Garden Epiphanies: Work Happens Here

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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

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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.

Great Work is Done while We're Asleep

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As part of my progressive birthday celebration, Emily made sure there was something in my mailbox on the $#*ing day. That's love for you.

She sent me Elizabeth Berg's Escaping into the Open. I joked to friends this week that reading books about writing is what writers do when they're running from their calling. Guilty as charged.

Elizabeth says,

In trying to reach your reader, don't fall prey to what I call "dead dog in the road syndrome." What I mean by that is that anybody is going to feel terrible if you talk about certain things; what you have to try for is a certain emotional authenticity, an earned reader response. Most of all, remember the first rule when trying to convince a reader of anything: If you don't believe it, neither will they.

And then she really testifies by saying, "I'm sure you've heard, countless times, 'Write what you know.' I would change that to, 'Write what you love.'"

Write what you love. And what I love is people (usually women, in my world) finding each other through the fog of life. Admitting their need for one another, making mistakes, following each other through the years like a rope in a blizzard, strung from home to barn. Elizabeth might say that's the positive equivalent of the "dead dog in the road syndrome." Maybe it's the "dewy rose in morning light," but I love it. 

It was my 8th year at The Gathering, a group of women ages 35-85 who've been retreating together once a year for 30 years (the older ones, at least). There have been deaths of members, spouses, children. There have been coming-outs of every sort. There have been books published, fortunes made, diseases survived, untold successes and failures of every kind. I don't know how I'd get through life without spaces like this, where everything I am is always okay.

It was a crying year for me. Some years it's about rest, some about casual conversation. This one was about feeling the sadness in the world, crying for the racism that bred the massacre in Charleston, and getting down below all that to cry for myself and all the ways I don't love and honor the person I was born to be. It's not about a low self-esteem (God. I don't have that problem.) but about a loud inner critic that nit-picks and thrives on fear and works its hardest to keep me playing small. Sound familiar? Slowly, slowly, release is coming, and this retreat was part of it.

My dear sister-friend Nalani shared this Wendell Berry poem one night, and I had some company in my tears. It reminds us that "Great work is done while we're asleep." There's a grace afoot in the world that isn't about what we do or don't do (though hard work helps redeem us). It's not about staying busy or being strategic or "finding our passion." (An idea that wearies me.) It's about surrender, diligence, and trusting the Earth to do its work. 

Write/do/be/dream/create what you love, friends. Great work is done while we're asleep.

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Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that 
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet, not leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace, that we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep. 

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good. 

P.S. These hydrangeas are not from my yard. That's all I'll say about that. 

P.S.S. I'm dedicating this post to my faithful reader Emily Kelly-Peterson, who said to me at The Gathering, "If I see that zucchini bread post come up one more time when I log in, I'm going to go crazy." Thank you.

P.S.S.S. And to the other Emily in my life, what can I say? You're my rope in the blizzard.

For Better or for Ordinary

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If you're in a place right now where love stories annoy you, you'd better surf on over to Pinterest. And no judgement here.

Cause I've got one. You know. It's him. It's Yancey. And me. And how we met on his 16th birthday, started dating two years later, got married four years after that, and went to San Francisco last month to celebrate 20 years of marriage. 

I didn't bring my good camera and we hardly took any photos since we were too busy just being with one another. I'd forgotten what it's like to be in each other's sights almost every minute. Glorious. To start a conversation, pick up on or forget it later, have a glass of wine with lunch, sleep in, eat dinner as late as we want, reminisce about our first apartment, marvel at the pure dumb luck of our orbits crossing and the 20 years of intentionality it's taken to keep them that way.

And to still miss and love our ordinary lives at home. The come-and-go of kids and dog, washing baseball uniforms, planning far-off home renovations, dinners around our table with grandparents and neighbors, and the total awareness that, someday, it will be otherwise.

As Bruce Kramer said, it's the gratitude and the sadness that come together. It's been a sorrowful week in Whatcom County with accidents, murders, and house fires. And, unlike our more anonymous Seattle lives, I was connected to two of these in some way or another. That suffering is real, and someday there will be zero degree of separation. But this joy is real, too, this flesh-and-blood, unload-the-dishwasher-for-the-millioneth-time kind of joy, where you look up and think, "All is well."

Here's another poem I wrote about love and the ordinary. Happy Anniversary, babe.

Coworkers

The old bathroom has finally been ripped up,
plumbing moved, drywall replaced.
And now you're tiling, slap of mud,
brick and brick, walking back and forth
in an arc between wall and tile saw,
leaving trails of fine dust,
your carpenter pants crusted with grout.

I'm cleaning the kitchen, as I always
seem to be doing, gathering
the half-finished drawings and dirty socks
our children leave
in their wake.

And we are together
in scrape of trowel and in
swipe of sponge,
in vows of dailyness
falling in brilliant, predictable orbit
around the suns of one another. 

