breathtaking post on Daddy RoBlog today about beauty:

The truth is, I think we are always surrounded by beauty if we but have eyes to see it, if we’ll pause long enough to take it in. It is not so much the kind of beauty that can we can purchase or somehow create; it can only be discovered and cherished.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire post. It will only take a moment, and I'll wait for you. Go ahead - click the link.

Okay, done? Wasn't it a beautiful post? Now I have a story, and you probably aren't surprised, because I always seem to have a story.

In December, life was pretty stressful. Our daughter Becca had just had one operation (repair of an asymptomatic tethered cord), and was about to have another (spinal fusion for pretty significant congenital scoliosis). We'd been waiting for the spinal fusion since May, and it had been scheduled and cancelled and rescheduled more times than we can count. We had the spinal fusion scheduled for November 1, but the MRI showed that her spinal cord really needed to be untethered first, so we had to rework everything to try to get it all done before the end of the year.

It was Friday, December 8. Becca's surgery would be Tuesday, December 12. It was the day of her pre-op visit to the hospital, for her tour and anesthesia consultation and bloodwork and all. It was also the day of her school field trip to see The Nutcracker. Becca had been crushed to hear that she would miss it, based on her November 1 surgery date, and had been elated to hear that she would be able to go, based on the new schedule. We arranged things with her teachers to pick her up from the theater and take her to the hospital. Normally, picking up a child directly from a field trip site Just Is Not Done, but she's in a wonderful program, with teachers who wanted to make sure she could do as much as possible with her classmates before her six-week recovery period.

It was very, very cold that day - unseasonably cold before our three straight weeks of unseasonable warmth. I was bundled up in my warmest coat, with hat, scarf, and gloves. Here in southeastern Virginia, I usually have a middle-weight jacket, with my gloves stuffed into my pockets just in case. I rarely wear a hat or scarf. But this day, I was bundled up against the cold and wind. I arrived at the theater about 20 minutes early - not wanting to risk being late and missing my chance to pick Becca up - and asked the security guards if I could please wait in the lobby until the ballet ended. They went a step further, and told me that there were some empty seats in the last row, and that I should go on in and watch the last 20 minutes. I thanked them and slipped inside.

It was so dark that I never did find those empty seats, but I stood next to the door and soaked up Tchaikovsky's music. Within 30 seconds, there were tears streaming freely down my cheeks. At first, I was baffled. Art of any form rarely moves me to tears. Where was this coming from? By the end of that dance (Coffee or Tea, I forget which), I had my answer.


This should not surprise you, given the opening of this post. I realized that I had not been experiencing enough beauty in my life, and that I needed to be much more intentional about bringing beauty in wherever I could. So since then, I make an effort to pay attention to the beauty around me. I inject beauty into my surroundings with music, poetry, quotations, images. I try to focus on the things that are beautiful and elegant and life-giving, and to just not devote my time and attention and energy to things that sap my spirit. And just as I am being more intentional about my "inputs," I'm trying to be more intentional about my "outputs" as well. My lenten discipline of fasting from harsh words comes into play - there is enough ugliness in the world, so I am trying to avoid polluting the air with toxic words and thoughts. I am trying to be extravagant with gratitude and praise, and parsimonious with criticism and negativity. Some days, this is easier than others, and some days I fail miserably. But I keep on making the decision to get back up, dust myself off, and find something beautiful to catch my eye.

May you find the "blessed life" that Rob mentions in his closing line. May you see the beauty that surrounds you - the beauty that is you - and may you feel blessed and loved.

Rest in peace, you funny man

I learned this morning that comedian Richard Jeni died of (apparent) suicide over the weekend (story at I usually found Mr. Jeni funny (which is a good recommendation - I don't know any comedian whom I always find funny, and I can think of quite a few whom I rarely or never find funny), but I always heard anger in his schtick. He will be missed.

