Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Maze: Tuesday's Reflection

On a recent visit to the University of Minnesota Arboretum our
family walked the maze with its high walls of shrubs. Bruce and I headed to the overlook as everyone else made their way along the paths. We heard them laughing and calling to each other and once in awhile saw the top of someone's head or Pete's arms thrust up over his head. Such fun!

After making it through the maze, Pete and his Dad re-entered, thinking they knew exactly the right way to go. Everyone else joined us on the observation deck. I had watched the progress of a couple young adults, who more than once were one turn away from the exit, but retreated, thinking they were at a deadend. I motioned to them to keep on going, and as I did so, my daughter said to me, "Some people want to find their own way."

Ouch! When a comment stings, it is usually because what is said is absolutely right.  

How often I want to rescue and to offer the benefit of my experience, including lessons learned from going the wrong direction.  How often I want to show the way or what I think is the way, but in a maze, as in life, there is usually more than one way. 

How different it would have been if the people in the maze had looked up and said, "Help! How do I get out of here?" But even then, instead of saying "Turn right at the corner," the best response may be to say, "You can do it. You can find your way. Just keep going." 

When our son Geof was 4 or so, we sometimes took long walks in our neighborhood. After walking for some time and making a number of turns, I said to him, "Now get us home." Sometimes he hesitated when we came to a new intersection, but he figured it out without my help, and we always got home. True, there may have been a shorter or more direct route, but we made it home. 

My challenge, and perhaps yours, too, is knowing when to offer help and when to support others as they find their own way. 

                      Our call is to stay in Amaze.
                                             Mark Nepo

An Invitation
When have you wanted to help, but refrained from doing so, knowing not helping was the better choice? I would love to know. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Evening Contentment:Thursday's Reflection

You know the feeling. The feeling of utter peace and contentment. 
Wind chimes in our Backyard

It's not that everything is right in the world--the BIG world or even your own personal world. We each have our list of worries and concerns, major and minor, but for a moment peace and contentment washes over like shallow creek water over rocks. 

That's how I felt Sunday night when my book and I crawled into bed. 

Bruce was already asleep next to me. He was tired, but happy, from attending his 50th high school reunion in Rochester. Ralph, our grand-dog, who is spending the week with us while his family is on vacation, was snoring steadily on the floor next to the bed. I reminded myself to be mindful of his presence when I got up in the middle of the night. 

The windows were open, thanks to lower temperatures. The curtains lifted and swayed in a breeze one degree above gentle. Oh, how loving that breeze felt as it grazed my body. The touch of angel wings. 

I closed my eyes, lightly, not tightly, and listened to the outside chorus--cicadas, crickets, and wind chimes--not your normal orchestra, but in harmony with each other. No siren dissonance.

I had spent much of the afternoon in the kitchen fixing dinner for my father --my mother's meatloaf, roasted potatoes, corn and peach and mint salad, and apple pie--which we took to him in the evening to celebrate his 93rd birthday. While chopping,  measuring and mixing, I listened to my Indigo Girls station on Pandora, even singing with them occasionally. Those sounds continued to dance within me, as did the events of the previous days.

A Madison friend visited this weekend, and we filled the days with wide and deep conversation, good food, and even some St Paul exploration, touring one of the historic homes and then taking a guided walking tour on St Paul's most memorable street, Summit Avenue. Good times, and I felt more connected not only to her, but also to our years in Madison. 

I knew I should turn off the light, for the week ahead would be full, but for the moment I didn't allow the lists, the schedule to come to bed with me. Instead, I returned to the book I am currently reading, The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, which much to my surprise I am enjoying, in spite of it being about the Plague in England in the 1660's. A good book always adds to a feeling of peace and contentment. 

And when I needed to reread sentences more than once, I knew it was time to turn off the light and say my last prayers of the day and rest in peace and contentment. 

