Thursday, June 13, 2013

Summer Reading, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

One of my innocent pleasures is collecting and then creating my own summer reading lists. Book recommendations at any time of the year are always pleasurable, but there is something seductive about the idea that there will be even more time for reading in the summer
      Where did that notion come from? I wonder if it started when I was a child and June, July, and August meant open, no school days to decide how I wanted to spend or waste my time.  I recall days entirely spent reading; days when I simply changed my location from bedroom to backyard lawn chair, to basement rec room, if it was really hot, to a chair in the living room, which my mother said I wore out one summer, and then back to my bedroom at night. Often we moved in the summer, which usually meant no friends and no planned activities until school started in the fall. Except for babysitting my younger brother and sister, my time was my own. 
     Summers seem busier now, but still the Summer Reading list beckons. National Public Radio offers lists, as does the New York Times, of course, and local newspapers and favorite magazines. Book stores and libraries label tables "Summer Reading."  Just Google summer reading lists, and you will be amazed by all the possibilities.  As a list junkie, I am willing to consider and consult them all. 
     Here's my list, knowing I won't be able to read them all and knowing I will add other titles along the way. (no particular order)
1.  Z, A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
2.  How It All Began by Elizabeth Berg
3.  Mission to Paris by Alan Furst
4.  Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
5.  The Pleasing Hour by Lily King
6.  Vacationland by Sarah Stonich
7.  Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon
8.  The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
9.  Summer by Edith Wharton
1.  Willa Cather's Letters (Bruce and I are planning a road trip to New Mexico this fall and will route ourselves to Red Cloud, Nebraska, her birthplace. I not only want to read her letters but of course reread my favorite Cather novels--more titles for the fiction list, oh my!) 
2. The Monk and the Philosopher, A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life by Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard
3. Paris to the Pyranees, A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James by David Downie
4. Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie
5. Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Now that everyone else has read it, but since a friend and I are planning a trip to Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln lived, I will dig in.) 
     In addition to my list of what I intend to read, here's a list of what I have read recently. Lately, I have had a run of reading memorable novels. 
1. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
2. Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg
3. The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen
4. A Lady Cyclist's Guide to the Kashgar by Susanne Joinson
5. Benediction by Kent Haruf
6. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
One nonfiction book needs to be mentioned, too--Lean In, Women, Work and The Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

One more recommendation goes beyond summer reading lists:  BookWomen, A Reader's Community For Those Who Love Women's Words is published six times a year by Minnesota Women's Press and is a wonderful source for titles and discussion about books and reading. ( The most recent issue focused on the topic of changing reading habits. Does what we read change as we get older, for example. Many women commented that they are reading more nonfiction than when they were younger. I have noticed that over the course of a year my fiction/nonfiction titles are more balanced than when I was younger and primarily preferring fiction. An intriguing exploration. How about you?

What's on your summer reading list? My list is open-ended and I am always open to additions. Now, where's my hammock? 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Living, Not Visiting, a Post by Nancy L. Agnebe

I bought an ironing board and iron for our apartment. 

I arranged for Internet here, too.

The bookshelf is becoming full. 

     I guess we live here and don't just visit here. More and more I realize my life is here as well as in Madison. In the recent past having an apartment here felt like a transition, a symbol of moving eventually, post Bruce's retirement, from Madison to St. Paul. An interim place while we attempt to sell our house and before we buy a house in St Paul. We would dash in for the weekend, clothes on hangars (No need for an iron!), and our dance card full of events and dates with friends and family. The grandkids would be excited to see us, and the two days would feel like a mini-vacation. 
     Gradually, there has been a shift, a feeling of being at home. A sense of normalcy. I have a full set of make-up and skin and haircut products here. We each have slippers and a robe in our closets. There is Diet Coke and wine in the refrigerator (and not much else) and bagels in the freezer. The shift, however, became more apparent over the weeks I spent here before and after Dad's surgery. I am aware that I will be here more frequently as we help Dad make the transition into senior living and then ready his house for sale, but the shift from visiting to living here is not just about amount of time spent here.  That is a factor for sure, but the shift is more about living fully right now. Living life fully and not just being a visitor in my own life
     As part of a new writing project I have been re-reading the journals I kept when we moved from Minnesota to Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1994. A major change for us all, and while it was our choice, responding to an exciting career opportunity for Bruce, it was not without difficulties. Soon after we moved there, I experienced some unexplainable leg pain. My right leg ached for weeks until I invited myself to meditate about the pain. During the meditation I saw myself facing north with one leg stretched across Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin and reaching into Minnesota. Home. The other was tenuously perched in Ohio. Uncomfortable to say the least. What I needed to do was pull my right leg into Ohio. I needed to plant myself in Ohio, and until I did, I could not have much of a life there. With that realization my leg pain disappeared, and I opened to a new stage in my life
     This transition is different. It is true that I think longingly about living in St Paul full-time, and I admit to a number of plans for my St Paul life. I would love to start a small spiritual direction practice here--just a few clients. I think about starting a contemplative writing group, my own version of Miriam Hall's gifted writing groups in Madison. I think about volunteer opportunities, perhaps doing life review or journal writing in senior living facilities. I have registered to take a class at The Loft Literary Center this summer and look forward to more involvement there. The list is growing. However, I want to be clear. My life in Madison will continue to grow and satisfy. For example, I intend to start a contemplative retirement circle in Madison in the fall, and wherever I am, I will write. Wherever I am, I will connect with friends and family. Wherever I am, I intend to be open to life in that time and place. 
      Once again the lesson, the hope, is to Live Now. Live in the Present. Live in the Moment. Wherever you are. 