On Being a Mother for Twelve Years

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Wyatt's 12 today. Which means I've been a mother for 12 years.

You've heard me say it before--there are lots of ways to be broken open. Motherhood has been mine. To be so humbled, to know so little, to feel the absolutely terrifying dependency of an infant, toddler, preschooler, kindergartner, and now to feel the terrifying independence of a middle schooler, and to be in love the whole time. What really undoes me is to remember that every single person walking around this earth was a baby once, all of us born for love, and some of us not getting the total sense of belovedness that makes us whole.

I love you so much, Wyatt. I wrote this for you a few weeks ago.

Walking into Church

It used to be we'd automatically reach
for each other's hands, crossing intersections,
at the park, in the grocery store.
Sometimes, I might have chafed,
longing for the freedom of movement
I had before motherhood.

Now, we walk a foot apart,
close, but not too close.
You allow me to scratch your back,
give your hair a tousle.
It's not lost on me, feeling
shoulder blades through your tshirt,
wet strands of hair curling
around your ears.

But if I had my way,
I'd reach for your hand.

I'd hold it all the way into church,
all the way through
the inner and outermost chambers
of a life that's going to be
full of goodbyes. 

Meditation on Brokenness before Holy Week

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In the spring sun this morning, I got to walk my dog and listen to a podcast that (surprise) had me crying. By the time I got home, I had composed this in my head to share with you. 

Krista Tippett interviewed Bruce Kramer in an interview titled "Forgiving the Body: Life with ALS." Bruce Kramer died this week, while the podcast was in production, after living with ALS for five years and writing about it. Until this morning, I hadn't heard of him, read his blog, or read his book, but I feel sad that he's left the world. 

Easter's coming up. I stopped having what Christians call an "atonement theology" a long time ago. I don't believe Jesus died because God sent him to earth to die. I believe Jesus was executed because we couldn't handle the love he brought to the world. Just like MLK, Oscar Romero, Gandhi, and other Crusaders for Love. So what's left for me at Easter is not about sin. It's about suffering and about how Jesus suffered simply because to suffer is to be human. He didn't take the spiritual bypass, try to wriggle out of having a body, being connected to his mother, his brothers, his friends, feeling the pain of rejection, hunger, loss, or injustice. He was with it all.

So when I hear Bruce Kramer talk about his suffering, I connect it to this time of year and all the truth and longing there is for us if we open ourselves to it. These aren't all his words, but here's what I'm taking away from Bruce's experience:

Gratitude and Sadness go together. And sadness isn't desperation or depression, but simply being with the reality of what is. When we're most deeply grounded, we often feel, at the same time, overwhelming gratitude and deep sadness. Those are the moments when we know we're really alive. This is what the "flight into light" folks miss. It's not about the power of positive thinking, which won't get us closer to what we crave and need. It's about being with what is, even if it's shadowy.

Our personhood has nothing to do with what or how much we produce. I can't imagine completely losing the use of my arms, my legs, and my ability to breathe on my own. But Bruce can, and he and his wife said they would never go back because of what ALS has taught them about the beauty of life. Read that again--they wouldn't go back! 

Those of us without physical disabilities have no idea what we take for granted and how blindly we stride through the world. Bruce talked about "the look," the look that he used to give disabled people and that he often got in the last 5 years of his life, a look that conveyed, "All I see is your disability, and I need to look away from it." We miss so much! The whole person, the complexity, the profound "hidden wholeness," as Parker Palmer would say, that can be found in brokenness.

Fighting disease and brokenness won't get us anywhere. Accepting them will. This couldn't be more coutercultural. We are addicted to fixing things. We don't know how to ask the questions or live with the uncertainty that will bring us closer to love, to one another, to the most essential things about life. And disease, disability, and catastrophe show this up in us. Only cultivating a receptive interior life will shore us up when we need it.

I feel really humbled even trying to say anything about this. I haven't known these things the way Bruce or some of you have. But still, I want to try. And I want to send great love and tenderness to Bruce's family as they mourn his death, and love and tenderness to anyone, anywhere in the world, who's living with suffering in all its forms. 

I leave you with a favorite poem, maybe one I've shared here before. Christian Wiman wrote this while living with cancer. Yet another soul that knows what it's talking about. 

Small Prayer in a Hard Wind

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
it's hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,

shatter me God into my thousand sounds.... 

P.S. That's Wyatt and Loretta up there after doing some basketball drills together on a recent evening. Whenever I say goodbye to them in the morning, I am in awe of their presence in my life and how that is both my greatest joy and might be my greatest undoing. The gratitude and the sadness.

In and Down

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I wonder if a food photo will appear here anytime soon.

If I were to be snapping photos, they'd be something like:

Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese
Chocolate chip cookies for clients
Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese
Brownies for kids' lunches
Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese
Chocolate chip cookies for teachers
Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese

I'm not apologizing. Just laughing a little. It's one of those seasons when the question, "What's easiest?" has been the loudest.

