Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: What Do You See?

How are you feeling today? How did you sleep last night? What's on your mind? Do you have a long list of things to accomplish today? Did you wake up with worries and cares waiting for you? Will there be space in your day for play? How will you care for yourself today? 

What gives you joy? What makes you smile?

I invite you to sit with this photograph today, and I ask you what you see? Close your eyes, lightly, not tightly, and take a couple deep, cleansing breaths, finding your own rhythm. When you relaxed, open your eyes and look at the photograph again. 

How does it makes you feel? How does it touch and open your heart? Let this scene be more than a sweet image.  Put yourself in the picture. Are you the babe in the swing, legs dangling, waiting for the next big push, trusting you won't fall? Are you the boy who is laughing as he waits for just the right moment to give the extra push? He is so young himself. How does he know what to do? How does it feel to be trusted in this way? Who would you rather be? And what do you need today?

Are you perhaps the observer, the parent or caretaker, waiting on the side, delighting in the scene or perhaps grateful for a brief time-out? What brought you here? What are the gifts of this present moment for you? Maybe you are just passing by and hearing the laughter you turn your head and take in the scene. Allow yourself to take pleasure in what you see. Don't just notice it, but take it home with you.

Spend time with this ordinary moment, one experienced by children all over the world, and allow yourself to feel all you can feel. Does the picture bring forth memories of your own childhood or of your children's youth? Do you feel yearning? Joy? Wonder? Maybe even sadness? How long has it been since you laughed out loud? And what about the trust it takes to let someone else push you higher and higher? Do you know yourself well enough to know your own strength, your own abilities? Your own desires?

There is life here and it is good. No matter what burdens you are carrying, what pain is sitting with you, there are these moments within your view. Within your heart. There is no fear in this picture; only love.

An Invitation
I invite you to the playground and I would love to know what you see. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Walking, Part II

"What will I see today," I wondered as I set out on a midday walk.  I thought about poet Mary Oliver's words:
                     Pay attention.
                     Be astonished.
                     Tell about it.
Good words for a walker who happens to write a blog and a blogger who loves to walk, but good advice for all of us. 

I have noticed that people walk in our neighborhood. In our previous neighborhood, where there were sidewalks making walking safe and convenient, as in this urban neighborhood, the only people who walked were people walking their dogs. Certainly, there are dog walkers here, and having a dog is an excellent excuse for taking a walk, but I see people here just walking. Walking alone or with a partner. Young walkers and old, older, oldest walkers. Walkers pushing babes in strollers. How charming is it to see those pudgy legs bouncing to the rhythm of the uneven sidewalk. 

Many are walking as part of an exercise routine, I am sure, but I suspect many are walking to go some place, such as the school playground or community center or the local burger and ice cream shop or perhaps the large Catholic church up the block. The other morning I saw a neighbor walking home with her Bible in hand, perhaps, after attending a Bible study. I liked thinking about a group of neighbors gathering to reflect on the works and wonders of God. 

I imagine many walk just for the pure pleasure of it. 

One of my favorite children's books is Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Here's what I saw today. I saw two teenage girls carrying bags from a fun gift shop not far away, and I wondered what treats they had purchased. For themselves or a present for a friend? 

I peeked in at one of the little free library boxes perched like a birdhouse for readers. It was jammed full, and I hoped someone would stroll by soon and find exactly what they want to read and go home on this warm day for an afternoon of lazy reading on the porch. 

I heard the slap-slapping of someone in flip flops running down the sidewalk. She rang a doorbell and asked if Mary could come out and play. The mom said she was walking the dog, but would be home soon and would be so happy to know her friend was home. I heard construction workers laughing as they took a coffee break. I saw a little girl in princess regalia--tiara, wand, pink cape. She was ready to rule her subjects, but no one was there. 

I wondered about the number of Spanish style homes in this very midwest neighborhood of homes built in the 20's, 30's and 40's. Much to my surprise, they appeal to me, and I wonder what they are like inside. I admired the second floor terrace at a corner home and hoped the owners sat there often. I'll be checking on them! 

