Friday, December 14, 2012

O, Light Everlasting, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

O, light everlasting
O, love never failing
Illumine our darkness and draw us to thee.
    Olaf C. Christiansen

     I walked the neighborhood this morning at 6:30, and although still dark, I had no trouble finding my way. I followed the lights, house to house, inside and out. In many homes I noticed Christmas trees already aglow, a welcome sight for sleepy children as they stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast before school or a comforting and quiet presence while reading the paper or checking email. I walked quietly and hoped nobody noticed me taking in these cozy domestic scenes. I offered a blessing to each household and prayed that this day would bring them more light than darkness. 
     The other morning, as I drove to Curves to exercise, I noticed the barest sliver of a moon. It couldn't have been much skinnier and still be identified as the moon. A child's drawing of the moon. And yet, so much light in the not yet morning sky. How little light we seem to need in order to see, in order not to feel blocked in darkness. On the way home, when the morning was much closer to being born, I drove past a home with a large menorah in its front yard, all but three candles illuminated. Seeing that light brought to mind miracles, including the first of God's creative acts. According to the first chapter of Genesis,  "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness." This is the light that existed before the sun, moon, and stars, which were created on the fourth day. 
     Often I sign letters and sometimes emails "Light Blessings." I am not wishing a lightweight blessing. On the contrary, I pray that the recipient will know the light, find the light, and if the darkness seems overwhelming, that the light that shines deep in the recesses of our souls may be found. It seems to me that we let our light shine when we are open and responsive to all of life, even the darkness. With light comes clarity, direction, understanding. 
     Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside.
                    Help, Thanks, Wow 
                    The Three Essential Prayers
                    Anne Lamott, p. 7
    It is a paradox, however, that in order to know the light, we must also know the darkness and even as we learn to accept the darkness in our life, we continue to yearn for the light. Winter may be the season of darkness, but according to the Christmas story, a story that takes place, by the way, at night, darkness gives birth to light.
    In a couple hours I will light the candle on our kitchen counter, and I will turn on the lanterns lining our front steps. These tangible signs of light remind me to nurture my own light within, even when darkness descends.  Light Blessings. 

In what way do you or have you experienced light in your life? What light-filled people have you known? In what way does your inner light make a difference? What do you do to create light in the world even in the midst of darkness? 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Peter's Prayer, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

Meet Peter, our 4 1/2 year old grandson. Everyone should have access to a 4 year old for at least a few minutes a week. Sometimes our daughter would appreciate a little less access, but I digress. Peter and his family were with us for the Thanksgiving weekend, and he was actually a good help Thanksgiving morning, helping me set the table. He decided who would get which turkey plate, and he selected napkin rings for each place setting. Finally, he arranged the vintage turkey and pilgrim candles on the table and did a mighty fine job, I must say. 
      Peter's Gift
      His real gift, however, was given the day after Thanksgiving. He was sitting at the counter having his breakfast, and I was emptying the dishwasher and fussing in the kitchen. Without any prompting whatsoever he said, "I loved yesterday."
     Three simple words. "I loved yesterday." 
      "Oh, Peter, I did, too. We all did."
      And life went on, but his words of wisdom have stayed with me, even when "yesterday" was a day that I lost my internet connection for hours and was a day when prospective buyers came to see the house and didn't take a brochure--a litmus test of interest. I admit I don't love all yesterdays, even though I know there are so many things to be grateful for each day, including the fact that I have lived from yesterday to today. 
      I have just started reading Anne Lamott's new book, Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers. Now I must admit the writer in me thought, "Why didn't I think of that?" but that's quite another issue. When Peter said, "I loved yesterday," he was praying. He was saying "Thanks," to God, even though he didn't know it. But I knew it, and I know that God did, too. How lucky I was to be an eavesdropper. How lucky I am to have a 4 year old teacher. 
     Here's what Anne Lamott says,
     The movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace. Maybe you won't always get from being a brat to noticing that it is an e. e. cumming morning out the window. But some days you will. You will go from being Doug or Wendy Whiner, with your psychic diverticulitis, able to eat only macaroni and cheese, to remembering 'i thank you God for most this amazing/ day.' 
     When Peter said, "I loved yesterday," he reminded me not only to be grateful for the wonders of yesterday without being stuck there, but to love today, right now, as well. No matter what is swirling around us in this moment. 
     Bruce and I are driving to St Paul today for the weekend. Tonight we will attend opening night of a play our 10 year old granddaughter Maren is in--The Best Christmas Pageant Ever--and tomorrow we will go to the magical St Olaf Christmas Festival at our alma mater, and Sunday we will bring my father home with us for a couple days. Already, I am anticipating loving those days. I'm going to be praying a lot, I think. 
     Here's the bonus, I think. Loving yesterday, loving today, loving tomorrow are all the same. 
     I love you Peter. Love, GrandNan

An extra gratitude: A few days ago I made the decision not to decorate the house for Christmas, except for some welcoming greens and lanterns on the front porch. This was not an easy decision for me because I LOVE decorating for Christmas. Once the house is fully in the holiday spirit, I am, too, and move through the shopping and sending cards and wrapping etc with less stress and strain. Because we continue to have showings, including one this morning, I decided not decorating was the prudent choice. Therefore, I was so grateful when I discovered I have a clear view of our neighbor's large Christmas tree holding court in their family room. Thick with white lights it sparkles and glows enough to fill my heart with contentment and peace. Thank you.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

On the Bridge, the Spiritual Practice of Transitions a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

