Gifts, Blessings, Treasures, Offerings

March 21, 2023

Some weeks seem to sparkle with unexpected gifts, blessings, treasures, and offerings, and last week, much to my surprise, was one of those times.

In spite of getting more snow and more cold temperatures, and an actual cold, requiring lots of kleenex, cold meds, and naps, my quiet life was full of treats, including delicious scones baked and delivered by friends after we needed to cancel our wine date with them. Isn’t the old axiom “Starve a fever, but feed a cold’? Or is it the other way around. Never mind, the scones were sooo good, and the gesture deeply appreciated. (The inside of the card that came with the scones said “Scones conquer Colds.”)

Other gifts may not have been edible, but were no less pleasing. And each one arrived in my email inbox.

  • The copy of an article about a day walking several different labyrinths, “Prelude” by Nancy Nordenson.

“Don’t expect an epiphany,” the instruction sheet warned us. I know, I know: don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed, but I’m wired for expectation like a kid who knows she’s just going on a quick errand with her dad, there and back, yet nevertheless hopes he’ll pull the car into Dairy Queen on the way.

  • The link to music for Lent sung and played by Steve Bell.
  • Notice about a new show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), Eternal Offerings Chinese Ritual Bronzes. This exhibit is described as an “immersive experience designed to evoke the mystery of heavenly and ancestral worship.” Sounds like a field trip to me.
  • A number of notes from dear women in my life, including one who is awaiting chemotherapy and another who has decided not to continue treatment. Each note, a kind of prayer.
  • Another friend wrote about studying the Hebrew book of Micah, which if you didn’t know is between the book of Jonah and Nahum. Does that help? Anyway, she mentioned Micah 6:8″ …and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” I am planning the next session of Third Chapter Conversations at my church, and the topic is purpose and meaning. This verse is a perfect way to begin the conversation.
  • One of the participants in the church writing group sent me her essay, a work-in-progress, about the power of invitation. As I read her examples of intentional invitations, I thought about the many ways I have felt invited in my own life and yes, the times I have extended invitations.
  • An interview with Allison Townsend who wrote one of my favorite books of 2022, The Green Hour, A Natural History of Home. I read much of this book aloud as Bruce and I were driving to Cleveland last fall. We especially loved her descriptions of the Wisconsin landscape, but perhaps this is my favorite quote:

I tell my students. “It’s the lives we make despite those wounds and the stories we tell about them that matter.” And I quote again Isak Dinesen’s beautiful words: “All suffering is bearable if it is seen as part of the story.” “You must believe this,” I tell my students. “You must tell your stories”

p. 215

Weekly, sometimes daily, I receive meditations from Richard Rohr, Glenn Mitchell of Oasis Ministries, and Diana Butler Bass, and poetry from Steve Garnaas Holmes and Jim Borgschatz. I receive writing blogs from Jeannine Ouellette and Elizabeth Jarret Andrew. I listen to podcasts, Learning How to See with Brian McLaren, On Being with Krista Tippett, Love Period with Jacqui Lewis, and What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bagel. Each one is a gift, a blessing, a treasure, an offering.

And all this entered my life in one week.

I am blessed.

An Invitation

What gifts, blessings, treasures, offerings have you received recently? I would love to know.

Book Report: A Trip to Louise Erdrich’s Book Store, Birchbark Books

March 16, 2023

Last week, on International Women’s Day, my husband and I, along with a full auditorium of other fans, attended “An Evening with Louise Erdrich.” Not exactly an intimate event, but how good to be in her presence.

I have read most of her books, but can imagine re-reading several, especially The Sentence and The Nightwatchman, which my husband is re-reading now. And Love Medicine, which was published in 1984 and was the first of an eight book series. One of the books mentioned that evening was Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors (2003), which is a blend of history, mythology, and memoir. I remember being entranced by that book and wish I still had my copy. Now why didn’t I buy another copy when we made a long overdue return visit last week to Erdrich’s bookstore, Birchbark Books in Minneapolis?