Suicide touches close to home for me, as I struggle with Type II Bipolar Disorder, which is a form of manic depression in which the manias don't get too terribly severe (but the depressions are every bit as soul-stealing). Thanks to recent advances in pharmaceuticals, and thanks to an excellent therapist, I've had an abundance of days with no thoughts of suicide at all. But I have also had many days where I considered it to be pretty good if I made it to lunch without having fantasies about killing myself.

I hear your uncomfortable laugh, and see you shift position in your chair. "Surely you're exaggerating," you are thinking. Unless, that is, you have experienced depressive disorder before, in which case, you are nodding in understanding. Left untreated, depression can be fatal; heck, even treated, depression can be fatal. It's bad stuff, and you don't want to go there.

Which brings us back to Mr. Jeni, and his girlfriend who found him, too late. I find it interesting that while he claimed to be 45, his actual date of birth was in 1957. He would be 49 now, approaching his 50th birthday. With our obsession with youth and beauty here in America, I suspect that this milestone birthday was looming over him, compounded by his dishonesty about his age. I hope that Mr. Jeni finds the peace and love he craved. I can see him, cupped in God's hand, surrounded by the Light. Maybe he's not yet able to look up and meet God's gaze, but I have faith that in time, he will. I also pray for healing for his unnamed girlfriend. May she find healing and peace as well, in the wake of this tragedy.

And today, I pray for all those whose lives are touched by depression, bipolar disorder, and other disorders of the brain. God, please help us all to see, to feel, to know down to our bones that we are Your beloved children, created by You in Your image, and that with us, You are well pleased. As we continue on the walk to Jerusalem with Jesus this Lent - the walk to his arrest, torture, and execution - please give us compassion for the people around us who are hurting, who are in trouble, who need a companion. Please help us to love ourselves and to take tender care of ourselves. Help us remember our uniqueness and preciousness - and the uniqueness and preciousness of every person we encounter. And help us to find peace and beauty and joy... even where we don't expect them.

Friday, March 9, 2007

A little piece of thanks

I am listening to the Hebrides Overture by Felix Mendelssohn right now, and it never fails to move and inspire me. Mendelssohn's music often does that for me.

And, if you'd like an inspiring story this morning, I commend to you Felix's sister Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel, who was a gifted pianist and composer in her own right, but these were men's work in the 1800s. I still crave recordings of her music, which I've only heard on public radio to date.

Friday Five: Matters of Taste

From RevGalBlogPals comes this week's Friday Five:

My mother loved figs.

I only like them in a Newton.

It's all a matter of taste.

Name five things you like a lot that some close relative or significant other did/does not like. This could be food, movies, hobbies, music, sports or whatever springs to mind.

This should be a fun game!

I adore classical and sacred music. I could listen to the Mediaeval Baebes all day long. But alas, my husband could only look at them all day long. :-) My family is not as fond of classical music as I am, although my son will listen for short periods. But lest you think this is all I listen to, it's not. My favorite bands are Carbon Leaf and Chicago.

I also love asparagus, and, in fact, most vegetables. But while I can get my son to eat broccoli, and my daughter to eat green beans, I don't have much success in drumming up appreciation for veggies in my household. When I was on retreat last weekend, we had a salad with every meal - fruit salad with breakfast, and a tossed salad with lunch and dinner. It was wonderful. There's nothing better than a salad that someone else has made. (Most of the time I have little patience for ripping greens and chopping all those vegetables.)

One that causes a little tension in our family is that I want my home to feel secure and stable. While I don't have a problem with changes for the better, sometimes it seems like others in the family want to change things in the house purely for the sake of change. My husband likes to move the furniture around every so often. He'll say that this is to make the room feel more roomy or to use the space better, but then when the furniture gets moved back after 6 months or so, we say the same things about how the room seems so much roomier. Yes, I know we need to paint and replace our carpeting and stuff, but I want my home to be comfortable and stable, and not in a constant state of flux. I have enough uncertainty in my work environment, thankyouverymuch.