As always, I enjoyed seeing the wide variety of ways people have landscaped and gardened their front yards. I envied the large stand of birch trees in one yard and also the way others have used every inch for plants and foliage, eliminating all need for mowing. Last week I spotted a house with a patio on the side of their house and thought how we could do that, giving us both privacy and yet allow us to enjoy the neighborhood comings and goings. Bruce likes the idea--stay tuned to ongoing developments. 

I enjoy making up stories about the people I see, based on a brief glimpse into a fraction of their lives. Yesterday I saw two women, obviously sisters, emerge from a front door and walk to a car that had just parked. "Hi, Mom. How are you?" An elderly woman opened the door on the passenger side of the car and in a bird-like voice, responded, "This is a good day." Of course, I would love to know more of her story, but I can create my own plot, my own characterizations as I continue my walk. With people in my life I try hard not to fill in the blanks and guess or suppose what I am not privileged to know, at least not yet. I try to receive what is offered and to wait until a time when more may be shared. I can support without needing to know everything, but on my walks I let my imagination soar. I submerge myself in fiction and fantasy and enjoy the unknown. 

Currently, I am reading a book called On Looking, Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz, and I like what she says about walking mindfully, "aiming to bring active attention to our daily lives by noticing new things." She says, "We miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us," and "We all have the capacity to really see what is in front of us…we just forget how to turn it on."

Walking the neighborhood challenges me to "turn it on."

An Invitation
What do you see when you go for a walk? How attentive are you when you walk? Challenge yourself to go on the same walk five days in a row and to see something new each time. I would love to know what you discover. 

                        Pay attention.
                        Be amazed.
                        Tell about it.
                               Mary Oliver

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Thoughts on a Sleepless Night

Last night was one of those sleepless nights. I wanted to sleep, knew I needed to sleep, but sleep would not come. I tried one position and then another. I closed my eyes and whispered, "Sleep, sleep, sleep" to myself over and over, but finally, I knew I might has well get up. I was awake and that was all there was to it. Rats! After several restless nights, I had slept well the previous three nights, but there I was awake, wide awake. 

I thought to myself perhaps it was because I had not written today's  post, and I was devoid of ideas. I had little snippets of ideas, but nothing compelling.  Perhaps it was because last night was the first night without pain medication since surgery for a broken ankle. I had deliberately not called for a refill, but decided to see how it would be to only take ibuprofen before going to bed. Not so good. Maybe walking almost 10,000 steps, according to my pedometer, wasn't such a good idea. I think I am pacing myself, listening to my body and stopping between activities to put up my feet for a half hour or more and even napping. Perhaps it is not enough, and I need to remember that it takes at least six months for bone to heal.   

Perhaps it is because my husband returned home last night after his usual days of working in Madison, and it always takes a night or two before I adjust to not being alone. By the time I readjust, he has left again. We are both ready for this commuting life to end. Perhaps it is because after another hot, wet day, I felt sticky and I should have taken a shower before going to bed. Why didn,'t I wash my hair? I felt prickly and itchy all over.  

Or perhaps it was because I just finished reading a book about caregiving, Susan Allen Toth's No Saints Around Here, A Caregiver's Days, and I thought about the loving care I have received the last few months, but also I wondered about my own ability to care, to give. I have read all of Toth's previous books beginning with her memoir of growing up in Iowa, Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood, and I appreciate her down-to-earth descriptions of her experiences and her feelings. That is certainly true as she writes about the last 18 months of her husband's life. He had Parkinson's or Parkie, as she calls it, and the dementia that often accompanies it. I think about a family friend who died not long ago of Parkinson's and wonder if this book would have been helpful. I think about other friends whose spouses or other loved ones require increasing amounts of caregiving, due to cancer or mental illness or other debilitating issues. Would Susan's words offer comfort or companionship? A hospice worker says to the writer who feels guilty about wishing the time away and about not always being loving and understanding, "What matters is what you are doing, not what you are thinking." Perhaps I should have immediately opened another book and not let these thoughts of loss roll through me when I needed to sleep.

