Thursday, August 30, 2007

File under: What were they thinking?

An African style drum with a yin yang symbol on the head and a Celtic knot carved into the base. Made in Bali.


The only crazier thing I have seen was a wall hanging comprised of 7 dream catchers in the colors of the chakras, made in China.


You know you want one.

Nice Matters

I am excited to announce that I was nominated for the 'Nice Matters' blog award by Episcopollyanna. I am really excited about this!

The fact is, I consciously decided at the outset that I was NOT going for edgy snarky funny. At the risk of major dorkiness, I chose, instead, to let this blog be a snark-free zone because it seemed to me that there was already enough sarcasm floating around on the internet. Also, this blog is meant to be more of a reflection of who I aspire to be, rather than who I have been. Those of you who have known me for awhile know that I can dredge up the edgy snarky funny (ESF) at a moment's notice. In fact, it strikes me that I have often used ESF humor in the past to cover up when I am feeling vulnerable. Which, as a new Christian, has become a state of being for me. Because what can be MORE vulnerable than having your life and everything you thought you knew suddenly turn upside down? Because engagement with God requires being on the real edge, not the ESF edge.

The danger, of course, is that I can come across as prim. Or worse, boring. Or breathlessly earnest. Or whatever. But one of the great joys of this journey is that we get to stretch beyond our wildest dreams. We get to realize that who we were does not dictate who we are or who we will be. We can turn the whole thing over to God and let him do his work on us, change us, sanctify us, heal us.

I always dreamed of being a nice person.

Having a nice blog is a good start.

Thanks, Episcopollyanna.


Now, for my own nominations:

Monastic Mumblings
Terrapin Station
Along the Way
The Owl's Song
Widening Circles
You duped me, Lord
The Urban Mermaid...

And just about everyone else on my blogroll, LOL.

Check 'em out.

I love you all!

Today is the day

The kids started school this morning. They were probably the only kids in line with their old sneakers on, and I immediately felt like a bad mom. Next year I bite the bullet and get them shiny new shoes for their first day of school.

It is 9:48 and I have hours before the bell rings again. I made a leisurely breakfast. (An omlett, if you must know, with cheese and left over mexican style pulled pork and some Frank's Red Hot for good measure. And coffee.)

The house is a wreck. There is clutter and blobs of rabbit fur and now big clumps of dog hair because we are keeping my brother's 15 year old golden/Shepard mix while he is in Africa. So vacuuming is one of the first orders of business.

Then, grocery shopping alone.

Then, a nap.

Or lunch.

Or lunch and a nap.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

August and everything after

I facilitated a retreat for the healing ministry team from Grace yesterday. I felt led by the Holy Spirit, and it felt so safe. At some point I realized that if I tried to do it all myself, I would mess it up, so I went to the bathroom and got on my knees and invited God to take over. Pinch hit, if you will.

Well, God came through, in spades. The day flowed. We worshiped and praised God together. We prayed for healing for each other. We broke bread and drank wine and celebrated the joy that God has given us. It was a remarkable day.

The presence of the Holy Spirit always leaves me feeling slightly exhausted and vulnerable afterwards, though. Is it that way for you?

Last night, my brother came by for dinner, before getting on a plane to Namibia today. And I found out my dear great aunt Ally died this week.

We dropped my brother off at the airport this morning. He even allowed me to hold his hands and pray for him before he got on the plane. Right in front of all the passersby. He was probably mortified. But he is learning to indulge me in these things, and is maybe even a little grateful that I seem to have enough faith for both of us.

In church, today, I was a bit of a mess, weeping and praying. So much joy and loss and concern all rolled into one long weekend. After the service I snuck back to the robing room and cornered Fr. Rich and asked him to pray over me.

Then I went home and slept for hours.

Beloved God,

I praise you, the almighty, great Lover of our souls.

I pray for my aunt Ally, may she rest in your eternal peace.

I give you my brother. Let him be a light in the lives of those he encounters in his travels. Keep him safe. Let him return to us healthy and safe.

And Lord, if you would have me be a healer, give me the strength and courage to do as you will.

I ask all this in Jesus' name.


Thursday, August 23, 2007


We have actually had a nice summer, the boys and I. We have had a few adventures. We have made art and music together. We saw wild turkey moms herding a big collective brood of chicks. A painted turtle with a leech on it's shell. An American Bluebird.