And one of those seasons when the compulsion to record everything (on iPhone, Facebook, Instagram) has quieted. I've been enjoying just being WITH whatever is going on, just being WITH whoever is in front of me. I've instituted an Internet Sabbath on weekends, and I can't reccomend it enough. To give myself a break from the nudge to SHARE everything has been divine. To rest in my own self, to go "in and down," as Helen Palmer says, instead of being caught in reactivity and externalizing. To trust that everything I need is already present. There's no need to go out and get, to go out and share.

And here I am sharing. I listened to Krista Tippett interview Mary Oliver yesterday. From the first 60 seconds, I had tears running down my cheeks. I've been reading Mary Oliver since high school, but this was the only the second time I've heard her voice. And it was pretty clear she didn't want to talk about her poems. She wanted them to speak for themselves, to stay whole and a little bit reticent. 

The last thing I am is reticent, but, without explanation, here's a poem. I hope you find a quiet place inside yourself this week.

Beginning Meditation

I’m trying. Lord, am I trying.
To be still, to sit in this chair
without books, without music,
without agenda.
To ignore the tree outside my window
and the wind that shoves it
against the house.
Trying not to think about
the tangled wind chime
and how it needs to be taken down
for repair.

I’m trying. Lord, am I trying.
To not pick up the new poems
at my elbow and eat them
like candy.
To look away from the phone’s glow,
the piles on my desk,
the dust slowly settling
on this scrappy self
that fights so hard, every second,
to know, share, produce, achieve,
to not write this poem.

End-of-the-Week Thank You's

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I read somewhere recently that sometimes our focus on gratitude can just be another way of being privileged. "Hashtag blessed" for fame, fortune, and ease. 

At the end of this week, though, I do feel truly blessed. I got out of bed on two strong(ish) legs every morning. I had enough food to make my children breakfast, prepare their lunches, and eat together around our table at night. I got to help my friend Rita by taking care of her sweet, sweet dog, and I miss him now that he's gone. I got to help my friend Meril plan her 50th birthday celebration, coach clients, and have an almost two hour yoga class with Ingela at Yoga Northwest. (Thank you, Jesus, she is NOT your typical zenned-out yoga instructor.) I got to read poetry, write some, and do some PTA tasks. I got to to meet with a dear, dynamic group of friends in my house this morning, and we talked about the things we want to water and grow in 2015.

Right now, Wyatt is at a friend's birthday party, Loretta is holing up in her bedroom, and Yancey is picking out the Star Spangled Banner on the electric guitar we got WYATT for Christmas. (I knew this would happen. How do we get the boy himself interested?!) And, maybe best of all in our little world, both kids won their basketball games this week and I've got some sweaty uniforms to wash. 

Here's one of the poems I wrote this week. May each of you be truly blessed in the coming week--not the annoying Facebook kind of blessed, but the kind that comes from living in reality. xoxo

Coming Home

It just comes down to this--
our stories, so different,
are the same.
We want to be seen
and loved anyway,
or maybe especially.
We want to be moved
by touch, poetry, tall pines,
or the perfect formation of geese
in the winter sky.
We want to come home
at the end of the day,
take off our shoes,
and find that everywhere we step
is sacred ground. 

Living the MLK Challenge

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Every year on MLK Day weekend, I have mixed emotions. 

I usually cry in church on Sunday (that's no surprise!) at both the injustice in the world and my longing for someone like MLK to come preach us out of it. I feel guilty for not planning a service project for my kids like we're supposed to do. I feel guilty that I haven't watched enough documentaries about civil rights, read all of MLK's writings, and been the kind of freedom fighter I should have been since the last MLK Day.

For me, it's sometimes easier to remember Dr. King, to deify him, even, than it is to face my own white privilege and to feel the deep sorrow and anger over the systemic racism that's still running rampant in this country. I cannot imagine how it would feel to be raising a young black boy now. Or to be driving while black.(Or shopping, applying for a loan, or finding a job.)

I imagine what MLK would want is not for us to eulogize him, but to carry on the work he started. Not just to think about the "giant triplets evils of racism, materialism, and militarism" (Wow) on a Monday in January, but in all the choices we make throughout the year. I'm white, and what I say to myself and to other white folks is this: Inform yourself. Take a training, read a book, watch some movies. Believe it when people of color tell you their stories. Talk to other white people about white privilege and start looking for how you benefit from it. Let yourself be sad for awhile about the trauma of racism in this country, and then turn that sadness into resolve. 

My pastor preached on #blacklivesmatter this morning. As usual, I created a giant pile of used tissue beside me. She talked about the story of Zaccheus in the Bible, how he went up in a tree to get a better view of Jesus. And how we, in our intention to understand, see the big picture, or analyze, get up in the tree. (Kind of like this blog post and lots of other well-intentioned things don't involve very much risk.) She challenged us to "come down from the tree." And she passed out copies of this article and challenged us to read it at halftime today. (Seahawks Mania here in Washington.) 