                      Dusk slips its easy cover over the day
                      And quietly invites life to slow down.
                      Darkness slowly gathers the sunlight
                      And tucks it away smoothly until dawn.
                      Birds bend their heads under soft wings
                      And day's bright energy bows to stillness.
                      Such is your gentle approach with us.
                      At certain times you move us into quiet
                      That includes darkness in place of light.
                       Let us not fear when the night comes upon us.
                                                 Joyce Rupp
                                                 Fragments of Your Ancient Name 

An Invitation
What are some moments when you have experienced total peace and contentment? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tearing Down: Tuesday's Reflection

These signs are scattered throughout our neighborhood of homes built primarily in the 20's and 30's. Some of those homes have not been well tended and need lots of care. Many are small and not conducive to the ways families live their lives today. But many more, if not most, continue to offer satisfying shelter for the owners who have chosen to live in this pleasant urban neighborhood. 

The problem comes when a house is sold to a developer or builder who decides to tear down the existing structure and build a new home. In most cases those new homes do not fit well into the neighborhood. They dwarf the homes on either side. They are usually the most expensive house on the block, but not the most attractive, at least to those of us who love the eclectic cottage, bungalow, and Tudor styles of the current home. Seeing these new homes pop up is jarring and frankly, upsetting, especially when we like things the way they are and have always been.

There are arguments to be made for both sides of the issue, and one hopes there can be compromises and collaboration along the way, but this morning as I walked, I wondered about a "personal tear down."

What needs to be torn down within myself? And once the lot, my ground of being, is cleared, what needs to be rebuilt? Do I need to start completely over--what a challenge that would be at age 68--or are there are parts of who I am that could stand renovation and remodeling?

What have I not tended to over the years? What kinds of updates make the most sense and would add value to who I am, but still maintain my essence? What do I need to do to add to my health and wellbeing, but also to the lives of those around me?

These are the kinds of questions that present themselves as we enter the third chapter of our lives? How is it we most want to live now and what is the legacy we want to leave? 

Writer/philosopher Mark Nepo challenges us to a second time of discovery. I like the idea that more inner discovery awaits me, and my suspicion is that I will discover areas in need of transformation, but also parts of myself that are in good life-enhancing shape and are worth preserving. 

One more thought: Over the weekend a friend and I went on a guided walking tour of Summit Avenue in St Paul, which is the longest street of Victorian homes in the United States. Such fabulous homes, and we enjoyed learning about the history of many of those homes, including the largest home (36,000 square feet) in Minnesota, the J. J. Hill House. Across the street from this historical home is the St Paul Cathedral, a daunting European style cathedral. Hill was approached by the archbishop to donate funding for the construction of the cathedral, but Hill didn't want such a massive structure across the street from his home, and he didn't contribute to the cause. Money was found, however, and five homes were torn down to clear the space for the cathedral. All this occurred in the early 1900's. Not even the powerful and rich railroad magnate James J. Hill could prevent the teardowns! I don't know who was on the right side of that argument, but I am certainly in awe every time I pass both the cathedral and the Hill House.

This story, as well as the ongoing evolution of my own neighborhood, reminds me to be mindful of what needs preservation and what needs overhaul in my own life.

An invitation
What about you? Are you doing any major remodeling in your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Growing Old: Thursday's Reflection

My mother, grandmother, and me (about 6)
I think I have always imagined myself as old. I have felt old before my time. 

I like to think of myself as the holder of some wisdom, of being a compassionate crone, a "been there, done that" light-hearted, but knowing woman of a certain age. 

Perhaps that is why I have never minded the wrinkles, the grey, the age spots, even the minor aches I've experienced. I welcome the position of elder. The matriarch. 

One of My Role Models
Many decades ago, when I was 11 or 12, I remember being scolded by my mother for coming home later than I was suppose to from ice skating on a weekend afternoon. My Grandma Hansen, my mother's mother, was visiting, and she said to my mother, "Betty Anne, how often does Nancy do anything wrong? Let her be." I had never known my grandmother to intervene, and I was surprised by and grateful for her advocacy. 

