Garden Epiphanies: Work Happens Here


When I tell people I’m trying to become a gardener, I hope they imagine the kinds of scenes I follow on Instagram. Bright nasturstiums spilling over new cedar boxes, beautifully trellised beans, fat red tomatoes.

What’s really happening, especially since we don’t have a garden shed or greenhouse, is that there is %$#! everywhere. Hose snaked across the grass, half-finished bags of soil and vermiculite now getting a little waterlogged, split cherry tomatoes on the ground, stacks of pots multiplying and teetering.

When my kids were little and it seemed like all I did was sweep the floor, I put a reminder on my bulletin board: See my world and messy house through eyes of love. I wanted to remember that messiness was a sign of life, a sign that people were eating, drinking, sleeping, creating, snuggling, living, working.

The trend in my cooking magazines and social media feeds is to organize the crap out of everything—have deep drawers that hold every implement, have matching and labeled canisters, and definitely do not leave the juicer sitting out on the counter. I suppose my garden is going the way of my kitchen, and they both shout, “Work happens here!”

And all those years sweeping cheerios off the floor taught me to love it.

Garden Epiphanies: Growth Doesn't Have to be Hard


I had a vegetable garden this summer.

It was the last step of many. First, fence the yard so the deer don’t get in (5 years ago.) Take out three topped, dying trees and their roots to let the sunlight in (last summer.) Tear down the old rotting deck and replace it with a new one (this spring.) Of course Yancey did all these things while I supplied impatience and sandwiches. And finally, after eight years in our Bellingham house, there’s an L-shaped raised bed in one corner of the yard and the failures, successes, and epiphanies have begun.

We are definitely not saving money in groceries! I shudder to think what the little pile of cherry tomatoes on my counter cost us—the lumber, soil, seeds that didn’t work, then starts, and the mental bandwidth to water every day and get the neighbor to do it while we’re gone. News flash—this does not pencil out!

But the epiphanies have been coming, fast and furious. Gardening metaphors aren’t hard to find, but it’s a whole different thing to see it all for myself. I’ve been composing a series of posts in my head, and this is the first.

Growth Doesn’t have to be Hard

I started squash from seed in little trays, and made the mistake of planting everything that germinated. You can bet that went into my little learning notebook, maybe with some expletives—”Plant less squash next year!” I tried to harvest them when they were little, but if I went away for the weekend or turned my head for more than 60 seconds, they did their thing.

The wonderful a-ha from the whole fiasco is that growth doesn’t have to be painful or hard. Sure, sometimes it is. Sometimes we use metaphors like climbing mountains or, if we’re really down, the story of Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll down again. All that is true, but sometimes, things just grow. Women have surprise babies. We puzzle on a problem and wake up the next morning having solved it in our sleep. We put off going to therapy with our mother for 10 years but, when the conditions are right and we finally say “yes,” it only takes one session.

I tend to be someone who repeats things like, “Well, you have to put in the work.” Okay, fine. But there are also miracles. Miracles like zucchini growing in the night, effortlessly becoming itself, taking the smallest bit of rich soil and spilling its star-shaped leaves all over the brown summer grass, making our earnest efforts seem silly. May it be so for you.

Corn and Radish Salsa


…and some other things, of course! If you just want the “recipe,” it’s something like:

Saute a bag of Trader Joe’s fire-roasted corn kernels in a little bit olive oil and salt. (Or other frozen corn.) Scrape the warm kernels into a bowl and add a pint of quartered cherry tomatoes, one seeded, finely diced jalapeno, 1/4 of a finely chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, a handful of fresh radishes, halved and thinly sliced, juice of one lime (or more to taste) and plenty of kosher salt. Enjoy over roasted meats, in burrito bowls, with chips, over eggs. We’ve had this twice this week thanks to the amazingly beautiful radishes coming in our produce box.

Recently, I listened again to Sylvia Boorstein’s On Being interview which has continued to have a profound impact on me since it aired the first time several years ago. In talking about discovering Buddhist practice, Sylvia says,

“I thought about becoming enlightened and that, if I practice meditation enough, that the challenges of life and the pain and the disappointments of it would just — I would sail over them with great equanimity…But the truth is that we are connected with empathic bonds of tremendous energy. I wouldn’t want it otherwise. I don’t want to sail above my emotional life. I don’t want to complicate my emotions with worse complications by struggling with what I can’t change or by reacting without thinking things through. In the beginning, I think I had a more lofty idea of what would happen if I practiced a lot, become a lot more pedestrian. I’d like to live kindly with a good heart because I’ll be the happiest that way…Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.