I guess I was just too overwhelmed as I found several books on my TBR list. I guess I will just have to return soon. Such a problem! Here’s what did come home with me:

  • Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light, 50 Poems for 50 Years by Joy Harjo. Harjo, who is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was the nation’s poet laureate from 2019 to 2023. I loved her memoir Poet Warrior–another book for the re-read list. I am keeping this book in the snug and each time before settling into read whatever is my current book, I read a couple poems in this book. Only after I read about 10 of the poems did I realize that at the end of the book Harjo has included notes about each poem, giving the context and notes about her process. I have decided to begin the book again and this time read the notes, too.
  • What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez.
  • The Swimmers byJulie Otsuko who wrote The Buddha in the Attic (2011), which I remember loving.
  • The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak.
  • The Long-Shining Waters by Danielle Sosin. I am especially eager to read this book for it is about three women living on the shores of Lake Superior at different times in history. I only heard recently about this book, which was published in 2011 by Milkweed and won their national fiction prize. It sounds wonderful. Maybe I need a reading retreat to the North Shore.

After making our purchases we had lunch right next door at The Kenwood, one of our favorite restaurants.

Such a good day!

An Invitation

Have you read any books by Louise Erdrich? If so, what are your favorite’s? I would love to know.


Community as a Spiritual Practice

March 14, 2023

Most of Sunday was spent in community, my faith community.

There have been years in my life when I have existed without community. Oh, there were bits and pieces of community along the way–groups I have participated in, volunteer work I’ve done–but those all felt temporary and dependent upon specific people or an interest in a particular cause. They were valuable and important communities, but at a certain point I moved on, and there was a natural ending.

Around eight years ago, after moving back to Minnesota, my husband and I joined Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. As genetic Lutherans, it was not a hard decision. Plus, our daughter and family were already members there. Being in the same congregation with them is a real bonus, but our life within this community is so much more. It is a place of belonging, but it is also a place of growing and caring a nd showing up. Of grounding and stretching.

Sunday was such a good day of “encountering others” which is how Barbara Brown Taylor refers to the spiritual practice of community, and such good encounters the day offered — lots of hugs and one-on-one conversations–but even more than that, the reinforcement of intentions to encounte others through the various aspects of our proclaimed mission.

First, we gathered for adult forum, a weekly time of education for adults. This week poets, who are members or who are connected to our congregation in some way, read poems they had written or poems that had meaning for them. One woman read a poem she had written following the death of her beloved father. Another read her own poems, but also shared her experience of reading poetry to people in a memory care unit. One woman remarked how wonderful it is to be part of a congregation that values poetry. What a privilege it was to be in the presence of such creativity and depth.

Next, we attended worship. Each week we sing together, pray together, confess together. We open our hearts and our ears to words that encourage us to grow in our understandings. We receive the bread and the wine. We are reminded of the gifts we received at our baptism. We greet one another and we welcome new members. We lift up and hold one another. We restore and prepare for the challenges in our lives and the life of our community.

Then we ate together. Our Fellowship Hall filled with hungry members, and we enjoyed a potluck–for the first time since the pandemic. It was quite the feast! (I brought lemon pound cake, an Ina Garten recipe.) Was there enough food? Of course, there was, as fulfilled in the scriptures!

Eating and conversation was followed by our annual meeting. The meeting opened first with prayer and then a reading of our Land Acknowledgment Statement.

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church recognizes that its building stands on traditional Dakota land near Bdote Mini Sota, the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, the center of creation for Dakota people and also sacred to Ojibwa. The congregation acknowledges that this land was taken from Indigenous people by exploitation and violence. Given the deep significance of this sacred ground, as well as its painful history, the congregation recognizes its responsibility to use this land, its building and mission for the work of reconciliation and healing with Native people. The congregation repents of this injustice that continues to harm Native communities and pledges to work for justice, peace and the wellbeing of all creation.

The main purpose, of course, was to pass the budget for the year, which includes reparations to Native people. It passed unanimously. Even though our congregation is in the midst of an unexpected challenge, the feeling in the room was one of gratitude and a willingness to grow towards greater strength. We are open to the invitation, even if we can’t quite define what that invitation is yet.

I realize, of course, that there are others ways to experience and participate in community, and I also realize a commitment to community is not always easy and sometimes belonging to a community is synonymous with exclusion. Choose your community wisely, and keep it healthy through your active participation, in order for it to live beyond and after you.

I like what Debra K. Farmington says:

When we live with community we give ourselves the opportunity to learn about the faces of God that we would not ordinarily see. It is in the community that our image of God is tested and refined, where we are held accountable for what we believe and how we act, and ultimately where we meet God in the fullest possible way.