    I am frequently aware of being in the midst of transition, and that interests me and becomes an opening for examination of both my inner life, as well as what is swirling around me in my outer life. 
   Fall into Winter
   This morning I noticed evidence of transitions as I walked through the neighborhood. Mainly, the transition between fall and winter, between Halloween and Christmas. Pumpkins, some almost melting in on themselves thanks to frosty nights, along with pots of mums, browning and losing an intensity of color still dominate the scene, but at the same time Christmas decorations are beginning to appear. Greens in window boxes. Lights on trees. Even an artificial Christmas tree on a front porch where pumpkins still march up the stairs. We know we are not quite done with one season, but still there is the temptation and inclination to move into the next season. We treasure and exalt Thanksgiving as a holiday that demands little of us except turkey and mashed potatoes and offers us a chance to express gratitude for our many blessings, but at the same time time, we feel the urgency of Christmas looming ahead in a countdown of shopping days. I say this not to pass judgment or to plead for simplicity and sanity. Instead, I think about the movement in our lives.
     A Transition of the Heart
     Earlier this week my husband needed a heart catheterization in order to determine if the symptoms he was experiencing were the result of blockage and damage to the heart. The good news is that no stent or bypass is needed, but instead drug therapy is proscribed, along with some life style changes that will be good for both of us. The day in the hospital awaiting the procedure was long, but we both remained calm and patient. Bruce rested, and I gazed out the window with its soothing view of Lake Monona over the bare treetops.  Time to breathe and time to be. 
      Later I thought about how my diagnosis of uterine cancer 10 years ago when I was 54 felt like an experience out of time.  Not in the rightful order of things. I felt too young for that to happen. A totally unrealistic assumption, of course. Now we are 64, and as we face this wake up call, it feels as if we are taking a major step into the next stage of our life.  We can't dismiss the possibility of physical issues beyond the norm of colds and flu. Dear friends face cancer or recover from surgeries of various kinds. We are getting older. We are in transition. 
     Bridge Work
     When I meditated the other day, a word arrived in my heart. Bridge. That is how this time feels. We are on a bridge. At times the bridge seems to sway in a strong wind and at times I lose sight of where I have come from, and the way ahead is not very clear, but I don't feel threatened by that. Instead, I am aware of the importance to take every step, to stop and pause often. To breathe and to be. 
     The morning of the heart cath I spent my meditation time with   the new book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Staying Close to What is Sacred, by one of my spiritual guides, Mark Nepo and was given a gift of two words: unplanned unfoldings. This is how transition feels to me. Nepo says, "The larger intention is to stay in relationship with everything that comes along, at least long enough to taste what is living." As I become aware of where I am on the bridge, I pray I accept the invitation of unplanned unfoldings to live fully with love, instead of fear. 
NOTE: As I have been writing this post I have observed a hawk on a nearby tree. As I entered the last word, he flew away. I am grateful for his watchful presence.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Cancellations as "Found" Time, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

Recently, plans have changed. Dates and appointments have been cancelled. An evening out with friends. A phone date. A lunch date. A visit from a friend. A visit to a friend. Even an appointment for a showing of our house was cancelled. Most of these items on my calendar have been rescheduled (Not the house showing appointment, however. Rats!), and most are just examples of life happening. Understandable and acceptable. Rarely do I worry about possible motivations underlying the change. Most of the time I don't view the cancellation as a criticism or disinterest, but instead, just one of those things. 
The Gift of Found Time
     However, this bundle of recent cancellations does make me wonder why so many in a short period of time? Is the Universe trying to tell me something? A message to be more flexible? An opportunity to be present to challenges in others' lives? A chance to let go of some control? To breathe? 
    Over the years people in my life have heard me use the phrase "Found Time." When plans change that open up space I didn't expect to have, I think of that as "found time." Sometimes found time happens when I am in the waiting room of a doctor's office or waiting to get my hair cut or an airline flight has been cancelled or delayed. I amaze myself, frankly, in those situations that I don't feel irritated or frustrated. Most of the time I am able to shrug my shoulders and exhibit patience.  I always have a book or magazine with me, so I relax easily into my found time with little or no  resentment. Sometimes, for example yesterday when the house showing scheduled for the mid afternoon was cancelled with a phone call first thing in the morning, I suddenly felt I had a whole day ahead of me; a day that did not need to include vacuuming and dusting. And a day that even included an extra hour, thanks to the clocks being set back, Talk about Found Time! 
How to Use Found Time
     I recognize that the experience of found time is a chance to listen to my heart. What is it I most want to do right now? My immediate inclination when there is a sudden appearance of found time is to fill it. Do errands I didn't think I would have time for. Do the next thing on the list of tasks for the week. Get a jump on something I planned to do tomorrow. Be productive. Accomplish something. Finish something I thought I would have to set aside. 
But sometimes I hear and respond to another message in the sudden appearance of found time. "Nancy, put your feet up. Sit. Relax. Enjoy time to read or write in your journal or take a walk. Slow down and listen to your heart." 
     Because there have been so many instances of "found time" lately, I have to wonder if instead of being asked to consider only my use of the immediate time, although that is a gift in itself,  am I being prodded to reflect on the bigger picture? How is it I want to be in the time I have left here on earth? How is it I am supposed to use my time? What is my purpose for this stage of my life? My call? I must admit I am struggling with that a bit these days, sitting in the midst of transition, a transition that feels a bit stuck to me. 
A New Intention 
     Therefore, now seems like a good time for a new intention; an intention that will not only help me respond to unexpected moments of found time, but will be a reminder to live in the present, for I believe it is in the present where we are given hints about the life we are meant to live
     My new intention:
For the next two months I will live fully in this house and in this holiday time of family and friends. I will honor requests for showings, but will treat them as a bonus and not as expected.
     As a sign of living fully here and now in this house, I moved my laptop back to the room on the lower level I have used as my office. Some potential buyers have not been able to imagine how to use this space, so I have "staged" it to look more like a family room. Many of my spirituality books, however, are still on the shelves, along with board games for family fun. This is where I feel most inspired to write and where I need to be. Here I can better fulfill my intention and find the time to write and study and pray. Here I can live in Found Time.
Reflection Questions
     How do you use "found time"? How do you respond when plans are cancelled? 
     What new intention is asking to be acknowledged in your life?