I love this so much. Not taking the spiritual bypass, not sitting on our meditation cushions while we manage to avoid the everyday tasks and relationships that need the most attention in our lives.

Last night, by some miracle, I really did make this radish salsa “in a sweet way.” With the dog at my feet (I’m going to trip over him and break my ankle someday), Loretta hovering and asking, “What’s for dinner?”, Wyatt kissing me on his way to basketball practice, Yancey fiddling with his Goodwill stereo in the garage. The okayness of life settled over me and I could say again, with Julian of Norwich, “All is well and shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Acceleration of Calling


I woke up early this morning.

I could go back to sleep, open my NYT app, or take a walk. I’m trying to read less news, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fall back asleep. So I leashed Padre up and downloaded this podcast, which turned out to be the best 20 minutes of my week so far.

Michael Meade says,

When things get really rough, there’s an acceleration of calling. Calling is that thing that is secretly trying to awaken each one of us to what we came to life to do…There are only two philosophies about the human soul. Either it’s empty and it gets filled with what happens around you or it’s seated, aimed, and purposeful…The calling is calling to the thing that’s hidden in the soul. I call it the genius. This means “The spirit that’s already there.” We came here to give our gifts, and it becomes more important to do so when the world has gone wrong.

Calling isn’t what we do for a living. Michael is not talking about seeing a career counselor to change jobs (though do that if you’re stagnant or under-utilized). He’s not talking about taking Srengthsfinders or going to a conference for mamapreneurs (though do that if it enlivens your soul).

He’s talking about “calling to the thing that’s hidden in the soul…the spirit that’s already there.” Bill Plotkin says our psychological suffering comes from noble souls that know they haven’t reached their full potential. There is something in us that knows we’re meant for more—something calling out to us, sometimes barely discernible, reminding us that we’re connected to the stars and the earth, that the spark of the Divine hasn’t gone out.

There are strong forces that keep us from dropping into our True Selves—old stories, fear of losing the things that we think make us who we are, the siren calls of power, materialism, image. But, Meade says, we can’t afford to forget who we really are—“We came here to give our gifts, and it becomes more important to do so when the world has gone wrong.”

What’s heartening to me lately is that there are so many wise guides if we say “yes” to the acceleration of our calling. You don’t have to go the library and ask to see something on microfiche. You don’t have to pay $5000 to go on a yoga retreat or go on a raw vegan diet. If you begin with willingness, there are clues everywhere.

Because I get so caught up in my Little Self, I need reminders of my calling. These come in the form of spirituality books, time in nature, Tarot and oracle decks, prayer books, poetry, silence, candles, plants, service, solo time away from home, spiritual friendship, exercise, eating healthy food, and a severe limiting of notifications on my electronic devices. A few things that have accelerated my calling lately:

Peace and momentum to you on your journey of calling—I’m with you!

P.S. Photo from Easter Sunrise service on the shores of Lake Whatcom with my church. Though I continue to struggle with my place in a community of faith, I’m frequently enfolded into love anyway, despite all my misgivings or boredom or resistance. It’s good to be together.

Being with Mirabai


Got home last night from a retreat with Mirabai Starr at Turtle Haven, and it’s going to take me awhile to get over it. In the best way.

I’ve been around enough authors and teachers in my life to be a little bit wary going into these kinds of things. Some people know how to transmit love and wisdom on the page, but they’re not great at it IRL. (“In real life,” for those of you without teenagers.) Some people can pontificate about living with integrity and joy, but they don’t embody it. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have much patience for that. I want the real deal—I want the “suchness” and “thingness,” I want the incarnation, not just the incantation.

Mirabai led us there, into the arms of the Divine Mother, into the dancing circle of the Mystery. She gave us the freedom to “come out as interspiritual,” and it turns out that’s what I’ve been dying and trying to do for the last 10 years. The metaphor I’ve been operating from for a long time goes something like this: If we need water to stay alive, wouldn’t it make sense that there are drinking fountains, streams, aquifers, everywhere? Why would a loving Creator design things in such a way that a seeker needed to cover several continents or centuries in order to get a cup of cool water? If God is Love (which I fervently believe and experience), wouldn’t She pour out her love, indiscriminately, through and over every religious tradition? Through and over every non-religious person and space, free for the taking or leaving? Yes, and yes.

