Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Our Commuter Marriage is About to End

Yahoo! This evening is the last time my husband will drive here from Madison and not return there on Sunday. For the last eight months Bruce has made the weekly round trip, and he has been such a good sport about doing that. Actually, I have been a good sport as well. We recognized how fortunate this arrangement has been as we have transitioned to life in St Paul. 

But enough is enough, and it is time to live in the same place full-time once again. Even though we both handle separation and being alone just fine, after almost 43 years of marriage, we would rather be together than apart.

Learning As It Happens
Still, I know there will be some adjustment. I am used to having the house by myself, and Bruce is used to coming and going on his own. Even though we are so eager for this change, I know there will be bumps along the way. Last weekend we experienced a minor tease of what could be ahead. 

The night he got home I told him I needed to do two errands the next morning.  That next morning while I was getting ready to leave, he called out that he was going to get coffee. No problem, until I had my keys in my hand and my purse on my arm and discovered he had taken my car. Yes, I could have taken his car, but I knew it was road weary, a polite way to say this car has LOTS of miles on it, and maybe it even needed gas. I decided not to wait till he got home, but called him and was pleased he answered his phone--that's another one of those ongoing discussions--and told him I needed my car. When he got home in a few minutes, he said I could have taken his car and I said HE could have taken his car. We laughed and moved on, but this silly incident was an indication of how used we are to functioning on our own. 

Yes, he has been here every weekend, but weekends have been play time, our elder version of Disney Time, and not much about the everyday routine of living in the same space. In some ways we will have to learn how to live together again. And the new wrinkle is that Bruce will be working from home the equivalent of three days a week with his desk, formerly known as the lady's writing desk, in the living room, almost the center of the house. How will that be? Will the fact that I like to listen to the radio when I am in the kitchen bother him? Will I need to wear a headset? Will he keep the desk looking neat and orderly? How much time will he need to be there and when? Is he interruptible? Am I? How do I establish and stick to my priorities? Will I always feel a need to respond when he wants to take a break and do something? What will our days look like? 

None of these questions are earth-shattering, and we have promised each other we will be hyper-communicative, but this is new territory and feels even more unknown because of the pattern of these last eight months.  

Opportunities for Change and Growth
This change makes me think how often older people are referred to as inflexible and unwilling to change, and even stubborn, just at a time in life when we are asked to and need to change even more. Retirement, even partial retirement, is a huge change and one that requires a set of skills that don't always seem to fit together. Be independent, but be collaborative. Be helpful, but stay out of the way. Be spontaneous, but find your own routine. Share space, but create your own space. Delegate, but not like a boss. Adjust, but be clear about your needs. 

Recently, I asked a friend, who has been retired for a few years, along with her husband, how it has gone. She laughed (A common response to that question!) and said the first year was great. Full of fun day trips and spontaneity and real pleasure being together. It was the second year that was trickier. The temporary vacation mentality turned into days settling into routine and accommodation. That's when the real adjustment began. 

Another friend was grateful her husband retired first, for he learned how to function on his own without benefit of a work schedule and colleagues to support him. He even had dinner waiting when she got home from work, discovering he enjoyed cooking. I am more than willing to be the cook in the family, and Bruce has always done a good job cleaning the kitchen,  never shying away from domestic duties. My good fortune!

The Real Issues
While those issues are important, they are not the crux of the matter. I am shocked that we are at this point in our life. How did we get here so fast? Our daughter turns 40 in August. How is that possible? It seemed like we coasted almost blindly through our years for so long, going to work every day, paying the bills, collapsing in front of the tv or falling asleep while reading a book, exhausted from days overflowing with activities and tasks. We never really envisioned that one day so much would come to a halt. It's not that we fear retirement or worry about filling our days or figuring out what's next, but the hourglass has more sand in the bottom than in the top, and we can't quite believe it. 

Some of us have been proactive, making changes in our lifestyle, even before retiring. We have a number of friends who have sold their family homes and moved into a home that promises easier living or have moved to be closer to family, as we have done. Downsizing and simplifying is a common mantra, and is a good thing, but in some ways it masks the bigger issue. We are doing this because we are aging, and we want to maintain some control over our lives. We hope our decisions will make the tough years less tough.  

Anyone in this post 65 age bracket is living their own scenario. Some have been forced to retire because of serious health issues. Some have retired and then are quickly faced with catastrophic illness. Some don't want to retire and are forced to, and others would love to adopt the "retired" label, but economic issues prevent that. Some couples are at odds with one another, discovering opposing hopes and dreams for this time or are facing issues that have been buried for too long. Some are still figuring out what they want to do with their lives only to discover they have lived most of their life. 

The truth is I don't know--none of us knows--what this part of the journey will bring. We know where it ends, but we don't know how and what will happen along the way. In the meantime I intend to do the best I can, take deep breaths, reach further into my spiritual being, and give thanks for the privilege of viewing life as a woman in her 60's. 

An Invitation
What advice do you have about retirement? If you are retired, what have you learned? What has surprised you? Is there anything you wish you had done differently or sooner? Where has your strength come from? I would love to know.

