Gratitude, and Shabbat Shalom #2

Hello dear friends,

Goodness gracious it’s been awhile!!  I can’t even begin to describe the dozens of blog posts that I have wanted to write as ideas and inspiration have come to my mind these past several months.  Obviously there’s been a lot going on in my life this winter and spring, and I haven’t been very focused on writing (not on the blog, at least).  But, I’m trying to live more “in the moment” (Carpe momento as one of my beloved hospice patients used to say…).  So I’m not going to feel guilty or sad about not having captured those moments in a more timely manner.  I will just say that life is great.  I love my life, I am so blessed, and I am so grateful to God for bringing so much goodness to me.  My home, my relationships, my work, and my life are all filled with joy and love.  All is full of love, as Ben Gibbard sings.

The winter was great.  El Nino delivered tons of snow, as hoped, and I skied as much as possible from January through March.  My Seattle “grandfather,” Jan, encouraged me to “just go skiing” as I continue my healing journey.  So that’s what I did.  And I have to say, I really improved a lot.  Grandparents are so wise…  And, being that he’s from Norway, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he would know the healing power of skiing…

The spring has been lovely too.  My bulbs worked their magic and appeared gloriously right at Easter time.  Tulips and daffodils and hyacinths galore–the front yard smelled so good and looked so beautiful.  I had friends over again for Easter dinner too, in spite of the fact that I was laid up in bed all of Holy Week with the dreaded Influenza B.  (Oy, that was a doozy.)  But fortunately my energy was back enough to enjoy all the services from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, from Easter Vigil to Easter Sunday, at both my Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.

I’ve had lots of fun with girlfriends and dear ones in my life this spring, and am really looking forward to summer.  But again, staying in the present moment……….  The spring indeed is a time of rebirth–a time when the hopes that we planted in the darkness of winter come bursting out of the earth with revitalized life, energy, and beauty.

So, given that I’ve been enjoy a satisfying and abundant sense of fullness for these past months, I’m also grateful that today I had the discipline to just allow myself to rest.  Most of the past 8 nights I was up really late and didn’t get enough sleep.  So today was truly a Sabbath–a day of rest with no other agenda but to be reminded of the gift that it is to have a full life, but also the gift that it is to lie down and rest.  Often when I lead funeral services, I preach on Psalm 23.  I emphasize the verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul…”  That is the purpose of Sabbath, I believe.  To lie down; be led into and among a place of peace and beauty; and to have one’s soul restored.  It all serves a purpose of filling us back up, refueling us to fulfill the work that lay before us each week.

In my previous piece called “Shabbat Shalom” (from practically the same weekend a year ago–May 19, 2015–hard to believe it’s already been a year…), I shared my desire to one day host Sabbath dinners with friends on Friday nights to usher in this holy day.  I hope to still do that eventually.  So last weekend I spent time watching the YouTube video below to learn the Hebrew prayers that are traditionally offered at sundown on Friday night.  The  Episcopal  communion prayers are adapted from the second and third blessings:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. 

Through your goodness we have this bread—wheat of the field and work of human hands.

And this wine—fruit of the vine and work of human hands. 

Let these become our spiritual gifts. 

Those lines are my favorite parts of the eucharistic liturgy.  As I took my evening walk around my park tonight, I just sang them over and over, reminded of how good God is and how abundantly God has blessed my life.

Here is another link to the Reform Judaism site where you can read the prayers transliterated and also hear them recited:

I hope that you have a sense of blessing and abundance in your life, and that you take time to regularly give thanks to God for being such a generously loving God.  And I also hope that you take time to observe the Sabbath–to lay down, to feel a sense of peace and beauty, and to be restored–body and soul.

I’m going on my writing retreat next weekend, and then a few weeks after that will be at my writing conference in Princeton.  So hopefully it won’t be four months before I post again……  :/

Thank you always for reading.

Peace be with you.

Shabbat shalom.


Christus mansionem benedicat

Dear friends,

Today, January 6th, is the Feast Day of the Epiphany.  It comes the day after the twelfth day of Christmas, meaning Christmastide is over and it is now Epiphanytide (though we don’t often use that term to describe these weeks in between Christmastide and Lent–with the Baptism of the Lord and Transfiguration Sundays thrown in there too).  Epiphany means “manifestation.”  It is on this day that we read the story of the three magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) and their journey to meet the Christ child in Bethlehem.  God is made manifest to them in little Jesus, and they offer him their precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in response.