I’m devouring Mirabai’s new book Wild Mercy, and I recommend it for all my fellow seekers. At the end of our retreat, as we shared our closing reflections, I said, “I feel like every pore in my body is open, soaking up love.”

We had some writing prompts throughout the weekend, and it was actually the first time I’d written a poem in a long, long time. I’ve been a little clogged, and it turns out that someone giving me something to go on and a quiet 10 minutes is all I needed for the juice to start flowing again. Here’s the poem I wrote from the prompt, “Write to the great mother.”

Saint Sarah in Ecstasy

Great Mother, Light of Nations, Healer of Wounds,
Lover of my Soul and of all
my ten fingers and ten toes,
you hear me always, though
I’ve forgotten your names.

In the halls of power, in the races
to the top, in the smackdowns,
in the Twitterverse,

you are the Multiverse.

In the anthills, the mitochondria,
in the cells dying and multiplying
in our bodies every second,

you are the life, the life
becoming more life.

In our earnestness, our serious
business, our calculations
and actuarial tables,

you are the mirth,
the belly-shaking laugh.

In the bottomless night
when every fear, nameless or named,
crawls into our beds,

you are the crooner, the soother,
the lullaby-singer.

In the kitchen, the kettle singing,
the vegetables roasting, dog and children

you are the spoonful of pure flavor,
and we can’t help but close our eyes
when we taste you.

Beginning Again


My friend Janel and I met for our “writing group” this morning.

This sacred, monthly ritual consists of taking up a table at Camber for at least two hours, talking about everything but writing, and then making rushed, earnest promises to one another in the last five minutes about all the writing we are going to do before we’re together again.

We usually begin by talking about favorite pens and journals. In case you’re pining for the details, my favorite pen is the PaperMate InkJoy gel, and hers is the Office Max version of the flair pen. And we’re both using (cheap) bullet journals in a much sloppier way than the Instagram feeds we follow. And she turned me onto using big post-its for my to-do list in the front of my journal. After 44 years of life, it’s satisfying to figure some of these things out.

I promised to start blogging again, and here I am! Yet another example of how writing group is actually working even though we are (blessedly) not hardcore about it. The two of us are hardcore about plenty of things—being present to our children, working hard at our jobs, trying to deepen our marriages and eat less french fries. It’s nice to drop into this gracious space with one another.

Writing here again underlines a core conviction of mine: We are meant to be creators, not just consumers! I’ve had so many clients in my office lately who are drowning in notifications, buried under banal input, trying to hear themselves again. We all need some kind of place to make something.

I’ve adopted Emily’s instructions to herself. When she feels anxious, lonely, or out-of-sorts, she reminds herself of three “M’s”: Make, Move, Meditate. These have been really helpful to me lately. The “make” might be starting dinner prep or pinching dead leaves off a houseplant. The “move” might be vacuuming or one minute of stretching. The “meditate” might be one 9-second breath, reminding me to be in my body. They all serve to keep me from energetically “scrolling,” mindlessly ingesting what other people are saying or passively watching what’s going on around me. More than ever, the world needs us to be present to ourselves so we can be present to the world.

I am prone to an all-or-nothing orientation when it comes to writing, moving my body, or praying and meditating. If I can’t completely knock it out of the park, I just don’t start. This little blog entry today lets me begin again, lets me treat this day and this moment like the practice it is.

Favorite Reads of 2018


I read 104 books in 2018.

Some people have superpowers of running marathons, parenting more than two children, or playing the guitar. Other people have superpowers of keeping meticulous track of their money, knitting, or remembering everyone’s name and birthday. My superpower is reading.

I like to read, obviously, and I’m a fast reader, but it’s also been a very conscious choice the last few years. I used to do most of my reading on vacation or fantasize about taking a sick day so I could stay in bed and tackle a stack of library books. Then I decided that was silly. I made a decision to stop treating reading as a luxury and to treat it instead like a necessity. Just like I need food, water, sleep, touch, friendship, safety, shelter, I’ve figured out that I also need the quiet, solace, and challenge that reading gives me.

