Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kevlar society?

On the verge of Christmas Eve, pundit conversations have turned from the horror of violence to the -- unbelievable! -- suggestion that teachers should be armed, kids' backpacks should be bulletproof ... I can hardly believe what I'm hearing. Instead of passing common sense gun-control legislation and addressing widespread mental health issues, it sounds to me as though we are giving up.

Is violence now in control? Are we all going to retreat into bunkers, sandbag ourselves in, drink bottled water and eat from cans? Peer through bulletproof windows? Wear Kevlar vests to go pick up a half-gallon of milk?

I don't want to live in fear. I don't want to live my life on defense. When do we become so afraid that there isn't anything left but fear?

Haven't we seen, in the last horrific week, that most people are inclined toward compassion, toward acts of love and goodwill? I still believe most people are good, that a few sick individuals should not be allowed to sicken the rest of the human family with fear.

Let's not give in.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reading Isaiah in the Wild West

Since the horrific shootings in Connecticut, I feel as though I've been wandering in a fog. I was home sick that day, last Friday when it happened, so I was aware early on that life had changed--again. Life changes (or it should) whenever we hear of an act of terrible violence near or far, but, as all the commentators say, "this feels different." This act of mass murder has peeled back America's the last deceptive layer of civility. What's been revealed -- the ugliness of a society in love with guns and violence -- is not easy to behold. It's as though we've taken a step back into the Wild West.

So our Christmas tree is up; the lights, by sheer chance, are blue.  Josh Groban is singing quiet carols in the background. Last night, Santa went by on a firetruck. My neighbors have an obscenely fat, inflated Santa on their lawn (most years I would have a snarky comment about this, but alas...this year, it hardly seems worth the effort).

So, I'm going through the motions, as I imagine many other people are. But I want nothing to do this year with angels, shepherds, babies in mangers. My nativity scene is still packed in a box.  Fable me no fables. Reality itself has become too much like a bad dream.

There is some comfort to be had -- the sharing of horror and grief. I have been inspired by the way Americans have come together in the wake of tragedy, to hold Newtown in their hearts. I have a friend, an Episcopal chaplain, who  joined a team traveling to Connecticut last weekend to offer what solace can be had. I wish I could do something concrete like that -- more concrete than anti-gun posts on Facebook or petition-signing, though the political will for change is prospectively important for the country.

What I am doing is reading Isaiah 60-61. In the words of the third, post-exilic, Isaiah, I do find hope, despite a realistic  acknowledgement that life has become very dark:

               60 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
                    and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
                    2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
                     and thick darkness the peoples;
                     but the LORD will arise upon you,
                     and his glory will appear over you.
                     3 Nations shall come to your light,
                     and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

               61 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
                     because the LORD has anointed me;
                     he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
                     to bind up the brokenhearted,
                     to proclaim liberty to the captives,
                     and release to the prisoners;
                     2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
                     and the day of vengeance of our God;
                     to comfort all who mourn;
                     3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
                     to give them a garland instead of ashes,
                     the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
                     the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
                     They will be called oaks of righteousness,
                     the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

To bind up the brokenhearted. We already know how to do this. May God give us the grace to do the other needful things a peaceful society requires.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cold and dark

Here on the cusp of Advent, I am having trouble getting into the season.Some friends suffered great losses during Hurricane Sandy. A dear friend has cancer. Another friend just lost an old, beloved dog. My husband is losing his job at the end of January.

Of course, it could always be worse -- this almost goes without saying. But I'm just not ready for the Christmas onslaught. A local radio station started playing 24/7 Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day (seriously). The local Starbucks assaulted my ears this morning with jazzy versions of holiday tunes. The shops ... well, forget the shops. The mall traffic is unceasing, the drivers are hostile, all in competition for that ol' Christmas cheer. I'm staying home.

But I am going to a women's quiet day this Saturday, at a local church. What I need is a quiet month, but this day will be a start. When I get home, I'll set up the Advent wreath -- I'm using votives this year, for a change. As our Advent introit proclaims, "One candle lights the way." We'll see.

Of course, the point of Advent, which I nearly always manage to miss, is to welcome Jesus into the middle of the mess our lives have become, to light that one candle in the wreckage. We're not doing so well, Jesus, but you're welcome here.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Watching, waiting for "Sandy"

We scrambled all day yesterday to get ready for Hurricane Sandy. It was arduous: the hunt for flashlights and batteries, the attempt to consume frozen food, hauling the outdoor furniture inside ... you know the drill.

