Thursday, July 30, 2009

Garden Update

I haven't mentioned my herbs much lately. Or my garden. Mostly because I didn't do much with them early enough in the year - I've got a pair of heirloom tomatoes that are unhappy in the heat and some pretty standard herbs. Something keeps trying to devour my lemon balm and I may have to give up on keeping a plant going this year if I can't figure out what it is, but my lemon verbena seems to be doing fairly well. The peppermint is doing well, but the spearmint is not. Basil and sage are thriving, but the oregano is struggling again this year. I also devoted some pots to flowers that would feed and draw hummingbirds, of which the petunia is doing well but the verbena won't blossom (I suspect the same kind of critters eating on it as on the lemon balm) and the phlox seems to be toast.

Hopefully I will be able to do some more research this winter into what will grow here in the heat and sun and will not turn out to be sadly needing shade in this extremely sunny yard. I suppose that with the way the house reflects heat it cooks anything near it, and there is really no way to create shade. In the meantime I am glad that I have several reliable sources of dried herbs for the things I enjoy using!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Where am I?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver
This quote returns to me again and again, most often when I am in a transitional stage of my life. It was first given to me when I was a part of the Micah Project, a year-long time set apart for discernment as part of an intentional Christian community. It was a remarkable and dramatic year for me, with one of my mentors remarking that I had done seven years of growing and developing in the space of one. I returned from Micah a changed person.
I am entering a new stage... actually a new stage in my life is finally catching up with me. With the loss of my job I am set free to explore what it means to me, in this time, to be a wife with a house to care for and a bonus daughter who visits often. All of these are new things for me, and so I ponder where God is leading me to be. What is it God is asking me to do with my one wild and precious life?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Special Gift Given

Monday was my mother's birthday. Not a major milestone number, but a special day nonetheless. So I had a special gift to share with her, and her delight was so much fun!

About a year ago I received an email asking for submissions to a new collection of prayers from women across the Anglican Communion. It was to be a follow up book to Uncommon Prayers and would be called Lifting Women's Voices: Prayers to Change the World. The submissions were to be focused on one of the eight Millennium Development Goals from the United Nations.

I wasn't sure I could do this - I hadn't written freely in a long time. I used to journal daily and often scribbled out poetry and short vignettes, but had let the practice go. But I love to write and this was just the challenge I needed to encourage me to sit down with my pen and paper again. I looked at the MDGs and struggled with what I could contribute. I wrote, crossed out, wrote some more, and wanted to scream in frustration. I had forgotten how hard it is to write something that my own self-critical eye would allow anyone else to see.

Then, one day, it happened. My then-future-husband and I decided to take his daughter to Green Valley Falls in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to play in the waterfalls. We drove through what used to be a campground to the parking area, all the while marveling at the trees and environment in general struggling to come back from the devastation of the Cedar Fire in 2004. The Cedar fire is considered one of the worst human-caused wildfire in the history of the state of California and devastated a large swath of Southern California. The Green Valley Falls campground has been closed since the fire and will remain unusable until the environment can show significant enough stabilization to allow for consistent "residential" use again. Until then, it is a wonderful day trip from San Diego.

We parked and hiked the short trail to the falls, eating a picnic lunch overlooking one of the larger drops through the rocky canyon before making our way to the shallower end of the falls and wading into the water that felt icy in the summer afternoon heat. After a wonderful scramble over the rocks and through the pools and falls I retired to a quiet spot under some trees just upstream from where several families were frolicking in the water. There, I reflected on the wonders that God was working in the recovery of the fire-burned areas all around me and how it reflected in my own struggles with wedding planning, establishing a household, learning what it meant to be a stepmother, and the continual renewal of life. I wrote, and what I wrote spoke to me. So, with my husband's encouragement I submitted it. I didn't think much more about it - pretty sure that it would not be accepted as it didn't speak about the empowerment of women or the eradication of poverty or any other direct link to the MDGs. But it was accepted.

Just this summer Lifting Women's Voices was published. I didn't tell my mom, but ordered her a copy for her birthday. It arrived on my doorstep the same day we went to General Convention, and had seen it displayed in the Church Publishing booth in the exhibition hall. In fact, one of the editors, Abagail Nelson, was the preacher at the daily Eucharist that day.