One last thing: Here in Wisconsin we continue to have lovely fall weather, although the temperatures are a bit cooler. These are "found" days. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moving On and Standing Still, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

I read recently that this elder stage in life is about the freedom to choose how I want to get tired. I like that, but this time is also about how I choose to stay awake. How I choose to engage, to stay engaged. 
     Recently, a friend introduced me to the book One Thousand Gifts, by Anne Voskamp, and she challenged me to start my own list of "gifts." An ongoing list in which I record "sanctuaries in moments," (p. 105) and "the cathedral of the moment" (p. 102). Keeping this list encourages me to notice all the gifts that surround me and fill my life. 
# 6    A fresh journal, a good fast-writing pen
# 8    The car seat warmer on an early morning
# 18  Spontaneous lunch with a friend
# 24  Reading on the porch in the late afternoon, wrapped in a shawl
# 36  A good hair day!
# 46  The thud of the newspaper as it is tossed on the front porch
# 58  The reds, the yellows, the oranges. Oh my!
# 68  The smell of zucchini bread baking in the oven
# 83  A picture of my father taken this summer--a martini in his hand
# 86  The smell of Bruce's soap when he emerges from the bathroom in the morning
# 99  Gelato from Target--amaretto cherry!
# 106 A full day with a longtime friend
# 128 Safe arrival of a newborn grandnephew
# 142 Sounds of Bruce and Peter playing "hockey" in the front yard
# 163 Pheasants crossing the road
# 170 Laundry chugging along
# 175 Dressing the bed for fall and winter
# 185 Leftover homemade chili
# 196 The gift of a friend's words--"develop a quiet heart"
# 204 Two new books on my desk
# 217 The early morning sound of sandhill cranes
# 225 A clean bathroom and a clean me by 9:00 am
     I love this spiritual practice, but I am also aware that as we age  these precious present moments are rimmed by so much past, and the temptation might be to let the past swallow us. Instead, I invite the past to be an informant, giving us hints about how to be more in the present. At the same time our present moments at this age are so much closer to the future we all share --our arrival at death's door. "The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God." (p. 108) And that is what the present is all about for me --staying awake in order to see, to know, to experience God in ourselves and in all around us. At a time when the past can dominate, the paradox is to live fully now. At a time when there are daily reminders of our common future as we lose friends and family, the challenge is to live now.
     And that brings me to St Benedict and the tree by our garage. According to Esther de Wall in her book Seeking God, The Way of St Benedict, "St Benedict is the master of paradox, and if he tells us to move on he also tells us to stand still." (p 13) 
     The other day I felt at the center of this paradox. It was time to renew the lease on our apartment in St Paul. 6 months? Month to month? With our house still being on the market we are not able to take the next step and renewing the lease maintains the status quo. Standing still. That same day I packed up more dishes for the day when it will finally be time to move. Moving on. I wonder, Does this give the Universe a mixed message? How is it possible to move on and stand still at the same time? 
     What could be a better illustration of this paradox than the autumn trees? The leaves are falling, but the tree is still standing. The tree is not completely bare yet, but is in transition. Moving on and standing still seems to be happening at the same time.
     I think the paradox of moving on and standing still is all about paying attention. When is it time to move on and what preparation does it take to move on when the time is right? What does moving on mean anyway and what does it require? And move on to what? And when is standing still--persevering, being steadfast and stable--the way to deepen spiritually? What is the difference between standing still and being stuck? 
    As always there are spiritual lessons, and this paradox seems to lead me to reflections on trust and patience, but also openness and awareness. And about maintaining the spiritual practices that keep me grounded and growing at the same time. 
    How is the paradox of moving on and standing still evident in your life right now?
    And if you were to start a one thousand gifts list right now what would be your first item?       

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Room with a View, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

One of my favorite novels is E. M. Forster's Room with a View. I loved the movie, too. The story, set in part in Florence, Italy, involves a young woman from England and her chaperone who have been promised a room with a view of the River Arno, and they are incensed when they discover their room actually looks over a courtyard. If the book were set in 2012 instead of the early 1900's, I wonder if they would have pronounced the view a "major turnoff." 
     That's the feedback we received after a recent showing about the view from our kitchen, which is in the back of our home. We happen to love the view, which unfortunately is not given its due in this picture, and did from the very the first time we toured the house.  We love the rooftop view, the feeling of looking out and over and beyond. I stand at the sink and wonder about the families in all these homes. I love the diversity of roofline and shingle color and the mature trees framing and sheltering these homes. I love seeing the squirrels scampering on our porch roof as they plot how to steal the food meant for birds. I love seeing the sun creeping across our garage roof, conquering the dew on these cool fall mornings, giving me an indication of what to expect when I go outside. I love hearing the kids on their skate boards whizzing down the alley and seeing our neighbor working in her garden of every shade of purple. And in the winter I can see children playing in the snow in the open space on Strawberry Loop. I love being part of the neighborhood and yet having a sense of privacy. 
    Ironically, a neighbor the day of this showing commented,  "Today is a great day to show a prospective buyer the view from the back of our houses." Now I realize we don't all have the same taste and aesthetics, but honestly, this house selling process can make one feel crazy. How could I possibly have fallen in love with a house that has this kind of view from the kitchen? How could I possibly live in a home where I have to trudge from the garage through the screen porch and my office on the lower level to get to the stairs up to the kitchen? I could go on, but instead I stop, take a deep breath and gaze from the deck we refer to as "Paris," and did so even before our trip to Paris a year ago. 
     The view from the kitchen and the deck makes my imagination soar. I envision myself living in a Parisian garret, looking dreamily over the rooftops. The Seine is somewhere out there. Notre Dame is just beyond the trees. If I stretch maybe I can see the Eiffel Tower. What a magical and glorious life. 
     Here's something to consider. Looking for a home to buy is an invitation to stretch one's point of view, to think a bit out of the box, to imagine what it would be like to live here, rather than there. Living in a home is a creative venture and an opportunity to make something yours that formerly was someone else's. Buying a home is a way to challenge your values and priorities and to examine what really matters most in terms of how you live your life. If every time you stood at the sink, you thought, "I can't stand this view," and if that view made time in the kitchen much more of a negative than a positive experience, than that view clearly is not for you. Move on! I get it. After all, I happen to love water views more than mountain views. 
     I have apologized to the house for a comment that seems unnecessarily harsh and for other unkind things other prospective buyers may have said. In fact, these kinds of comments have made me think about my own words and reactions as I have looked at prospective next homes. I am cleaning up my own act, not wanting to leave a deposit of negative energy in someone else's home.  I have restated my deep affection for this house and the life we are privileged to have here. 
     We know this house is not for everyone. No house is right for everyone.  We are willing to wait for the person who will fall in love with this house, even the view from the kitchen, and will proclaim it in the spirit of Goldilocks, "just right."  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Habits of the Heart