My Grandma Hansen
My mother shrugged, the kind of daughter to mother shrug that can be resurrected easily from a place thought buried and dead. I received no punishment, no privileges removed. The matter was never discussed again, but I remember thinking that I could be that woman someday: a woman whose age and life-experience and love could cause a change of heart--or if not, heart, at least action. 

Now I am a grandmother and growing into what the privileges of my age could be. I want to be an advocate for my grandchildren, too. And beyond that I hope I can be viewed still as valid and valued for the life lived. I am grateful for the role models of both my grandmothers.

Another Role Model
When I worked at Luther Seminary, I often scanned the chapel or dining room for the wife of a former seminary president. She was easy to spot, thanks to her silver, wispy bun. She was thin, perfect for the Chanel-like suits she wore no matter the weather or the occasion -- the essence of classic elegance. She walked slowly, but firmly and talked the same way. For some unbelievable reason she knew and remembered my name and when she saw me, she would take my arm and we would walk towards her destination. 

I would try to ask her questions, but somehow she always turned them around so I was talking about myself or my work. She laughed softly, patted my hand and before parting --on her own time-- she would give me a thought to ponder, a word of encouragement a "God Bless." 

I want to be her. In my own way, of course. I'll never be thin. I'll never let my hair grow long again, and I own no Chanel-like suits to carry me into the next decades. But I hope I can be a soft curtain of inspiration for someone. I hope I can wear the passing of time, the loss of loves, the removal of roles and the joy in the present moment just as well. 

Ah yes, it is good to be growing old. 

An Invitation
What are your hopes as you grow old? Who were your role models? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Chairs in the Neighborhood: Tuesday's Reflection

This morning as I walked in the neighborhood, I noticed the number of homes who have chairs in their front yards. 

They looked lonely to me in the early morning hour. I saw no one sitting, reading the paper, having a cup of coffee. I imagined the homeowners rushing to get to work, dropping kids off at daycare or perhaps they were out for a morning walk, too. Maybe, like my husband, they were in the backyard watering the garden. 

On the other hand the empty chairs looked hospitable to me and full of possibility. I imagined neighbors gathering in the evening sharing their days, chatting while children rode bikes on the sidewalk or made new chalk designs on the sidewalk. Perhaps a bottle of wine would be opened and an invitation extended to the newest resident on the block. It is good to think about the community these chairs can offer. 

An Invitation
If you have a chairs in your front yard, consider inviting someone to join you for conversation. If you don't have chairs in your front yard, consider adding two or three or more. How could that change the quality of your day to day life? I would love to know. Oh, and if you don't have a front yard, how else could you extend hospitality? 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Celebrate! Thursday's Reflection

Pardon my self-indulgence, but I am in a celebratory mode. This 
weekend our family gathers to celebrate our wedding anniversaries. 
              Bruce and I celebrate our 45th.


                   Kate and Mike celebrate
                  their 20th. 

            Geof and Cricket celebrate their 

I have filled a basket with pictures from these special days. The memories come flooding back, and I hope, along with raising a glass to one another in honor of the love that has been, is now and we hope will live on forevermore, that we will share stories of those special days.

How important it is to celebrate. Not just wedding anniversaries, for those of us whose lives have been offered that blessing, but birthdays and graduations and work successes. And retirement, whether it is chosen or mandated. And the end of cancer treatment or release from the hospital. Don't forget to celebrate the small things like waking up each morning refreshed and enjoying the first corn of the cob of the season or welcoming a friend to your front door. 

Not every celebration requires champagne or a cake. All that is really needed is an open heart and an awareness of the many gifts in our lives. 

John O-Donohue reminds us in his blessing "For Celebration,"

                   Now is the time to free the heart,
                   Let all intentions and worries stop,
                   Free the joy inside the self,
                   Awaken to the wonder of your life.

He adds, "See the gifts the years have given."


An Invitation
What can you celebrate today? I would love to know.



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Inner Voice: Tuesday's Reflection

This summer I have added five chapters to all the other chapters 
My Writing Notebooks
 already written for the spiritual memoir I am writing, and I hope to write two or three more this month. I am pleased with the accumulation of words and pages, but I am also aware I have much more to do to meet my goal of finishing the first draft by the end of this year. Periodically, however, I question why I am spending so much time pursuing this goal.