Or maybe you don't. I certainly didn't.

We've been told to prepare for up to ten days without power. Ten days? Ten days! It's a whole new definition of hardship for me, little suburban hothouse flower that I am.

So, I have an armada of flashlights, camping lanterns, and candles, ready to deploy at a moment's notice. I bought those non-perishables, too: crackers, fruits, nuts, and the ever-popular peanut butter.

How long can I live on peanut butter and Wheat Thins (reduced fat version)?

What I'm lacking in this experience is ... well ... experience.  I have no idea what to expect. The last time a powerful hurricane really hit the Delmarva area, I was an infant (yes, it was that long ago). At the moment we have only light rain and a breeze.  

So, we'll see. I hope the waiting and the uncertainty are actually the worst part of Sandy.  Time will tell.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Clear afternoon light/election anxiety

Autumn is my favorite season.  I look forward to the retreat of summer's heat and the arrival of crisp, dry air.  Unpacking the seasonal decorations, buying that gallon or two of apple cider, and trying a new variety of apple -- all these things help me mark the new season, keep me aware of the passage of precious time. The autumn equinox is always observed with extra candles at my house (in this respect, as in others, I am a little bit Pagan), and I look forward to the extra hour of sleep that the end of Daylight Saving brings. And I don't mind the early dark.  Mom used to say there was no better feeling than to draw the living-room curtains at night, and to know that everyone she loved was safe and well fed.

By the beginning of October, my son has always got plenty of firewood stacked for me, and that first fire of the season prepares me to settle in for winter. We haven't yet had the first fire -- last year we had such warm weather that I could probably number the fires on the fingers of one hand -- and this week it will remain mild.  But the night for that first fire will arrive, probably in the early part of November.  By then, the Norfolk Island pine and the large succulent (whose name escapes me at the moment -- see how my mind is going?) -- will need to come in from the porch to places of respite from the cold..

I took the picture above early this afternoon. I was heading from the car back to the house, when I was just halted in my tracks by the glory of my neighbor's sugar maple. This tree has already started to litter the lawn with a carpet of golden leaves.  The autumn afternoon light is clear, warm, beautiful. How could I not have noticed?

I'll tell you how. I've been overwhelmed by Election Anxiety. I actually heard a psychiatrist interviewed on this very topic the other day.  Of course this took place on CNN. I have been watching CNN or MSNBC since the party conventions back in the summer.  Obsessive is not a strong enough word to describe me.  I have become a political junkie. I can tell you how the polls are trending. I can tell you where the candidates are doing their final debate prep.

Meanwhile, however, autumn is going on all around me, and I have been generally oblivious. I did put up an autumn wreath on the front door, and purchased a pumpkin for the porch, but I did not do this in anticipation of the season, as I normally would. I did it in a panic, as I realized that we're ten days from Halloween and only a month out from Thanksgiving.

The set doesn't change on the Rachel Maddow show when the season does.  No wonder I barely knew that it was autumn.

The TV psychiatrist said that the election-obsessed voter has lost sight of the fact that, whoever wins in November, we will be OK, even if "our" candidate loses.  I disagree. I think this election is critical to our future as a nation, critical to women, critical to working people.  But (hard as it is to admit) the election results will not change one iota if I go outside instead of being splayed on the floor in front of the TV. I live in a safely "blue" state. My anxiety about tomorrow night's final debate will not help the President, not even a tiny bit.

But sitting out in the backyard with the dogs may help me a whole lot. So that's where I'm going next.

Monday, October 01, 2012

My resting place

My little Episcopal church was founded in 1789, a little wooden church on a hill. The original wooden structure was replaced by a stone church in the middle of the nineteenth century.  The church has historic landmark status (my friends in Europe find this hilarious), as does the surrounding churchyard. Among the worthies buried there are one Aaron Chew, for whom the Chews Landing area is named. He was a Revolutionary War hero, as the story goes. One of his buddies, who contributed a few pence (but not many) to the church building fund, was a guy named G. Washington. Read more about the church and its history, if you're interested,  here.

We're very proud of our little churchyard, but I had assumed that by this date all the plots were spoken for, if not actually inhabited. Not so! There is, in fact, some real estate still left there. And J. and I are now the proud owners of two plots, near the southern churchyard fence, under some towering trees, and with an unbroken view of a neighboring above-ground swimming pool (I did mention that this is in suburbia, right? It was the swimming pool or the convenience store. We chose the pool. J. wanted a quiet spot).