Perhaps I was still awake because I had not spent enough time the last few days doing the breath practice, which was the assignment for a group I attend. If I had done so, I suspect I would have felt more relaxed, more able to let my body's needs take over.  It's not that I haven't done the practice of gentle inhaling and exhaling--how simple is that?--during the two weeks since our first class. In fact, I have stopped and paused periodically during the day and intentionally and deeply inhaled and exhaled. I have done this during rest periods. I have done this before turning out the light at night, but not first thing in the morning, for once I am up and to the bathroom, the day seems to thrust me forward. I am certain I have not done the practice for chunks of 5 minutes or more as suggested by our facilitator, but I have closed my eyes and honored my body's ability to breathe. I have noticed that often my exhaling breath is raggedy and uneven and short, but the inhale amazes me with its capacity. What I have not done is set aside time, the same time every day, for this practice, and I must admit, I wonder what that resistance is all about. I know the value of meditating, of centering prayer, of following the breath. I encourage others in the practice and have adhered to the practice myself in the past, but right now I am not walking the walk. Why is it we know what would be the wise and healthy and loving thing to do for ourselves, but we don't do it? Is that why I have had trouble sleeping lately? 

Perhaps it is because I feel on the brink.  Am I ready to return or restart or renew or venture forth to something new?  Am I ready to add in and awaken to new passion and purpose? My night time body seems to say, "yes," but my daytime body in need of more healing time does not agree. 

When I am not able to sleep, I know it is better  to get up and read or write, and so last night at 12:30, I climbed the stairs to my garret office, sat at my desk, and jotted down thoughts for this post. Then I sat in my comfortable chair with my hands open on my lap and gently inhaled and exhaled, feeling the breeze breathing through the open window. I wondered about the light I saw in a second floor window in the house across the alley. Does she always leave it on or was she also having a sleepless night? Maybe we will compare notes some day. Eventually, I knew it was time to give sleep a chance again and I hoped I wouldn't disturb my husband as I crawled back into bed. Maybe tonight will be better.

An Invitation

What do you do on sleepless nights? What thoughts rumble around in you as you wait for sleep to take over? I would love to know.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Being an Old Woman

"Full Circle" by Sandra Bierman
Recently, my husband and I had lunch with a friend whom we had not seen for a long time. We talked about the usual topics people of our age discuss, including thoughts about retirement and what's next. Along with being a hospice physician, she is also a writer, but has done little writing since she broke her leg several years ago. She said that accident changed her life.

I'm not exactly sure what she meant by that, and I hope we can explore that more in the future, but she was clear about making a commitment to healing her body. That has been her focus. I am beginning to understand what that means, as I realize how much energy needs to be directed towards the care and restoration of my ankle. I admit I resent it in part, don't quite believe it, and wonder what that really means. How much longer will healing have to be my focus? Will the physical healing continue to be to the detriment of my writing, of doing things I have said I want to do during this stage of my life? Is there really only so much energy to go around? Is the health of the body--the strength and the stamina of the body--worth giving up what I've said I want to do, what I do, where I think my passion and purpose is? Must it be either/or? What does my life consist of from this time on?

Glimpses of Being Old
I told my friend when I catch a glimpse of myself now in a window or mirror, I see an old woman with a cane, and she said when she broke her leg, she knew she was an old woman and decided to own that designation. I understand that, for I have always felt old, I think. I was not comfortable as a teenager or even when I was in my 20's or 30's. I was always eager to get beyond the focus of how I look to what I think and what I know. An old soul whose wisdom is valued. Perhaps that is why I gravitated towards being a spiritual director. 

Over the weekend my husband and I went to a 4:20 movie along with all the other "old" people. We purchased our senior citizen tickets and shuffled into the theatre. I noticed all of those with canes, and trust me, I wasn't the only one. Earlier in the day at lunch I noticed a very attractive "older" woman stylishly dressed in a sort of put-together Bohemian style, and she had a cane, too. I commented to my husband how she needed my animal print cane as the ultimate accessory. It's still a cane, however. She needed a cane, for whatever reason, as did others going to the movie. I don't need to use mine all the time, and I am grateful I have it when I need it, and I do need it sometimes, but I know I look old, instead of distinguished, when I use it. I look less than what I want to be.  

