Rise and Shine

But look: the valleys shine with promises,

And every burning morning is a prophesy of

Christ

Coming to raise and vindicate

Even our sorry flesh.

—-Thomas Merton

I woke up at 7:30 feeling as if I had risen from the dead, and looked outside to find an astonishing golden morning out there.  I followed an impulse to pick up Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours to read the entry for Friday, Dawn. The above quotation was the opening verse.

So I stopped reading and jumped into the next room for my laptop. I had to plow through a clamoring mob of media images and headlines demanding my attention before I arrived at the blank page to start writing. I have to do something about the entryway to my writing space.

By the time I messed around for 30 minutes trying to figure out why I couldn’t get the quotation to single space (without success), my outlook and mood changed somewhat.

It is already after 9:00.

I seem to be hyper-aware of time passing.  The main theme of my writings, back when I was anticipating my approaching retirement, was that I would have my own time. What I have come to learn is that I am just as much, if not more, of a demanding task-master than any previous boss.

The ways in which I have allowed my time to be usurped and frittered over the past seven years are legion, and there is no point in dwelling on the past. This is a new morning.

As was yesterday morning.

In my defense, I had not slept well the night before. I was still awake past 3:30 when I finally got up and had a cup of blueberry tea, but was up at 7:00 anyway. I had told myself I could take a nap later, but I didn’t do it.

I made myself a typically over-loaded to-do list, only wasted about 30 minutes on the Lumosity games, and headed into my day.

The things on my list I did accomplish: Go to library to print submissions for critique group; grocery store; update checkbook & pay bill; work on review; work on critiques; yoga session (gave out after one pose).

Things not accomplished: Blogging; work on story; crochet project; download and start reading book for VP group; publisher search; nap.

I burned out and wanted to go to bed by 5:30, which was too late for a nap and too early for bedtime. So I watched about half the PBS News Hour while I ate dinner, then killed time trying to concentrate on various distractions until the more suitable time of 8:00 arrived and I fell into bed.

But look: the valleys shine with promise.

No long lists this morning. Another cup of coffee, get dressed, and go take a walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the Retirement Project Begin (albeit seven years late)

It does seem auspicious that today turns out to be the exact anniversary of my first attempt at starting this blog. Originally, I needed to blow off steam after a series of life changes. I have returned to this medium to give myself a palpable touchstone. I am no longer blowing off steam, but since I quit my so-called retirement job at Goodwill about a month ago, I have been challenged to get myself on the track with my real goals.

*

That was this morning, and now it is coming up to eight in the evening, so now it is time for me to reckon with what I have actually accomplished today.

In keeping with my need to stay on track, I spent some of my morning playing Lumosity brain games. One I am particularly obsessed with is called Train of Thought. Engines chug down a maze of tracks, and the object is to get  each colored engine into its matching station. It is necessary to switch the direction of the tracks to direct the engines as they keep coming. Not a lot different from Lucy and Ethel running the conveyor belt at the chocolate factory.

As long as I stopped after one set of games and only a few re-plays of the train game, I get to count this as doing something constructive as opposed to wasting my precious time.

I spent most of the day reading and finished the book I am to review. I can’t share anything about the book here. I intend to submit the review tomorrow. The object is to get established enough to get paid for my efforts. I already submitted one review. They said they liked it, but I didn’t have enough posts on their site to qualify to get paid yet. So I accepted one more non-paying review. I believe I have enough points now.

I just thought I would try out the on-line book review gig to see if a person can actually get paid as they claim. An experiment. I also need some computer time just to get better at navigating the technology.

The world of blogs, Submittable, on-line journals and mags, etc., is staggering to my less-than-supple mind. I need to at least make an effort with the technology.

My other efforts at functioning today included baking some chêbê (a gluten-free Brazilian bread made with tapioca flour and cheese). That was such a treat, I had to stop my typing and warm a slice and eat it right now.

Also did a little housework and attended to some random paperwork in my “Attention” folder.

I didn’t actually get to working on the short story my group critiqued last Saturday. I am fortunately not lined up to submit this week. This particular piece was really more of an idea that I had not fully formed yet. If I didn’t realize that, my truly honest and exacting writer friends certainly did.

I did give some thought to that would-be story today. I think I want to try creating it as a flash fiction piece. I put in some time researching the craft of flash fiction today. I want to see if I am up to the challenge.

So, let’s see where this goes this time.

Trust in the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hopeful Season of Lent

Ash Wednesday found me at an evening service to receive Communion and ashes on my forehead.  Our service was bilingual, the priests and lectors alternating readings in English and Spanish.  Some people find this distracting, but to me it feels like opening a window and letting in the reality of my neighbors.  We had the words in both languages printed out to follow along.  I don’t know enough Spanish to claim that I speak it, but seeing the words on paper helps.