Bonus: Here are links to a couple blogs I think you will find valuable. The first is a lovely view of the flow of the day, and the next is a deep exploration of a recent loss.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Growing Older and One's Purpose

A Stress-Free View

My ears perked up when I heard a story on NPR's Morning Edition yesterday morning, "People Who Feel They Have a Purpose in Life Live Longer."  The story cited a study by Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, which says having a purpose in life, defined by Hill as a "compass or lighthouse that provides an overarching aim and direction in day-to-day lives," may protect against the harmful effects of stress. My first thought was sure, that makes sense, as long as fulfilling the purpose doesn't cause more stress.

A common question when one retires these days seems to be "What are you going to do now?" My father, who is almost 91 and only fully retired for a few years, can't imagine someone intentionally retiring. He asks me with great concern, "What will Bruce do with himself?" Well, give the man a chance to find out! Besides, I wonder, is "doing" something the same thing as having a purpose? 

I know many people wait for retirement in order to do something --to spend more time working for a cause or to return to an interest that was set aside in favor of raising and providing for a family, such as painting or woodworking, or others have passports ready and are eager to visit all the places of their dreams. Many are eager for more time with grandchildren. Do those plans count as purpose? Is a passion the same as purpose? If I want to spend the day sitting in our garden reading a mystery, am I without purpose? Must I be purpose-full in order to live longer? 

Spirituality and Purpose
It seems to me the purpose of this stage of life is a spiritual one. 
Whatever we decide to do with whatever years we have in these elder years is almost beside the point.  The point is that there is purpose in aging itself. This is a time of assimilation of all the other stages of our life. This is a time to shed the layers of acquisition and ambition, of denial and delay, of illusion and image. This is a time to remember how God lives in us and we in God. 

This morning I started reading a book called A Season of Mystery, 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing A Happier Second Half of Life by Paula Huston. There is wisdom here.
    …old age is the most challenging stage of life we face. We
    must be able to tap into all the wonderment of childhood, 
    the hope of young love, the patience of parenthood, and
    the determination of middle age if we are not to be defeated
    by it.Yet it is calling us to be better people than we've ever
    been, while at the same time, it is diminishing our capacities
    for serious effort. p.xi

Huston acknowledges that our culture mythologizes the aging process. Look young. Feel young. Be young. It doesn't take long to discover that aging can be the worst of times. However, when we become realistic about the inevitability of aging for as long as we live, that is, and also realistic about the promise that we will die, it can also be the best of times. Huston talks about living an "admirable" life or "what we might become if only we had enough courage and faith," and that seems about as good a purpose as one can live. "It is the difficult, admirable life that calls out of us what is highest and best and most satisfying." 

I know there are areas of my life that need cleansing. Areas where I need to forget and clear the space; inner work waiting for my attention and intention. Along the way, I hope to still do some good for others, to use my gifts, and to contribute in some way, but I suspect doing will be a by-product of the being I am learning how to accept and understand. 

Risk of Death
Back to the report on NPR. The report said the study showed a "15 percent lower risk of death" in those who had purpose compared to those who said they were "more or less aimless." Oh, how we would like to believe that. The lines forming to proclaim one's purpose would go around the block, but you know and I know, we all know, there is a 100% risk of death. Purpose or no purpose, we will each die. Let's just be clear about that. 

What is the Purpose of This Time?

Now is the time to stop and reflect.
Now is the time to reach inward and touch our essence.
Now is the time to strip away the many faces of the roles we have  played, and recognize who we really are.
Now is the time to understand that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Now is the time to understand that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Now is the time to perceive our spiritual dimension--the strong, silent presence of our spirit.
Now is the time to reflect on our lives and recognize the strength of spirt that has been there.
Now is the time to acknowledge that our purpose on this earth is a spiritual one, and was determined before we came here. 
Now is the time to listen to the daily inner whisperings of our spirit.
Now is the time to find out who God is for us now.
Now is the time to mourn our past and embrace the promises of the future.
Now is the time to revisit our retirement dreams and make them come true.
Now is the time to look deep within ourselves and refocus our energies on the goals that are most important to us.
Now is the time to love and appreciate ourselves and others in a new light.
Now is the time to look back over our lives and appreciate the progress we have made.
Now is the time to make friends with our feelings about retirement and other issues in our lives.
Now is the time to search the corners of our lives for unfinished business, and finish it.
Now is the time to look forward to death with acceptance, knowing it is just another door in the progression of our existence.
Now is the time to enter and relish each moment we are given.
                 Creating a Spiritual Retirement, A Guide to the 
                 Unseen Possibilities in Our Lives
                 Molly Strode, pp. 169-170

An Invitation
When you think about "purpose" at this stage of your life, what comes to mind? I would love to know how you would complete the phrase, "Now is the time…" 

Bonus: Here a link to a list of The Best Books on Aging. Well worth checking out.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Making My Weekly Lists

My normal routine at the beginning of the week, usually sometime on Sunday, but maybe not till Monday morning, is to sit at my desk and plan my week. I start a fresh page in my notebook dedicated to lists and schedules and review what I had planned to do the previous week, but somehow didn't, my "leftovers" list, and what I need and want to do in the coming week, which I label "New This Week." Sometimes, as in the past week, I create a "writing" list and usually as the week goes on there is an "add-ons" list, based on things that come up during the week. Then there is the "Future" list, too, and that keeps growing, but last week, I am happy to say I accomplished a couple of those items, as well. Give me a gold star!