Forty-eight years ago this fall I met eleven young women as we started the adventure of being college women. Last week eight of us gathered for a leisurely catch-up lunch. Not one of us has escaped difficult times in our lives, and several are currently faced with ongoing challenges. We are old women. We are old women learning to maneuver this stage of our lives. We are old women discovering the wisdom of being at this stage. 

Words of Wisdom
Perhaps Jean Shinoda Bolen in her book Crones Don't Whine, Concentrated Wisdom from Juicy Women can guide the way:
     I wonder what is going to happen next?…Years ago, 
     in the midst of my own midlife transition, I had heard
     myself saying these words, because the only thing that
     seemed predictable was the unpredictability of each day's
     events. Since then, I have found them to be the best words
     and attitude to have when going through the choppy waters
     and storms that occur when people are going through times
     which change their lives and can change them. Anyone
     who thinks they are entitled to smoother sailing or better
     accommodations or different company, in the midst of
     the major transitions that we go through in this life, better
     disabuse themselves of such ideas. Otherwise they will
     whine and not be prepared to grow and change. 
                                                         pp 111-112

Bolen also suggests we "pray for the best outcome," for others, but also for ourselves. As wise as we may be, we don't always know or perhaps, ever know what the best outcome may be. "We cannot control or even know the full potential of what lies ahead." (p. 110) We can, however, own our lives in the present moment and we can allow ourselves healing time and the use of a cane. 

An Invitation
What "cane" is currently supporting you in your life and what healing time do you require? I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Walking

Last evening I grabbed my cane and headed out the door for a walk around the neighborhood. A simple pleasure, which I have missed, and now am grateful I can add back into my life. My intention now is to expand the circuit in order to build strength and stamina and to restore a normal walking gait and pace. Besides, this is my neighborhood now and I want to know it better.  As I locked the door, I heard the chimes from Nativity Church just a couple blocks away. A blessing for "ready, set, go." 

Walking as Pilgrimage
What if I treated my neighborhood walks as a kind of pilgrimage?  What would that mean and how would that feel? For a pilgrim the journey is what is most important, not the destination.  On a pilgrimage one is encouraged to pay greater attention to the path beneath one's feet, and as I regain easier walking ability, I realize how focused I am now on the physical act of walking. I don't have the same rhythm I once took for granted. Now I must pay greater attention to the path itself, including the changes in the sidewalk levels and what is just ahead that could trip me up. I am conscious of how fast (Actually "fast" is not in my vocabulary these days!) or how slow I am going, and I tell myself to bend at the heel and not shuffle and to work at eliminating the limp and shuffle, which have almost become habit. 

Stop, Notice, Bless
I thought about a book by Joyce Rupp about her 37-day pilgrimage along the Camino De Santiago in Spain. The book is called Walk in a Relaxed Manner, which is the just right description of how I need to walk right now. I walk much slower than I have in the past and at times that is frustrating, especially when I am walking with someone else, and they either sprint ahead of me or I sense how hard it is for them to slow down, in order to stay connected with me. Walking by myself, strolling, taking on the aspect of a flaneur, the French word for stroller or saunterer, being relaxed, I only need to be conscious of my own ability and needs. I am a lone pilgrim. 

Last night I intentionally stopped when I glimpsed a vignette of beauty. For example, I noticed the way some people had planted not only their front yards, but also the sections between sidewalk and street. In Ohio they call those "tree lawns." I love that name. I noticed iris beginning to bloom and peonies, too, and I wonder if the artist blue hydrangeas Bruce has planted at our house have given pleasure to other passers-by. The homes with passionate gardeners are evident, and I hope there is a time when I spot them weeding or watering or wandering in their gardens that I can compliment them for all they have created.

I also stopped in front of homes that look lonely, neglected, unkempt and forgotten and wondered about the story behind the front door. I offered a simple blessing that all may be well. 