An invitation: Read Healing the Heart of Democracy, The Courage to Create A Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by writer, teacher, and activist (and resident of Madison) Parker J. Palmer. I have read other books by Palmer and therefore, knew the quality of his writing and thinking, but I was attracted me to the book in hopes it would help me approach this contentious presidential campaign without raising my blood pressure to dangerous levels. It has done that for the most part, however, there are days when the "you've got to be kidding" factor has to be addressed! 
     Early in the book Palmer reminds the reader of the ideal purpose and nature of politics.
     Politics "is the ancient and honorable human endeavor of creating a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day. 'We the People' must build a political life rooted in the commonwealth of compassion and creativity still found among us, becoming a civic community sufficiently united to know our own will and hold those accountable to it."
     Furthermore, "Democracy gives us the right to disagree and is designed to use the energy of creative conflict to drive positive social change. Partisanship is not a problem. Demonizing the other side is."
     Palmer invites us to approach our life as citizens in a democracy with our hearts, for the heart is where our knowledge becomes more fully human. He is fully aware that at times we will be brokenhearted as with the recent killings in Libya, but here is what is so striking to me. Palmer draws the distinction between a heart broken apart and a heart broken open
     "If it breaks apart into a thousand pieces, the result may be anger, depression, and disengagement. If it breaks open into greater capacity to hold the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the result may be new life." 
     There's where the reading of this book as a context for the current campaign became a window into my life as a spiritual being. Am I living my life with an open heart, even when my heart breaks? As I look back on my life at times of deep sorrow and disappointment or grief, did I linger in the shattered pieces mired in fear and anger or was I able to use the reality of my broken heart to become more compassionate and to heal, truly heal? In what circumstances does my heart remain broken apart and how do I encourage a more open heart even as it breaks?
     Palmer suggests five Habits of the Heart for American citizens in our current life.
     1.   We must understand that we are all in this together.
     2.   We must develop an appreciation of the value of 'otherness.'
     3.   We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
     4.   We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency.
     5.   We must strengthen our capacity to create community.  
You'll have to read Palmer's book to get a full discussion of these habits, but I started thinking about how to develop these habits. What are the spiritual practices I can encourage in my own life that will support these habits of the heart? Here's my list for myself:
     *  Meditation and prayer,
     *  Opportunities for silence and solitude,
     *  Listening more and speaking less,
     *  Reflection through writing and reading,
     *  Stretching the body and the mind,
     *  Participation in community,
     *  Living in the present and with the Presence,
     *  Being aware of all the blessings in my life.
Almost every conversation I have had this week has presented an example of the choice between a heart broken apart and a heart broken open. There is no escaping heartbreaking situations. We all suffer losses, and as we age we will lose more. More and more grief will enter our life. And, in fact, with each day we are closer to our own death. Now is the time to build and reinforce the habits of the heart which not only can support us as we face inevitable challenges, but also can enhance our life, even create new life.  
     I invite you to share your experiences of being heartbroken and the habits of the heart that sustain you. 

Note: Here are other Parker Palmer titles I have in my library and have found to be thought-provoking and helpful:
* The Active Life, Wisdom for Work, Creativity, and Caring
* Let Your Life Speak, Listening for the Voice of Vocation
* A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward and Undivided Life, Welcoming the Soul and weaving Community in a Wounded World

Check out Palmer's website:


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Symbolism of Tomato Soup, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

I made tomato soup yesterday. What is blog post worthy about that? Well, first of all my tomato soup is absolutely delicious and a family favorite, but that is not the main reason I am writing about tomato soup today. The main reason is that the making of tomato soup yesterday represents a turning point in the process of selling our home.  Allow me to make the connection.
     It is now September, and I LOVE fall. LOVE FALL! I know the days are shorter, and I get up to go exercise when it is still dark, and I understand that it won't be long before shovels will be on the front porch instead of wicker furniture, but before then it is fall--cooler, crisper temperatures, sweaters, pumpkins, applesauce, fresh notebooks. Well, I could go on.... The point is I don't want to miss fall because I am cleaning the house everyday to the point of obsession, a new addiction, in anticipation of potential showings. We have had lots of showings, and I am more than grateful that there continues to be interest in our home, even two showings the week before Labor Day, which I am told is unusual. However, no offers--yet. 
     Because we have been living lightly in the house, very lightly, I have not done much cooking these summer months. It was time to mess up the kitchen and what better or messier way to do it than by making tomato soup. Making tomato soup takes a large saucepan, a medium saucepan, a colander, a big bowl, a smaller bowl, a Cuisinart or food mill etc. I end up with a red stained apron, and a sink full of tomato peels and seeds, and the best late summer supper ever. Well worth messing up the kitchen. 
     I came to the decision to make a batch of tomato soup not only because the Farmers' Market was laden with gorgeous tomatoes of all varieties, but because I was musing about what the coming fall season might bring. Of course, I would love to have the house sell before the cold weather arrives, and I would love to move into an apartment here in Middleton and our new home in St Paul before we are carrying boxes in below freezing temperatures, but I realize we truly can be content this way for as long as necessary. We have a great house here, and the apartment in St Paul suits our needs perfectly. There is nothing I don't like about living in Middleton/Madison. We have lovely friends and Bruce has a stimulating, challenging job that suits him so well. Life is good and it is time to live it in the present. 
     This new revelation has resulted in a new resolve to settle in a bit more and not be as focused on selling the house. Time is on our side, and the next owner who loves this house as much as we do will appear at the right time. 
     Is there something you have not been doing? Some way you have been putting your life on the side because of something you are waiting to happen? Well, fall is a bonus time of renewed or brand new resolutions. Happy fall and bon appetit!  