This was especially true for me last night, because my ears are giving me more problems than usual this week, and even with my pocketalker I was having a difficult time discerning words in English or Spanish.  This was especially true during the sermons, one in Spanish and one in English, because there was of course nothing to read along.  I  could hear  their voices speaking, but in both cases  my ears refused to deliver discernible words.

I am glad I attended, even though I am sorry to have missed the thoughts shared by our two exceptional priests during their sermons.

I finished off the evening by backing into the car of one of my friends in the parking lot. How embarrassing!  Fortunately, I don’t think I dented her bumper, just scrapteed the paint. The parking lot was dark and my night vision is terrible, but this is the first time I have hit someone’s car.  I actually had a note on my car a few weeks ago that someone had backed into mine.   Anyway, something of a humbling experience.  When I am finished writing here, I need to try to find Jackie’s phone number or email as I forgot to give her my driver’s license number with my other information, and I forgot to get any of hers so I can report properly to my insurance.

Well, that’s a tangent, but here I am in my life, and things tend to happen that way.

To give myself a sense of the season, I have decided to re-read Landscapes of the Soul (a spirituality of place)
by Robert M. Hamma.

I expect a completely fresh reading as I feel like a different person than the one who last picked up this book.  I intend to share my journey through the reading here.  Maybe for Lent, I can stick to my intention,

This morning I just read the short Introduction, and the words that speak to me this morning:  “There is a hiddenness [sic] of God  in the common place that does not easily yield itself to us.”

I find myself at this point in time very much trying to discern the presence of God.  I have an ever-growing sense of life as I know it winding down.  I want to understand in my heart what this means, and what I might do with it going forward.

 

 

 

 

Party Like It’s 1957

The New Year 1957 was the first year I took note of what seemed to be an impossibly futuristic age.  Maybe it was  seeing those space-age looking fins that the latest automobile models were sprouting above their taillights.  Maybe it was my coming to the realization, at the wise age of nine, that the life I had known in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, up until a few months previous, was a thing of the past.

I was not only having my first taste of California in our new ranch style home in Woodland Hills, but was also attending public school for the first time.  I was experiencing my first holiday season away from the extended family I had grown up with.  Whatever 1957 was to be, it definitely was not going to look like the past.

Sixty years later, the New Year 2017 greets me with the same pause in the face of the future.  By now I have certainly figured out that nothing ever stays the same, but this year is different.  The shift in direction is palpable.

The political world has exploded, and my own little corner of the world has radically changed as well.  My personal choice to move forward and free myself of some unhealthy dynamics  within my family has placed me in an island of exile while it sorts itself out.  I was outside the local branch of the family circle for this entire  holiday season.   It is heartbreaking to wrench yourself away from harmful patterns with those you love; but sad as it is, I am growing to enjoy my freedom to grow.

Back in 1957 we had just finished another national election, and the “I like Ike” crowd had prevailed.  As kids, we did not know much about what all of that political hoopla meant, but we did catch on to the idea of campaigning.

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but my ten-year-old brother and I organized a parade with our two little sisters.  While our parents drank their after-dinner tea at the dining room table,  we marched in with signs, balloons,  clicking sticks and beating tamborines.  We circled the table chanting “We want a dog! We want a dog!” as Dad and Mom looked on in astonishment.

It turns out, our effort worked.  Mom had been adamantly against getting a dog, but she came around and one day shortly after our campaign, Dad came home with a little fox terrier we named Duchess..

I learned something about the power of making an effort for change that year. Maybe the lesson was altered by the fact that we ultimately had to give the dog away because Mom really could not tolerate her. This tells me that just because you achieve a moment’s success does not mean you are done fighting.

I have applied that lesson  in fits and starts up until now.  There has been an enormous amount of falling down and getting back up coloring my life; but right now I am on a “getting back up” swing, and it feels different. This New Year’s morning 2017  I remembered 1957 and saw something I important about the power of small but concentrated effort.  I can hardly wait to see how I play out this coming year!

It’s about time

Apparently being inside the belly of a whale includes a certain amount of paralysis, at least that is my excuse for having gone so long without writing.

I am finishing off my lunch of split pea soup with croutons, peaches, and milk.  The home made croutons make this meal special.  If you have a can of soup and are lucky enough to also have a slice a bread, a little oil, and some kind of seasoning, you have the makings of a delicious comfort food.  It takes less than 5 minutes to dice up the bread, heat the oil and seasoning in a pan,  and toss the bread cubes around in the oil until they are nicely toasted.   I like to add them to my soup little by little as  I progress through the meal.