When we first moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, I enjoyed taking early evening walks when inside lights were just being turned on, and families were transitioning from life out in the world to life back home. I wondered in which home my new, but yet unknown, new friend lived and when we would meet each other. I was lonely, but hopeful. I had similar thoughts last evening, but with more wonder than desperation, for our life here is a return. We are in our book's next chapter, instead of starting a whole new book, and while I am open to the new, I have a base here, a loving and welcoming base from which to build. Still, I sense promise as I walk past these sweet houses where young children are being tucked into bed and dishes are being cleared from the table and stories from the day are being shared. Early on this walk I spotted two teenage girls, long legs, long hair, sitting on top of a garage roof. The contrast between me, the old limping lady, and these young, fearless girls, was startling and amusing, and I offered them a blessing for a safe, but adventurous summer. 

Soon I was back home, but I had walked a bit longer, a bit further than my previous neighborhood walk, and I hope to expand my territory with each walk. How happy I was to walk up the few steps to our front door, to greet the three baby robins, fluffy and prehistoric looking, awaiting Mama's return to the dead pansy basket nest with more food, and then to unlock the door and step inside to our sweet home. A pilgrimage leads one to the sacred, and that is how this felt to me. For a short time at least I was a pilgrim, seeing what is sacred, moving from mindless to mindful, soulless to soulful. I felt blessed. 

A Pilgrimage Blessing
May flowers spring up where your feet touch the earth.
May the feet that walked before you bless your every step.
May the weather that's important be the weather of your heart.
May all of your intentions find their way into the heart of God.
May your prayers be like flowers strewn for other pilgrims.
May your heart find meaning in unexpected events.
May friends who are praying for you carry you along the way.
May friends who are praying for you be carried in your heart.
May the circle of life encircle you along the way.
May the broken world ride on your shoulders.
May you carry your joy and your grief and in the backpack of your soul.
May you remember all the circles of prayer throughout the world. 
                                    Macrina Wiederkehr 

An Invitation
I invite you to walk as a pilgrim--wherever you walk and no matter the distance. I would love to know what you learn and feel and experience. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Time Heals All Wounds

Almost eleven weeks ago I fell and broke my ankle and slowly but yes, surely, I am healing. I have only two more sessions with my physical therapist, and the goal is to be limp free when I wave goodbye to her. Now when I catch a glimpse of myself in a glass door or store window, I am shocked by how old I look, in spite of my chic animal print cane. I limp. I limp and yet, I have not returned from a war. I just fell--no glamour, no service to my country, no interesting story. I just fell and now I limp, but at some point I won't. In time I won't.  

For the most part I think I have handled this time in my life with grace, but there have been moments of discouragement, despair, and boredom. That seems to happen when the healing process is more subtle, as it has been recently. Each visible, tangible change, such as the first time I dressed myself without help, was thrilling. Going up and down steps, inside and outside the house, felt like a miracle, totally expanding my world. Then being allowed to drive the car, first with the boot and then without. In fact, I no longer wear the boot, and rarely, do I use the cane.

And yet, there is still stiffness and swelling, which means I wear an extremely tight, hot, and totally unattractive compression stocking.  I am unable to stack errands on top of each other, for I can't sustain the amount of walking that takes, and by the end of the day my leg throbs. Still, I now wake feeling energized and not just rested, and I am able to do much more in a day than I have been during the previous weeks.

I wonder, however, when I am fully healed what my pace will be. After the initial shock and adjustment, I thought I would use this time to do major work on a delayed writing project. I have done some, enough to know it still interests me, but still, I have not made much progress in that area. I thought I would plan how to start my spiritual direction practice here, along with starting a writing group and a spiritual retirement group--all ideas I had before we moved here, but now I wonder if I will, if those are ways I will want to use my time and energy. Do I really want to add that much activity back into my life or perhaps being involved with family and friends here, especially the grands, and doing some volunteering will be enough? My contentment level seems to have shifted--at least for now. Is this a foretaste of being much older--of my world getting smaller without regret?

 When I had uterine cancer surgery almost 12 years ago, I set such a clear goal and timeline for recovery because my mother's colon cancer had returned at the same time. I needed to heal quickly in order to be with her as an active part of her care taking team. My gynecologist cheered me on, but also said not to be surprised if at some point--probably after my mother died--I would relapse. That didn't necessarily mean more cancer, but my body would just let me know it had not fully recovered. When my mother died several months later, I wondered if my doc's words were prediction or permission. Either way, I took the time-out, and perhaps that is what this broken ankle time has been as well. Time-out after over a year of intense activity. 