So I'm asking, "How do I come down from this tree?" How do I, as a white person who's bound to make lots of mistakes, make racism my fight? I re-read King's Letter from Birmingham last night. He was writing to white Christian leaders who were criticizing him for moving too fast, for stirring things up too much. About the role of the Church in the Civil Rights Movement, he says,

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust. 

I'm proud of my church this morning for honoring Dr. King, proud of my pastor for saying things that I know are going to make some folks bristle. Or worse. She understands, as King did, our absolute connection to one another, and the vision of Oneness that King fought for:

I can't sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

Our survival, our happiness, our well-being as a species is one "single garment of destiny." Every major spiritual tradition says that the great lie is one of separation--that we are separate from one another and separate from God. We are in this together, and I hope we're closer to experiencing justice roll down like waters. Thank you, MLK, for your life, legacy, and love. We're still trying.

Roasted Squash, Mark Driscoll, and other Collapsing Things

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My friend Tracy just left for a trip to China. I was trying to reassure her that the to-do list would get done and that her son would be just fine without her. As we parted, she called out, "The world is a scary place!" Tracy is one of the least fearful people I know, but she's right. The world is a scary place, and my little life in Bellingham doesn't know the half of it--ebola, extremists, refugee camps, dictators, drought. But you don't even have to go that far to run into grief, loss, depression, loneliness, poverty, longing and disappointment of every kind. If I pay attention, it's enough to get me asking every morning, "How then shall we live?"

Some of you know that I grew up in a big, Evangelical church, so the news about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church has me really thinking about leadership, about religion, and how the two of those things can get so #$%ed up when they intertwine--how many people get hurt when what's supposed to be a message of love becomes one of shame, subservience, and sin. 

It's tempting to villainze people like Mark Driscoll, but a client reminded me this week that what we permit, we promote. It's our own longing for certainty and belonging that allows leaders like Driscoll! It's our own drive to codify, categorize, and enshrine that lets us idolize institutions or people that will fail us. In the end, we've got to have something more bedrock than church, than work, even than family and our relationships with one another. It's that darn Saint Catherine of Genoa again, running through the streets and proclaiming, "My deepest me is God!" If we dig down and find love of power, success, or fame, workaholism or violence, we haven't descended far enough. Because if we go to that deepest place, there is nothing to fear.

I'm now one of those food bloggers that's tempted to apologize for not writing about food, but here's another poem instead. And if you can stay hooked for a minute, there's a little bit about roasting squash down there, too.

On the Resignation of a Public Figure

I believe what they say,
what every news outlet almost gleefully reports--
he lied, cheated, abused his power, 
betrayed thousands of people.

I picture him, at home with his family,
avoiding the liquor cabinet (or not),
sneaking out to his car,
driving for hours to get away from himself.

I imagine running into him
at the grocery store, both of us
doing late night milk-runs.
If I got in his way, maybe he'd look up.

Then I could say,
"There is enough. You are enough.
If there is mercy for me, there is
mercy for you.
We're all dipping into the same bucket,
and it never runs out." 

P.S. I had collected quite an assortment of squash from my CSA deliveries--delicata, acorn, butternut. I know from experience that a huge, hard squash sitting there probably won't get thrown last-minute into dinner. So I halved everything, rubbed the cut sides with olive oil, and spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and baked until everything was falling apart--about an hour. After they cooled, I scooped the flesh into a tupperware and stuck it in the fridge. Tomorrow, I'll use it to make squash soup with coconut milk and red curry. But you can just keep it in there, smashing it into quesadillas, tossing it with hot pasta, cream, and parmesan, throwing some in your morning smoothie, dropping dollops onto pizza. Autumn at its best!

Dispatch from Family Life

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I have a friend who's finding her way out of cancer and months of chemotherapy. I went to see her and her husband for a blessed afternoon, celebrating with them their survival. They said they were sick of talking about cancer, and I said I had plenty of banal anectdotes from family life to enterain them. Thank you, God, that I do--that I'm not sick or depresssed, that our family isn't torn asunder, that war or contagious disease isn't part of our daily lives. As Jane Kenyon says, someday it could be otherwise. For now, here's some of the daily-ness I'm basking in:

Many apple crisps. We bought home a big box of apples from Wenatchee around Labor Day and since we had room for them in the garage fridge, they last FOREVER. I've made apples crisps for 3 different gatherings. My absolute favorite topping recipe these days, as crunchy as it should be: MIx 1 c. flour, 1/4 c. oats, 1/4 c. sliced almonds, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. granualated sugar, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Add 1 cube (1/2 cup) melted butter to the mixture, stir, and drop irregular chunks over your apple/sugar/bit of flour mixture. 