It is also within community that we find love and encouragement and support on the spiritual path. We find others who pray with us and for us, who celebrate our lives and ask us to celebrate theirs. In community we find laughter as well as tears; we find people to play with, as well as ones who can mourn with us when times are rough. It may even be that we have gifts and skills that would not manifest themselves outside of community. By failing to use them or by hoarding them for ourselves, we miss what God has so graciously given us.

Living Faith Day By Day, p. 154.

Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I am an introvert, and I know I need to balance community time with alone time. Monday was a day when I practiced solitude, but also a day when I tenderly held the awareness of the gifts of community. Sunday had not only been a full day, but a day of fullness.

An Invitation

Where have you experienced the gifts and the challenges of community? I would love to know.

Book Report: Temptations to Re-Read

March 9, 2023

In last week’s Book Report I mentioned the book A Friend Sails in on a Poem by Molly Peacock, which I enjoyed, but then also remembered how much I loved the two biographies Peacock wrote, The Paper Garden, An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 (2010) and also Flower Diary, In Which Mary Hiester Reid Paints, Travels, Marries and Opens a Door. (2021)

I want to re-read both of these books and added them to the “Books to Re-read” list in my book journal.

More and more I feel drawn to re-reading favorite books or immersing myself in the entire backlist of a favorite authors like Barbara Kingsolver or Ann Patchett or Jon Hassler.

Often reading a new book leads me to the desire to re-read an earlier book by the same author. For example, I loved The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell and now I want to re-read Hamnet. Or if a book I loved is mentioned on a podcast about books and reading, I sigh and think “Oh, I want to read that again.” That happened this week when I listened to the most recent episode on “What Should I Read Next?” (episode 370) when the host Anne Bogel suggested Plainsong by Kent Haruf to her guest.

Dusting my bookshelves has become a problem for me, because I see books I want to read again, Like The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt and A Lost Lady by Willa Cather or Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin or A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles or The Sentence by Louise Erdrich or Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy or….. (The solution is to NOT dust!)

Over the years I have re-read all the Jane Austen books. Pride and Prejudice several times. And in 2021 I read all of the Louise Penney books written to that point, and I know I would enjoy reading them again. My fingers are twitching as titles come flooding in my brain.

I consider not reading newly released books and only re-reading favorite books, but then there is the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) side of me. How could I not read the new book by Jacqueline Winspear, The White Lady, coming out later this month? And I am eager to read I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makai because I loved her earlier book, The Great Believers.

I have this ongoing battle between my TBR list and my Re-Read list. I play games with myself: I will re-read one favorite book for every three new (at least to me) titles on my list, but then books I have requested from the library suddenly are available or our weekly roaming just happens to include the stop at a bookstore. Or someone I trust mentions a new book they loved, and I add it to my TBR list.

What am I doing writing this post? I need to stop immediately and read. What am I doing requesting more and more titles–mainly new ones from the library, when I have all these books here on my shelves? And why do I love going to independent bookstores, knowing I will walk to the check-out counter with a fresh stack of books when I have piles waiting for me at home?

Well, Nancy, this is a first world problem. Relax. Get over it. You will never read or re-read all the books you want to.

Last night I finished The Cloisters by Katy Hay, a new book which I enjoyed, but I know it is not a book I will ever re-read. There is some relief in that. But now comes the challenge? What should I read next? I have three books from the library.

  • 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
  • Leaving the Pink House by Ladette Randolph
  • Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Or do I re-read one of the Molly Peacock biographies? Stay tuned.

An Invitation

What is on your re-read list? I would love to know.

Some Days Need More Than One Spiritual Practice

March 7, 2023

Some days feel like this.

And perhaps like this:

Even the Buddha can have an off day.

What I first need to remember is that it is March in Minnesota, and even those of us who love winter become weary of yet another forecast of more snow.

The next thing I need to remember is what helps when I feel a bit blue or antsy and itchy or bored (that happens rarely for me) or worried or disappointed or overwhelmed or….

I admit my first response often is chocolate. Or a grilled cheese sandwich is good, too.

Or if I have been working at my desk, especially if the writing is not going well or if I feel overwhelmed by the TO DO List, which seems to have too many DO NOW items than can physically be done NOW, I try to remember to close the laptop, walk down the garret stairs, and move into the snug to read my current library book. If I could, I would go for a walk, but oh yeah, there’s the snow and ice and a memory of falling and breaking an ankle. The snug will have to do.