Herbed Fresh Tomato Soup
Serves 8

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered (5 cups)
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2 Tablespoons (at least) snipped fresh basil. Actually, I prefer a handful of basil. Or if necessary, 2 teaspoons dried basil
4 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper fresh thyme or basil as garnish

In large saucepan, combine butter and the oil; heat till butter melts. Add onion and cook till tender, but not brown. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, the snipped basil and thyme. Mash tomatoes slightly. Add chicken broth. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 40 minutes. Press through food mill or puree a small amount at a time in blender or Cuisinart. Strain. Return mixture to sauce pan. Stir in salt and pepper. Heat through. To serve, top with fresh herbs. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The View From Here: Doing Our Best, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

It is early morning, and I have returned from a walk. For the first time in weeks we slept with the windows open, and I woke to the sounds of neighborhood birds, instead of the alarm. I have decided to write before I take a shower and before I attend to morning routines. No showings are scheduled for the house today, but one never knows what the day will bring. Yesterday, for example, there were two showings.
     Obviously, we have no idea what life will bring us either. I think about those who are dealing with major challenges of illness or loss of spouse through death or divorce or perhaps even indifference. I think about those whose retirement is not quite as planned. The energy isn't there or the motivation or the money. The question is what will we do with what life has delivered? 
      We are asked, I think, to do the best that we can. How often have we used that phrase? So often it is used in reference to our parents as we look back at the mistakes they may have made in raising us. "They did the best they could." Now with grown children, I can apply that to myself. Or can you recall your child as he learned to tie his shoe or struggled with a math problem or a new piano piece, saying, "I'm doing the best I can" in an exasperated tone?
     The tricky part is knowing what "the best" is. Doing the best we can takes reflection and self-awareness. It takes being open to spiritual growth and listening to our inner voice as it urges us to live our essence. Doing our best requires being honest with ourselves and knowing when we are just getting by. It means asking for help--perhaps more often than we want to.  None of this is easy when we are faced with a life we didn't anticipate and certainly didn't ask for, but that's why it is crucial to live fully right now when perhaps our very best isn't needed so much. That's why I write in my journal and take a morning walk and meditate and practice centering prayer. That's why I try to live my life in honor of the Divine. It's for today, yes, but it is also for all the days when life brings what is not expected and least wanted. The days when I am at my worst. Developing one's spiritual gifts is not an insurance policy for "when bad things happen to good people," but it is the groundwork for "doing one's best."
     I am coming to realize in these later years of spiritual formation that it is my job to turn the challenges into blessings. I don't mean to minimize or deny the realities of the challenges, and I don't mean to imply that this process happens right away. Certainly not. What I mean is that we are asked to remember and re-form to all we have been created to be, and how could that be anything but a blessing. 
    Our house is on the market and has been all summer. We continue to have lots of showings. Lots, and I am grateful, but it is hard to hear negative comments about the house, including ones about the view from the deck.  However, we know how fortunate we are not to have to sell the house. Still, we have a plan and are eager to move that plan forward, but who knows what life has in store for us.
    In the meantime, I will do the best I can, and I happen to love the view from here. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Thoughts on a Rainy Day, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

A rainy day, and this time I see some green where there has been brown all summer. My office windows are steamy from the ongoing simmering summer heat, but outside the streets are wet and temporary puddles have formed. I don't know if this will make a difference to the farmers, but I am grateful for this change, and I wonder what has been unleashed as the rain is released from the heavens. 
     I didn't sleep well last night. Yes, it was warm and perhaps that was a factor. In fact, when we came out of a restaurant at 10 after a long, leisurely dinner with friends, the air was thick and heavy. Not an ounce of refreshment in the air. Perhaps I was a bit overly stimulated, thanks to our wonderful, many topics explored conversation. I often get a second wind after 10, but last night I was tired, and I didn't want to prolong the day. Instead, I wanted the next day to come. 
     My sleeplessness was one of anticipation. This often happens to me, as perhaps it does to you, the night before we leave on a trip or have a big event scheduled the next day. I enter the next day before the next day arrives, and I am unable to sleep. The next day, today, however, has no special starred event. Nothing is listed on my calendar. My list of activities for the day is entirely of my own making. Exercise. Laundry. Emails. Post office and grocery store. 
My anticipation, it seems, is far more open ended.
     Last week we had 6 showings of our home to prospective buyers. Six showings in 8 days. Surely, that means something is going to happen. More showings perhaps or even an offer. I wanted the day to come so I would know. Will there be a showing today or will I get a call scheduling a showing for later in the week? Will there be an offer? I want something to happen and how can it happen if I am asleep! 
     What I need to remember is that even when nothing seems to be happening; even when I feel stuck and there is no apparent movement in the desired direction, change is occurring. I just can't see it yet. I just don't recognize it yet. Change is hovering, but it still looks similar to the way it has always been. 
     My job is to rest when it is time to rest. Be awake and attentive when it is time to be awake. My job is to free myself from preoccupation with the future and be present. 
     Eventually, I fell asleep, turning the hours over to the rhythm of night into day. And in the morning I offered this prayer by Philip Newell:
                     A Prayer for Presence
In the gift of this new day.
in the gift of the present moment,
in the gift of time and eternity intertwined,

let me be thankful
let me be attentive
let me be open to what has never happened before,

in the gift of this new day,
in the gift of the present moment,
in the gift of time and eternity intertwined. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About the Weather, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg,

     Finally, it rained. I wondered when rain finally came if people would come pouring out of their homes, interrupting whatever they were doing at the moment--wooden spoon or fresh laundry from the dryer or the morning newspaper in hand. Would we take photos with our iPhone and send them immediately to everyone we know? "Guess what, it's raining! Praise the Lord." 
     Praise the Lord! 
     We have been waiting and waiting and even though this morning's rain didn't last very long, it raises hope. It reminds us that there is an end to everything, even draught. 
     Oh, how thirsty all the yards and gardens are in the neighborhood. Each lovely home is surrounded by a moat of crackly straw. The pond in the wetland is dry to the last drop, and I wonder about all the life that pond normally supports. The critters who called the pond home truly know what it means to be thirsty. 
Summer vs Winter
     Maybe I should pretend it's winter. I love winter and find the coziness of staying inside during the winter to be a productive and creative time for me. With a shawl wrapped around my shoulders I delight in doing the next thing or nothing. Either way is a choice. However, the summer heat encourages neither productivity or creativity in me, only apathy. I am restless, but lack energy to find direction. In the winter I relish the indoor time, but in these days of scorching, breath-taking heat, I resent the closed windows, the fake coolness (even as I am grateful for it!), and I want porch time restored.  I want relief from the draught. 
     What would satisfy my thirst and end my inner draught? 
     Can I move from a state of emptiness and inertia to Sabbath time?
Ending the Inner Draught
     I just finished reading a book called Chasing Matisse, A Year in France Living My Dream by James Morgan ( in which the author lists his desires. "Read. Write. Paint. Think. Travel." So clear and clean. He unveiled his thirsts and even though, as he adds, "Not that it's ever as simple as that," he has found a way to live his desires. 
I practiced a list in my head almost unwilling to commit my yearnings to writing, for what would it mean if I stated them so directly and clearly? What excuses would I have to overcome? How would I have to live in spite of the draught?  
     If that exercise seems too hard, Alice D. Doar, author of Live a Little! offers another opportunity in the August O, The Oprah Magazine.  Complete the following statements, but don't think too long about any of them.