Last year, when I was still in the first week of scrubbing the house and preparing for my dad’s arrival, I distinctly remember going to bed late on the night of Epiphany (so late I suppose it was probably January 7th already…).  At some point prior I had been googling ideas about Epiphany to find some inspirational piece to send out to the hospice staff, when I came across this tradition:  Chalking the Door.  It’s practiced by the Carmelite monastic order and is essentially an opportunity to re-bless one’s house every year on Epiphany.  The intention is to invite Jesus into one’s home, and to ask God to make Godself manifest to those who visit this home in the ensuing year.  I wanted to do this ritual in my new home, but it just wasn’t time–I was tired and it was late and I didn’t have any chalk and it would just have to be done the next year.

So guess what?  It’s the next year…!  So I invited my friend Norm over, who also did my “original” full-fledged house blessing in March (which I’ll have to write about this coming March when I celebrate that anniversary too).  The blessing is a lovely, simple liturgy that begins with the blessing of the chalk:

Blessing the Chalk

V. Our help is the name of the Lord:
R. The maker of heaven and earth.
V. The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in:
R. From this time forth for evermore.

Let us pray.
Loving God, bless this chalk which you have created, that it may be helpful to your people; and grant that through the invocation of your most Holy Name that we who use it in faith to write upon the door of our home the names of your holy ones Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, may receive health of body and protection of soul for all who dwell in or visit our home; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then, the ritual continues by writing in chalk, either on the lintel above the door or on the side of the door, as follows:

20 + C + M + B + 16

while saying:

The three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar followed the star of God’s Son who became human two thousand and fifteen years ago. May Christ bless our home and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.

Then offer the following prayer:

Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence. Bless all who live or visit here with the gift of your love; and grant that we may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives we touch. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen us in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen

It was such a simple ceremony, but one that was important to me as I begin my first full year of living in my home.  I was aware that I felt a bit sad about the prayers being written with the plural pronouns “our’s” and “we’s” given that it’s just a “my” and “I” who lives here alone now.  But, I view my home as a place for community and hospitality, and know that the Holy Spirit dwells here with me when I am on my own.  Honestly, I pretty much love living alone, but the “our’s” and “we’s” did remind me that I don’t have an “our” or “we” sense in my life currently, but which I did used to have.  I’m actually not sure I could ever live with someone else here, 1) because it’s just such a special place for me to be alone right now, and 2) because I just need a lot of personal space, and it might be too small to share with another.  (Hey, I grew up in the woods on 20 acres–can you blame me for needing a little room to spread out??!!)

But for now, I’m grateful that I can trust in God’s presence dwelling here with me in my home, and I do hope and believe that people are blessed when they come and go from this place.  This month will be a busy one for gatherings at Satis House, between my several varying groups of girlfriends who will come over to do art projects, drink wine, talk about books, and generally share our lives with one another.  I look forward to them and many others coming and going from this blessed home.

Christus mansionem benedicat.  May Christ bless the house in 2016.



Happy New Year!

Dear Friends,

HNY-2016!  2015 was a fantastic year for me, and I hope 2016 brings as many blessings and more to us all.

Last night I reflected on what I was doing a year ago when the calendar turned to 2015.  It was the first evening I spent starting to clean my house in preparation for my dad’s arrival and for the renovations to begin.  I only had to be on-call for New Year’s Day, so I stayed at the house until the wee hours of the morning–2 or 3 a.m. I think–scrubbing the walls and dreaming of how lovely the house would look once it was all spiffed up and freshly painted.

The house was in pretty good shape when I bought it, but the walls were filthy dirty.  There must have been an oil furnace back in the day, because most of the bedroom walls had some kind of grey exhaust-like smudging above all the floor vents.  I foolishly thought that a few hours of scrubbing with buckets of hot vinegar-water would brighten it up and ready it for primer and paint.  After about 20 minutes, with little to no noticeable difference, I thought to myself:  What have I done?  Is this soot ever going to come off?!  I eventually had bring out the big guns–TSP chemical solution–to suck the dirt out of the walls.  The process took most of that first week, and included about 7-steps:  wet walls with hot water, clean with TSP, rinse with hot water, wash with second round of TSP, follow by second hot water rinse, complete with final round of vinegar-water and one last rinse.  The OCD-person in me had to draw the line somewhere and trust that priming the walls with Killz would have to suffice.