Eventually, I remember what helps –even more than chocolate.

I take a deep cleansing breath. More than one. I close my eyes lightly, not tightly. That may seem like an unnecessary reminder, but notice how you feel when you close your eyes tightly. Your whole face squinches up, ogre-like, and instead of breathing, you hold your breath. So close your eyes lightly, not tightly. And then breathe in and out gently, finding your own rhythm.

Often that is enough. I breathe my way to relaxing into the next step or the loving outlook. Or feeling beloved myself.

But sometimes that isn’t enough, and I need to move to the next step in my spiritual practice repertoire: Sitting in silence.

For me that means moving to my Girlfriend Chair in the garret and allowing myself to be enfolded in silence. The majority of my garret time is quiet. I don’t work with music playing, and especially in the winter with the windows closed and the kids next door off to school, all is calm, all is still. I sit with my feet firmly planted on the floor, and I feel the silence enfold me. Sometimes it is so quiet, I can hear my inner voice, the voice I hope echoes the Divine. I listen. I really listen.

Often it is surprising what I hear.

“I love you. Now and forever.”

“Send your love to someone else.”

“Enough. You have enough. You are enough. Enough”

“Trust yourself. You are doing good work. Just stay on the path.”

“Really? You are willing to spend your precious time whining.”

Or if I’m really lucky, “Have another piece of chocolate.”

Sometimes I write in my journal during that silent time or read some sacred words. And prayer of one kind or another is sure to follow.

Whatever has caused my restlessness or anxiety hasn’t disappeared because I have turned to one (or two or three) of my spiritual practices, but I am more centered. I am more present.

We realize that we are in the center, and that from there all that is and all that takes place can be seen and understood as part of the mystery of God’s life with us…’All these other things,’ which so occupied and preoccupied us, now come as gifts or challenges that strengthen and deepen the new life that we have discovered.

Henri Nouwen

I am my silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions. I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silence so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living.

Richard Wagamese, Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations

An Invitation

What spiritual practices help you return to the center? I would love to know.

Book Report: February Round-Up

March 2, 2023

My reading month started well and ended well, and in between the books were uneven.


In an earlier post I wrote about Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. A glowing report of a book exquisitely written and a story powerfully told. While visiting a small new bookstore, I heard another customer say she had just finished a book that she loved and was so well-written. She was talking about Our Missing Hearts, and I joined in the conversation, agreeing completely. I have yet to meet anyone who has read the book who did not love it.

The last fiction book I read this month was Gone Like Yesterday, a debut novel by Janelle Williams, and I think this writer has the potential in future novels to attain Celeste Ng’s status. Of course, that is impossible to know, but I hope nothing gets in the way of Williams’ writing and growing and perfecting her skills. Her writing is lyrical and the plot, while involved, is interesting, as are her characters. Zahra is a young black woman who helps privileged high school students write their college admissions essays. She is introduced to Sammie, a another young woman, black, bright, nurtured by her uncle and grandmother, and also applying to colleges. When Zahra learns her brother is missing, Sammie and her uncle pose driving Zahra to Atlanta to look for him. Here’s the tricky part–the presence and sound of moths. Surrounding the car, floating above their heads. hovering in their ears. Are they real? What do they mean? A touch of magical realism. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I think Williams tries to do too much in this book, but still I am glad I read it.

Three of the other books are mysteries: # 2 and #3 in the series by Ausma Neharat Khan about Canadian police detective Esa Khattak and his colleague Rachel Getty. Although I like, but don’t love these books, at some point I will read more in the series. The third mystery I read is part of the British Library Crime Series, Crossed Skis, An Alpine Mystery by Carol Carnac, which was published in 1952. A well-known trope in British mysteries is the house party concept and this one is similar–a group of young people who don’t all know each other go on a skiing vacation and…. well, read it to find out.

I read two books I truly did not like, and I wonder why I finished them. I usually make quick decisions about whether to finish reading a book or not. Oh well. The first is O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker and even after reading my summary of the book in my book journal, I have little memory of the book. The other book is historical fiction by the popular writer, Marie Benedict. Perhaps I finished this because she is a writer often recommended by others, and I kept hoping I would find something redeeming in the book. The book is The Mitford Affair about the English Mitford sisters, especially Nancy, Unity, and Diana. Set on the brink of WWII, Unity and Diana are big supporters of Hitler, and they manage to become part of his inner circle. Nancy eventually and hesitantly shares with Winston Churchill — the Mitfords are distant relations — some of her sisters’ plans and efforts. I need to like at least one of the main characters in any book I read, and I didn’t like anyone in this book.