I know this is obsessive, and I know many, many of you function just great in your life without making written lists, but I come from  a long line of list makers, and it is what works for me. My challenge, no surprise, is to divert from the list and to not be hard on myself when I don't check off all the "must do's." I am working on that --or should I say "playing" with that. 

The Gift of Lists
What I know is that I often feel overwhelmed, but when I write down my list, even ridiculously long ones, life feels more manageable to me, and I am better able to determine priorities and even to let go--at least just a little bit. 

Recently I found a quote from Patrick Ross's blog, The Artist's Road, that helped me breathe a little easier. 
       I am feeling overwhelmed by too many things to do.
       But is it possible that I am in fact blessed with an 
       abundance of things I could be doing?

He went on to quote an entrepreneur coach, Molly Gordon.
        I no longer had the problem of not enough time and
        balancing my life with my work; I had the gift of 
        more than enough to do.

During the early weeks of healing after breaking my ankle this week, I had no To Do lists, and my calendar was quite empty. Which would I rather have? A totally empty calendar and a nonexistent list or a calendar with a variety of events and appointments and a list that stretches onto the next page? Well, obviously, some sort of balance would be nice, but I am grateful to once again have "the gift of more than enough to do." 

Lists and Choices
The more than enough to do comes with choices. Do I want to do this or that? How do I really want to spend my time? I remember a journal exercise I used to do quite frequently during the busy child raising, working full time years. I would make a list of what I had to do today and then a list of what I want to do today and  somehow by doing that I made room for something I really wanted to do without sacrificing what absolutely had to be accomplished. 

Now life is far more flexible for me, but it is still challenging to move my interests and desires into a prime position.  When I do, I am proud of myself, and I feel so much better. The question is what prevents me from doing that more often? Old tapes that keep on playing, I suspect. Tapes about self-worth, and productivity, and living up to expectations, my own and those of others.  

Earlier this month I set three intentions for myself -- to live stronger, more spontaneously, and with greater mindfulness. (See ), and as I write about my list-making propensity, I wonder how I am doing with my intentions. Well, I walk almost every morning and sometimes again later in the day again and do the prescribed exercises for flexibility and strength in my broken ankle. I have more energy than even a month ago, a sign I am rebuilding my strength. 

I hope I am improving my ability to be spontaneous and mindful, too, and I know that is more possible when I use my lists as a spiritual tool, instead of the list using me. When I remember, the list is an aid to keep me awake and aware and not a cage with its own lock, and I am better able to live fully. 

The weekly list can become a prayer list. I lift up the names of those to whom I need to send an email. When I pay bills because that is the next thing on the list, I give thanks for the ability to pay those bills and sit in a moment of silence for those who live in poverty. When I make plans with friends, I rejoice in the gift of friendship and the ability to laugh and play with others. Each item on a list can become an entry point to reflect on some aspect of the life you are living. 

Yes, I repeat, I am obsessive about making lists, but isn't it time to embrace our quirks and let them work on behalf of the person we were created to be? May it be so.

An Invitation 
Are you a list-maker or do you rebel against making lists? Either way, how can your habits deepen your spiritual practice? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: My Evolution as a Gardener

 The best way to get real enjoyment out of the garden is to put on a wide straw hat, hold a little trowel in one hand and a cool drink in the other, and tell the man where to dig.
                           Charles Barr

Charles Barr and I may be kindred spirits! Those of you who know me may laugh at the title for this post. "Evolution as a Gardener? You're not a gardener," I can hear many of you say, and you would be right or almost right. I don't need to be a gardener, for I am married to a master gardener, the head gardener in my life. However, over the years I have been the under gardener, although during our Madison years, I couldn't claim even that lowly title, for our gardening space was very confined, and even the head gardener didn't devote as much time and attention to gardening as in our other homes. Here, in our St Paul home, my gardening has been limited to suggestions and support so far, thanks to my broken ankle, but I aspire to return to my under gardener role. 

What does it mean to be an under gardener? Well, in my case, it means weeding and doing chores as assigned. I actually like to weed, finding it not that different from cleaning the house when it has been neglected and from editing, which I have always preferred to writing the first draft of a current writing project. Writing the first draft is similar to planting, and, frankly,  I am not so crazy about the digging process. Like Charles Barr, I am grateful to direct the digging! 

As a child, I don't ever recall doing anything in a garden other tha than picking strawberries in my grandmother's massive farm garden, eating more than went into the bowl, I am sure. We didn't have what I think of as gardens in any of my growing up homes. Dad mowed the lawn and tended shrubs and plantings close to the house, and we generally had hanging baskets in the front of the house and a big planter or two, but no gardens with flowers to cut or vegetables to harvest. 