I got excited about probably 40% of the books I read this year, but I’m glad I read all of them, for one reason or another. What follows are some faves, and then a few tips and tricks for developing a reading life.

Top Three
Three books I couldn’t put down and won’t stop thinking about for a long time.

  1. Marrow, by Elizabeth Lesser. Spiritual teacher Elizabeth Lesser tells the story of giving bone marrow to her sister, and how the two of them worked to create a relationally hospitable environment for her sister’s healing. Since reading this, I’m convicted to work for all my relationships to be a little bit better.

  2. The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. In a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel, Bui tells the story of her family’s immigration from Vietnam and the particular kind of love and loneliness that comes from growing up in an immigrant family.

  3. Rising out of Hatred, by Eli Saslow. The awakening of a former white nationalist, Derek Black, and the amazing friendships that spurred it. There are a million reasons to read this book, including better understanding the rise of Trump and the normalization of white supremacy. But what I loved most was the powerful example of relationships to change lives. A total page turner.

Getting Educated
Some of these were hard to read, some were fiction, some non-fiction. They all opened me up to wider worlds, which was a big reading goal of mine this year. I feel very strongly that there is NO REASON why those of us with privilege should stay uninformed about the realities the rest of the country and world face. It’s not hard to find stories. It’s not hard to find information. It’s one of the ways we can make the world a more just place.

  1. Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown, by Lauren Hilgers. Literary journalism about pro democracy activists in China and the immigration of two of them to Queens.

  2. There There by Tommy Orange, a novel about urban Indians in Oakland.

  3. “You can Tell by Looking” and 20 other Myths about LGBT Life and People by Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico.

  4. No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America , by Darnell Moore.

  5. Your Black Friend, by Ben Passmore. A comic book about racism.

  6. Kindred, by Octavia Butler. A time traveling first-person narrative about slavery.

  7. Undocumented, by John Moore. Intimate and sweeping photos of immigrants waiting to cross or trying to cross the U.S. southern border.

Good Stories
I see when I look over my list for the year that I tend toward non-fiction. Thank goodness for this fiction in the mix, though there’s just as much learning in it.

  1. The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Paralleled my growing fascination with trees and my growing sadness about climate change. This book was completely masterful.

  2. Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler. This isn’t her first rodeo, and it shows. I love stories of unlikely friendships.

  3. The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. Fiction, but the most realistic portrayal of a marriage I’ve ever read.

  4. Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison.

  5. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones.

  6. The NInth Hour, by Alice McDermott.

Yay for Literary Journalism
Some of the books above fall into this category, too, but I’m really loving this form of nonfiction that uses some of the strategies and techniques usually associated with fiction.

  1. Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife. By Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

  2. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari.

  3. This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm, by Ted Genoways.

Tips for Developing a Reading Life

There are so many ways to grow in our humanity. Reading isn’t the only one. But if you want to make it more a part of your life, here are some thoughts:

  1. Find a few referral sources you like and consult them often. I get my referrals from my local bookstore and their newsletter (three cheers for Village Books!), from the New York Times, and from NPR’s Maureen Corrigan. And from friends, of course!

  2. Get cozy with your library. Almost every single thing I read this year came from the library, though I do allow myself a few purchases. I have the library app on my phone and reserve several books a week. When I stop by the library and head to the hold shelves, it’s like getting a present. When I go in, I also spend a few minutes in the New Arrivals section and have picked up some of my favorites that way.

  3. Figure out your reading style. Are you an audiobooks person? Do you like to read from actual paper copy or are you the ebook type? I’ve figured out that I like the real thing in my hands and that I space out with most audiobooks.

  4. Set a realistic goal. If you haven’t been in the habit of reading, set a modest goal for yourself. Maybe you want to read 6 books in 2018. That’s a lot if you’re starting from zero!

  5. Nancy Pearl’s 50 page rule is the bomb. The famous librarian and book reviewer says that, if she’s not intrigued by page 50, she puts the book down and starts another. The world is too full of good books to waste time!

  6. …but give your attention span a challenge. If you haven’t been in the habit of reading, maybe don’t adopt the 50 page rule just yet. It might be boring at first since lots of us are used to scrolling instead of reading. Keep at it and enjoy the feeling of having to stick with something.