This mortality business does not usually bother me, but I have to admit to a few qualms. Lying in a suburban churchyard was not part of my plans. I took seriously that I was dust, and that to dust I would return, via the crematorium, which saves money, space on the planet, and family fuss. Being buried just fails to appeal to me on so many levels, some rational  and environmental, and some irrational (such as claustrophobia).  The notion of being pumped up with preservatives and dressed up nicely in something festive that I would not have worn in life seems ... distressing. Not to mention the eventual descent into a little puddle of nasty biochemical soup.So much for ashes.

So I have clearly not grasped the romance of the matter. J. says he wants us to lie next to each other forever (or, "until we rise," I like to kid him. He doesn't believe in this, so I have to wonder what the attraction to funerary splendor really means for him).

In any event, I have caved in to his wishes.  My children promise to tuck the various boxes of dog cremains in with me, so I have that consolation, I guess.

Of course, if J. dies first, I'm off the hook (heh heh! Just kidding??)! I have always been sort of interested in going to a Body Farm.  We'll wait and see, I guess.


Monday, September 03, 2012

Flipping the calendar page

I always feel optimistic when I turn the page of the calendar on the back of the kitchen door from August to September. Call it a memory of school days, my own or my children's; call it the promise of a new season starting; maybe it's just the hope of relief from this summer's blazing heat. Whatever the source, I get a burst of energy as August ends.

Today we are enjoying the rain delivered by the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, heading out to the Atlantic. The rain was not constant, however, so I was able to fill the five bird feeders and carry the potted hostas out to the back patio, where they'll eventually die back and become dormant till spring. I think the hummingbirds have gone on their long migration, so I stored that feeder for the winter. The bedraggled baskets of impatiens refused to stay alive in the heat we had this summer, so they've been replaced on the front porch by hanging baskets of mums in that deep cinnamon color I love.

I am ready for fall now, eager for this new season. Not dormant at all!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Growing up with guns

After two mass killings in a two-week period, I am way beyond upset. Way beyond sad. Way, way beyond.

So let's talk about guns for a minute. I know a tiny bit about them.

My Dad was a marksman in the European theatre in World War II. I think this actually might mean he was a sniper. I know from remarks in his diary, written while he was a P.O.W., that he shot a few people. OK, it was wartime, and that's what warriors do. Dad's view of killing in wartime was uncomplicated, and I don't know that he ever suffered pangs of guilt later. He did what the war demanded of him, including a seven-month stint in Stalag VII-A. He was a hero, in my eyes -- it was, after all, the Good War.

Long before I was born, Dad was collecting guns. He loved to go to the practice range. He had ten or fifteen guns, safely locked in a cabinet in the den. I knew they were there. I was forbidden to touch them, and never had any interest in them anyway. The guns never seemed like a threat to me, or to anyone else, actually.

In the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr., there were riots in my hometown. I was fifteen; I didn't know a riot from a birthday party. I was fairly sheltered (read: teenaged, oblivious and self-absorbed), we lived in a suburb, and all kinds of danger seemed remote and unlikely. I have forgotten most of the details of that turbulent time in our national history.

But I do remember Dad unlocking the gun cabinet and sitting up all night by a front window, for a few consecutive nights. I thought this was noble.  He was my hero, remember. Fortunately, the rioting stopped, the gun cabinet was locked again, and life returned to normal.

At least, it did for me. Years passed, and  I left home. Mom and Dad stayed in their house. Eventually, sadly, it was just Dad in the house alone.  After he died suddenly, it was up to J. and me to clean out the house.  In the course of going through the possessions accumulated over 40 years, we made a startling discovery.

"Mom, look what I found!" called my son. I stared into the drawer.  There was a gun. I don't even know enough about guns to describe it further. It looked like something the police should be carrying.

It got worse. There was at least one gun in every room. It seemed as though we found another gun every time we pulled a drawer open. J. and I stood staring at each other.

"Are they loaded?" he asked.

"Beats me," I said. "What should we do now?"

In the end, we called up the State Police, who (quickly) sent around an officer.  He determined that the guns were all loaded, and he unloaded them for us. Meanwhile, we had come up with a sheaf of papers, which proved to be gun licenses.  They were all legal.  This was my Dad, after all. He was a responsible gun-owner.

But ... seriously.  One in every room? I suppose Dad got nervous, living in the house alone after my Mom died. Still ...