My first real experience with gardening followed a trip with our school-aged children to the living museum of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts where I interacted with some of the knowledgeable re-enactment actors portraying the pilgrims who had settled there in the 17th century. I was intrigued by the herb garden and their use of herbs. When I asked what herbs they used in cooking, they were quite surprised, telling me herbs were for healing and other medicinal purposes. They stayed in character, faithful to their colonial time period. That encounter led me to a wonderful book by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead Herbs, Gardens, Decorations, and Recipes and a decision that I wanted to grow herbs. 

That was all the head gardener needed to hear, and he was off and running, creating an herb garden in our small city backyard, complete with white picket fence. I loved discovering ways to use herbs or "green things," as the kids called them, in my cooking and baking. My knowledge grew, along with my library of books about herbs, but I also enjoyed the hands-on tasks, weeding and watering and harvesting and learning the proper growing conditions, and even sometimes, planting.

When we moved to Sweetwater Farm in Ohio in 1997, the head gardener was in paradise and with each passing year the number of gardens to tend grew, including space devoted to my beloved herbs. The under gardener suddenly had to be more involved and not as selective about her choice of activities or when she wanted to do them. All of a sudden I had gardening clothes and often could be seen on hands and knees weeding and weeding and weeding and weeding, and I was proud I was adding to the beauty of our sanctuary. I needed lots of instruction from the head gardener. Is this a weed? No, he would patiently say, or would remind me that something in fact was a weed, and I shouldn't ignore it. 

Along with my weeding, I loved walking among the herbs with my large gathering basket, cutting lavender to dry and basil to make into pesto or lemon balm for a fresh pitcher of lemonade. I felt a satisfaction I am not sure I had felt before, and I admit I have missed that in recent years. I started thinking of myself not just as an under gardener, but as an herb gardener. 

I have a nice patch of herbs here in this house planted by the head gardener, but as time goes on I will be in charge of this plot. I have used some basil and oregano, and I am happy to see the lavender is doing well. Eventually, I will put my weeding hat on, but not quite yet. For now I am happy to acknowledge the desire is there and to know that a place in the garden awaits me. 

An Invitation
In what roles have you evolved?  Are there areas of your life where you are an "under gardener" and how does that feel? Are you satisfied with that role? What role have you needed to set aside in recent years and is it something you want to claim once again? I would love to know. 

My Pesto Recipe
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried (I like to use a mix of basil varieties.)
6 garlic cloves
1 cup shelled walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil (GOOD) olive oil mixed with 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper

Combine the basil, garlic, and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor; chop coarsely. With the motor still running, add the combined oils in a slow, steady stream. Shut the motor off and add the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste. Process briefly to combine. Scrape the pesto into a bowl and cover until ready to use.
To Freeze: Scrape into a plastic freezer bag, squeezing out the air and seal. Lay flat in your freezer. 

Makes approximately 2 cups. 

Lemon Tea Bread (from Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead)
Makes One Loaf

3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon balm
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon thyme
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Butter a 9 x 5 x 3-inch pan. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the milk with the chopped herbs and let steep until cool.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl, cream the butter and gradually beat in the sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the lemon zest. Add the flour mixture alternately with the herbed milk. Mix until the batter is just blended.

Put the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Remove from the pan onto a wire rack that is set over a sheet of wax paper. Pour lemon glaze over the still-hot bread. Decorate with a few sprigs of lemon thyme. 

Lemon Glaze
Juice of 2 lemons
Confectioners' sugar

Put the lemon juice in a bowl and add the sugar, stirring until a thick but still pourable paste forms. Pour the glaze over the hot bread. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Creating a Place of Sanctuary

Now that our side garden, our Cotswold garden, (see my post Evolution of a Garden ) is a reality, although one that will continue to evolve and develop, I have been thinking about how that garden will be used, the function of that space. The dimensions of the space are not large, eliminating it as a party or gathering space. A third chair could be added, maybe a fourth, when needed, but this garden feels more private, a place for one or two, a place where Spirit awaits one's presence. A place where one moves from the outside world to the inner world. A place where nature encourages a return to stillness.  

This garden feel like a sanctuary. 

               In the garden more grows than the garden.
                                        Spanish Proverb

This morning before going on my walk, which in its own way, is a form of sanctuary, I watered the pots of flowers.  I opened the back gate and walked towards the front of the Cotswold garden, stopping to water the large pots there as I made my way towards the entrance to the garden. With those few steps, I felt myself open to the day. I paused and took three deep cleansing breaths and gave thanks for the new day. 

Later, when I returned from my walk on this fresh and glorious day, I re-entered the Cotswold garden to sit quietly and check in with myself. How can I be more present and live as the person I was created to be? What is needed from me today so my life and all other life is served well? How can I enhance my own healing and the healing of others today? What do I need to lift up? Answers to these ongoing questions in my life did not come soaring in through the garden entrance, just because I was sitting in stillness, hands opened to receive, but instead I knew what was important right then was asking them, being there. 

I also knew as I sat there I added to the Spirit of that place. When you sit with me there, you will add to the Spirit of that place.  Sitting there, being in that place can become a spiritual practice, for this is a place of sanctuary. 