We made rubber stamps and printed notecards from them. We went on a couple of aborted attempts at fossil hunting.

Since the boys are getting old enough that they don't need my constant attention, I have even managed to read a couple of novels. One about a Caribbean woman living in Cape Town, South Africa, (dreary) and another, which I haven't finished yet, about the crazy abundance of summer in the Appalachian mountains. (Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. LOVING it!)

I have been alternately working a lot and resenting working a lot. We haven't been camping yet. I think we will try for Labor Day, dry camping at our favorite primitive site.

End of summer can be a time of pressure. Back to school hype enticing us to go spend a fortune on clothes. WHY is this such a production? I informed the kids, in no uncertain terms, that they can go back on their first day of school wearing the sneakers they wore on the last day in June. They still fit. I'll get them new ones after the parental panic has died down. I did buy them some new pants and tee shirts, socks and underwear. And snacks for their lunches, which I forgot about last year.

Oh, and the dreaded lunch boxes. Maybe I'll make do with brown paper bags until the madness is over.

Emmett turns 7 on Tuesday. He is so used to hanging out with his big brothers friends he hasn't invited any of his own to the party. I might make him invite just one or two of his peers.

Two days later the boys go back to full time school and I go back to having 6 hours a day to myself. To grocery shop in solitude. To work uninterrupted. To run errands without packing up the kids and corralling them along. To read and play drums and walk and have lunch with friends who I haven't seen in months. To having a house that stays tidy for more than 8 seconds.

I am going to miss my kids.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I fell asleep last night

with rhythms in my head.

Today I am going to buy my kids drums so we can play together.

Gone a visiting

My friend Amy is in seminary and for a month, this summer, has been filling in as pastor at her church while the minister is on vacation.

I wanted to go see her preach, so on Sunday, instead of turning towards Providence, I made a beeline across Rt. 37 and drove up Reservoir Ave to a UCC church.

I pulled behind the church and was immediately struck by fact that the brick wall of the church forms a subtle v-shape in the center. Even from outside, I knew that was where the cross must hang inside. I loved the sense that the cross was 'busting loose' through the stonework of the building. It felt powerful, to me. So often in church's of that vintage (1970's, maybe?) the architects were so busy interpreting their designs to be 'modern' they often failed to communicate any real religious meaning. But this worked.

Amy preached from bullet points, drawing us in with her conversational style. Challenging us to remember that our own stories of conversion, whatever they might be, are heroes stories. The hero being Jesus and we being the sidekick. This struck a cord for me. I am often shy about sharing my story.

The liturgy reminded me of my old UU church. There was a meditation piece. The sharing of joys and concerns. Announcements at the beginning of the service rather than in the middle, as we do in the Episcopal church. I found myself missing communion, of course. I had prepared ahead of time by going to church on Wednesday at noon, but still, I have grown so used to the Eucharist as the central element of worship it seems that a service without it is missing something, LOL. I told Amy I am a liturgy hound and I think it is true.

It was wonderful seeing my friend in the pulpit. You could tell that the congregation loves her, and she them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


They are big now.

Noah, who is going into 5th grade, has been riding his bike to his friend's house this summer. And Emmett, who is turning 7 this month, has been tagging along.

As I watch them ride down the street on their bikes, I feel a little wistful, knowing that this is going way too fast. So fast.

And here I am, with a quiet moment in the middle of summer. What luxury!

Drum, books, phone, beckon.



All of the above.

I have goat skin envy

My drum teacher has a big collection of djembes from his country, Mali. They weigh a ton. On Monday I helped him carry a couple of them from his car. They are made out of an African hardwood that probably has no name in English. And the skins are spotted like the goats they came from. And though they have been shaved on the part you play, the hair is left on the rims. And they stink. At least one of the ones I was carrying did. It smelled just like, well, a goat. Which made me laugh because I grew up with goats and love the earthy, musty, dung-ish goat smell. Much stronger than a sheep. Or cow. Or horse.

My djembe has a goat skin, too, but it is antiseptically clean and processed so it can sit in a music store and not stink up the joint. Of course, my brother's dog recognizes it for what it is and still licks it if she gets a chance. (She seems to think it is a fancy rawhide.)