Yesterday, I watched mom open this small gift to discover my poem (for those interested it starts on page 243 and ends on page 244) and the joyful surprise on her face when she realized the author of that particular prayer.

It was a good day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Taking out the Trash

I wilt in the heat, watching the thermometer climb toward it's peak. I find that lethargy marks my days now; I wake up in a rush to get things done before the heat of the day begins to sap my energy and my mind slows to match the humid haze growing to the east over the mountains.

I have my goals for cleaning but struggle to cram them in as early as possible now. Today it is to carry the same momentum that has helped me to recover the kitchen island counter top from clutter to at least one other area - I hope either the dining room table or the raised bar on two sides of the island. This recovery of my home from the invasion of clutter, crud, and corruption that has taken over has given my days purpose recently and I am thankful. I never thought I'd be thankful for the very same clutter that has been driving me out of my mind for these past many months, but having a purpose and daily "job" has been a gift as I am adrift and trying to find my compass.

As I clear out the clutter and junk the trash I am forced to focus my mind on what is truly important. I don't want to waste precious storage space on something that is not useful, helpful, or does not mean something so deep that it would be painful to not have it in our lives. So it is with my heart and mind. I am sorting through old perceptions and roles I have played, finding which ones are truly a part of me at my core and what I have created in order to fit in somewhere that I don't really belong. It is a comfort to take out an old idea or belief and be able to say that it does not belong to me at all and is safe to discard or to realize that it is a firm part of the foundation of my being and to tuck it safely away in my heart where it will continue to give me strength. With each bag of trash I dump in our trashcan and with each box I fill up of things to donate to various causes I am lightening my soul's load as well, stripping myself down to what matters most and moving forward from there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thoughts on General Convention

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You... it was an unusually large sign, that peculiar combination of sky and periwinkle blue, hanging above the entrance to the Anaheim Convention Center as our bus pulled up. I got off, a bit stiff from the drive, and my mom and I walked into the main hall to register. In a few moments we had our name tags and a handful of information that we needed to sort out and we headed upstairs to visit the House of Bishops. There was a rather genteel sense of decorum in the ballroom populated by people wearing that peculiar shade of purple bishops seem to love, with a calm and serene manner reminiscent of a convocation of elders somewhere. On the other hand, when we visited the House of Deputies on the main floor of the convention center I had a feeling of brashness and an in-your-face chaos. I suppose that had much to do with the harsher lighting, cement flooring, larger room, and strangely decorated tables representing each diocese. I know that I was much more impressed with the collegiality expressed in the house of bishops, but I suppose some of that was due to the way the bishops were seated.

In due time the houses recessed to attend the mid-day Eucharist. I was fortunate to arrive in time to be able to be a Chalice for one of the stations on the floor. It wasn't until I was in my station after the Peace that I realized just how big this "chapel" was. I don't know how many people were there, but I found that from my position on the edge of the crowd the dais where the altar resided looked to be a few inches wide, with the people on it as over sized ants. The music was beautiful, the sermon inspiring, and in an ecstatic state I was able to participate in the Rite I worship of my childhood without needing to read the program for anything but the music! My spirit soared as I stood in the assembly blessing and being blessed by the magnificent language the lifts me above the mundane and reminds me of when my faith was so much simpler and more direct.

Lunch followed the Eucharist and then an afternoon of wandering around the various exhibits. First, we looked in at the National Altar Guild's display of liturgical art - including vestments and paraments. The stitching and stories on these beautiful works was amazing. Then, when we realized that the bishops were in a closed meeting, we went to wander the exhibition hall. I was overwhelmed by all of the various groups represented. Some seemed to be out of place in this hall, and it showed in the way they spoke to us. I was particularly taken aback to be asked, when mom recognized a publication often on display in a parish that abandoned the church, "then what are you doing here?" by a representative of the American Anglican Council who obviously thought that because we knew enough about a departed church that we should have gone with it. Other groups were much kinder and more enthusiastic about the fact that all of us, as a church, had gathered together to do the work set in front of us.

By the time we left that afternoon I had experienced some highs and lows in the midst of the congregation. I am still reeling today and most likely will continue to sort out my responses to this event for a while. One thing is certain, however: I was able to connect with new resources and information and to renew connections with old friends.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Church Happenings and Poetry Teas

For someone who is feeling deeply ambivalent about organized religion - especially politically charged denominations of the Christian Variety - I am doing an awful lot that is involved with them.