  7. Find an outlet. I take a picture of every book I read and post it on my private instagram feed. This helps me keep track of what I’ve read, lets me write a few sentences about the book, and gives me a little reward for finishing it.

Happy New Year! I hope your 2019 is full of learning, connection, and joy.

Advent 24 and 25: Let Evening Come


I am cheating and smooshing two posts into one. I’ve been running on writing fumes and have no idea how people write whole books. The years I’ve done this Advent writing, I always notice the same few things—how writing every day is far preferable to waiting for a profundity to arrive on my doorstep, how writing never makes me feel worse about anything, and how much better I become at noticing the questions and miracles inherent in any boring day.

I also notice how connected I feel to my readers, though I don’t know who most of you are. Awhile ago, I disabled comments so my readers can be freed up to simply receive. And also so I don’t maniacally check all day long to see who commented or infer that a low number of comments means the post was dumb or trite or pompous or all the other things I am prone to tell myself. Though pulling the comment field makes this blog more one-way, I’ve been surprised that when I sit down to write, I still feel you.

Thank you for reading and thank you for keeping me company on this Advent journey of waiting and watching. Thank you for giving me more reason to notice what’s going on in me and around me.

The poem I’m including tonight, by favorite poet Jane Kenyon, is probably more end-of-year than Christmas Eve, but I’ve been thinking of it all day long. At the end of every year and at the end of each day when darkness descends, I think our souls remember that everything ends. Even in the joy of birth, I remember looking at my babies and thinking, “This won’t last forever.” If Mary didn’t know the same in Jesus’ early years, she certainly knew it as she watched him tortured and assassinated for his message of love.

So one of the things I repeat to myself during times of change, doubt, uncertainty, or sorrow, is “Let evening come.” That beautiful phrase is from this poem. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, may you and your loved ones be shepherded and provided for on your journey in this next year.

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Advent 23: For all the Mothers in the World


Though I try to remind myself how rational I am, what admirably low expectations I have for the holidays, I always get hit upside the head. Today, I huffed and puffed because no one else in my family seemed to be preparing as ardently as I was (“This tiramisu is not going to make itself!”), and underneath it all, there was nostalgia. Nostalgia for when my kids weren’t so picky with their Christmas lists, nostalgia for some simpler time that actually never existed.

The parenting Mt. Everest continues around here, and I considered posting a poem I wrote this week about my almost sixteen year-old son. Then I remembered what the poet Ellen Bass said. If she writes about her adult children, she shows it to them first. And I feel sure Wyatt would say, “No way.”

Yancey rallied after dinner and suggested we drive around and look at Christmas lights, which seemed to cheer us all up. We passed around a phone and took turns choosing Christmas songs. Loretta and I got really excited about this turn of events, and Yancey and Wyatt, by this time in December, have completely had their fill of yule tunes. When Wyatt’s turn came, he picked Springsteen’s My Hometown, and we all sang along. I rested my head against the back of the seat, glad it was dark so Wyatt couldn’t see my tears. I love that he picked that song, and I think he knew that.

These last days of December, my thoughts always turn to Mary and to all the mothers and mothering energy in the world. Love that says “Yes” despite the heartache of it all. The story of Christmas, at its core, is a story about a mother having a baby and the rebirth available to all of us when we don’t try to protect ourselves. When we don’t do the safe thing.

My prayer for myself and everyone who loves someone else fiercely, whether it’s your child or not, is that we keep putting ourselves out there. We keep staying awake until we hear the door open, we keep risking disappointment or getting it wrong, we keep going all in even though an end or a change is inevitable.

Dorianne Laux has some beautiful poems about mothering, and I find myself craving wisdom from elders at this time in my life. I’ll leave you with the closing lines from her poem Planning the Future about her sixteen year-old daughter:

…And I can see clearly
the day she’ll walk away, keys on a ring,
a suitcase banging her legs.
The the real work of motherhood will begin,
the job of waking into each morning, trusting.

P.S. A photo from eight years ago. From the left, Wyatt, my niece Hannah Mae, and Loretta. Sigh.

Advent 22: Into the Night

night sky.jpeg

When I told Loretta today was the shortest day of the year, her eyes got wide. She and her friend took a walk down to the bridge at 3:30 and I told her she had 45 minutes to get back before it got dark.