The Meaning of Sanctuary
Finding sanctuary is not about isolating oneself or escaping from what most needs to be confronted or most needs response or acceptance. Finding sanctuary is not about denying one's life or hiding out, but instead in sanctuary one clears space within in order to reconnect,  whether it is with nature, with others, with oneself, with Spirit. Creating sanctuary and spending time there is about embracing your own sacred being, along with all that is sacred in the universe. Sanctuary times restore the soul rather than erase all that causes unrest. If you are too full, sanctuary time can let some of the air out from the balloon about to burst. If you are running on empty, sanctuary time can enrich and refresh you. Sanctuary time welcomes you, whatever the need. 

Lorraine Anderson in the book of women's prose and poetry she edited, Sisters of the Earth, encourages the art of being, "making a conscious choice to slow down to seed time or rock time, to still the clamoring ego, to set aside plans and busyness, and simply to be present in my body, to offer myself up." That is sanctuary time.

Places of Sanctuary
One obvious place to go for sanctuary is a garden. 
       When you create a garden with deep intent, you are
       creating a sacred place in which, like the Divine, 
       you can pour out your love, creativity and compassion.
       You are, in a sense, creating a small sanctuary in which
       your soul and the soul of the world may dwell. This 
       sanctuary garden become your own creation story to 
       nurture within the body of the Earth--your form of 
       Eden. And, as this paradise grows outside, so it grows
       as well within your heart. 
                              The Sanctuary Garden, Creating a Place
                              of Refuge in Your Yard or Garden
                              Christopher Forrest McDowell and Tricia
                              Clark-McDowell, p. 20

I didn't know my husband was creating a sanctuary garden when I suggested we use the side yard as a kind of porch or additional living space, but that is what has happened, and I am so grateful. I also know that gardening is a sacred activity for him, a way he restores and finds sanctuary, and I am grateful for that, as well. 

Sanctuary, however, can be any place. According to Thomas Moore in his classic, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, sanctuary is found in a space "where eternity is more evident than time and where the ritual arrangement of life is more important than the business of surviving and making progress." p. 97. That space may be the chair in your living room where you meditate or pray every morning before the rush of the day begins. That space may be standing outside a child's door after the final kiss and hug goodnight or at your front door as you turn out the light. Perhaps it is the daily walk with your partner, holding hands and sharing reflections on the day or perhaps it is a view you are drawn to in your environment.

If a garden does symbolize sanctuary to you, however, know that size does not matter. Even a few potted plants or fresh flowers on your breakfast table or on your desk can be your sanctuary garden. 

You know where you sense sanctuary and where you return when sanctuary calls you. May today be a day when you find sanctuary.

An Invitation
What is the role of sanctuary in your life? Where is your place of sanctuary and what happens when you are there? How do you know when you need sanctuary and how do you respond? I would love to know. 

A Few Resources
Along with the book mentioned above, The Sanctuary Garden, I suggest the following:
* Home for the Soul, A Guide for Dwelling with Spirit and Imagination by Anthony Lawlor
* Gardening by Heart, The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Garden by Joyce McGreevy
* A Mystic Garden, Working with Soil, Attending to Soul by Gunilla Norris
* Tending the Earth, Mending the Spirit, The Healing Gifts of Gardening by Connie Goldman and Richard Mahler
* Soul Gardening, Cultivating the Good Life by Terry Hershey

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: The Evolution of a Garden

It all started with a yearning. I love this house, but one of our requirements when we were looking for a house was the existence of a front porch. This house, however, does not have the desired front porch, nor does it have several other "must have's," such as central air conditioning, a fireplace, and a double garage. Oh well, compromise is key when looking for a house, and this house fits the bill in many other ways, especially proximity to our grandkids. 

Back to the front porch. I love front porches, and in many ways the front porch at our home in Madison was my favorite feature in that house. We ate meals there, entertained there, napped, read, and I plugged in my laptop and wrote many blog posts there. The porch was spacious and had just enough privacy so people walking by often didn't notice we were there. Many of the homes in our "new urbanism" neighborhood have gracious front porches, but not many residents seemed to use and enjoy that space as we did. 

The home in St Paul where we raised our children all those years ago was built in 1906 and was also in a neighborhood where most of the homes had wide front porches. In those homes porches became additional living space for both private and public gatherings. In the more formal 19th century and early years of the 20th century, a front porch "served as a kind of holding station when unannounced visitors came to call." (Porch Presence, Interior Design for the Exterior Room by Sally Fennell Robbins, p. 17) At that time in our history front porches also represented a break from the constraints of the Victorian era with its dark, dimly lit rooms. (p.17)

Living there, we learned front porch etiquette. If someone walking by greeted you, you, of course, greeted them, too. If you remained in your comfortable wicker chair with your book on your lap, the stroller continued passing by, but if you rose from your seat and leaned over the railing and stood by the steps, that was a sign you were ready to engage in more conversation, and might even extend an invitation to join you on the porch. It was all very genteel! 

This house does not have a front porch, and I miss it. It does have a front stoop and when I was able to move around a bit more as my ankle was healing and when the weather became warmer, I moved a chair on the stoop and sat and read and watched the neighborhood. That was not a permanent or even very satisfactory solution to the porch issue, for when not in use, the chair needed to be folded and set aside to make the front door accessible.  However, that became Step One in the evolution of a garden.