All the guns, which I inherited, went to auction, along with most of the house's contents. That was in 1997. Fifteen years later, I still don't know what I think.  A gun in every room?

I have two dogs and a burglar alarm.  That will have to be enough for me, I guess. Or not.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Last rites

Today was the final service at the church where I grew up, the Cathedral Church of Saint John, in Wilmington, Delaware. As of July 31, the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware will no longer have a cathedral. I know this has happened for lack of funds; in my current diocese, quite a few churches have merged or closed in the last decade or more, and out cathedral is always in need of money. 

At the altar to the left, I was baptized, confirmed, and married.  On July 8, I attended the 10:30 service and said goodbye. What will happen to the cathedral building is anyone's guess. The pipe organ has already been sold. I guess that's a good thing. At least something has been saved.

Change happens. However, it often takes a good bit of us with it when it does.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It is well with her soul

Recently I attended my friend Anne's funeral. It was a moving and uplifting service, as the funerals for long lives well lived should always be. Anne was 102 1/2 at the time of her death, and had had no serious health troubles until last fall. This is certainly what we each hope for at the end of our earthly lives.

In my former parish, Anne was our "choir mother" for many, many years. She maintained the choral library, mended our robes, kept attendance records (noting, on the appropriate dates, "Judy's little boy born" and, later on, "Judy's little girl born"). She taught me to sing alto, patiently correcting me and setting an example with her lovely voice. She was the choir's rock of ages and our resting place. She saw us through at least 4 choir directors (that I know of!), and multiple priests.

Anne was widowed in 1969, after 34 years of marriage and two daughters. She never remarried, claiming that she'd had one good husband but might not be so lucky again. Despite her loss, I never saw her without a smile on her face. Well into old age, Anne walked a mile every morning around the lake at the end of her street. I'm sure this habit contributed to her good mood and her cheerful outlook.

What can we learn from such a life lived to its fullness? I am still discovering the lessons.

At Anne's funeral, most of the mourners were members of her large, extended family. Let's face it, at her age, who has that many friends left alive?  But the service was lovely, and the homily was given by a priest who knew Anne well.  The hymns were, I think, just what Anne would have picked: How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, Alleluia, Alleluia, and one of my favorites, It Is Well With My Soul:

               When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
               When sorrows like sea billows roll;
               Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
               It is well, it is well with my soul.

Rest in peace, Anne, and rise in glory! We'll miss you, and we'll try to learn from your example.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Going to ground....

We've recently had, at our house, a rerun of that old series I like to call Family Drama.  It's not my favorite.  The characters are all grown up now, not that you'd always know it.  The "situations" are no longer cute, nor are they easily resolved.  They can be frustrating, anger-evoking, and heartbreaking.

Whenever we have an episode of Family Drama, I have two strong impulses. One is retail therapy, at which I have become very skilled! With a potential job change in the household, however, retail therapy would be unwise.

The other impulse is withdrawal, or as my mom used to call it, "going to ground"  -- perfect for me as an Enneagram type 9. If I can't make peace, solve the conflict, find the solution, or even get anyone to listen, I want to get the hell out of the way. Dive deep and let the wave break way, way over my head, so to speak. This is the cowardly way, and sometimes, I think, also the only sane response.

With the Serenity Prayer in mind, I was sitting in Starbucks this morning, imagining myself as a beaver, deep in his dam, or as a woodchuck in his burrow ... you get the idea. The Midget of Walden Pond. A creature of the deep woods. Actually the seashore would do as well. I could take a leave from my job, rent a little cottage (with indoor plumbing and electricity, thanks very much but I'll skip the primitive stuff), pack up the two hounds, and beat a full and inglorious retreat from the (occasional) heartbreak of family life.

What would I need? Some money. Dog food. Human food. Candles. Books (a carload). My craft projects.  My journal, Prayer Book, and Bible. Oh, and clothes! Insect repellent. My camera.

A wifi connection? My iPad? My cell phone? OK, I see my tenuous resemblance to Thoreau going down the drain.  But what to do when the peace of home has escaped, even only temporarily?

Maybe I can manage a (one-day) retreat ..... with the cell off.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Still don't believe in global warming?

Let's see. In the last week, the U.S. has experienced: an early-season tropical storm with severe flooding; raging wildfires; a crippling heat wave; and a lethal wave of thunderstorms accompanied by highly destructive winds. "Well, it's summer," you say. OK. But we had basically a non-winter last year on the east coast, and now we have the summer from hell. Hmmm ...