As I worked, I immediately became aware of what a cleansing process working on this home would prove to be for my life and for my soul.  I was stripping away layers of memories and stains from the walls within this house, but I was also washing away the dirt of my divorce and the messes that were made in my unfortunate marriage.  I also recalled that when my husband first left at the beginning of the previous summer, I instinctually worked from one end of that house to the other, washing the walls from floor to ceiling.  I felt like a Jewish woman in mourning or something–participating in some purification ritual aimed at setting a fresh start, purging my home of the bad spirit behind so much of what had taken place there.

Just as my home improvements continue a year after that first night of wall-washing, so too does the healing process continue within me.  I felt sad last night that I didn’t have somewhere more exciting to be and fun people with whom to celebrate.  But at the same time, I’m grateful that I could be at home in my lovely Satis House, which will always accept me and receive me and reflect back to me images of dirty things having been made clean.

I leave you with this quote from T.S. Eliot that a little elf left in my stocking at work:

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.


Happy Anniversary!

Dear friends,

Today, December 22, 2015, is the one-year anniversary of officially getting the keys to my house.  Yay!  That was such an exciting day–I’ll never forget it!  I came to the house after work, snapped a few selfies and lots of what will be the “before” pictures in my photo-album-to-be, and took myself out for a celebratory dinner at Tango’s to enjoy some Argentinean empanadas in my “new” neighborhood.

This has been such a wonderful year–so full of positive growth as I’ve settled into my lovely home and worked to make it mine.  I’m particularly appreciative of my dad, who spent about 6 weeks with me in the new year doing renovations to turn it into the perfect home for me.  When he first arrived in early January, we walked through the house and I pointed out about a half-a-dozen changes (some small, some significant) that I asked him to make.  And he did them all, one by one.  It was so fun to come up to the house after work every day and see the progress he was making.  I remember thinking to myself, Well, gee, I know I asked him to do all this, but somehow I didn’t believe it was all actually going to get done…  But it did come together by the time I was ready to move in in February.

Another of my favorite memories from this first year was my house blessing/housewarming party.  So many friends in my community joined together to fill my home with love and laughter and to bless the space and those who enter it.  A real highlight was the blessing of my bedroom–and ALLLLLL the people who will sleep there…….  Everyone from work got a kick out of thinking of the chaplain and alllll the people who might find themselves sleeping in my bedroom.  I turned about the color of a summer-ripe tomato.  It was hilarious.

I’ve enjoyed hosting groups of friends and neighbors for casual get-togethers.  Easter dinner here with several colleagues was a lovely time in the spring.

I had considered staying home to celebrate my first “real” Christmas at Satis House, but I’ve decided to drive home to be with family and friends this year.  Assuming I actually get there (lots of bad, snowy weather forecast for the mountains….), I know I will enjoy reconnecting with my loved ones.  Hopefully I will have plenty of joyous Christmases here in my Satis House in the years to come.

I love my house so much.  It was by far the best Christmas present I ever bought myself…

Merry Christmas to you all, my friends.  Thank you for joining me in my house both in real life and from afar as you read my stories.  You all are always welcome at Satis House.

Peace be with you,


first day selfie

First time in my new house–can you tell I’m just a little excited…?!

On Waiting, and Things To Do

Hello my darlings,

Again, where has the time gone???  I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting my updates–so much fun and goodness has been going on in my life since I last wrote, so I feel behind on updating you all on my house projects and spiritual musings.  I had all sorts of intentions of writing a Thanksgiving post particularly, listing all the things for which I am thankful.  I was going to call it “The First Thanksgiving,” and it would be a marker of celebrating my first Turkey Day/Native American Pride Day (more on that later) in my lovely new home.  I’d hoped to host the feast and have a house full of people with whom to give thanks.  But then, I decided that still not having an oven in my kitchen posed a slight problem, and also I was on-call and had to work the day after.  So, you know, that was that.

And so already that holiday has come and gone.  This very evening we had our annual hospice staff holiday party, and I thought to myself, Where has this past year gone?  It seems as though we were just celebrating last year, and here we are again, on our way to Christmas and the beginning of another new year.

I’ve had that thought quite frequently this past year–especially the past few months.  I’m afraid that perhaps I’ve passed the tipping point of my life–that somehow, subconsciously, my mind and soul know that I’m on the downhill, and that life and time are only going to feel faster and faster as they pass by.  Being as I’m not yet 33, I hope to God that I’m not already past half of my life.  Yet, as someone who works daily with the dying, I can’t help but wonder how long I will live–how many more years will I have to take in as much goodness and adventure as possible?  How much longer do I have to share my joy and love with the world and those I encounter?