"Soggy Chip!" I had a bit of uncharacteristic road rage yesterday because this guy really was an asshole. I said so with Loretta in the car. She said, "Mom! You said a bad word. You should call him a soggy chip instead." Where did that come from?! And I love it. That *&%#ing soggy chip.

Emily's visit. Emily had a spontaneous weekend up here, and she describes our friendship as "not flashy." She will paint Loretta's toenails while I clean out my fridge, and we are just as happy as can be, in each other's orbit. Love you, sister.

Elementary schoolers sitting in rows. I've had the chance to drop into a couple assemblies at Loretta's school lately. If 400 children sitting in rows on the gym floor doesn't give you a little twinge, what will?!

Yancey in Carhartts. He hates it when I post stuff like this, and since he doesn't read this, I"ll say "Damn!" He's hot. Especially when he's building a dining table for me, listening to Americana, and doing calculations with his carpenter's pencil.

And the most heart-tugging, Wyatt starting middle school. Lots of firsts there, and lots of moments that undo me. Again, a poem says it best.

Prayer for the first day of Middle School

Make his heart soft,
his body present and strong,
his mind open.

Run like a clear blue aquifer
under all his fears and thirsts.

Shine like a full moon,
lighting up his blackest nights.

But most of all, oh Love--
let him remember his locker combination.

Amen. 

Ross Lake 2014

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I have a confession to make.

Hearing the blow-by-blow of anyone's vacation (including my own) bores me. "We went there, and then we did this. Then we had that for dinner, then we did this." I don't like what this says about my own curiosity, attention span, or social skills, but there you have it. 

So I won't do that to you, but I'll throw out a few (possible) profoundities. Sigh. You know me too well.

Mostly what I have to say is that every day with the people I love is precious. There might be moments of boredom or drama. There might be miscommunications or dashed expectations. I might come off looking like a jerk and then have the next 4 days, stuck on a dock together, to wish I was kinder and gentler and more zen. 

But at the end of my life, I won't wish I had worked more. I won't wish I had said "no" to snuggling with my dog, swimming with my children, or dropping everything to see a movie with a friend. I won't wish I had been right more often. *&%$! That's always my problem. To hell with being right. I'll wish I had been more present. For the last 5 days, I have been. And I'm high off it. Lots of love to my Kangas/Walker family.

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 Dave and Kelly Ross Lake 2014

Yancey Ross Lake 2014

My BG Ross Lake 2014

Four Decades In

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I turned 40. I had a party. And there is too much to say to actually say it.

I thought for a long time about what I wanted--a huge party with a keg and dancing? Balloon animals for kids? A favorite restaruant in Seattle?

In the end, I settled on being at home. I invited a small group I knew I could be 1000% myself with, hired an amazing chef, cleaned the house, and then soaked it all up. There was a time in my life when I had the idea that other people should know what I want, especially where birthdays were concerned. (And boy, did this stress Yancey out in our younger years! Poor guy.) At 40, one of the things I've learned is that it's okay to ask for what I need. If growing older also means maturing, sign me up.

My 40th birthday party could stand as a metaphor for some of the things I've learned in the last 4 decades and the things I want to keep learning. (I feel a list coming on.)

  • Thoughtfully prepared food enhances community. (Maybe I should write a blog about that.) The evening was what it was because of Lisa's beautifuly, thoughtful dishes--whole roasted cauliflower and eggplant with tahini sauce, asparagus mimosa with fried capers and olive oil bread crumbs, beet hummus with sheeps milk cheese and homemade whole wheat flatbread. And so much more.
  • Relationships, in the end, are what our lives are about. Not possessions, not even experiences. When I get dramatic about it, I think of myself on my deathbed and how it will be all about remembering and appreciating the connected moments I've had with people I love.
  • Getting over myself is a worthwhile endeavor. See above. The things that hold me back--fear of failure, grudges, envy and comparison--are real, but not worthy. Life is too short to be so caught up in my story that I can't see the love and beauty around me.
  • Express my love every day. Throughout our long meal, people took turns sharing things they loved about me. Certainly every day or event can't be like that, as I cried through the whole thing and that would disrupt my grocery shopping and conference calls with clients. But it's another reminder not to wait. Kiss, hug, cuddle up to, give gifts to, laugh with, go out for coffee with the people you love! There is absolutely no reason to wait.
  • Our true self is waiting in the wings. There's a lot of spiritual frameworks that acknowledge our false self (the ego) and our true self (God-self). It takes the first half of our lives for our false self to recede, stop clamoring, and reveal our true self. And there aren't any shortcuts. I'm looking forward to witnessing how the trappings start withering and falling away in the second half of my life. 

It's back to reality now, and that's okay. Paying bills, commuting to work, cleaning out the storage room, picking up dog poop, buying more laundry soap. It's all sacred work, really, and I'm so blessed to be in community--real and virtual--as I do it.