In what ways is life offering you the opportunity to Live Now?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Holy Encounters, a Post by Nancy L. Agneberg

The last two weeks have been ones filled with Holy Encounters
"When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him, you will see yourself. As you treat him, you will treat yourself. As you think of him, you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him, you will find yourself or lose yourself." A Course in Miracles, p. 132. 
     I have been home from Minnesota for almost  two weeks and in that time have re-connected with many special people in my life. What I thought I most needed was quiet, alone time to read and meditate and write, and I am grateful for those times and clearly, did need chunks of solitude, but what surprised me was my need to spend time with loved ones here. 
    Last night dear friends joined us on our porch for wine and appetizers. We have missed each other these last months because of trips and work and family commitments, but much to our delight we were all free for the evening. We have not entertained much during these never-ending months of having our house on the market, and I have missed doing so. Originally, I planned just to go the wine and cheese and cracker route, keeping things simple just in case there was a last minute showing scheduled, but I changed my mind. I wanted to anticipate the company, the Holy Encounter, by doing something quite unholy on the surface--messing up the kitchen. I got out some cookbooks and recipe files and got busy, almost humming in the process. Greek croustade (phyllo with a spinach and cheese filling, roasted shrimp and cocktail sauce, roasted cashews with rosemary, cayenne, and brown sugar, and hummus with pita crackers. Oh, and to drink, kir (white wine and cassis--very pretty.) The napkins said "THIS HOME RUNS ON LOVE, LAUGHTER AND LOTS OF WINE." The evening would have been just as full of laughter and love without the extra time spent in preparation, but every bit of measuring and chopping and mixing and then washing and drying reminded me of my good fortune of having so many special people in my life. 
"Relationships are meaningful because they are opportunities to expand our hearts and become more deeply loving." A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, p. 138.
     The Holy Encounters of this last week included a weekend in Chicago with our son and daughter-in-love who live in Cleveland. I rejoiced in the pleasure of this adult relationship, liking them as much as I love them. Two female friends here made time in their week for me, and I thought about how it wasn't really that long ago that I didn't know them, and now they are necessary people in my Madison life, and I miss them when I am not here. Another friend and I hugged hard after a space in our friendship and realized our hearts had maintained crucial room for one another. Out of town friends here for a convention included us in their busy agenda, and we added onto our friendship of over 40 years. Even my much needed haircut felt Holy to me as we updated one another on our lives, and I recalled how I found her without anyone's recommendation when we moved here--just took a chance--and now she is one of my special "peeps." 
     And, of course, time with my husband, for "Partners are meant to have a priestly role in each other's lives. They are meant to help each other access the highest parts within themselves." A Return to Love, p. 127. The best kind of Holy Encounter.
     I returned from Minnesota relieved at my father's healing, but at the same time quite depleted, and these two weeks have been ones in which I have filled with the energy of so many Holy Encounters. There are others here I have not had a chance to connect with, except for continuing to hold them in my heart. Our day will come, as my father always says. But now I prepare to return to Minnesota for two more weeks, weeks that will be filled with a variety of activities, including grandchildren time, sister time, daughter time, father time, and a visit from a dear out of town friend. I return even more aware of the gifts of Holy Encounters. 
     "Relationships exist to hasten our walk to God." A Return to Love, p. 92.

Note: Sometimes a Holy Encounter is rediscovering a favorite and influential book from the past. That's what happened while reading a new book by Richard Rohr. He quoted Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love, and I immediately went to my bookshelf and immersed myself in her wisdom.

I would love to know about your experience with Holy Encounters.  I invite your comments.