My teacher, Sidy, sells his drums. I have decided that if I take lessons for a whole year, I will buy one to celebrate. I will test them out. Examine the wood to make sure it's not cracked. Look for bug bites in the hide. Pick one up to see if I can carry it. Test the bass and the tone and the slap. And then pick out the stinkiest one I can find.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The desk

I needed to organize my office. It was a hellish pit. I had papers and junk stacked in teetering piles on an old metal desk with flaking paint and a scratched up melamine top I had painted sage green. Now the fake wood grain was peeking through where the paint had worn off.

Too much shoe-horned into a tiny, 1927 sleeping porch. A bookshelf. A huge metal file cabinet. A bunch of miscellaneous boxes of paperwork and kitchen tools that haven't been picked up yet. A 1960s Wurlitzer piano and the aforementioned L-shaped office desk.

The fact is, my work suffered because of this chaos. I was embarrassed for people to see my office, and since it is attached to the living room with a set of french doors, it is impossible to hide.

I tore off the 'L' of the L-shaped desk. I threw away garbage bags full of old magazines and outdated mail and paid bills and junk mail. I cleared the printer off the desk got all the supplies and paperwork put away onto the bookshelf. I cleaned and sorted and tossed.

And then I went hunting for a desk.

I knew I wanted wood. But was astonished at the prices. A decent one started at about $400 and went up from there. So, maybe a resale shop? I checked around. And then checked some more. The little place up the street from me had a desk, but it was too big.

So, last week, I went to the salvation army. No desk, but an awesome desk lamp from the age of stream line. Probably from the 40s or 50s. $5. I brought it home.

Then, a week later, I stopped in my local resale shop and poked around. Listen, I said to the owner. I am looking for a wooden double pedestal desk. If you find one, please let me know. I handed him my card.

He wasn't sure what I was talking about, however, so I drew a little sketch on the card and headed home.

1 hour later he called to tell me that he had a desk for me to check out. What's it made of, I asked, hoping it wasn't melamine. Walnut, he said. I started to get excited.

And sure enough. It fit exactly. It belonged to a physician who had his office in his house. It is built like a brick you know what and has 6 drawers and beautiful legs and weighs a ton and will likely get passed on to my kids. And it was $129 plus tax.

The next day I found a walnut bankers chair on craig's list that was made in 1936 and still has it's label on it. It tilts on a cast iron mechanism and makes the most delightful screech.

Then I decided to give away my piano and found a guy who is starting a foundation to give music lessons to poor kids in his neighborhood. Come and get it, I said. He is coming next week.

It's all good.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tightly wound

I am pretty sure that normal people (ie, non full-time moms) have absolutely no idea what a thin edge we who stay home with our kids skate on all the time.

Take today for instance. For a month now, I have known that I was having lunch with my spiritual director. He knows that summer is more of a challenge because the kids are out of school. For the last two months I have managed to find a sitter for the kids and have met him at restaurants for our monthly lunch. It is far from ideal.... even if the food is good. It is hard to stay focused on pouring out one's soul when the waiter keeps stopping by to refill the water glasses.

So for the last couple of weeks I have been working on getting a baby sitter and finally scored one who will let the kids go to her house for a couple of hours.

Bliss, right? Homemade lunch. No waiters. My famous salad.

Except not.

When I called to check if I could drop the kids off a little earlier than we planned, said babysitter confessed that she has a track and field meeting and can't sit for them. Oh. I said. Next time it would be helpful if she gave me more than an hour's notice. She apologized profusely.

Quick call to Nguyen. Can he take the kids out for lunch?


I hung up and started crying.

Because it just sucks, sometimes, that a 14 year old has so much power over my life.

And then I stopped because I realize that it really isn't that big a deal.

Fr. P won't mind. The kids will be fine. I'll be fine.

But dang.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Speaking of Africa

My brother is heading to southern Africa for a photography trip in a couple of weeks. He is going to Namibia and Botswana to shoot the wildlife around the Okavongo delta during the dry season. This is his first big expedition and he is, frankly, getting a little nervous.

I will be asking for your prayers, guys. He's my only, dearly loved, brother.

Strange how all this Africa stuff seems to be going on lately.

Not quite djembefola

Even though I am a long way from mastering the African drum, I am definitely making progress. Each new rhythm is coming more easily. I am able to 'find' the rhythms and sometimes even remember them between classes.

My teacher, Sidy, goes off into another world when he plays. He closes his eyes and tilts his head back as though waiting for inspiration. Every now and then he looks at us. I always have this stupid grin on my face because I am transported by the music he is making. But I can't focus on what he is doing too much because I will easily lose my own rhythm and have to stop playing for a second while I get my bearings. Learning to play a steady rhythm while someone else is soloing is a very difficult thing!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A South African Priest visited

Grace church today. He is in town for the summer, staying with his daughter and son in law, who now live in Providence.