Yay for Veggies on my Porch!

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A shout out to Dandelion Organics for the amazing bounty I find on my doorstep every Tuesday.

I spend an hour prepping everything and our family eats a lot more vegetables as a result. (I know. A whole 60 minutes?!) Anyone who says cooking doesn't take any time is wrong. They are pulling your convenience-loving leg. It DOES take time, even if all you eat is raw vegetables!

My soapbox (What?! I have one? I'm taking a leap and expressing some opinions here for the first time.) is that we take time for all sorts of other things that are far worse for our health and well-being--internet shopping, Facebook gawking, T.V. watching, email-checking. And good things like work, friendships, family time, sleep, leisure, and even exercise don't keep up healthy and strong the way eating well does. It's worth it! Start small! And then brag about it like I do!

P.S. A weekly veggie delivery is a giant luxury. If your life won't allow that, buy cut-up celery and carrot sticks from the deli. More vegetables is more important than what kind of vegetables.

Partying with Saveur

Me and Yancey

I've been putting off this post because trying to tell you about partying with Saveur Magazine at the Best Food Blogger Awards in Vegas would be like trying to take a sip from a fire-hose.

I met Marcella, Naz, Lilian, Maureen, Sarah, Cheryl, and so many more. (For a great play-by-play, see Lilian's post. Or Stephanie's. As you know, details aren't my thing.) We watched chefs at the Bellagio make dim sum and chocolatiers make truffles. Scotch, champagne, and gelato were delivered to our rooms, we had a little time leftover for the pool, and the Bellagio welcomed us on the jumbotron. Miraculously, I got over my imposter syndrome ("What? Me? How did I end up here?") and enjoyed every minute of it--Yancey in his suit, champagne cocktails, iPhone photography mania, and being in the company of such creative, generous people.

The headlines for me might go something like this:

Being an expert doesn't call to me as much as being a connector does. This is news to no one. But I realized again that being in the kitchen is a generative place for me--it's the gateway to so many other things I care about. Family, community, neighbors, creating gracious space where people can be honest with one another and with themselves.

I'll just keep being myself. My shadows might say otherwise. Stuff like, "You really need a nicer camera. You should put more time into editing your posts. You're not active enough on social media. And quit talking about spirituality so much!" My deeper self says, "All is well. It's okay."

I'm going back to Vegas. This was our first time there, and I didn't expect to like it. But we have such cheap flights from Bellingham, and I'm definitely going back for some more pool time and late-night snacking. Yancey and I had a magical 90 minutes sitting at China Poblano's bar, people-watching and licking our fingers.

You must be present to win. I first heard this from Jack Kornfield, and have since seen it on pendants and plaques. It's corny, but true. To get the goods in this life (love, connection, friendship, contentment, curiosity, beauty) we have be awake. All the glamour of Vegas (or careers, possessions, and notoriety) doesn't mean a thing if we're not present to the reality--suffering included!--of our daily lives. I loved the crazy hotel lobbies. But even more, I loved holding hands with Yancey and drinking coffee across from him in the morning.

This blog isn't going anywhere. If I can sporadically plod along for 5 years and still have readers, I'll do it for another 5! Or more! I'm reminded again of how all of us die on the vine if we're not finding places to be creative, to be producers instead of just consumers. To put our loves and fears out into the world instead of just letting our lives happen to us.

And the biggest headline of all: YOU! Writing for an audience is what keeps me going. Thank you for the huge torrent of LOVE I felt before and during my trip. I just soaked it up.

Off to Vegas

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It's hard to extract myself from my life sometimes. But we're going to Las Vegas for the Saveur Best Food Blogger Awards, so I guess it's worth it.

Make the lists for the 4 people that are helping with the kids. (And now the dog gets his own page of instructions. He can't talk and give them himself.) Leave with too much work undone, the stairs not vacuumed (Again, dogs. His hair.) Cross my fingers that Wyatt remembers all his baseball gear, that my newly planted veggie starts don't croak, that the kids don't forget their lunches because their enabling mother isn't around to remind them.

But even if it all goes south (which it won't), I get to steal away with my honey for 3 days and be celebrated. I've been thinking of this time as a way to be 100% grateful. My spiritual director said, "If 'thank you' is the most essential prayer, you're going to be awash in prayer in Vegas." And maybe some gin and tonics, too.

The last few weeks have ploughed me under a bit. Too many responsibilities and too little time is what it feels like. But underneath it all, there's a seed of blessing, of belonging, of connection, and its my busyness and ego that obscures it. Vegas might be a funny place to dig it out again, but that's my plan.

And you, my dearest, most favorite, most beautifully aware readers--thank you for being in conversation with me for 5 years! I was reminded this week, listening to an interview with Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, that "Listening is an act of love." You have done that for me, and I hope your lives are full of people that do that for you.