I stopped --or was stopped--and now I am back to adding in more activity. I have started walking around the block, slowly, but happily. I am doing most of the house cleaning, except for vacuuming, and I no longer bundle reasons for going up and down the stairs, but just do it. I get up earlier and have much more variety in the day. I still listen carefully to my body, paying attention to signs I need to sit down, put my feet up, and even nap, and I hope I have become a better listener and responder to my body's needs. In many regards my life is back to normal, but I also realize how "normal" is always in flux. Perhaps that is one of the main lessons and gifts of this time. 

How often we hear the words, "It just takes time." Time to grieve. Time to see what the next step will be. Time to move on. Time to let things work out. Time to heal. I believe in the healing power of time, but time alone is not the answer. How do we let time work within and around us to create transformation? Do we step back and breathe as time marches on, whether we are ready or not? 

Time passes no matter what. There is nothing I could have done to have stopped this passage of time. I couldn't push a pause button and say, "When I am strong and healed again, then we can continue where we left off on March 25th." It is now June, almost the middle of June, and I had nothing to say about that, broken ankle or not. Here we are. Wow--here we are, and that is a very good thing. 

I have done the best I could during this time, and I am grateful for all the healing that has taken place, but I know there is still more physical healing that needs to happen, and I am willing to give it time. More time. 

An Invitation
What's your relationship to time? How has "time healed all wounds" in your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Summer Reading

Yes, it is that time of the year again--or finally! It is the time of the year when lists of suggested books for summer reading are abundant and hard to resist. This past Sunday the New York Times Book Review devoted itself to the subject, as did the book section of our local paper. National Public Radio always has a good list to offer, too, along with numerous online resources, but one of my favorite ongoing sources is BookWomen, A Readers' Community For Those Who Love Women's Words. The most recent issue is loaded with good suggestions from BookWomen readers. 

Even though I don't need to make a distinction between reading in the summer and reading the rest of the year, there is something seductive about creating a list of books I want to read during these summer months. I know I don't have any more or less reading time in June, July, or August, for reading is part of my daily life no matter what. I resonate with what Wendy Lesser said in her book, Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering:
       Time is a gift, but it can be a suspect one, especially in 
       a culture that values frenzy. When I began this book,
       almost everyone I knew seemed to be busier than I was.
       I supported myself, contributed my share to the upkeep
       of the household, and engaged in all the usual wifely
       and motherly duties and pleasures. But I still had time
       to read…I had constructed a life in which I could be
       energetic but also lazy; I could rush, but I would never
       be rushed. It was a perfect situation for someone who
       loved to read. p. 3

I have always made time, found time, to read, but still, never was there enough time. Summer seems to promise more time, so perhaps that is why I plot out what I want to read during these months. Here are my lists:

Books Currently On My Shelf 
1.   Mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. I have read the first five in the series, but have several more to read. Set in England in the 1930's, the main character, Maisie Dobbs, was a nurse during WWI and is currently a detective-psychologist. To be honest, I thought the first book in the series was quite lightweight, but the character and the plots have deepened since that first one, and I am quite attached to Maisie. 
2.    The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol--a recommendation from my husband. Written by a French author and set in Paris, the book is about ghostwriting a book that becomes a literary sensation. 
3.     The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin. This book has been on my shelf for a LONG time. With "summer" in the title and a setting in Maine, I think it's time has come. 
4.     Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson. Do you know the catalogue Bas Bleu? I get some of my best reading recommendations from that source--books never on the shelves at Barnes and Noble, I might add.  This is another book about writing a novel--is there a theme developing for this summer? The plus for me is the English setting. 
5.     Love Falls by Esther Freud who is the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud and the daughter of the painter Lucian Freud. This time the setting is Tuscany. We won't be traveling this summer, but I can still travel, thanks to my book choices.  The main character "sets off on a summer adventure full of danger, first love, and untold consequences that will irrevocably change her life." This is another one of my Bas Bleu finds. 
6.     The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Small Acts of Liberation by Elizabeth Berg. Short stories for in-between other books. Cleansing like sherbet between courses. 