The darkness is real. I read the news this morning. Closer to home, a guest at the Lighthouse Mission died in his sleep two nights ago. And there are hundreds of people just in this town who will spend Christmas Eve in the hospital, or home, but lonely. And within all of us, we have our own shadows to contend with, an inner restlessness that’s painfully loud sometimes.

This afternoon, the clouds blew away, the rain held off, and now the full moon lights up this longest of nights. The default metaphor is that darkness means we’re lost, or evil, or without hope. Thankfully, there’s a great tradition of it meaning something else—sustenance, quiet, rest, solace, and totally necessary for experiencing light.

So on this 2018 Winter Solstice, I’ll leave you with a few lines from David Whyte’s poem The Journey:

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving,
even as the light
fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

Advent 21: Feeling God


We watched Springsteen on Broadway last night, and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack all day, especially “Tougher than the Rest, ” a duet with his wife Patti.

There are some powerful dichotomies in his music. The dichotomy of earthiness and the Divine. The archetype of both leaving home and coming back to it. The startling reality that, to ascend to the heights, we have to descend to the depths. As the poet Billy Collins says, “The message of poetry is, ‘Life is beautiful, and we’re going to die.’” And the poet Wallace Stevens: “No ideas, but in things.” Bruce gets this all right. You can reach out and touch the details, the things, in his songs, and the details are all the more beautiful because they are temporal.

I’ve been in a lovely Bruce-induced coma all day long, thankful for my passage through this earth where music is made and listened to, where people can tell their stories with such love and passion. I’m too tired to write a poem, but this little entry is my ode. An ode to the storytellers and musicians of the world, to my place among them, and to being inspired. To feeling God. If that’s not possible, I’m not interested.

Advent 20: Make Something


More specifically, make these Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. I stood in the kitchen and ate one this morning, involuntarily closing my eyes. I am a Cookie Snob (my mom’s cookies have spoiled me forever) so my bar is high. These jumped way over that bar. Inside, they are like the best brownies you’ve ever eaten. Outside, their thin crackly crust makes you never want to settle for a brownie again.

I don’t post many recipes anymore for a few reasons. When my kids were younger, recording my kitchen escapades was a perfect outlet for my extroverted self. Now, with a busy consulting practice and kids with full lives of their own, I find myself returning to a rotation of standards: rice and beans, tortilla soup, pho, taco bar or burrito bowls in many variations, pasta, salad bar. Lots of sheet pan and instant pot dinners. They are usually all delicious, but I’m pretty convinced cyberspace doesn’t need me posting me about them. I’ve been blogging here for 10 years, and a lot has changed since then. Food blogging gave me an excuse to talk about life, and it turns out I’m a lot more into that.

But getting into the kitchen is always fortifying for me. On Sundays, I wash and prep vegetables, hard boil eggs, make soup, clean the fridge. There are a million ways to put something into the world, and cooking is mine.

Increasingly, many of us find we are becoming consumers instead of creators. This is stultifying. We are made to create things. We are made to contribute to the tumultuous cycle of life and death, to add our little bit to the mix. When we keep ingesting things without a proportionate output, things get clogged. My metaphor for this has long been a juicer. When I’m stuffing produce down the chute of my juicer, I have to open the spout! It has to have somewhere to go! If not, all of that gorgeous juice gets clogged and spills out on the counter. For the last few years, my mantra has been “Out of juicer and into the cup.” Certainly cooking isn’t the only way to do that, but it’s a damn practical and delicious way.

Okay. You are probably ready to make these cookies. They are from Cooks Illustrated. Put some music on and have fun.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Makes 2 dozen.

1 cup flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
4 tsp. instant espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 Tb. butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. powdered sugar.

Heat oven to 325. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl.

Whisk brown sugar, eggs, espresso powder (if using), and vanilla together in large bowl. Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl and microwave at low power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 2-3 minutes.

Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until combined. Fold in flour mixture until no dry streaks remain. Let dough sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Place granulated and powdered sugars in separate shallow dishes. Working with 2 Tb. dough at a time, roll into balls. Drop balls directly into granulated sugar and roll to coat. Batter will very sticky and annoying. Don’t worry. This is right. Transfer dough balls to powdered sugar and roll to coat evenly. Evenly space dough balls on prepared sheet.

Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until puffed and cracked and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone), about 12 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cool completely on sheet before serving or storing.

Advent 19: Your Radiant Core


Another description of an animal in winter from Gayle Boss, this time a porcupine:

Inside [a hollow oak tree], out of the wind but eschewing the comfort of a nest, he assumes the pose of his winter rest. Sitting up, he tucks the unfurred patch of his rump beneath him so it won’t leak heat. He folds his forelimbs close to his thinly furred chest and turns in his broad back limbs to shield his thinly furred belly. Lone ascetic in the dim heart of the tree, he closes his eyes and hugs himself, warmed by his own radiant core.

That’s what seasons of reflection and hibernation offer us—the opportunity to be warmed by our radiant core.

One of the lessons from the Enneagram, the psycho-spiritual tool that’s helped shape me and my worldview, is that our essence cannot be lost or harmed. Underneath our personalities, beyond our family histories, deeper than our vocational self, deeper than our roles of mother, brother, boss, daugher, our essence breathes. Our true self sustains us. It may remain hidden for decades. For some people, it remains hidden right up until death. The invitation to those of still alive is to uncover it before it’s too late. To risk the cold of winter, the terror of our negative emotions, to risk the possibility that maybe, underneath it all, we’re empty. When we open ourselves to that emptiness, we might experience, as Denise Levertov says, that “Emptiness is a cup/and holds and ocean.”

P.S. Jenn’s cat Eddie, who makes me want to have a cat. Which is crazy.

Advent 18: Be Astonished


All day, I didn’t know what I was going to write here.

A few hours ago, we settled into the bleachers for Wyatt’s basketball game. A couple rows behind us, the two team managers sat manning the video camera. I always love team managers. Afficionados of the sport but maybe not hardwired to play it, they usually model the kind of behind-the-scenes servant leadership that puts most of us to shame.

As the varsity players came out of the locker room, one of the managers said, with unbridled enthusiasm, “There’s Stephen! Dude—Stephen’s playing varsity!” They they both let out a raucous whoop and high-fived one another. Stephen, dedicated C team and JV player for the last two seasons, had been asked to suit up since varsity had two injured players. He didn’t see any minutes on the court, but the two managers had it right—total joy.

I smiled the rest of the night and thought of Mary’s Oliver’s instructions for life:

Pay attention
Be astonished
Tell about it

Sometimes life leaves us no choice but to fall in love with it.

Advent 17: Sacred Trimester

Favorite Sunday of the year yesterday with all the little shepherds and angels and adorable pageant mistakes. This is the first year I didn’t have a child in it. Sigh.

The whole tableau is so human, and reminds me of another Christmas poem of mine from the archives. It’s about a pregnant Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who’s also pregnant. Both are visited by angels who say, “Do not be afraid.” Both will have baby boys who show others the Way of Love.

Sacred Trimester

Mary set out to visit Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. When Mary entered her home, Elizabeth ran to greet her. (Luke 1)

They make tea,
clear out the spare room,
take afternoon naps.

Eat popcorn,
sew little garments,
compare angelic visits:

And what does the angel say to you?

The angel says old women give birth,
fatherless children show the way,
the lonely and wandering are closest to God.

Like a grapefruit heavy with juice,
you are taut with blessing.

History will call you holy,
lowly, or brave.

But don’t forget—you are a body,
arms, legs, collarbone, earlobes, womb,
veins, fingernails, spine, uterus.

A body spilling its juices,
a heroine leaving home
so she can return to it,
a woman born again and again
into her total carnal goodness.

Advent 16: A Voice Through the Door


Just something from Rumi today, whose poetry has been like food and water to me for several years. This is from Daily Readings, translated by Coleman Barks:

A Voice through the Door

Sometimes you hear a voice through the door
calling you, as fish out of water
hear the waves, or a hunting falcon
hears the drum’s Come back. Come back.

This turning toward what you deeply love
saves you. Read the book of your life,
which has been given you.

A voice comes to your soul saying,
Lift your foot. Cross over.

Move into the emptiness
of question and answer and question.