So having to do with this post’s title–my big revelation this past week came when I realized that if I had a personal assistant, my life would be a whole lot easier.  Let’s just say that it’s pretty bad when one of the tasks on my “list of things to do,” was to gather all my varying said “lists” from different parts of the house (my art room, my writing desk, my work folder, my purse…) and compile them into one big “LIST” of things to do, and then check off that list the task which was to compile lists and consolidate them into a single, more updated and orderly LIST.

Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhh, see what I mean…….????????

Alas, most of this past weekend was begrudgingly spent trying to catch up on errands and jobs that I’ve been putting off for weeks or months.  (Beth–my new goal is to get you last year’s Christmas present by this Christmas, so there’s that…)  Some of it had its rewards–I felt quite empowered to finally get my new wireless router set up (jobs involving wires and “signals” generally freak me out, and I did have to call the help line, but still…).  And, I sold a handful of things on Craigslist, so now I’ve got a nice wad of cash, plus much more room in my garage, which is nice.

One job that I’m particularly proud of completing was the planting of 150 bulbs in my front flower beds.  I’m preaching this coming Sunday–the third Sunday of Advent–and so some of these thoughts are results of my mind and spirit working on how to reflect on “waiting” and “hope” and “expectation” and “anticipation.”  These are the themes of Advent, and all of these grand ideas have their place in the humble bulb.

Bulbs don’t possess any inherent beauty.  They are brown lumps of fiber, which we place deep into the earth with the hope that in a few months, a delicate flower will emerge from the dirt.  It takes a lot of faith to place anything in the ground and expect something entirely different to grow out of it–given enough time, darkness, and water, that is.

And yet, that’s what happens.  Important work is taking place underground, where it is dark and cold and seemingly lifeless.  Work that we are not privy to, but rather work that we must only trust is happening beyond our sight, out of our control.

So as I dug holes and placed handfuls of daffodil and tulip and hyacinth and anemone bulbs into the dark, moist soil, I thought to myself, I don’t think we’re really “bulb” people–I think we’re more “annual” people…  Actually, as most people don’t grow gardens or spend much time working in the dirt anymore, maybe we’re really “bouquet” people…??  At least, as a culture of middle-class Americans, I think this is true.

What I’m saying is that I don’t think we are people who like to wait.  I think we are shaped to expect and prefer instant gratification with the least amount of effort.  Drive-thru meals.  3-d printers.  Text messaging.  Microwave popcorn.  So many details of our daily existence are about urgency, rather than patience.  (Now don’t get me wrong–the little introvert in me prefers to communicate via text, and I’m not above eating microwave popcorn and drinking club soda for dinner.  But still…)

People nowadays don’t expect to have to wait for much of anything.  Rather, we expect that we will get what we want when we ask for it–that there is no “reason” for having to wait longer than is comfortable for us.  We are an “on-demand” culture–give me what I want, and give it to me now.  And if indeed we are ever made to wait longer, it’s usually because something has gone dreadfully wrong.  Apologies are usually made by staff people to clients who have been made to wait an unreasonable length of time for their service.

No, it is not in our nature to wait–not anymore, at least.  I think people used to have to wait all the time.  Maybe they didn’t even notice they were waiting, because to live was to wait.  It used to be that family members and lovers would wait with hope and faith for months to receive a letter from thousands of miles away, reassuring one that one’s beloved was in fact still alive, let alone thinking fondly about them.  People used to possess the skills to grow their own food and raise their own meat, to weave their own fabrics and sew their own clothes.  These were crafts and trades that took years of practice to master.  Countless hours of work went into producing something both useful and necessary–and, I might add, often beautiful.

We, on the other hand, are annual people.  We are delighted that, as spring warms up and summer sets in, we can drive by a big box store like Walmart or the Home Depot, and spot those colorful racks full of annuals, already showing their color and ready to be placed in the ground (of course, they’ll be pulled out and thrown away in just a few months–but don’t even get me started on that…).  The hard work has been done–someone somewhere in an industrial greenhouse far, far away has painstakingly planted the seed, nurtured it in its infancy for the past several months, and gotten it to be a convenient 4-6 inches high.  So now all we have to do is pay a few dollars to buy entire flats full of these annuals, and place them in the ground.  Instant beauty–inexpensive, and easy to maintain.