He gave a talk before the service. Robby is a white South African who was a civil servant of the apartheid system for decades before something happened that caused him to realize that apartheid was wrong. He simultaneously heard the call to the priesthood and left his job to enter seminary. I asked him how the shift in consciousness happened. It seemed to us outsiders that it was incredibly sudden and shockingly peaceful. No one, I said, who was watching from afar believed it could happen without violence.

"It was prayer," he replied. "It is my only explanation. It was a miracle. We were praying and the world was praying too."

I am not sure why I cannot talk about South Africa without weeping. Perhaps it is because I really do believe that it was a miracle. One that we all witnessed in our lifetimes. A miracle that none of us expected.

When I was 18 years old, I spent the summer in New York City working at an ice cream shop on Christopher Street. One of my coworkers was a Dutch South African named Adolph. He was, without a doubt, the most racist person I ever met.

His explanation for the necessity of apartheid was that the blacks were just too damned stupid to run the country. It would be a complete disaster to give the government over to them, he said. He would imitate how they talked. He would laugh at the idea of his house servants having a vote. I was young, which meant I had no restraint whatsoever, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was a racist pig. I left the job and never heard of Adolph again. But I never forgot him, especially when, 6 years later, the townships started rioting and we caught whiffs of the black on black violence going on. It's insurmountable, I thought. It is impossible. With people like Adolph at the helm, it can't possibly change without devastating violence.

But then, a couple of years later, the shift began to happen. Mandela was released. Elections were scheduled and the world watched in tense wonder as thousands upon thousands of black South Africans lined up to vote for the first time in their lives. The world held it's breath for the violence that really never came.

And then, we watched as the Truth and Reconciliation commission began to lift the lid on the pain and darkness that was hiding beneath the surface. Horror stories. Petty bureaucrats and their petty abuses. The slow unraveling of the system that knitted the whole country into a dysfunctional mantle of anger and fear. The confessions. The absolution.

I remember hearing Archbishop Tutu on the radio, once. I listened as he described the process that was helping to heal his broken nation. This, I thought, is a Holy man. This is a man who is teaching others to put Christ's forgiveness in action. This was long before my own conversion. But even then, as confused as I was, I recognized a miracle when I saw one.

There is still much damage in South Africa. The priest today said that there is something of a vacuum left at the end of apartheid, because it permeated every element of the society and government. So yes, there is terrible economic disparity, health crisis, social problems, and all the rest. We must continue to pray for healing for South Africa.

We must continue to pray, but we have much to be grateful for. And awed by.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The word of the Lord

Yesterday afternoon was hot and muggy, so I took the kids to the little pond where I was baptized.

This place always feels holy to me now. Even with the screaming kids and the lifeguards and the baking moms and dads. Even with the rough-housing teenagers who wish they were at the ocean. Even on a steamy day when the water on the surface of the pond is as warm as a tub, and dark as smoked tea.

My dunk took place on a September morning, when there were no kids or moms or teens. Just a couple of fisherman on the opposite bank, catching a different sort of fish. It was cool and clear. The water and insects and wet white of my ministers robes conspired with the holy spirit to infuse, not just me, but the whole world, with God's grace and love.

It is a spring fed pond, made dark by the tannic acid of the surrounding pines. It smells delicious, woodsy and secret, even in broad daylight at the height of summer.

The surface water is way over 80 degrees, but just below, near our feet, the springs gush forth cold water from deep within the earth, reminding me that it's heart is not the stagnant water lily studded surface. But deeper, hidden, pure.

And then there are the geese. A whole flock of Canada geese that patrol the beach and cruise the surface of the pond, gliding here and there, ignoring the ropes and buoys designed to hold the wayward swimmers in.

They mutter to themselves, almost always travel together, litter the beach with their droppings, much to the chagrin of the lifeguards, whose duty it is to clean up after.

As I sat in the shade of the tall pines and read my book, a lone goose approached. He looked right at me and mumbled.

"Do you have a word for me?" I asked.

He honked gently in reply. A deep rumble. Lower by half an octave than his friend's voices.

"Yes," I said.

"It is a holy place, isn't it?"

He murmured his assent and then walked off, launching himself into the water and gliding away.