Step Two: The front yard does have a lovely tree, providing shade and a setting for a couple chairs and a small table. Voila! Outdoor living space. I did sit there on occasion, but frankly, I felt a bit too exposed for my introverted nature. 

Step Three: On my walks in the neighborhood I found myself coveting other people's front porches, wondering if I could rent space occasionally. I would bring the lemonade, and they wouldn't have to entertain me. They would hardly know I was there as I sat quietly and read my book. And then inspiration struck in the form of an inviting side courtyard. I started noticing other examples in the neighborhood where a side yard had become an inviting and yet private space. Could we do that? We had a narrow side yard lined on the neighbor's side with arborvitae and at the back was our fence and a gate to the back yard. With the house as the third side, we had three "walls" already in place, and it was just big enough for a couple chairs and a small table. 

Step Four: What would the master gardener in our house, my husband Bruce, think of this idea? I cunningly mentioned the house a block away that had so creatively used its side yard, making it a real feature of the house. After steering him past the house on one of our walks, he, too, became enthusiastic about doing something similar for our house. Off we went on field trips to various nurseries looking at structures to create an entrance to this garden. Most of the arbors we saw were too big or too flimsy or too expensive or just not right, but then one gorgeous Saturday we went on a day trip down the Great River Road on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi. 

At one time we owned a one-room schoolhouse built in the 1860's in that area. It was our getaway, until we moved to Ohio in the 1990's and sold it, but we have never quite let go of an attachment to that area. After lunch at a favorite spot, Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, we stopped at another favorite place, Stockholm Gardens While Bruce was getting reacquainted with the owner, I found a place to sit and rest my slightly throbbing ankle. And what did I see? The perfect arbor. Wrought iron painted a vintage green with lots of natural patina. Not too many curlicues, a rising arch, and just the right size. The price was even right. When I could get Bruce's attention, he agreed. This was it!!!

Step 5: Here's where Bruce's fun really began, for moving in the chairs and setting up the arbor at just the right spot only set the stage for digging up a small space leading to the arbor and planting with daisies and other perennials. And then there is all the space close to the house and making that even more pleasing with additional plantings and then moving two planters and a fountain and other garden "junk," as he calls the ornaments he enjoys collecting. I remembered a lantern in the basement I thought would be a nice welcoming touch for the arbor, and Bruce thought a mirror hanging on the gate would make the space seem larger. We just happened to have a vintage mirror gathering dust under a bed. All of a sudden our 1920's bungalow has an additional room, our St Paul version of a Cotswold garden. This is a space that balances privacy, but also opens us to interaction with our neighbors. I am delighted. 

Steps 6, 7, 8……This cottage side garden will continue to evolve. I am not sure the chairs and table are the right ones, and isn't it too bad that I sold the ceramic garden seats/tables we had on our deck in Madison? Bruce talks about window boxes on the side windows and, of course, more plants and flowers will be added, and then there is the issue of a "floor." 

In the meantime, this space is a symbol of creative collaboration, where yearning and inspiration cooperated to create something new, something vibrant and pleasing. True, it is not a front porch, but instead of being stuck in what was, we decided to move to the Cotswolds, and who knows what the time spent there will open for us. 

An Invitation
When has a yearning fed by inspiration led to something new in your life? With whom do you have a creative collaboration and how does that work? When you are inspired, how does that happen, and what is the springboard of inspiration for you? I would love to know. 

Stay tuned for additional posts about gardening--gardening as spiritual practice and gardens as sacred space. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Happy New Year!

Ready to party!
Nope, the title is not a mistake. Happy New Year! Recently, a friend, wrote me that she has decided July is the start of a new year for her. Although she is grieving the death of her father and dealing with ongoing extended family issues, she has declared July is the beginning of a new year for her. The grief will not disappear nor will the family dynamics magically change, but she has remembered her love of "fresh starts" and is  choosing to live with a new perspective. After all, July is the beginning of the second half of the year, so bravo -- and Happy New Year!

           Behold! I am making all things new.
                             Revelations 21:5

What about you? What areas of your life need renewal, a fresh start? Are there aspects of yourself that need to be reclaimed? Do you feel the need for an overhaul or do you need to lighten up in some way? Sue Patton Thoele refers to the process of renewal as "re-greening the arid places," and how perfect that seems during the summer months when our eyes are bombarded with all things green. Renewal, it seems to me, is always possible, even if it doesn't seem probable.

Another friend said she is looking at the month of July as a time to  make her life "simpler, easier, and richer." Her intentions made me think about what renewing qualities I would like to bring into my own life right now. Here's what I am trying to bring into this new year:

Even though my ankle has healed well, this feels like a critical time to intentionally rebuild my strength and stamina. I need to pay attention to what my body most needs, whether it is more exercise or more rest and better eating habits. A major challenge for this sedentary person! At the same time, I want to be more open to invitations and possibilities and to look for them. I choose to be spontaneous.  Be awake, I tell myself. Pay attention. Use the spiritual tools that serve me well, reminding me to be mindful. What does this moment need and ask of me? How is God moving in my life right now and what deeper, richer connections can I make? 