I could blow an entire rainy afternoon___________________
When I was a kid, I used to love________________________
I've always wanted to become really good at______________
If I could do one thing every day of my life, it would be_____
I can lose track of time when I'm________________________
Nothing clears my head like____________________________
When I'm feeling drained, all I want to do is_______________
I feel most connected to my body when I'm________________
In my daydreams, I imagine myself______________________
I get a shot of energy when I___________________________  

     Any surprises? What do your responses reveal? Are there any changes you want or need to make in your life in order to live more authentically? Is there anything you are thirsting for that can be fulfilled even in times of summer dryness? 
     Here are my answers:

I could blow an entire rainy afternoon reading.
When I was a kid, I used to love to ride my bike.
I've always wanted to become really good at singing.
If I could do one thing every day of my life, it would be to write and to hug my grandchildren.
I can lose track of time when I'm writing.
Nothing clears my head like making a list and writing in my journal.
When I'm feeling drained, all I want to do is eat and read.
I feel most connected to my body when I'm doing T'ai Chi.
In my daydreams, I imagine myself thin and a published author.
I get a shot of energy when I complete all or a part of a writing project or when I am in the midst of a substantial conversation. 
     Reading my answers I notice ways I can easily enhance my life and choices I can make that will help me balance Body, Mind, and Spirit. Furthermore, none of my responses, except perhaps riding a bike, is related to the weather at all! Nor is my list of desires, which I finally dare to write down. 
     Read. Write. Spend time with family and friends. Pray. Teach.  
    Any season is the right time to connect with your essence. Any weather is the perfect time to do what nurtures your soul and gives life to who you were created to be.    


Friday, June 29, 2012

Polishing the Silver Before Vacation, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

Crazy, I know it was crazy, but I decided to polish a few pieces of silver the day before we left on vacation. Polishing silver was not exactly a necessity. In fact, it wasn't even on the master list I had created the day before, but there I was standing at the kitchen sink polishing a small restaurant tea pot and a plate monogramed with the letter "A" and other bits and pieces of silver collected over the years. 
    Some of us hearth goddesses have an extreme need to leave our homes in perfect condition when we are going to be gone for awhile. I knew a woman who vacuumed herself out the front door as she was leaving and left her vacuum cleaner in the garage. I'm not that bad. Ok, maybe I am. I hate leaving dirty laundry in the hamper or dishes in the dishwasher. When I come home, I want only to unpack, not clear a mess from days or weeks before. This time the need was a bit more intense since our home is for sale, and there was going to be an open house while we were gone and, I hoped, some showings as well. That still didn't explain the desire to polish silver. 
     I remembered the short story by Tillie Olsen, "I Stand Here Ironing," in which the main character thinks about the circumstances of parenting her first child. It has been a long time since I have read that story, but, if I recall correctly, the mother in the story reviews her life and some of its difficult decisions as she irons, smoothing out wrinkles.    
      As I stood there polishing silver, I banished tarnish, rubbing slowly and deliberately, and I thought about my Grandma Hansen who always polished my mother's silver when she came to stay with us. I thought about people I have gone antiquing with over the years and the pleasures and treasures of those days. I remembered the delight of finding a napkin ring engraved with the word "Aggie." Our son's school nickname was "Aggie." Who was this "Aggie?" Another napkin ring is engraved with "David," and how happy I am that occasionally there is a David at our dinner table. 
       I breathed in the view from my kitchen window, a rooftop view I happen to love, even though a recent potential buyer was negative about that view. To each his own. I will miss this view, but I wonder what I will see from my next kitchen window.
       I polished the silver and I slowed down, resting in the time out from the real list for the day. Polishing the silver--not much time or effort for so much pleasure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I Met a Willow Tree, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

One never knows whom one will meet on a retreat. I met a Willow Tree.  Recently, I attended a retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery here in Middleton led by Anne Hillman who wrote the book Awakening the Energies of Love, Discovering Fire for the Second Time, a book that has become a touchstone in my life. What a privilege to have three days for intentional reflection. I loved meeting Anne and the other participants on the retreat, but who knew I would make a new friend and develop a new relationship? Who knew I would open to a new spiritual guide, a new teacher? 
     I met a Willow Tree.
    At Sweetwater Farm a willow tree was the resident sage in the wetland on our land, and such a presence that tree was. The last tree to lose its leaves as the season moved from fall to winter. The most distinctive citrus yellow green in the springtime, standing out from all other greens. The welcome greetings of branches swaying in the breeze and sweeping the earth gently, lightly. And often, quite often, a resting place for a red-tail hawk. I can feel my heart lift as I recall the beauty of that sight. 
     Perhaps this willow tree is a distant relative of the one I loved at Sweetwater Farm. My intention is to get to know this tree better, but initially, I kept my distance, preferring to observe and to listen before introducing myself. The days of the retreat were the epitome of June days: warm, but not too; the sun hiding occasionally behind playful clouds, and a breeze dancing through prairie grasses and trees dressed for summer days. This willow tree (Do I dare call it "my" willow tree?) swayed, swirled, swooped, swept, sashayed--did everything but swagger down the trail closer to the pond. I sat on a deck nearby and spent time with my new acquaintance. 
     I was captivated by one branch that arched over open space, forming a portal, a passageway, a natural arbor, a threshold.  Lately, I have realized that these years in Madison are transition years for me -- preparation years for the next stage of life.  I am making myself ready. For exactly what, I am not sure, but it is time to prepare my body, mind, and spirit. I am on a threshold, but this is not yet the time to walk through, to cross over, to look back at where I have just been. Being on this retreat and spending time with the willow tree, I realize, however, now is the time to live with deeper attention, to move from thought to awareness, to listen to my deepest yearnings, to be present. 
     Later during the retreat Anne led us in T'ai Chi, and I became the willow tree: grounded and yet supple and flexible, lifting my arms to the sky and letting them softly drift back to my side.  I danced as the willow tree dances. The willow tree has more to teach me, and I will return to its sacred space.  Someday I will accept its invitation to cross the threshold and stroll underneath its supple branches, and to feel the touch of its feathery leaves.
     Matthew Fox says, "Everything is a word of God." 
     Even willow trees. 
Selected Resources from my Bookshelves
Sacred Trees, Spirituality, Wisdom and Well-Being by Nathaniel Altman
The Healing Energies of Trees by Patrice Bouchardon