But how different is it to take the time to work outside in the freezing rain and blowing wind, digging holes and planting sacks full of bulbs?  Quite different, indeed–I can assure you.  My yard looks no more beautiful now than it did Saturday morning, before those 150 bulbs were put in their place.  As I said, I hope all 150 of my bulbs come up out of the dirt in March or April, and that my first full spring at my house is beautified with dozens of yellow and pink and purple flowers dotting my front yard.  But it’s all a gamble.  I don’t know for sure at this point that any of those bulbs will mature and blossom into the perfect flowers that appear on the  package labels.  But, I will wait and see.  I will wait with hope and anticipation, trusting that important–no, necessary–work is happening underground.  That in the darkness, and in the cold of winter, life is being stitched together, and that life and beauty will emerge, in time.

Advent blessings for whatever you are waiting for that is growing in the cold and in the darkness, beyond your sight, and out of your hands.



In the Closet

Hello dear friends,

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend.  Mine was very nice, indeed, and it’s coming to a close now with the rain falling (at last!).  I’m listening to acoustic guitar, drinking mint tea and preparing to catch you up on some of my projects.  So all is well, even if the Seahawks did lose today at the last minute…  :(

So with the changing of the seasons, I recently conducted my semi-annual “flipping of the closet” ritual.  It entails putting away my summer sundresses and replacing them with all my dark, woolly, and otherwise fall/wintry clothes that have been sleeping in a bin for the past six months.  I love this time of year, and I really love pulling out all my favorite fall clothes that I’ve missed for so long.  Seeing as yellow, orange and brown are my favorite colors, autumn is definitely my season.  That being said, Boise enjoys four quite lovely and distinct seasons, and it always feels as though they change just exactly when the calendar says to.

Well, at least until this year, when September 23 came and went and it proceeded to still reach 80+ degrees every day since then (until, like, yesterday maybe?).  So I’ve been patiently waiting for the rain and the wind and the frost, where I can finally welcome the day by bundling up in a wool blazer and scarf.  Admittedly, there have been a few chilly mornings where I’ve clicked my heat on for a couple minutes to warm up the bathroom while I shower.  I always used to make myself wait until November 1 before turning on the heat, but apparently I’m weakening in my old age…

I’ve recently begun referring to this season more frequently as “autumn” rather than fall.  It’s such a lovely word, autumn, and now I have the most adorable baby niece named Autumn.  She was born September 9 (two years ago actually, so I suppose she’s not a baby anymore…) and fittingly her parents named her after the loveliest of seasons.  I sent her a birthday card this year with this quote from Albert Camus:  Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower.  She is so adorable, and every bit as beautiful as the brightest of autumn leaves.

Baby Autumn

Autumn is when we celebrate the harvest, and are reminded of the abundance with which God blesses us every day.  We look to the markets and the fields and take note of the fruits of the farmers’ labors.  We extend gratitude for all of the “things” we have–our homes, our loved ones; food in our bellies and joy in our lives.  A few weekends ago my friend Carrie joined me for the harvest festival at Peaceful Belly Farm.  This was the farm where I subscribed to my “share” and received a basketful of fresh produce every week since May.  They always end the season with this festival and let people glean from the fields–picking the leftover eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, etc, that remain on the vine as the season comes to an end.  Biblical, indeed, to witness the abundance in those fields–the bushels of vegetables being carted away so that they wouldn’t be left to rot.  One of my favorite lines in the Episcopal eucharist liturgy is when the priest speaks of the ordinariness of the elements:  Wheat of the field, and work of human hands.  Fruit of the vine, and work of human hands.  Human hands have definitely been hard at work nurturing the fields and vines out at the farm.

Liz and Carrie on the farm

Liz and Carrie on the farm

Last weekend I also made the easiest of crafts and created a cornucopia for my front door step.  I bought the horn for $2 from the thrift store, and months ago my friend spotted me a few bucks at a yard sale so I could buy armloads of silk flowers (which are shockingly expensive when bought new, I might add…).  Winter squash from the farm spill out from among the foliage.  Abundance, indeed.

The horn of plenty.  A home of plenty.

The horn of plenty.  A home of plenty.