My husband recently attended his college reunion, in Middlebury, Vermont. While he was there , he passed up a talk by Bill McKibben, Middlebury College's writer in residence, who has done more than any other single individual (I think) to get out the word about global warming. J. doesn't often do things that make me squawk, but this did.

"You can't be serious!" I squawked. "You passed up Bill McKibben to play tennis?" I was flabbergasted. "Who does that?"

Let me explain. I used to write a book review for the newsletter in a former parish. In this capacity, I read McKibben's The End of Nature, which was my real introduction to the climate change phenomenon, and which kept me up nights. So I wrote several paragraphs about the book, and when the parish newsletter came out I eagerly anticipated a run on the bookstores. Not because of me, but because I had tried to fully convey the alarm I felt upon reading the book, which made the point that nature, in the late twentieth century, no longer functioned independently of man, so badly had humans encroached upon it.

What happened? Nothing. In response to my review, there was a crashing silence. A torrent of non-sound. Not a peep. Someone did mention to me that I was a good writer, and he enjoyed my book reviews. He suggested that some mysteries might be a nice choice.

Stunned, I simply went underground, becoming a closet climate geek. During the same period, I was also becoming a theology geek. I have now reached a level of geekdom in which the theology books and the climate science books cohabit on the "theology" shelf in my study, and I really can't tell the difference anymore. Yes, I am crazed about climate change. There may be a twelve-step program for this, but I have yet to seek it out. In fact ... no.

Recently, in the post-non-winter blahs, I read Eaarth (not a typo, despite the best attempts of spellcheck to fix it), which McKibben published a year or two ago. The premise of this book is that we have so changed the face of the earth and the functioning of her natural systems that we need to find a new name for the planet. If we don't reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, we are basically screwed. In fact, we may be screwed already. The earth we are living on is no longer Earth.  It is Eaarth.

Well, if I was nuts before, you can just imagine how I am now. And I think, though I've been wrong before, that perhaps I'm not the only person I know who is taking the warnings seriously, and voting accordingly.

But don't believe me, because I'm just the local theology/climate change geek. Check it out here:

Monday, June 25, 2012

In Community

Earlier in the month I attended the Order of Julian's Affiliates' Retreat and JulianFest, held this year at the Redemptorist Retreat Center on Lake Oconomoc in Wisconsin. We had nearly three retreat days of silence, followed by two days of festivity. I love the silence: I read, meditated, sat in the sun, took a few photos, perched on my favorite swing by the lake (at left), and played peekaboo with a woodchuck, who popped his head out of his hole and regarded me solemnly, trying to determine if I represented a threat or an opportunity. Best of all, in shared silence all social pressure is off, and I find that a great relief. Retreat addresses received in silence, meals taken together in comfortable silence, always provide me a womblike security and peace. Community develops in silence -- I used to find this counterintuitive. Now it seems natural and organic to be in shared silence, sensing the loving presence of friends.

I'm part of several communities: among them a parish family, a former-parish family, the Shalem community, and the community of OJN, as well as my own nuclear family.  I don't know how I would live without them! Someone (I forget who) has written that there are no solitary Christians, and I find this to be so true for me. In community I am my best self, I think.  Community, silent or otherwise, draws me out of my shell, allows me to lower my defenses, and encourages me to hold the world in prayer.    

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Introvert Heaven, or, Read this book!

I finally made it into a book! the whole book, in fact, is about me. I am the star of every page!

I'm reading Quiet: the power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. If you're an introvert, know an introvert, live with an introvert, can't figure out introverts, or are driven crazy by introverts, read this book! If you're part of the working world that promotes extroversion as the ideal, read this book!

I already knew I'm an INFP and an Enneagram type 9 (peacemaker; conflict avoidant). But Cain's book highlights many everyday ways in which I express my basic introversion.  I can read forever, losing all track of time; I feel I best express myself when I write; I like to work alone, and I hate having to supervise anyone else; and I don't do my best work on teams.

And there's the vacation thing, a constant source of stress in my house. I could write a whole book about this myself.

Vacation for my husband means sightseeing. We're going to get up early and ardently pursue every possible sight. He has a bucket list of places to see before he dies, and by God, we're going to get there. We've been to England, Wales, France, and Italy; next up are Germany, Scandinavia, Greece. Maybe Africa and India. We will take them by storm. I will return home as exhausted as a limp dish-rag.