1.     Travels with Myself and Another, A Memoir by Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn was an important war correspondent and Ernest Hemingway's third wife. I have always been more interested in Hemingway's wives than in Hemingway himself. Perhaps you read the novel The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, about his first wife, Hadley and now there is a new novel that may tempt me this summer, Mrs Hemingway by Rachel Wood. 
2.   Crossing the Borders of Time, A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed by Leslie Maitland. Maitland's mother, a German Jew, fled to Cuba in 1942 and lost touch with her love, a Catholic Frenchman. Maitland sets out to find the man her mother never forgot. My father read this book and passed it onto me. 
3.    Geography of Home, Writings on Where We Live by Akiko Busch. This seems like a perfect title for me.
4.    One Square Inch of Silence, One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World by Gordon Hempton. Traveling across the U.S, the author listens. 
5.    On Looking, Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz.  After a book on silence and listening, then a book on seeing. 
6.    The Circumference of Home, One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life by Kurt Hoelting. The author lives in the Pacific Northwest and from his concerns about global warming, he discovers an "adventure of body and spirit." 
7.    Inner Christianity, A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition by Richard Smolley. My spiritual reading tends to be more spontaneous--being led to a book that helps me deepen my relationship to the Divine or one that fills a need based on my practice as a spiritual director. This book feels important to me, but I don't yet know why. 

Books I Want to Read Because My Granddaughter Is Reading Them.
1.     The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I bought her a copy of this book, and she is reading it now--probably has finished it. Maybe after I read it, we could watch the movie too.
2.      The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Another movie tie-in. She recently read this and liked it very much and said I should read it, too. That's all the incentive I need. 

Books Coming Out Later This Summer
1. A new book by the mystery writer whose books I devoured last year--Louise Penny --out in August.
2.  A new book by another mystery writer, Susan Hill, whom I enjoy as well. 

Books I Am Currently Reading and Will Definitely Finish
1.    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes, the Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. No matter what you thought of her memoir, this book is quite the different animal. Rich characters with a fascinating look at the 19th century world of botanical exploration. Sounds dull? Not at all. 
2.     No Saints Around Here, A Caregiver's Days by Susan Allen Toth, a Minnesota writer whose previous down to earth memoirs have always appealed. This book does as well. 
3.     Handling the Truth, On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart. I am trying to trick myself into returning to a large writing project. 

One Book I Read and Wonder Why It Won the Pulitzer
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. What did I miss in this 800 page book that so intrigued everyone?  I found it to be repetitive and in great need of editing. I wearied of the ongoing drug scenes that seemed to be included for their own sake. Yes, there were some amazing paragraphs, and I did keep cheering for the main character, but enough is enough. 

This Month's Book Group Selection
Vacationland by Sarah Stonich. A series of related short stories. I loved this collection and look forward to rereading before we meet. I also read her memoir, Shelter about her cabin in Northern Minnesota. I can't resist sharing her last paragraph: "In a dawning that has come to me with glacial slowness but with the clarity of my long-ago barefoot moment on the grassy shoreline, I've realized that while living wedged between the memories of a life and an uncertain future, perhaps the best place to be standing is here. Now." p. 208

One Last Note
A friend sent me a delicious treat recently, a book called Women Who Read Are Dangerous, a collection of paintings and photographs of women reading. Karen Jay Fowler paints her own picture of of female readers in her foreword to the book. I leave you with this:
      She is young and in her own bed. Her parents allow a certain
      amount of bedtime reading, but all too soon her mother 
      or father will come to turn out the light, tell her that
      it's time to sleep. The door will be left open when the 
      parent leaves to ensure the light stays off. The girl will
      wait until she hears her parents' voices in another room,
      knows they are occupied with other matters. Then she will
      make a cave under the blankets, open her book inside the
          That girl knows the value of a good flashlight; she 
       learned that from Nancy Drew. She will read until she
       falls asleep, and neither her parents not anyone else
       will ever be the wiser. p. 19

I hope you have stockpiled batteries for a summer of reading.