In fact, the other day as I pulled a book off my shelves, looking for a quote I knew would fit the material I was currently writing, I felt the air in my garret change. I stopped and stood very still. I waited, but for what I didn't know. In the quiet I sensed a voice saying, "Nancy, how will you feel if your book is never published?"

The question is not theoretical, for the publishing business in all its mysterious ways is vague at best and seems designed to shake loose all one's self-doubts. Clearly, however, the question coming from my inner voice, my spiritual radar, is not about the publishing process. 

The question is about my call to write. This is not the first time I have been nudged to answer this question, and I recognize I will be asked to answer this question again and again.

"Nancy, is this still what you are suppose to do? How will you feel if your book is not published, if no one ever holds a book with your name on the cover in their hands?"

Ok, voice, I will spend time with you. I put down the book I was holding. I closed my laptop. I set aside pen and paper. I moved into centering prayer, quieting myself, resting in God, allowing paragraphs, sentences, words to float away. I attempted to rest in my own being without expectation of answers. I rested.

Later, when I prepared our evening meal, chopping green beans, washing lettuce, I felt The Voice once again. Yes, not just heard the voice, but felt its presence and this time instead of prodding with questions, I received answers. Affirmations. Direction.
      "Nancy, listen carefully and repeat after me: 
            I write because in the writing I change.
            I write because in the writing I uncover whom I was created to be.
            I write because through the writing I live and move in the world more authentically.
            I write because in the writing I meet God.
            I write because the writing, published or not, read or not, creates change in the world.
             I write because when I write, I respond in a more healing, whole way to all I meet, even those whose eyes I meet for an unrecognizable moment. 
             I write because I have to. 
Yes, of course, I hope my book will be published eventually, and I promise to do all I can to make that happen and still be true to what I've written, but no matter what, I will write. 

An Invitation
This is the most important part of this post, for this post is not just about me. In fact, it isn't really about me at all. It is about you. 
What is your inner voice asking you, inviting you to do? What is your inner voice insisting you do? And how are you responding? I would love to know. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Coveting Time: Thursday's Reflection

My Father and Two of My Aunts
I think about time a lot. In fact, I covet time. How best to use my time. How not to waste time. What can I do to gain more time? How can I use my time more efficiently? Will I have time to do this or that? How much time will it take me to get there and will I be on time? (I really dislike being late.)

More and more I am aware of time running out--of having more sand in the bottom of my life's hourglass than at the top and frankly, what remains in the top seems to be draining into the bottom faster and faster. 

For the most part I am a productive person, and I pack quite a bit into a day, a week. I make my list at the beginning of the week and plot my writing time, as well as time needed for other obligations and for planned events. I am quite good at prioritizing and sticking to a schedule. None of that is new for me. 

What is new, however, is not having all the energy I need for all I want to do. By evening I am tired and have little energy to do any of the tasks which in my younger years I could have done after the dinner hour. In that way I feel constrained and even more aware of the passing of time and the boundaries of time. More and more I need to balance rest and relaxation with productivity. 

And yet there is so much more I want to do. 

Remember summers that used to stretch out in front of you full of lazy days? Remember how as a child you thought Christmas would never come or how could your birthday still be 10 more months away? Oh how those feelings have changed. Now, everything seems to melt into the next moment like a chocolate bar held in a warm hand. 

Here's what Joan Chittister has to say in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, 
               Time is a wondrous thing, if only I fill it well.
                If I do not allow the passing of time to diminish 
                my spirit but, instead, see it as a call to live life
                to the dregs--being my best and developing and 
                life-loving self to the end. Then time is my friend,
                not my enemy. It gives me a heightened sense of
                life. It urges me on to discover it all. It marks the
                fullness of life; its mellowing, and it releases in me
                the self that has been coming into existence from
                the beginning. It is a new kind of life. p. 121

I am now 68. My father turns 93 in a few days and yesterday I was with two aunts (one nearly 80 and the other almost 85) and my godmother who is months away from 94. I am grateful for the healthy longevity that seems to be in my family, but that is certainly no guarantee that my days on the earth will be long. 