Advent 15: Lost in the Woods


Parker Palmer had a beautiful Facebook post this morning, referencing David Wagoner’s poem Lost :

I thought of [getting lost in the woods] when I woke up this morning feeling a bit lost in the wilds of my own life—lost because, for the moment, I’m without a strong sense of purpose. My temptation is to run madly toward something, anything, that feels like it might fill that void.

But that’s the way to become even more lost! So I need remember what happened on that mountain trail. I didn't keep running trying to find what I'd lost. I stopped until it found me.

Right now, my job is to wait out this feeling of being lost, to open myself to life and trust that it will find me—if I keep my eyes and ears open and am willing to follow the clues.

As David Wagoner says in this marvelous poem, "Stand still. The forest knows / Where you are. You must let it find you."

I love his phrase, “Getting lost in the wilds of my own life.” And how honest he is about being without a strong sense of purpose. (After the many books he’s written and non-profits he’s started, I want to tell him to take a breath! But that’s probably why this time in his life feels so uncertain.)

In the last week, I’ve felt lost in the wilds of my parenting life. It turns out that adolescence is a real phenomenon wherein one’s child might lose his way and wonder who he is. And it turns out that is painful for everyone and can’t be totally mitigated by a mother, no matter how enlightened or emotionally intelligent she may imagine herself to be.

I have such an urge to FIX things, to treat this whole season as a technical challenge with a technical solution. But I know it’s an adaptive challenge for all of us, and that relaxing into who we are is a journey that may start in adolescence, but continues throughout our whole lives.

This morning I went to a cycling class at the YMCA. Those 75 year-olds kick my butt every time. The instructor played rock-n-roll Christmas hits. The man on the bike to my right sang every word to Bruce Springsteen’s Merry Christmas Baby, and the senior in the back of the room wore a t-shirt that said “Yeah” in glitter letters. I said to myself, “Everything is going to be alright.”

And then I had breakfast with my friend Janel and cried all over my toast. She said, “I will leave my phone on. You can call me in the middle of the night if you need to.”

Okay, Parker. Okay, God—“Right now, my job is to wait out this feeling of being lost, to open myself to life and trust that it will find me.” At least for today, I was found.

Advent 14: Remembering to Notice


When I was 18, Denise Levertov’s book Evening Train was assigned to me in my Modern Poetry class with Dr. Delaney. I remember the splurge of buying all those books at the campus bookstore, and I remember the decision not to sell them back—R.S. Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas. What wonderful gluttony that was!

Levertov moved to Seattle for the last 8 years of her life and wrote many poems about Mt. Rainier. Not climbing it or conquering it, but letting glimpses of it inspire her everyday life and writing. Her poetry has always helped me notice what’s around me.

Here’s a favorite about noticing. I hope your day is full of it.


Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils in inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

Advent 13: It's Good to Be Human


Had some driving time today, and heard Rob Bell, emphatic as ever, say, “It’s good to be human!”

My faith has had a lot of twists and turns over the years, and my experience of the Divine is always changing. I’d call myself “trans-spiritual” or “inter-spiritual” these days, but what I love about the Jesus story is that it’s about being human. Anything that starts with a refugee family having a baby in a barn is something that will captivate me forever. Here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago about that.


Christmas stories are piling up.
You see them everywhere, stories of
powerlessness, wandering,
no room at the inn. Stories of kingdoms
bent on domination,
fear, fear, fear.

You don’t know if it’s true—
shepherds watching flocks,
wise men from the east,
angels, mangers, glory in the
highest and all that.

But one thing is truer than history—
love doesn’t wait. Love doesn’t hang back,
demand comfort, status, or a clean hospital.
It’s born everywhere, all the time.

Whoever the characters were and
whatever they’ve become through the years,
here’s the real crèche:

your willingness,
your yes,
how you can enter a smelly barn
and find God in the cold.


P.S. Photo snapped at my friend Jenn’s house where I spent the day. The eggs were gathered by her beautiful daughter Leona this morning.

Advent 12: No Wrong Seasons


In this excerpt from her poem “Hurricane,” Mary Oliver describes wrecked trees coming back to life:

But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer day they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

There is no wrong season for new love, repair, or forgiveness. There is no wrong season for leaving your job or starting a new one, no wrong season for being surprised by friendship or adventure or taking up knitting, painting, mountain climbing, singing, or botany. You might look like an old peeling telephone pole and then burst into bloom. How beautiful. How disruptive. How like the universe.