So as I ironed and steamed and hung my dresses in my closet, I too was reminded of my own abundance, nay, excess.  I surprised myself when I stepped back and asked:  “Gosh, I have so many more dresses than I thought…  Do I really need all this stuff??”  And, of course, the answer is “no.”  But even someone like myself who values simplicity and tries not to buy into consumer culture has somehow ended up with at least 27 dresses and dozens of pairs of shoes in her closet.  Sigh…..  The effort at living a simple life continues…

I did pull out quite a few items to consign, and those that my store didn’t take, I donated to the thrift store.  A while back, I came across this image on Pinterest, which I appreciate and have been trying to adopt:

The Buyerarchy of Needs

The Buyerarchy of Needs

Part of my closet organization project involved mastering my electric drill.  Boy, was that ever empowering!  You would have laughed to see me systematically moving through each closet, from the garage to my bedroom, screwing whatever I could into the wall to maximize the usage of the spaces in my various small closets.  I hung lawn chairs and a step ladder on the inside of the garage pantry.  I installed one of those “broom-hanging” bars in my kitchen pantry so that all my “handled” cleaning tools are nicely hung up on the wall.  I even put two hooks inside my sewing room closet so I can suspend my ironing board from them.  And my hall closet got a full makeover.  I spent about $5 at the thrift store and purchased a set of baskets to contain my gloves, hats, etc, and hung a few more hooks on the walls.  It doesn’t look that different, but I know that now there is a lot more storage space, which will be nice when winter comes and I start wearing gloves and hats again.

Garage closet

Coat closet

Now that I have a full house, I’ve enjoyed filling it with furniture and other items that carry a story and some meaning behind them–pieces like family heirloom furniture, artwork from my travels, and other items that have been gifted to me since I bought my house.  Rather than just buy new, stock furniture from a big box store, my home has been filled with unique pieces that carry special memories based on who gave them to me or in what funny circumstance I happened upon them at a yard sale or thrift store.  My house is pretty quirky–it’s definitely a reflection of its owner, I admit…  I’ve had a few moments of wondering if there is “too much going on” with my interior decor, and if I’ll tone it down eventually and just get some staid furniture from Costco or RC Willey.  But I hope I don’t ever do that.  I prefer things that are one-of-a-kind, rather than things that are one of exactly thousands of others just like them.

Truly, I really haven’t “needed” much since I moved in.  My mom contributed so many household goods from her own backstock, and my former house was pretty well stocked with whatever I needed to cook and make a home.  And so I have to say, it has felt rewarding to me to adjust my habits and go to the thrift store down the street first, whenever I do need something.  I almost always find something there that can meet my needs and prevent me from buying new.

I find the idea of closets quite interesting–the fact that it has become standard in homes in America to keep a container for extra items in literally every single room of the house.  Not just the bedrooms–but the bathrooms, the hall, the entry way, the garage, the kitchen, the laundry, etc…  Spaces to hold the extras that we feel we will need at some point, but which are also things that we don’t want others to easily see.  So I’m fascinated by the idea of secrets too–knowing that we all carry things within ourselves that nobody else knows and which we do not wish to reveal, either.  We keep them tucked away, deep down, not readily seen by visitors in our lives.  Closets are useful not just for storage, but also as a quick escape in which to dump a bunch of stuff that we want to hide when we receive an unexpected guest.  We all do it–it’s the instant housekeeping solution:  pile away the junk and close the closet door, and suddenly the house looks so much tidier.  And I think we do that in ourselves as well, hiding away our secrets and our excesses and our struggles, especially when someone new comes into our lives.  We would feel embarrassed if they stopped by and saw all that junk spilled out everywhere.  It feels improper for a stranger to see what we’re really holding inside.  Maybe if they get to know me and become my friend, then eventually I’ll let them see the inside of my closet, and I won’t feel embarrassed.  But until then, I’m going to put up a front that I have everything together and nothing is out of place in my life.  

I don’t think it’s a surprise that the gay community began using the phrase “in the closet” to refer to one who has hidden away one’s sexual identity–one who hasn’t yet made it known publicly that he or she is homosexual.  It’s something private and intimate and special.  Like other things we keep in our closets, it’s something important that we need and want to keep, but which we also hide away and don’t necessarily want just anyone to see.  I’m not gay, but I certainly have my secrets.  Experiences and thoughts and wonderings and knowings that are hidden away in my head and in my heart and which I don’t want others to see.  Things I’ve said and done, things I’ve witnessed and heard, that I’ve hidden away in the darkness of my internal closet.  There is liberation in opening those closet doors–letting in the light, picking out things that I don’t need to keep anymore and which can be thrown or given away.  Memories and hopes and longings that don’t fit me anymore.  Things that I’ve worn out or are stained and of no good to me any longer.  There is freedom in de-cluttering and organizing, in making room for the sake of making room, but also for the sake of creating space for something else to fit there eventually.