I'm going to bend the rules on this one a little bit - my daughter and husband are tv junkies, but I mostly don't care about television. There are a few shows I like to follow, but if I miss an episode or two, I'm not heartbroken. We have a Tivo that records them all for us, and I feel pressured to watch them right away, even if there are things I'd rather be doing with my time. This causes conflict in the family, when one person says, "You have, like eight things on the Tivo to watch! Why are you reading a book when you could be watching your shows?" And the other person responds, "But watching tv makes me tired, and I just want to relax with my book." We have trouble understanding each other.

And finally, the one that causes the most friction in my house. My husband believes that organized religion is probably the worst evil that mankind has ever perpetrated upon itself. He may be right - I saw a bumper sticker for sale recently that declared, "God established the Church, and the Devil organized it" - but that doesn't mean that there is still much good to be found in the Church. Would we have had Teresa of Avila or Hildegard of Bingen or Julian of Norwich, if we'd had no Church? Would we have the Sistine Chapel or Mozart's Requiem or Bach's B Minor Mass? How about Chartres Cathedral? There is so much beauty in the world that has been inspired by the Divine One - by the Trinity - by our deep need to believe. And I wonder whether the problems in organized religion are not the problems endemic to any organization. The Church is, after all, composed of flawed, unlovely humans.

It's interesting to me, because at first this question seemed like it would be light and a little frivolous, a fun little game. But it turned out to be much more revealing. It's not just about "Give it to Mikey - he doesn't like anything!" but about trying to understand each other, to connect with each other, to love each other. I've heard it said - and have probably said it myself - that Christianity is not about right behavior but about right relationships. And at their heart, relationships are based on understanding, connection, communication, trust, love. This "fun little game" is really an exercise in relationships. Wow.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Grumbly Tuesday

Yesterday was a busy but productive day at work. I came home, with plans to work for about an hour on a task and then to work on some homework for class. Alas, God had other plans... My daughter was feeling really icky, so I took her to the doctor. After two hours at the doctor's office, we came home with a diagnosis of "maxillary sinus infection" and a bottle of augmentin. She's staying home from school today, and I'm telecommuting to be with her. She's having an unfortunate reaction to the antibiotic, but I understand that usually passes in a day or two. In the meantime, she's getting lots of rest, homemade smoothies, and TLC.

This is not what I'm thankful for. Last night, in our two hours at the doctor's office, Becca and I got really bored and really sleepy. Since we spend time playing on the Horrible Haiku blog, we've begin automatically noticing which phrases have 5 or 7 syllables. And last night, as we waited (and waited and waited), we started conversing in haiku. It was fun and silly and goofy and wonderful. I love my girl, and even though she was sick and we both had places we would rather have been last night, I treasured that wonderfully silly, fun, goofy time with her.

I'm also thankful for the welcome from RevGalBlogPals, and all the lovely people who stopped by yesterday. It was great to see you, and I appreciate your messages in the comments section. I'll be by to visit each of you (if I haven't been already). Thank you!

Monday, March 5, 2007

On returning from a retreat

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 35. And I drove home from Smithfield, Virginia, from a retreat center called The Well, doing about 72 mph down the highway in silence. Well, almost in silence - every so often I would break out in the first verse of "Be Thou My Vision" - the first verse, because I can't remember much more than that. And I think twice I sang the first verse of "My Song is Love Unknown," which is naturally proper lenten fare, and which I adore because of the first verse:

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

Those two lines in the middle - Love to the loveless, shown that they might lovely be - is a prayer I pray frequently, and not always for people other than myself. I'll bet that most of us feel loveless, unloved, unlovely - perhaps even unlovable. There are so many places where we get messages that we are not good enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, fast enough, rich enough, pious enough, faithful enough, smart enough, loving enough, compassionate enough, giving enough... well, let's just say it's pretty easy to find yourself feeling unloved and unlovely. But God is still there, giving us all the love we could possibly want or need in a lifetime, and then some. God is there giving us all the love we can stand, and we turn God away because we believe we're unlovely and unlovable. Well, okay, maybe you don't, but I know I have, a time or two. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is called sin.