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Silence: Lost and Regained, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

Part of my preferred morning routine is to sit in silence for 20 minutes or so. Sometimes I label it meditation and sometimes centering prayer, and sometimes, I confess, I doze more than meditate, even after a good night's rest. I may sit in the living room on one of the wingback chairs or on the front porch, although I risk being interrupted by a greeting from a passing neighbor. I may choose the deck off the dining room, but the sun doesn't bathe that area till lunchtime and often it is just too cool to sit there first thing in the morning. Lately, I have enjoyed reflection time on the screen porch, which is on the lower level of the house between my office and the garage, the back of the house. Private and quiet. Usually. But not lately. In fact, silence is not to be found these days. 
     Several homes are being constructed on the ridge across from our house. We still have a barrier of woods and green space to give the illusion of privacy, but the tap, tap tapping of hammers, the beehive buzz of saws, the beeping, rumbling, rattling of trucks, the shouting of the worker guys and their occasional country western music, the pounding, the pulsing, the percussion of the building process bombard me. From early morning until into the evening. 
     The last draw was an extremely upset Mama robin who swooped as close to the porch screens as possible, furiously alerting me to her frustration that I have invaded her space. Apparently, I am too close to her nest. This is her sanctuary and what am I doing there? What am I am doing there? Well, I am certainly not meditating. 
Quiet Days
     My days normally are quite quiet. True, I enjoy listening to NPR when I am in the car, and I like having the TV as my companion when I am cooking, but most of the time when I am working in my office or reading or writing, I do so in silence. I love the 5 minutes of silence at the end of a session with my spiritual director. I walk in the mornings unaccompanied by headset. I am comfortable when time with my husband or other good friend eases into a shared connection of silence. I welcome the time before drifting off to sleep when I close my eyes and settle into silence, reflecting on the day. 
Gifts of Silence
     I not only am not afraid of silence, I treasure and embrace silence. It is in the silence that I hear who I am and who I have been created to be. Don't get me wrong--I love deep levels of conversation and the ease of laughter and silliness in my life, but what sustains me is a shawl of silence and stillness and solitude. Silence both calms me and energizes me. In silence I strain what is not necessary or worthy or nourishing. I focus and rejuvenate. I allow essence to live.  And, of course, as with everything of value it seems paradox emerges. "By wrapping myself in a cocoon of silence, I was in some way engaging more fully with life rather than withdrawing from it." (Anne D. LeClaire)
     Yes, I could leave the house and find a place that is more quiet, but I suspect there is a challenge, an opportunity here.  Can I  create a place of silence within myself even as the world around me is vibrating with noise? How interesting--I have barely noticed the competing sounds from the construction zone as I have engaged with my heart and written this post. So yes, the answer is yes, I can create a place of silence within myself even as the world around me is vibrating with noise. 
Selected Resources from my Bookshelves
One Square Inch of Silence, One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World by Gordon Hempton
Listening Below the Noise, A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire
Stillness, Daily Gifts of Solitude by Richard Mahler
A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Basics: Sweeping the Front Porch, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

I am not fond of vacuuming. To be honest, I hate  vacuuming, and lately, in anticipation of showings of our house, I have needed to vacuum frequently. Also, dust and keep surfaces clear of clutter and do laundry daily and, and, and ......  Along with meditating and writing in my journal, my current morning routine with its list of home tending tasks to complete often seems to extend into the afternoon.  I am more than willing to perform these tasks, for it is something I can do to welcome potential new owners to this home.
      Even if this house weren't for sale, however, I would still greet the freshness of the morning by sweeping the front porch, for there is something so basic, almost old-fashioned about sweeping, especially a front porch. 
     I imagine myself as a housewife of the 30's or 40's or even 50's, wearing a housedress and full apron, standing outside the front door with broom in hand. I survey this world in front of me and wonder who will come up the walk and cross this threshold today. Sweeping is convivial, for unlike washing windows, it is interruptible and encourages pausing for a casual conversation with the neighbor pushing a stroller or walking a dog. I listen to the birds chitter chattering, hoping for a piece of discarded thread or a fragment of lint for a nest in process.  I think ahead to the end of the day when my husband and I will have dinner on the porch, sharing our day's in's and out's and perhaps later will sit in quiet companionship reading until daylight disappears. 
     I remember the front porch on the house where we raised our children. That front porch had a swing.  The rhythm of the swing seemed to match the cadence of whatever I read to our young son.   Our daughter and her boyfriend, now husband, posed for prom pictures while sitting on that swing. This porch should have a swing and a young family, too. Maybe it will someday. 
     I begin to sweep and sense how the sweeping signals moving on, not clinging to anything, except the present moment. Sweeping clears the space.  Sweeping says, "This house is cared for." The Shakers believe that their daily work, even something as basic as sweeping the front porch, is a personal expression of worship. Gunilla Norris in her book of poetry, Being Home, says, "Prayer and housekeeping--they go together. They have always gone together. We simply know that our daily round is how we live. When we clean and order our homes, we are somehow also cleaning and ordering ourselves."
      In cleaning and ordering ourselves, we become more open to the extraordinary in the ordinary and the grace of everyday life.  Now, if I only felt this way about vacuuming!   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

House for Sale: Life on Hold?, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