As I was preparing my lunch, I was thinking what a true feast this would be for  many many hungry people.  I can remember times when it would have brought tears of gratitude to my own eyes back in those times when I could not seem to keep myself on safe secure ground.  The truth of the matter is that it does not take much to slip into those marginal ditches.

What does green spaghetti sauce have to do with tithing?

Chopping parsley and smashing  garlic cloves the other day, my mind wandered to a desert monastery I used to visit in California.  The  recipe from This Good Food (French Vegetarian Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen) probably led me along this path as my my gluten free spaghetti noodles bubbled on the stove.

The meals I had the good fortune to share at the monastery were simple and usually vegetarian.  The thing I remember most is the loving way it always was laid out for us guests and the monks as we all congregated in the dining room.  Seated at the long tables, enjoying maybe a simple vegetable soup or possibly an  egg dish or some fish, it always felt so nourishing to the soul as well as to the body.

This monastery houses Catholic Benedictine monks, but thoughts expressed by a Buddhist monk came to mind as my parsley and garlic became more and more aromatic in the hot olive oil.  I don’t recall the exact words, but Thich Nhat Hanh had a simple suggestion that has stuck in the back of my mind several years since I read it.  He was talking about the spiritual value of seeking out sources of food that were grown or prepared mindfully with respect.  He said it may be that it would cost more, but you could make up for the extra expense by eating less.

My choice to make spaghetti with green sauce is not related to the source of the food,  but it is related to the idea of eating a little less–or, in this case, cooking with fewer ingredients for a less expensive  meal. I am not on a weight loss program, but my budget is on a diet.  I have already had to keep a close watch on my pennies, but now I have made the decision to tithe.

My idea of tithing thus far has been to look at my budget after taking care of my monthly expenses,  and then include my church donation in the budgeting of what remains.  I felt pretty good about doing that.  When my daughter told me she and her husband were tithing ten percent of their income before expenses, I was shocked and even angry that they would hand over to their church such a big chunk of their hard-earned and much needed livelihood.

But I got to thinking about how important this church is to me.  I got to thinking about how when I was raising my daughter and we ran into hard times, I always tried to take care of her needs ahead of mine.  All Saints Episcopal feels like an adopted family that I want to grow with.  There are a lot of needs to be taken care of.

So, I am going to give it a try.  I am not including my income from my part-time retirement job because that is unpredictable and hopefully I can make it up with helping out in other ways.

Maybe I will make some Potato Leek soup tomorrow, perhaps some homemade gluten free cheese biscuits. This could be fun.

To Sing is to Pray

I joined the small but mighty choir at All Saints a couple weeks ago.  I was hesitant to do so, what with my hearing and my aging voice and brain–but I am so happy I decided to jump  in.  I relish the work I find myself doing to keep up.

I managed to find my voice recorder in one of the boxes I had not yet unpacked from my recent move, and even found the extra supply of batteries.  So I brought it with me to choir practice  last Wednesday evening.  The recorder is a helpmate for my Tetris-like thought and memory process.

In case you are not familiar with the computer game, Tetris:  The game involves a series different shaped blocks floating from the top to the bottom of the screen, and the object of the game is to fit them together properly before it’s too late.

I can almost physically see my thoughts and ideas working their way down to where they belong these days.  Mostly it is just a matter of time, and they do get there eventually; but sometimes “eventually” is a little out of sync with the immediate need.

At any rate, I took out my trusty recorder and the sheet music and worked on it all this morning, and it gave me so much pleasure to sing these hymns and feel any missing links fall into place.

Singing was my most natural expression of joy at an early age.  My favorite pass-time was swinging in the backyard while I sang at the top of my lungs.  Whenever we were on family trips or “Sunday drives”  I opened the window and sang with the wind blowing my voice back into my face.

I am told that the first time my mom took me to Mass, I jumped up and started singing “Too-t00-tootsie, Good-bye”  when the bells were rung during Consecration.

I guess singing has always been something like a prayer to me, no matter what words were coming out.

At choir practice, we were working on mostly classical and traditional hymns, but one of the songs was contemporary.  It was clear that this was a digression from the usual choices for this choir.  I have to say, I love singing the more difficult work but bursting out with the simpler hymn is also a joy.

It seems that when we work hard on creating a beautiful and complicated piece to present during the service  we hope to show how deeply we respect and honor God.  But when we sing something simple, we are showing our vulnerability, admitting that we are but naked, helpless children before God.

Both approaches are valid recognition of God and our relationship with him.

This thought also rings true to me in regard to traditional worship services and churches versus the new modern Christian churches in their various contemporary forms.`