An Invitation
The obvious questions is what do you plan to read this summer and what suggestions for summer reading can you offer. I would love to know.  
You may want to refer to my 2013 post about summer reading:

Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Rhubarb

A sure sign of late spring and early summer in our house is rhubarb, and much to our delight this house has full, healthy rhubarb plants. That's a good thing, for my mother didn't believe in paying for rhubarb, insisting it is just a weed. Our other homes have always had rhubarb plants, and it was a pleasant surprise to discover rhubarb plants in the tiny alley garden. 

As soon as there was enough to harvest, I made a batch of rhubarb sauce for us and for my father, along with my mom's rhubarb torte. (Recipe follows.) Later I filled a big container with sauce for daughter Kate and her family. Soon I will harvest more and perhaps make a rhubarb coffee cake to have on hand when our son and daughter-in-love are visiting this weekend from Cleveland. 

Rhubarb plants weren't on the "must have" list when we were house hunting, but discovering their presence this spring along with the lilac bushes in the backyard, now beginning to bloom, was   a happy surprise. 

We did have many other requirements on our house list, however, such as a bedroom and bath on the first floor, a double garage, a fireplace, central air conditioning, and a front porch. We did get the bedroom on the first floor, but not the other so called "musts."  I mentioned to a couple friends recently how much I was missing a front porch. We loved the front porch on our home in  Madison. It was private and spacious enough for several chairs and a table where we ate most meals in warm weather. The front porch became office, and library, and dining room for us and guests, and even a playroom when the grands visited. In some ways it was my favorite room in that house, and now that it is front porch season again, I do miss it. 

Both friends immediately asked if we couldn't add a front porch onto this house, and, of course, with enough money and vision and patience, one can do most anything. I do hope we build a double garage and am glad there is space to do that, and we will look into adding central air, even though we know the challenges of doing that in an old house. Yes, I would love a front porch again, but is that how we want to spend time, money, and energy at this stage of our lives? Besides, just because we once had something doesn't mean we have to have it again. 

What an interesting thought for someone who is used to gratification--perhaps, not immediate, but like most of us, I like getting what I want! One aspect of this stage of life, however, is change and change that includes letting go whether it is one's position or relationships, or stuff. I loved having that front porch and am so grateful to have had such a wonderful porch life, but that was then and this is now.

We bought this house in November, which means this is our first spring and summer in the house. With each season we discover more about living here and and what the gifts of life here are. In the winter, even though the sunporch was cold, we loved the light coming through all the windows. We enjoyed the coziness of the lower level where the television is and spent winter evenings hidden from winter winds. Now my husband is delighted with the yard, its good soil and established gardens, giving him room to grow and add his touch. We have adapted to the smaller spaces, including the much smaller kitchen, which now that it is painted and we have new counter tops and backsplash, I really appreciate because it is small and efficient. 

I will adapt to the lack of a front porch as well, for one of the qualities I have worked to develop in myself over the years is adaptability. I don't think of it as settling for something less, but rather a willingness to discover what is good or even better in the present situation, along with being creative and looking at what is with fresh eyes.  In a way discovering one's ability to adapt is a spiritual practice. 

We have moved two chairs under the shade of a lovely tree in the front yard, and it is a pleasant place for chatting with neighbors and for reading, too, although I feel a bit exposed. Perhaps we will add a patio or deck in the back yard, and I will adapt to back yard privacy.  

A front porch was on the desired list, but at the very top of the priority list was location--being close to our daughter and her family--and we got that plus a charming house, which is in excellent condition and the perfect size for our life now. Besides, this house has rhubarb! 

My Rhubarb Torte Recipe--Serves 8
Mix together: 1 cup flour
                       1/2 cup butter
                       5 teaspoons powdered sugar
Pat mixture into a 8x8 pan and bake at 350 degrees.

Beat 2 eggs and add  1 and 1/2 cup sugar and a dash of salt, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 cups cut up rhubarb and 1/2 cup nuts. Mix together and put over crust. 

Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Yum!

An Invitation
How adaptable are you? What have you needed to adapt to in recent years? What do you miss that was once part of your life, but what have you discovered along the way?