Now this post has gone completely astray from my original intentions. I guess I'm not focused enough. :-) But suffice it to say, I spent a lovely weekend at The Well. I walked the labyrinth ("Cosmic Walk" - and a potent one!), closed my eyes and listened to the birdsong, walked around the lake, sat in a gazebo and tasted the breeze, listened to some Mozart and a really cool CD of music based on the poetry of Rumi, drew some picture-meditations, wrote a handful of haiku, prayed the four-fold daily office from the Book of Common Prayer, laughed at the antics of the six geese that patrol the perimeter, napped in my hermitage with the window wide open to the sun and breeze, watched the lunar eclipse, and ate wonderfully wholesome meals prepared by the center directors. It was wonderful. Peaceful. Healing. Restorative. Balm to soothe a jangled soul. I'll be going back, for sure; I'm thinking about mid-August, before the fall semester classes start up again.

Before I leave, I'll inflict upon you a couple of the not-too-terrible haiku that I composed while reflecting on the weekend:
The wind blusters through
setting the wind chimes ringing
the bell tolls for me.

Lord, come sit by me
in the lakeside gazebo
under springtime sun.

I lie on my bed
listening to the breezes
my heart is at rest.

"Come to the water"
I hear the Spirit calling
"Drink, and be set free."

Eclipse of the moon
red shadow moving across
over the still lake

Quiet spring evening
birds fall silent - crickets chirp
softly, trees rustle.

Living water calls
ev'rything I ever did
is now forgiven.

Sin is washed away
Love and mercy guide my steps -
at least for today.

A bite from the moon
Cosmic Cookie Monster bit -
Eeew! This tastes like cheese!

Okay, so that last one was not exactly, well, art, but it made me smile. Peace be with you today, and may you find the same peace and love that I encountered this weekend on my retreat.

Friday, March 2, 2007

One last thing...

... before I head out the door for my technology-free silent retreat weekend at The Well:

This is Angel, all curled up in a blankie on my lap, and I couldn't resist taking this picture because of the tiny curled-up paw action there. Plus the cute little black nosicle at the bottom. It's just too cute - Resistance Is Futile!

Have a joy-filled weekend - see you Monday!

Makes you think

I stumbled across the Watch Your Head comic from February 11, and it's pretty powerful.

Check it out - I think it speaks for itself.

A little irony

I was amused to see the topic of today's Friday Five, because a short time earlier, I had chosen this quotation to print up and post in the office kitchen today:

Looking for and enjoying beauty is a way to nourish the soul.
The universe is in the habit of making beauty.
There are flowers and songs, snowflakes and smiles,
acts of great courage, laughter between friends,
a job well done, the smell of fresh-baked bread.
Beauty is everywhere.
-- Matthew Fox

It just sang in my heart this morning. Yesterday's was a fun one:

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems,
but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.
-- Herm Albright (1876 - 1944)

Friday Five - I am NOT crafty!

From RevGalBlogPals, today's Friday Five has to do with creativity and beauty.

During Lent here at Suburban Presbyterian Church, we are exploring the creative and liturgical arts, with classes and speakers dealing with storytelling, iconography, dance, visual art, writing, and so on. The theme is "A Beautiful Thing," inspired by the story of the woman anointing Jesus and his declaration that "She has done a beautiful thing for me." (Mark 14, NIV)

We are working on the notion that everything we do can be considered a beautiful thing--a creative offering to God--whether it's gardening or scrapbooking or accounting or sorting clothes at the clothes closet or child-rearing. And so:

1. Would you call yourself "creative"? Why or why not?

Yes, I would call myself creative, and I think that every human being is creative. I believe that part of being made in the image of God is that God imbues us with creativity - allows us to be co-creators of the universe with God. I also believe that we tend to downplay our creativity - more especially in the last couple centuries than before - as we get older and feel we have to be rational, mature, professional grown-ups. Well, you know what? It sucks to be a rational, mature, professional grown-up all the time, and I think that the suckitude comes in because it is against our divinely created human nature. God wants us to be creative; God aches for us to create beauty. A question: have you ever encountered somebody who is incredibly difficult to love? And then at some point, after you've struggled with this difficulty, that person creates something beautiful - not necessarily a piece of art, possibly a story about their children or a gorgeous snapshot or even a particularly elegant spreadsheet or Powerpoint - and you feel an amazing swell of love? I think that's God, pointing out our innate creativity, and saying, "See? I gave you this to help you love each other, as I love you."

Okay, so maybe that's a little goofy. But I also took a course in creative thinking and problem-solving last month, and it was excellent. The professor made the same point - that children are very creative, but that we tend to place little value on creativity in Western schools and workplaces, and those muscles atrophy so that we believe we are not creative. We just need to find ways to intentionally exercise our creative muscles.

2. Share a creative or artistic pursuit you currently do that you'd like to develop further.

Hee hee. This will be really goofy. While passing the time on the bus between Disney World and our hotel on our recent trip, my kids and I started a contest to see who could come up with most absolutely dreadful haiku. We came up with some truly terrible ones! A week later, while driving home from a volunteer shift, my daughter and I started composing more awful haiku in the car together - it was a wonderful shared experience; we laughed so hard! So that night, I set up this blog and invited a bunch of family members to contribute truly bad haiku. We use pictures, movies, and words of the day to inspire us to new heights of dreadfulness. It is wonderful creative fun, and a great outlet when I'm having a lousy rotten stinky crappy day. I mean, what's better than taking your lousy rotten stinky crappy day and turning it into a lousy - and funny! - piece of poetry? I hope we can keep up with the creative fun, because it's really been healthy for me.

3. Share a creative or artistic pursuit you have never done but would like to try.

Hmm... there are lots of creative pursuits that I've tried, but just not had the time or energy to get to be any good at them. I think I'd like to try being a bonsai artist, but I have the Black Thumb of Death when it comes to plants. (I have actually managed to kill an air fern.)

4. Complete this sentence: "I am in awe of people who can _____________."

Sew and knit and crochet and do needlepoint and cross-stitch and embroidery. I just have no patience for the fiber arts. I can gum up the works of a sewing machine just by being in the same room with it. My mom has made some gorgeous pieces - needlepoint and cross-stitch and embroidery - and they just amaze me.

5. Share about a person who has encouraged your creativity, who has "called you to your best self."

Actually, I try to surround myself with people who are positive and encouraging. I'm having a hard time picking out any one single person, because there are many who have played this role for me, and who continue to do so. I may come back to this one later, after I've let it percolate in my heart for a while.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Lord of the Pounce

One of my favorite songs is "Lord of the Dance," and Brobdingnagian Bard Marc Gunn has made a gentle parody of this song called "Lord of the Pounce" (music / lyrics) I LOVE it - and recommend it for background music while perusing Cute Overload.

Mr. Gunn appears to be quite the lovable goober, and I'd like to meet him someday.

Happily Thankful

After two full months of incredible pain in my shoulders, I went to physical therapy this morning. I worked through the exercises, pretty much like I have been twice a week for the last six weeks. I wasn't paying close attention to the sensation, but I did notice that while the exercises pretty fully fatigued the joints and muscles, they weren't causing pain. And as I walked out of the building, my back straight, shoulders back, and head high, I smiled because I felt good. It's a nice feeling, and I'm thankful for it.

I also saw my first blue jay of 2007 through the window this morning while I was using the hand-bike. The sky was pink and purple and deep blue, and I saw motion in the bare tree. I focused my eyes intently on the tree, made out the bird, recognized it as a blue jay, and grinned like a goof. I was glad that nobody was looking at me, so that I didn't have to explain it.

Happy March!