In writing this blog, I’ve made a big step in opening up my head and my heart for others to see.  To de-clutter my mind by sharing thoughts and musings and wonderings, instead of keeping them in the closet.  I admit, it’s vulnerable, and vulnerability connotes fear and anxiety and a sort of powerlessness.  But for me, vulnerability also conveys a sense of intimacy and trust.  If I’m going to open up my head and my heart and my closet to you, I’m trusting that you won’t judge me for all the crap that’s piled up inside, and that perhaps you may assist me in cleaning it out–throwing some things away that I don’t need to keep inside anymore.

My sister and I have developed an informal tradition of going through each other’s closets the night before a visit with each other comes to an end.  We’re fortunate as sisters to be able to wear each other’s clothes.  I think as we get older our styles are diverging a bit.  My sister is a black/gray girl; I’m more of a warm tone girl.  She likes modern, I like vintage.  But still, we do like a lot of the same things, and it’s fun to trade and borrow clothes from year to year.  I’m always surprised at the memories and stories we associate with our wardrobe.  Undoubtedly we each tell each other when or where we bought a certain item that we highly prize and that the other wants to borrow–shoes from Italy, dresses from great vintage shops, scarves from our travels around the world.  I bought that when I was in such-and-such a place, so be careful with it and don’t get rid of it…  We reveal a lot about how we view ourselves through the clothes we wear–what we present openly to others is a reflection of what we feel inwardly about ourselves.  And we embody those memories and travels and stories when we wear them on our sleeves, literally.  Our closets are store houses of those memories; containers of who we used to be, who we want people to believe we are, and who we want to become.

So alas, the effort at living a simple life continues.  Some days I feel like I’m doing a good job about not acquiring too many material possessions, and other days I think it’s ridiculous that one person needs this whole house and everything in it just to get by in life.  But, I am making a concerted effort at not filling up every nook and cranny of storage space in my house.  These older vintage homes have a lot of built-in cabinets, which I love and which was one feature I wanted in a home.  But I’m proud to say that most of my cupboards are still empty, or nearly empty, and I intend to keep it that way.  I’m trying to use up what I have before buying anything new when it comes to arts and crafts and sewing supplies.  Goodness knows, I have a serious fabric stash that will keep me busy for many dark evenings to come…

Ok, thank you for reading and for letting me clean out my closet on these pages.  I know I am creating openness in my life, and that I am also making space for other things to find their place in my head and my heart.

Now go clean out your closets and get rid of something you don’t need!


All Dogs Go To Heaven

Hello friends,

October 4th is the Feast Day of St. Francis.  So at church this evening, we had the annual “Blessing of the Animals” service.  It’s one of the best evenings of the year, where people are invited to bring their pets, or whatever animals they choose, into the sanctuary to have them blessed by the priest.  It’s always exciting to see if anything exotic shows up.  Most years, among the cats and dogs, there are at least several chickens, and occasionally you get rabbits or a snake (not sure what kind of theological statement that makes–to bless a snake…?).  Someone told me once that where they used to live in New York City, every year a few animals from the Brooklyn Zoo would be chosen to come to the cathedral and receive a blessing.

St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and of the environment.  His feast day reminds us to value all of God’s creation and all the creatures of the earth.  When I was a kid, I remember having multiple conversations in Sunday school over the years, entertaining the question of whether or not God lets animals into heaven.  Undoubtedly our teachers always erred on the side of “yes,” giving some kind of answer like, “Well, heaven is a place that is only good, and where you never feel sad, but where you are happy all the time and have everyone you love around you.  So if you love your dog, then yes, God will let you have your dog again in heaven…”