I enjoy travel, don't get me wrong, but I don't enjoy boot camp.  My perfect vacation? Plant me next to a body of water (doesn't matter which one), preferably off the beaten path. Take care of my basic needs: food, hot water, an inside toilet and shower. A church (any church, any religious community at all) for the weekends would be nice.  Dogs should be encouraged. And don't forget the suitcase full of books, candles, and a blank journal; those are the real necessities.

My poor husband doesn't understand me (oh boy, does that sound like a soap-opera line). So we'll take some vacations his way (when there's enough "fundage" to pay for them); and I'll go on the odd retreat here and there. In fact, I'm going on a silent retreat with the Order of Julian of Norwich in a couple of weeks, at a lovely retreat center run by the Redemptorists on Lake Oconomowoc (try saying that five times fast) in Wisconsin.

There, I can be my introverted best self, with 4 Daily Offices each day, silent communal meals, long walks on the grounds, walking the labyrinth, and reading by the lake. It's Introvert Heaven!

So read the book. You might find yourself in it, just as I did!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

A new chapter begins

Last Friday, J. went to settlement on his parents' home. Actually, he didn't go -- he signed all the papers ahead of time, and then busied himself with all the small tasks required to completely empty a house: loading the car with anything left to be brought home, hauling away the last-minute trash, locking the property securely. Then he headed back to New Jersey.  Taking care of the house has been a big burden that I'm glad he's done with (as well as that 10-hour round-trip drive to central New York State).  And yet ...

Now we've both been through the process of disposing of the family home, with all the attendant sorrow.  His family home was special to me, too. The house itself was an average 1950s-era "raised ranch" (I never knew that term until we listed the house for sale), but the location was magic. His mom and dad built the house in 1959, on a hillside outside their small college town.  In the 1970s, they also bought the wooded uphill lot next door, for a total of about 4 acres or a little less.  Having grown up on a suburban quarter-acre, I luxuriated in visits to my in-laws' home.  The privacy was amazing; the quiet was intense.  At night, I could see a million stars. I never suspected there were that many.

Life happened, however, as it tends to do.  My in-laws aged, and as they developed health troubles, the steep gravel drive and the heavy winter snow became a barrier rather than an asset. Privacy seemed a little threatening when emergency vehicles couldn't reach the house for entire months of the year. They began to spend their winters down in town, in a (dismal: my opinion) basement apartment. Summers back in their home were still glorious -- but there was always another winter coming.

Winter is coming for all of us, at least metaphorically.  Our current home has 5 separate levels (it's called a "colonial split-level," which I think does not really exist except in real estate-speak), and I know from the ache in my hip that we won't always be able to live here. A 5-level house is no good for older people.  When we moved here in 1998, I claimed the only way I was leaving would be in a pine box, feet-first.  Now, I'm not so sure.  Now I'm looking around at what we have accumulated, and imagining my children having to clean it all out.  This is not a task we'd like to leave for them, having been through it twice.

Figuring out the future is tough. Where will we go, how will we live? What shape will life take? I hope I will be as contented with my lot then as I am now.

I guess contentment is one more decision to make in advance.    

Monday, April 02, 2012

Holy Week FAIL!

Holy Week, like all of Lent that precedes it, should be a time of faithful reflection, of additional reading or other practices which deepen our faith. We should build in extra time for solitude, for retreats, for time away with God.

Have I achieved this in my life? In addition to working four full days, here's the rest of my schedule for Holy Week. You be the judge!

     Monday night:  pick up new glasses; buy a couple of small Easter gifts; LAUNDRY

     Tuesday night: choir practice moved up to 7 PM; DO LAUNDRY POSTPONED FROM LAST NIGHT

     Wednesday night: Tenebrae at 7:30; DEFINITELY DO LAUNDRY

     Thursday night: choir at Maundy Thursday service at 7:30; watch in the garden, 9:00-? FINALLY DO LAUNDRY. LOW UNDERWEAR ALERT!

     Friday (vacation day??): dye 4 dozen eggs; buy some chocolate for kids; figure out what to have for Easter dinner, since J. doesn't want ham again; food shopping? Noon: Stations of the Cross; 7:30: choir at Good Friday service; ABSOLUTE LAST CALL FOR LAUNDRY

     Saturday: play catch-up doing errands all day; 8:00: choir at Easter Vigil; IF I DON'T DO LAUNDRY TONIGHT, I WILL BE WEARING DIRTY CLOTHES ON EASTER

OK, so you get the drift. I get a Holy Week FAIL. My life is totally out of whack.