         God darts by; sometimes I notice.
                      Lauren F. Winner

My intention as I start my new year in this month of July is to ask myself moment to moment if what I am doing fulfills my desire for renewal. May it be so. 

An Invitation
What needs to be renewed in your life right now? What can't wait till the next new year? I would love to know.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Smile

Practicing My Smile! 
Once upon a time a dear friend and I had a conversation about the expressions we wear in the world. We had both noticed that we often look as if we are angry or frustrated or bored or unapproachable. We realized that we scowl more than we smile, even though our feelings in the moment in no way match the look we present to the world. Since that revealing conversation, I have been more aware of looking pleasant, even when I am waiting in a long line or when my ankle hurts from walking just a bit too far. I admit I don't always live up to this personal goal, but I am working on it, and I recently I have received some help along the way. 

Smiling in The Morning
My first reminder comes from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who makes me smile just thinking about him and the abundance of wisdom he shares with the world. On my bedside table right now is a little book called Present Moment, Wonderful Moment, Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living. This book highlights everyday, ordinary activities like washing your hands and turning on the computer with simple verses called gathas and a reflection on the specific verse. 

The first verse is about waking up.
        Waking up this morning I smile.
        Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
        I vow to live fully in each moment
        and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion. 

The reflection about this verse says, "Your smile affirms your awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. How many days slip by in forgetfulness? What are you doing with your life? Look deeply, and smile. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind. " (p. 7)

I smile at the idea that a smile is a sign of my determination to live in peace and joy, for often I think the expression on my face is one of determination. I am determined to accomplish the task I have set out to do and to do it efficiently and successfully. I am determined to keep moving on to the next thing without interruption or delay. What a wonderful concept that by smiling I announce my determination to live in peace and joy and to cultivate an awakened mind.  I don't have an awakened mind, however, and therefore, I need to practice smiling. The spiritual practice of smiling! 

Practicing an Inner Smile
My second lesson in smiling comes from another book, Roaming Free Inside the Cage, A Daoist Approach to the Enneagram and Spiritual Transformation by William M. Schafer, Ph.D., which introduced me to the Daoist meditation practice called the Inner Smile. Schafer says the Inner Smile is a "wonderful antidote to the Inner Frown." My Inner Frown often manifests as an Outer Frown, but not too surprisingly, the Inner Smile becomes an Outer Smile, and I feel the peace and joy I say I want to create and live. 

Here's how to do it:
      Put your fingers to the corners of your mouth and rub them
      outward along the smile line. Feel your face soften.
      Gently place the tip of your tongue to the roof of your
      mouth, just behind your upper front teeth. Do it 
      gently, don't push. Rub your fingers along the smile
      lines some more. Feel what happens inside your face. 
      Can you feel your mouth soften? Now let the softness
      fall from your mouth down inside your chest. You can
      let the smile go right to your heart. Take a full breath.
      Feel the softness…Draw the next breath all the way down
      into the belly, under your solar plexus. Keep smiling.
      Let yourself feel how present, joyful, and aware you
      are this very moment. p. 46. 

It works; it really does, and the inner smile spreads, becoming an outer smile. Try it. What's the worst that can happen? 

An Invitation
How do you look to the world? Is that the way you want the world to see you? What happens when you are intentional about smiling? I would love to know. 


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Freedom

How do you plan to spend the 4th of July this year? Since this year the 4th is on a Friday, I imagine many will be celebrating the entire weekend with picnics, and attendance at fireworks and parades and maybe outdoor concerts featuring patriotic music. Along with participating in the fun and family times, enjoying good food and drink, and playing under both the sun and the stars, I hope you will lift a prayer for the gift of living in this country and for the ongoing efforts to fulfill the hopes and dreams of our founders. 

We are a nation still evolving, still discovering who we are and who we are meant to be, and because of the freedoms we have declared for ourselves, our differences sometimes seem more visible and stronger than our similarities. Sometimes that is painful,  and sometimes we forget we are a country that holds freedom as its utmost value. 

I like what the historian Barbara Tuchman said in an essay "On Our Birthday--America as Idea," 
       The United States is a nation consciously conceived, 
       not one that evolved slowly out of an ancient past. It
       was a planned idea of democracy, of liberty, of conscience,
       and pursuit of happiness. It was the promise of equality
       of opportunity and individual freedom within a just social
       order, as opposed to the restrictions and repressions of 
       the Old World.

No, we haven't lived up to our ideals, but our ongoing assumption is that we will continue to try. We will continue to bump against each other's version of the truth, and we will continue to have major growing pains, but that is almost the point. We know we are allowed to do that. We must do that. 

I just started reading a little book by Kent Nerburn called Calm Surrender, Walking the Path of Forgiveness. I didn't expect this book to make me think about life as an American, but I think as a nation we are not so good at forgiving ourselves for not living up to our own expectations. This is a huge simplification, I know, but we seem quite good at forgiving others. Think about the rebuilding of Germany, for example, after WWII. 