For starters, this past Sunday my mother and I were invited to take part in a Poetry Tea hosted by the Christian Education committee of a local Presbyterian Church where several friends attend. Our joint contribution was originally going to be only the centerpiece, but after the challenge of sixteen or so centerpieces for my wedding last September we felt rather an anticlimax once this one was planned out so we went whole hog and did the china place settings, flowers, and some sweets as well.

Since this was a tea based around people getting together to recite poetry we looked through all of our old books and came up with two beauties, which we accented with a beeswax candle in a silver holder, my Great-Great-Grammie Webster's silver teapot, a crystal bud vase from the last local crystal producer to the area my family is from, a teacup from my wedding china, an antique ink bottle and silver dip pen.

At each place setting (we chose to use my wedding china because it matched the blue and brown color scheme suggested by the books) we decorated the napkin with a rose, blue statice, and some gypsophilia.

My mother also provided some gingerbread petit fours and sugar cookie bookmarks while I offered shortbread made from my grandmother's recipe using lavender sugar.

As if this lovely afternoon wasn't enough of being up to my eyeballs in church, Tuesday I am going with my mother and others from around the diocese on a bus trip to the General Convention for the Episcopal Church.

I am hoping to run into some friends from my past endeavors - I was blessed to be a part of the Cathedral staff in Boston the year Bishop Barbara Harris retired and Bishop Gayle Harris was consecrated. It was a truly amazing experience for this girl who, at the time, didn't even know that we had women bishops and was still in a church where the rector referred to female clergy as "women in priest's clothing". You can't tell me there isn't a world of difference between the East and West coast churches! I hope to share some of my experiences when I return.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Today is Tuesday

Like an archaeologist I uncover layers of meaning. Unfortunately this is not some mysterious dig out in the desert, uncovering ancient artifacts. This is me, making my first tentative steps toward rediscovering my house. Today I decided to tackle part of a kitchen counter and was horrified to discover the well preserved memories of leftover decorating frosting from the sugar cookies we made at Christmas. Still in their tightly capped tubes they rested on a neatly folded paper towel in a dish. I am almost afraid to touch them, these colorful tubes of sugar, color, and preservatives. I do not wish to know if they are still soft and pliable or if they have petrified in their plastic cases, but I need to do something with them. I know that they belong in the trash bag I am holding in one hand, but there is a fear in letting go of something that is only half-used.

I take a deep breath and reach instead for my journal, setting aside the concerns of whether or not to throw the tubes of frosting in the trash. This is one of those moments I have been expecting - knowing that as I excavate the layers of physical clutter all around me I will be excavating ever deeper into my heart and uncovering clues to the truths that hide there. I married in September of last year and since then I have let the house accumulate layers of clutter as I try to define who I have become as I joined my life to my beloved. More has changed than simply my name and I have not embraced that change gracefully.

I do know that my surroundings echo my inner state of being, and it frightens me to look around at all of the unfinished projects and clutter that surrounds me. I find myself with long stretches of time now to deal with this accumulation of clues that I did not want to see the first time. I am re-learning myself one small piece at a time.

Today, in those four half-empty tubes of frosting from Christmas I rediscovered a part of my grandmother and the lessons I absorbed from her frugality and make-it-stretch mentality. But I am still going to throw away those tubes of frosting.

More Tuesdays Unwrapped are over at

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Independence Day!
It started early for those of us at the cottage with a picnic supper at a bay side park and watching two different early fireworks displays. It was a wonderful evening and we are all looking forward to repeating the annual pilgrimage to Ivy Hill to watch the city's fireworks over the harbor tonight. Last year we counted something like 16 different displays from our vantage point!
We will be sharing grilled tri-tip marinated in chimichurri, beautiful fresh white corn from the farmer's market yesterday, grilled onions, homemade potato salad, apple pie, and (if all goes well) homemade cinnamon ice cream. It sure sounds like a lot of food, but we'll manage. We always do and it is always a wonderful evening full of family and fun.
It is also a time when we remember our veterans and those still serving our country. This is, and has been, a military town and we are proud of our men and women in service. Thank God for those who are willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of us when duty calls for it.
Have a wonderful day and enjoy whatever celebrations you are part of!