And I bet I'm not alone ....


Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Wounded Alto": what beat is this anyway?

Today our anthem in choir was "Wounded Dove," a perfect choice for the 4th Sunday of Lent. We've been working on this anthem for awhile, since we're a tiny group of five and we need a LOT of lead-time. Well, we seemed ready. All systems were go. Right?

Wrong. The tenor, our lone male voice, got sick. Unfortunately, the person with the next-lowest voice is ... me. I should have been OK. This tenor part was even written on the treble clef. It should have been a no-brainer. It sounded OK right before the service. I even looked it over during the sermon (don't tell!). I made handy notes to myself on my score.  Handy notes have bailed me out plenty of times. When it was time for the anthem, I opened my mouth with confidence. That should have been my first clue.

It was a train-wreck.

 First I couldn't seem to figure out what octave I should be in. Then I lost the beat against the womens' voices. Then I noticed I was in the wrong key. I mean, seriously? How did THAT happen? We all finally got together on the last line. The ending was fine The congregation applauded politely. We crept in horror back to the choir stalls. The anthem lay bleeding on the floor .....

Oh well. There's always next week, right? I'm wearing a trenchcoat and a rubber nose for Lent 5.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Happy tails

My oldest dog, Shadow, departed this life in the evening of Thursday, March 1st, just about three months short of her 16th birthday.  She had a long and happy life, but she was old and weary. This was not a decision I ever wanted to make, but I think it was the right time for her. Our vet and his staff were wonderful! Shadow is at peace now.

Me, not so much.  It takes nothing to reduce me to emotional rubble.  I know this will pass; it always does. Patience and self-care are required. And when  I have collected Shadow's ashes and brought her home, I will feel a bit more closure than I do right now. Our rector is also planning a service for all the pets in the parish who have died this year. I think this is a wonderful idea.

So I am trying to focus on the happy memories: Shadow eating the table-pad right off the kitchen table (twice); Shadow pilfering all the dirty silverware out of the dishwasher, which I had left open inadvertently, and carrying it all into her crate so she could lick it clean; Shadow nudging the undersides of our arms as we sat at the table eating -- so vigorously that we routinely had bruises there ...

And my favorite story: Shadow and the boursin.

We had another couple over for dinner, and we started off relaxing in the living room, nibbling on crackers and a large portion of boursin cheese, which rested innocently on a plate on the coffee table. This couple loved Shadow to pieces -- they fussed over her and loved on her, and she was lapping it up (figuratively, for now).

I somehow didn't see that she was eyeing the cheese.  That she was wagging her tail furiously, smiling a doggy smile from ear to ear, while sidling slyly up to the table.  I didn't notice a thing until she leapt upon the cheese, seized the whole thing in her mouth, and took off.

My friends howled with laughter. J. and I caught up with Shadow in the dining room. All that remained of our boursin was a small, inedible remnant. Shadow smacked her lips and looked pleased with herself. The fierce hunter had vanquished the cheese. The rest of us were reduced to bare crackers.

And this is what I will try to remember, as I get used to being without my old friend. She could be a little devil, but even then she delighted and charmed us. Farewell, baby girl. I miss you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Remembering the Ash Wednesday Storm!

Having grown up in Delaware and spent many happy summer vacations "at the beach," I remember the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 clearly, and realized yesterday, as we marked Ash Wednesday, 2012, that the 50th anniversary of that event will soon be here.

What a storm! At left is a newspaper shot of the storm raging off Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where my family used to vacation. We stayed often in that very hotel pictured, the Henlopen, which was heavily damaged. It looks to me as if the boardwalk I expected to see in the photo above has been completely washed away.

The storm arrived early in March, a perfect nor'easter, and perched over the mid-Atlantic coast through 5 complete high tides.  At least 40 people died, and many communities suffered heavy damage.  A childhood friend and her family lost their summer home in Fenwick Island, Delaware -- everything was gone but the foundation pilings -- and such a loss was not unusual.

I lived to the north and inland, near Wilmington, where the weather event took the form of heavy snow.  My elementary school was hosting a Book Fair and Spaghetti Dinner, which I recall attending, but getting there was not easy.  Next day, we learned of the devastation along the coast.

The storm is ranked as one of the ten worst of the 20th century. Read more about it here.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Seasonal Disappointment Disorder

I'm a victim of an affliction I like to call Seasonal Disappointment  Disorder.