Today’s service was enjoyable as always, but it was also bittersweet for me.  We had built the tradition of taking our dog to be blessed every year that we had her.  A year ago this weekend was the last time my husband let me see our dog, and I took her to have her final blessing here in Boise.  I felt sad at the time, knowing that this would most likely be the last time I’d get to worship with her in church, but also I was still not wanting to believe it was true.  She was like our child–we loved her like she was our baby when we brought her home at seven weeks old.  Her birthday is October 21st, so this is a sad month of Penny anniversaries for me.  She was so smart, beautiful, and had such personality (I always half-jokingly said she took after me the most…).  People were drawn to her, but she was a little prickly and definitely needed her alone time.  It was often frustrating, because she was so adorable and had the thickest, softest red coat, but she wasn’t very physically affectionate and didn’t like to be pet much.  She picked and chose who she warmed up to, and she was definitely stubborn–if she didn’t want to do something, there was no way to force her into it.  She was a mountain girl too–she was never happier (and neither was I) than when our little family was up hiking in the mountains or snowshoeing in the woods.  Those were the absolute best times for us.  It’s incredible to see a creature in its natural habitat–the way they just completely know how to be and what to do when they are in their element.  That’s how Penny was in the mountains, and especially in snow.  She was so funny to watch–she would run and play and bound and leap through the drifts of snow, and just roll around and get all covered in it.  Her breed is the most ancient of dog breeds and has the highest percentage of DNA that is identical to that of wild wolves.  She was wild at her core, indeed, just like her mama.  We used to joke about how crazy we were to have invited a little wild animal to come and live with us, but we still loved her.

I admit, there were many times where I felt frustrated with Penny.  Like I said, she and I both needed our alone time, and it was hard for me to always have the distraction of her scratching at the door and wanting to go in and out, in and out, in and out……  There were times when I felt angry with her and wasn’t as loving as I should have been, and I regret that.  But honestly, what parent doesn’t get frustrated with their children and want a break from them now and again?  Not that that makes it right, but unfortunately, it’s an eventual part of relationships.  It doesn’t mean I didn’t love her, and it still hurts that I never got to see her to say my good-byes.  I still miss the softness of her ears, the smell of her forehead, and giving her kisses on the top of her snout.

There was a lady sitting a few pews ahead of me in church tonight who had a dog that looked very similar to my Penny-Lou.  It was sad to see the resemblance as it reminded me of my long lost doggie.  But I tried to think with gratitude about the time I had with her, and the love that she once brought into my life.  For a dog who wasn’t very affectionate, there were times when she licked the tears from my face and understood when I was having a hard time.  I still miss her every day, and I think of her whenever I walk by doggies on their evening walks with their owners around my neighborhood park.  I think of her and send her my love whenever I pet another dog.

After church, I found myself meandering on a walk, and navigated toward the foothills trail that used to be our daily walk with Penny.  My husband was almost always the one who took her because he got home from school early and would take her out right then.  But usually on the weekends we would all walk up the hill together in the morning or the afternoon.  My friend Norm talks about the “geography of grief”–how certain physical places hold the memories we shared there with our loved ones, and how it can be painful, if not impossible, to return to those places for the visceral grief it evokes.  I haven’t walked that trail for many, many months now, but it was good for me to walk it tonight.  To give thanks for all the walks I had there with my dog and my husband; for the beauty of the place; for the blessing to be able-bodied to take such a walk.

But now I have a new evening routine–I walk around Cassia Park several times each evening, just a few blocks from my house.  I’m getting to know some of the regulars–dogs and humans alike.  Just yesterday I met the most adorable German Shepherd puppy–8 weeks old and just absolutely the most precious thing you’ve ever seen.  His ears stuck straight up and actually touched in between them at the tips.  He is going to be one beautiful dog when he’s all grown up.  I pet him for about ten minutes and he just flopped and rolled around and leaned into my hands.  When I was petting his back, he lifted his head up backwards and gave me a few little kisses on my chin.  So sweet.  Nothing like puppy love.

A few months ago I almost got another dog just like my Penny.  He lived in Colorado and was listed on a rescue site, not because he was troubled or in danger, but because his parents were having a baby (a human one, that is) and knew they wouldn’t have the time to spend with him that he needed.  The deal was pretty much sealed and I was going to pick him up Labor Day weekend, but the family decided to give him to another family who lived closer by.  I was very disappointed, but I trust that it was not meant to be for now.  I miss the companionship of having a little creature sleeping on the floor in the living room (and in my bed occasionally…) and maybe I will know that again one day.  Until now, I’ll just appreciate the neighbor dogs that I greet in the park, and hope that another doggie comes into my life when I have the capacity both to receive his love and extend my love to him.

Blessed Penny

A Haiku for Penny:

My blessed Penny,

Mama will always love you.  

See you in Heaven.