I don't feel depressed about that fact of life. Instead, my hope is to be more conscious of doing what I most want to do and spending time with those I love and care about. I am more determined to use my gifts, to continue to stretch and grow and to live a life that responds to the vision God had for me when I was created. I am still trying to figure out exactly what that means, but I give thanks for each day of ongoing exploration. And I intend to live my days as wisely and lovingly as I can. 

An Invitation
What is your relationship with time? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Making Pesto: Tuesday's Reflection

I have been making pesto the last couple days. Six batches, but only five made it to the freezer, for we have had pesto and linguini for dinner two nights in a row. Bruce tells me I could fix this every night and he would be satisfied. If that were the case I wouldn't have any left for a below freezing, snowed-in night when we need a reminder of summer harvest time. Nor would I have any to share for a company dinner. 

Something about making pesto brings me closer to the person I was created to be, I think. I don't sew. I don't knit. I don't paint or make furniture. I'm not even much of a baker, although I do enjoy baking cookies or other goodies occasionally. In late summer, however, I make pesto, and I feel creative and calm and contemplative. 

I'm not sure when I first made pesto, but my best memories of doing so date from our days at Sweetwater Farm, where I had a large herb garden, which included a variety of basil plants. Mainly sweet basil, but also globe and Thai and lemon and purple ruffles.  On more than one August morning I filled my gathering basket with basil and then washed it all thoroughly in a large graniteware basin before plucking off the leaves and arranging them on vintage white embroidered dish towels spread on the harvest table. 

On the counter --I had only one, but standing there I could look out the window to the gardens and the fenced meadow where our animals grazed--I assembled all my ingredients and utensils, including a green Depression glass measuring cup for the oils. A pesto-making marathon. How satisfying to see the growing pile of plastic bags full of rich green pesto ready for the freezer. And oh, the aroma--a slightly peppery smell, earthy and pungent and not quite what one would expect in a Midwestern farmhouse. Perhaps I had time travelled to another lifetime in Tuscany. 

Now I only have a few basil plants which Bruce planted in a pot-enough for a mere two batches of pesto, but Sunday I bought four big batches from a farmer who sells produce between services at church.  Only $1.00 a bunch. I intend to buy more next week. 

I no longer have a harvest table and instead of looking out upon our farm vista, I look into a wall of open shelving, but the aroma is the same. The fresh, almost other-wordly taste is the same, and for an hour or so I am free of concerns or plans. I think of times I have lit candles and poured wine and served pesto to friends and family. 

Pesto inspires conversation full of connection and laughter and shared memories. I know there will be more of those. 

Making pesto is a contemplative practice for me, reminding me of the basics. Giving thanks to the earth. Feeding and nurturing others. Doing something that involves my heart and body and not just my mind. Being mindful of the present moment. Finding the sacred, the holy in ordinary acts. 

There are other kitchen moments when I feel this same sense of the Divine--when I bake cherry walnut bread at Christmas time or when I plan the menu for a special gathering or when I prepare a meal for someone recovering from surgery or cancer treatment. Sometimes I am even open and full of gratitude at the most ordinary of times, such as fixing our grandson a ham and cheese sandwich or making a list for yet another trip to the grocery store. 

What a blessed life I have.

An Invitation
Do you experience any contemplative kitchen moments? I would love to know. 

Nancy's Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
6 garlic cloves
1 cup pecan or walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil mixed with 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper

Combine basil, nuts, and garlic in a food processor and chop coarsely.
With motor running add oils in slow, steady stream.
Shut motor off and add cheeses, and salt and pepper to taste.
Process briefly. 

If you want to freeze, you can either store in freezer bags flat in the freezer or you can spoon into ice cube trays and use the pesto one cube at a time. 

Makes about 2 cups.