If you're an Instagram user, I finally have a profile for In Praise of Leftovers (inpraiseofleftovers) and you can follow along if you want to see my mind blown.

P.S. Jordan took this photo of me when were together on Lummi Island last month. It reminds how happy I am and all of us when we feel known and loved. Thank you for being part of that for me.

Mothering is just One Kind of Love

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Every year, I share the same thoughts about Mother's Day. I wake up thinking about them, usually in this order:

My children, Wyatt and Loretta, are fascinating, tender marvels. And that doesn't have to do so much with me, but with the reality that all children--indeed all people!--are precious, precious bits of stardust, and the miracle is that we get to occupy this galaxy together at the same time. And with kids, the space between us just happens to be centimeters, and that makes for some pretty poignant moments.

My mother loved and loves me unstoppably. It doesn't have to be this way, but it is for me. It's like a cool glass of water that's always sitting there for me, watiting to be sipped or gulped. And someday, it will be otherwise.

Motherhood is just one kind of love. Janet loves her 3 cats and is mourning the loss of her 4th. Jordan fiercely loves all the children in her life though they are not her own. Emily is an astonishingly loving godmother to my son. Darlene showed me what it was like to mother before either of us experienced it. Whenever we pay attention to one another with our whole selves, we're mothering, nurturing, multiplying sparks of life in the universe.

I mourn for my friends who are unmothered. For whatever reason--abandonment, negect, death. JoElla posted this essay today, and it made my heart ache. This world can be a friendless place without a mother, and Mothers Day with all its flowery sentiments doesn't help.

I mourn for orphans all over the world. I don't feel called to adoption but I understand why people do. As the poet Blake says, "We are put on this earth a little while to learn the bear the beams of love." And if some people aren't under the light of those beams, we'd better find a way to put them there.

Paying attention to one another is hard. Whether you're a mother or not, our aspirations to take care of one another often fall flat when reality hits--work is hard, the washing machine breaks, another lunch needs to be made, someone we love is unkind or lets us down. The Hallmark cards weren't produced by someone in one of those moments.

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Whatever your story and whatever emotions come up for you today, I hope you can notice and be noticed. I hope you can love and be loved.

And I can't resist posting a Mary Oliver poem from my new book (a Mothers Day gift from Emily). Mary Oliver is the consummate dog-lover. Think of your dog or cat or child when you read this. Or think of yourself, being loved by God. Or think of your mother, whether she's on this earth anymore or not, getting all the love and tenderness she ever wanted.

Little Dog's Rhapsody in the Night

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I'm awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
     in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

"Tell me you love me, " he says.

"Tell me again."

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

Easy

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I can make biscuits in my sleep. Easy.

You've heard this soapbox before, but one of my biggest cooking tips is to master a few things and keep doing them, over and over. You'll start feeling more comfortable in the kitchen, you might start improvising on your standards, and you'll get faster. For me and my set, speed is important in the kitchen. Most "30 minute recipes" involve a lot of prepared food. Even then, I don't trust them to be 30 minutes. The more laborious route is simply to cook more. That's what makes you quick.

I am still laid up with a broken bone--no cast, no surgery, just instructions to "stay off it." In my slowing down and "taking it easy" as the doctor admonished, I have felt the waters of goodness and awareness running downhill, pooling up inside me, around me.

Loretta has spent a lot of time brushing and braiding my hair. She's never seen me sit around so much or be so accessible. What is better than feeling those little hands on my scalp? Someday I will dream about it.

I have practiced the "Meditation of Sound," lying on the couch and listening to sounds in the house, sounds on the street, and letting them wash over me. There are so many sounds I've never paid attention to.

The kids are now doing almost all the dishes. I have fantasized about this! (And yes, my cooking is their bondage. More pots and pans than your average household.)

And of course I am dreaming about getting back on the trails and on my bike, alone or with friends. I miss it in a visceral, longing kind of way, and don't think I'll take it for granted again. At least not for a long time.

I hope something comes easy for you today--tonight's dinner prep, awareness of your own automatic in-and-out breath, or the love you feel for yourself when you look in the mirror or go about your work.

Divine Therapy

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Thomas Keating says contemplation is divine therapy. If that's the case, I'm in some seriously therapeutic times around here, contemplating my messy house and all the tasks that made me think I was indispensable.

Turns out I have a fractured tibia (I didn't even know what a tibia was a week ago) and have been instructed to stay off it for the next 3 weeks. I won't bore you with all the medical details. As you know, I tend to go straight for the (metaphysical) jugular. Here's what I'm noticing:

I overfunction. In my uninjured life, I clear the kids' plates. I put away their laundry or make their snacks when they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves. I'm proud of how many chores they do around here, but I'm seeing there are still ways that I'm enabling them. That doesn't do them any favors. I want to raise the kind of adults I like to be around--competent, initiatory, hard-working, and collaborative.