Show Time
Yesterday we had a showing, our 4th since the house went on the market the end of last week. Notice I said "the" house and not "our" house--a shift and a readiness. Anyway, I noticed how uptight I get before a showing. I don't sleep well, rehearsing what I need to do to prepare the house for potential buyers, as if it weren't picture perfect already.  (Click here to see the video of the house.) As I move through my showing checklist, washing the towels used that morning, emptying wastebaskets, wiping down sinks, packing up my laptop, sweeping the porch floor, vacuuming and dusting--in other words a high speed re-cleaning of the entire house, I panic about whether I will have enough time or will I still be turning on the lights, every light in every room, as the realtor and potential buyer arrive? I am a force to be reckoned with as I go through this process. Pity my husband as he sits drinking his morning coffee and reading the paper. I become a cartoon character with the words "GO TO WORK -- NOW!" in the balloon above my head. 
     Once the house is ready to do its own magic and I lock the door and leave, I am calm once again. I am clear. I have done what I can. I know the house looks wonderful, and what happens, happens. I relinquish control, and I am delighted someone is interested enough to imagine themselves living in this home. 
What Now?
      But then another issue takes precedence, an issue with immediate repercussions during showing times when I am an outcast from the house, but more importantly, an issue that pervades the in-between time of preparing to list the house and actually selling the house. What now? How do I use this time? What is this in-between time for? How can I best use this unknown amount of time? How do I continue to live fully and wholly as I wait to move forward into the next step? And even, how do I live in this house as I mentally detach from this house, but don't know how long this home will remain our home? 
     For the time being the hard work is done. True, there are other tasks I can continue doing in preparation for an actual move. There are many bins and drawers to sort through and many treasures, thanks to years of collecting antiques, to dispose of in order to move into a smaller space.  I will continue that process, but that is not exactly what I mean. 
     During another time of waiting to sell a house, I read, "Don't let the time do you. You do the time." (Holly W. Whitcomb in Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting) This is not a time to wait for my life to begin. I am 64 years old. My life began a long time ago! No, this is a time to continue living, even if it means living lightly in this house. My spiritual director reminded me recently, "Let life happen--all of it." Not only does that mean responding to what swirls around me, but also intentionally opening to the possibilities and opportunities of this time. What's the best way I can live during this time? 
Making a List and Checking it Twice
     And so I did what always works for me: I made a list. I have a special designated notebook, started when we were preparing to list the house, for this purpose. A notebook with a sketch of a wheelbarrow and the word "Unload" on the cover. How appropriate is that? I created a page for each room in the house with its own To Do list. Very helpful.  Recently, I added two pages. "Where to Go During Showings" and "How To Use This Time." One might not think it would be hard to decide where to go while someone is in the house and true, so far, I have used those times for errands, but in the flurry of disembarking, I don't always have a clear picture of where to land. My list helps me sort through the possibilities. 
     "How To Use This Time" is a broader, deeper list. An expanding list, which includes: 
             * Write more blog posts and read other blogs.
             * Contact friends here I haven't seen for awhile.
             * Start a new writing project.
             * Renew study of the enneagram.
             * Rework my manuscript on grief and loss.
             * Continue with massive project of putting pictures in archival albums.
             * Resume regular exercise routine and walk more. 
Active Waiting and No Regrets
     In other words this needs to be a time of "active waiting," to quote Whitcomb again. This is not a time to insure regrets. When the house is ultimately sold and packing and re-settling become the overriding activities, I do not want to regret wasting this time. I don't want to look back and see that I have not used this time well. 
     I don't mean to imply that I need to be 'busy" all the time. A degree of rest and rejuvenation is needed. I am thrilled to have more spaciousness to sit on the front porch or deck and read. No, I am not advocating doing for the sake of doing, doing to fill the time. Instead, I want to be intentional about the open space of this time. I want to live this time wholly and fully, calmly and clearly. Even on the days when there is a showing. 


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Talk: Favorite Books About Books and Reading, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

After writing the previous post, I realized there is a whole genre of books about books and reading. The books themselves give great pleasure on their own, but the hidden treasure is how one book leads to another. Reading about someone else's delight in a specific book often makes me want to read it myself and thus, the list grows longer and the shelves get fuller.
Here are some of my favorite books about reading and books:
1.     The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. "The extreme reader, to coin a phrase, is a rare bird indeed. ('I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing,' Lynne Sharon Schwartz writes. 'Can I go back to my books now?') Such people are born, not made, I think; or mostly born and only a little made. They take care of themselves; they always do go back to their books." 
2.      Howard's End is on the Landing, A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill. "A special relationship is formed with books that have been on our shelves for years without being read. They become known in a strange way, perhaps because we have read a lot about them, or they are books that are part of our overall heritage. I think I know a lot about Don Quixote. I do know a lot about Don Quixote. I have just never read it. I doubt if I ever will. But I know what people mean when they talk about tilting at windmills; I recognize a drawing of Quixote and Sancho Panza. I believe Cervantes to be a great European writer. Why do I believe that? What possible grounds have I for believing it? Other people's opinions, the fact that it has an honorable and permanent place in the canon? So, Don Quixote has an honorable, permanent place on my shelves. It would be wrong to get rid of it and, besides I should miss its red leather binding."
3.       Reading Lolita in Tehran, A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. "The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable. I told my students I wanted them in their readings to consider in what ways these works unsettled them, made them a little uneasy, made them look around and consider the world, like Alice in wonderland, through different eyes." 
4.       Walking a Literary Labyrinth, A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone. "So what is it, this appetite for reading? I have often thought when watching nature programs on TV that the most basic act of animate nature is eating--not mating, which most animals do only when the female is in estrus. Everything living is eating something else in order to stay alive. That is why I read, I guess, to stay alive, to be as fully alive as I can be. In books, almost the whole world and everything in it are available to me to feed that life. The words we usually use to name that appetite--interest, curiosity--aren't good enough to describe the impulse and pleasure doesn't adequately describe its satisfaction. It is the need to know and understand--myself, others, the world beyond me, God--to ask about what is real and true and good and of value, about how we should live our lives. "
     Then of course, there are books of book lists like SuperLibrarian Nancy Pearl's Book Lust series and a teasingly fun book, Between the Covers, The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures. There are many other books I have read and enjoyed in the past: Book and Islands in Ojibway Country, Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors by Louise Erdrich; Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader by Ann Fadiman; The Yellow-Lighted BookShop, A Memoir, A History by Lewis Buzbee: So Many Books, So Little Time, A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson; and a favorite from last year, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, My Year of Magical Reading by Nona Sankovitch. 
     And finally, there are the books waiting to be read, including The Reading Promise, My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma; A Jane Austen Education, How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and The Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz; and a brand new title just reviewed in the New York Times this past Sunday, When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson. 

Are books about books and reading part of your personal reading canon? If so, tell me about your favorites.  I am always eager to add another title to the list. Happy Reading!