This is a fancy-sounding way of saying I don't like the weather. One simple question: where's winter?

People with Seasonal Disappointment Disorder, you see, like seasons, and, as creatures of habit, get all discombobulated when the seasons don't flow smoothly by. We like predictability. We like consistency.

We assume, if we buy a nice, red parka with fake fur around the neck and hood, we will actually be able to wear that garment during the winter -- even if we do look like Kenny from South Park when the hood is pulled up. OK, I'm exaggerating (but not about the resemblance to Kenny). I have actually worn the parka two or three times this winter. But, most days, my poor old green quilted jacket is getting a run for its money.

So, where's winter? Yesterday it was 61 degrees here in the Delaware valley. On our way to the commuter train, I and my fellow travelers shed layer after layer of winter clothing, like snakes shedding their skins. Good thing we didn't leave them behind on the ground, like so much litter.

Don't get me wrong -- I do like the teensy weeny heating bills this winter. But I also like enough snow and cold to remind me that winter has arrived, and to allow me to snuggle in front of the fire with my dogs, sipping a cup of tea. On my porch at home is a woodpile, which looks almost exactly the same as it did in October, when my son stacked the wood for me. I'm sorry -- I feel silly building a roaring fire and then opening several windows because of the heat.

I'm getting a little old to blame it on hot flashes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter Feast for The Soul

I'm definitely in a post-holiday slump. It's the season of blah: the time between New Year's and the beginning of Lent. I don't do winter sports, and even if I did, there's been no snow! Spring seems a long way off, even in the fairly mild weather. I understand that the bare trees have their own beauty as they send fingers into the gray sky, but many days I fail to see it. I look forward to Lent, but even that's way out on the horizon. I guess I have a touch of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. My dad certainly had it, and my son does, as well.

One restorative measure I can take is a day-long retreat. In early February, I may plan one. Another thing I can do is the Winter Feast for the Soul, a forty-day celebration of kindness, connectedness, and gratitude, which began on 1/15 and finishes up at the beginning of Lent. The program includes online, guided meditations in several faith traditions, including a set of interfaith meditations. The website lists lots of resources for celebrating this time of year: 40 minutes per day for 40 days. I'm getting a late start on this, but actually it's never to late to do spiritual work, is it? Check it out with me!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Elderly animals video

Just came across this on Facebook. It's about five minutes long, but well worth it if you're an animal-lover, especially if you've loved an older animal.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Best dog in my world

I'm relaxing tonight, dogs all around.

Max and Amber, the 5-year-old standard poodle littermates, are on the bed with me. For some reason, they feel that they must lie on their sides with their legs stretched straight out, so that they occupy most of the available space. Every now and then, when they are dreaming of prey (poodles were originally hunting dogs in Germany -- no pink bows or painted toenails there), their legs twitch as if they are running, and they give a sotto voce "yip" every now and then.

But the queen sits on the floor next to the bed. Shadow, my first standard poodle, is now fifteen and a half, and no longer gets up on the bed, mainly because she can't jump anymore, but also because she can't see where the bed ends and empty space begins. So she sits patiently on the floor.

I'm a great fan of older dogs -- I could see adopting a few more. There's a wisdom in older animals, human and canine, that gradually replaces the exuberance of youth. I know the end is coming but I treasure every minute. Dogs, especially large dogs, never lived this long when I was a kid; I know Shadow is on borrowed time. She can still climb the stairs fairly well, but she won't go downstairs unless I walk backwards in front of her, holding her collar. She lost bowel and bladder control a few months ago. I have become an avid fan of Swiffer products, and have cornered the market on air freshener.

Knowing when to let go is the tricky bit. I see no sign that Shadow's in any pain. She still eats heartily. She still snarls at her younger furry companions, just as she always has. She has borne the indignities of old age better than I probably will. So the time is not yet, but it's coming. This is the part I don't cope with very well.

We brought Shadow home in the summer of 1996, when our younger child started coming home from grade school alone -- she felt better coming home to a house with a nice big dog there. And so Shadow has helped me raise my kids. Since that younger child is now nearly done dental school, you can see how long Shadow has been part of our lives. That's a venerable contribution to any family's life.

So parting won't be easy, even though I trust we'll be together again on the Other Side. In the meantime, Shadow is my treasure. And I'll trust that, when the parting comes, I'll be able to stand it somehow.