There are plenty of things to do without walking around. It's ridiculous that most of you work 40+ hours/week and are still expected to pay bills on time, remember people's birthdays, read to your children, go to the dentist, cook healthy meals, volunteer, and keep the house clean. With all this time sitting around, there are still so many things to do that get squished out otherwise. It's a luxury to sit here and clean out my inbox and really focus on it instead of it being an afterthought.

I have a hard time receiving, but I'm getting better at it. I had planned to go to the grocery store yesterday, having the kids push the cart while I hop around on crutches. But Liz called and asked if she could do anything for me. I gave her my list and an hour later she showed up with groceries. I almost resisted her offer because it's so hard to say, "Yes, I need help." Why? Why is that so hard? I think it's because our culture privileges competency--we'd rather be giving than receiving. I'm learning to accept help graciously, and even finding joy in it. People want to give, which is so wonderful and humbling. My receiving makes our relationship more human, more vulnerable. Real relationships are full of dependency. I need you and you need me.

Meditation has been like batting practice. When the bases are loaded, I've been able to hit a home run. And by "home run," I mean "Not getting cranky, feeling sorry for myself, and eating half gallons of ice cream." I have known and felt that the real me, the "immortal diamond" of my true self, is not rattled at all by temporary immobility. I have felt connected to Source. Maybe even more connected.

I can trust my body. Pain let me know something was wrong. What a gift that is! And I can trust my body to know what it needs. Since I haven't been exercising, my appetite has decreased. I'm grateful I've been able to pay attention to that and eat less instead of dipping into emotional eating.

There will be more lessons like this in my life. I have no idea what it's like to live to with chronic pain or illness. I have no idea what it's like to constantly be saying "No" to things I want to do because I don't have the energy or mobility. I'm getting the tiniest glimpse of how isolating that would be, how some able-bodied folks just go about their business without even noticing. All of us are going to age. All of us are going to die. And the path to both might be full of infirmity or illness. As Anne Lamott says, life is like a hospital waiting room. The ones that are less sick are taking care of the ones that are more sick. That's our reality, however much we delude ourselves. Kindness is the medicine.

Meditation (or contemplation or centering prayer) is still hard even with so much time on my hands. "Not enough time" is always a defense. But I've got enough now and can think of lots of things to do besides sit in silence, truly not doing anything. "Monkey mind" never goes away. Tami Simone says our smartphones can become tools for transformation. NOT because we're downloading spirituality podcasts, though! Because we can notice all the times we pick them up habitually or pull them out when we're bored, and we can ask ourselves, "What am I avoiding in this moment?"

My goodness. I joked with Emily yesterday, "Watch out for the epiphanies. I've got time on my hands!" And I'm curious--what have you noticed in times of illness, injury, or forced life changes? What's gotten you through?

100 Miracles Every Day

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Life is our greatest teacher. Whatever we are doing can be instructive, whether we are at the office, talking to our spouse, or on the freeway. If we are present to our experiences, the impressions of our activities will be fresh and alive, and we will always learn something new from them. But if we are not present, every moment will be like every other, and nothing of the preciousness of life will touch us.” (Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson)

There's a lot on my mind lately and a few minor events in our family's life. I have what appears to be a torn meniscus and some recovery time ahead, Loretta appears to be lactose intolerant and can't eat Cheetos or  nachos anymore. (Oh, yes. There are Cheetos in my house.) I smashed the bumper of our minivan on a pole in the school parking lot and Yancey has taken over the household bookkeeping, which is a mercy for everyone. (He now knows how much we spend on groceries. That has been painful.)

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When I dig below everything, what I find still are the daily miracles. My pastor says a friend of his names 100 things to be grateful for every day. (You have heard me talk about this before, I know.) The trick, of course, is to be present to our experiences. If we're not, what we remember at the end of the day is unfairness, the times someone ignored or got over on us, times someone else succeeded when we failed. "Nothing of the preciousness of life will touch us."

Some of my daily miracles:

  • Padre sleeping outside our bedroom door, snoring softly and waking me up in the morning with a wet little nose.
  • Loretta getting her ears pierced for her 7th birthday, squeezing my hand and then looking in the mirror constantly the rest of the week.
  • Water coming out of the faucets, clear and voluminous.
  • All the people helping and loving me during my injury.
  • Coffee in the coffee pot, ice in the icemaker, humming of the dishwasher, and a strong wireless signal. 
  • Wyatt up late in his room, readng about Stephen Hawking and the history of basketball.
  • Yancey mopping the floor and doing the Costco runs.
  • Sitting here right now at my father-in law's house watching the Super Bowl with so many people I love. (Go Hawks.)
  • The singing bowl my client gave me and how Loretta runs into my office and unceremoniously bangs on it.

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Love after love, gift after gift.