The first chapter in this book is called "More than I Had Hoped, Less Than I Had Dreamed," and while he is talking about our individual strengths and weaknesses, I think there is relevance for our lives as citizens, as these United States. 
       We will never be as good or worthy as we wish to be.
       We will be human --- too human --- and we will fall short
       of our hopes for ourselves over and over again. If we can
       forgive ourselves for our failures --- not seven times, but 
       seventy times seven --- we can forgive others for their
       failures. We know that we are all humans, struggling
       by the lights we have toward our vision of good…Though 
       I am not what I thought I should be, I am more than I
       might ever had hoped. As I survey the landscape of my 
       life, I am overcome with a sense of wonder.
                                                  pp 36-37  

Yes, I am overcome with a sense of wonder--and gratitude that we even have an Independence Day. On this precious holiday, I pray we each rejoice in not only what we have and who we are, but more in what we have yet to become. 

A Bonus
What would the 4th of July be without good food. Here's my version of strawberry shortcake, based on my Grandma Hansen's recipe. (I added the herbs or "green things," as my kids call them. 

Shortcake, with emphasis on CAKE
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 butter
1/2 cup sugar
About 3/4 cup milk
Minced fresh herbs such as mint or lemon balm or lavender
1 well-beaten egg

Heat milk to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in minced herbs. Cover and steep about 10 minutes. Uncover and let cool. When cool, add well-beaten egg. Add more milk to make 1 cup if needed.
Mix together dry ingredients and add liquid ingredients to the dry. 
Grease a 9x9 or 9x13 pan and bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream.

An Invitation
What relevance does the phrase "More Than I Had Hoped, Less Than I Had Dreamed" have for you personally and as a citizen? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Midnight Musings

Yes, another night when I had trouble sleeping, but instead of fighting it, I decided to lean into it, respect the quiet, still moments as bonus time for reflection.

After all, I don't want to waste a minute, not one minute, but wasting time means something different than it used to mean. I am not as concerned about being productive, about doing, about achieving, about fulfilling hopes and dreams, about striving. None of that is wrong. I don't want to imply that, for those years of high activity and productivity were good years.

New Definitions of Wasted Time
Not wasting time now, however, has more to do with savoring time. It means slowing down, in order to appreciate every moment,  discerning the flavor and taste and nuance of every moment, and being in time, rather than racing through time because there is so much to do. Again, I hasten to add that this is in no way a criticism of or regret about those years, the way I lived them or the way I see our children squeezing the potential from every day. We need their energy and motivation and passion. 

This is a time of different choices. Not wasting time is actually more similar to how I used to think about wasting time or perhaps more accurately, how I viewed "down time." Now "down time," is not a reward, but part of the rhythm of my day: sitting quietly reading, napping, observing life from our windows, such as the little girl who is allowed to come on her small bike only as far as our house and the two girls across the street learning how to rollerblade. I take a deep cleansing breath and feel the breeze coming in the windows or without thought drive the long way home along Minnehaha Parkway after visiting my Dad or spontaneously watch a DVD with a friend and then decide to watch another one just because we can. I relish a leisurely lunch with my sister, and I eagerly await the arrival of my husband after his 4-day work week in Madison. Each moment is a treasure. 

I love having a much smaller home to tend now, and I even have had my hair cut short again, not wanting to spend time washing and blow drying and fixing and fussing with it. That is the kind of wasting time I no longer want to do. 

Ongoing Issues with Time
Now here's the dilemma. I am not completely angst free about time, this time in my life, by any means. The majority of my time in recent months has been devoted to healing my broken ankle, and that will be ongoing for some time, but isn't it time to start using my time in additional ways? For example, I love writing these twice-weekly blog posts and knowing my blog is read and valued by many, but I have not done much to spread the word and increase my audience. Shouldn't I invest in making that happen? 

I love to write and have so many ideas stored or started. Shouldn't I be in my sweet garret more being the writer I think I am? I love meeting with people who are exploring their spirituality and want to intentionally deepen their relationship with God. Shouldn't I actively pursue ways to grow my work as a spiritual director? I love facilitating groups and have a number of ideas about groups I would like to form--a writing group, a group for women exploring life in retirement, a spirituality group for women. Shouldn't I take steps to make these groups a reality?

I think the answer is "yes" to all of the above, but I am more willing to let the steps unfold than to make a specific timeline. I don't have a bucket list, but I do have hopes about living as the person I was created to be. Instead of multi-tasking--how many things can I do at once--my intention is to live fully one moment, one wasted moment, at a time. 

Quiet Middle of the Night Time
When I was younger and had sleepless nights, I was awake because I was worried or anxious or was sorting through or planning how to do everything on my list the next day. Now often when I can't sleep, I am full and I need to empty, to clear the space. I need to meditate to soften the edges of the day, as good as it was, to let it live and not be held too tightly, to pray for all those who are currently touching my heard and mind. 

Being awake in the middle of the night may be the most precious form of wasting time. Instead of resenting the interrupted sleep, can I embrace that time, especially since I no longer have as many scheduled events during the day and don't have to be ready for as much action and involvement. Can I savor the quiet of house and street and allow myself to absorb that quiet myself? Can I open to  those unplanned moments until I return to bed and find further rest? May it be so. 

An Invitation
How do you "waste" time? Have your thoughts about time and how you use time changed over the years? Do you have sleepless nights? If so, what is your attitude about them? I would love to know.