I can recommend all four nonfiction titles without hesitation–depending on your own personal interests.

  1. Memoir as Medicine, The Healing Power of Wiring Your Messy, Imperfect, Unruly (but Gorgeously Yours) Life Story by Nancy Slonim Aronie. I try to read books about the craft of writing frequently, and a writing friend recommended this. Wonderful prompts. Great examples from her own memoir. This book inspired me to establish Writing Wednesdays for myself. Yesterday was my my fifth one, and I plan to continue that schedule.
  2. A Friend Sails in on a Poem by Molly Peacock. I am not a poet, but I loved this memoir of the friendship between two women who are poets, Peacock and Phillis Levin. Peacock is the author of two of my all-time favorite books, both biographies, The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Flower Diary: in Which Mary Hiester Red Paints, Travels, Marries and Opens a Door.
  3. Prayer in the Night, For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren. Using the words of the compline prayer (Several months ago I wrote this prayer on a small card that sits on my nightstand. Even on mights I don’t pray the words, the intention of those words lives in my heart.) Warren’s writing is simple and clear and at the same time profound, “We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility.” Warren shares her fragilities and encourages us to open to our own and to share them with God.
  4. Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned by Brian McLaren. I actually owned this book before I bought McLaren’s previous book, Faith After Doubt, Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to do About It, but I quickly realized it was important to read Faith After Doubt first. I did that in January. Do I Stay Christian? builds on Faith After Doubt, and wow, there is much to process. Part I answers the question, “No.” Part II, “Yes,” and Part III, “How.” Part I is the most upsetting, and Part III is the most challenging. Chapters in Part II include “Because….Where Else Would I go?” “Because I’m Human,” and “Because of Our Legendary Founder.” McLaren is such a good writer (and speaker–I often listen to his podcast, “Learning to See.” ) In the Appendix to the book he writes

We are all friends around this table. All equals. All unique. All welcome. Who we are is who we are. There is no need to pretend. Some of us have a lot of beliefs and very few doubts. Some of us have a lot of doubts and very few beliefs. Some of us love God, but we’re not sure about Jesus, and some of us love Jesus, but we’re not so sure about God. Some of us aren’t sure about anything, and others feel very sure about almost everything. Some of us gladly call ourselves Christians. Some of us barely call ourselves Christians. Some of us once were Christians, but not anymore. Some of us aren’t sure we were ever Christians, or aren’t sure what that means, or whether it matters. But this we share: we welcome one another to this circle just as we are, for we all are part of one web of life on this precious planet in this amazing universe.

p. 229

See my post on books by Brian McLaren here:

One last note: My husband and I visited a new bookstore in town recently and if you live in the Minneapolis/St Paul area I encourage you to stop by. The name is Comma, and it is the Linden Hills area of Minneapolis.

An Invitation

Anything to recommend from your February reading? I would love to know.

Settling Into Lent

February 27, 2023

Ash Wednesday was almost a week ago and yet, I still don’t feel settled into Lent.

I haven’t chosen a specific book of devotions for my morning meditation time, although I have been re-reading the Lenten section in my favorite Circle of Grace, A Book of Blessings by Jan Richardson.

If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.

I have not decided on a specific Lenten practice. Earlier this year I decided I would plan my future memorial service during this time, and I will do that, but that doesn’t feel like enough. (What is enough?, you ask. Good question.)

In years past I have listened for a word of the day, filling in a daily chart. Other years I have written and sent one letter or note every day. And then there were the years when I focused on my extensive collection of spirituality and theology books, choosing at least one to discard each day. Each year my collection deceased by at least 100 books. That practice has made me more aware and disciplined about the books I decide to keep and to acquire.

But what about this year? Richardson’s words guide me:

Let us say
this blessing started
to shed all
it did not need,...

What do I no longer need?

A new issue of the quarterly publication, Bella Grace arrived in the mail, and I added it to the stack of previous issues I have barely glanced at. When I first started subscribing to it, I set aside time to immerse myself in the lush photography, the inspirational essays, and the suggestions for appreciating the beauty of everyday life. I even submitted my own essays to the publication and was thrilled when several were published. One, “The Comfort of Shawls” was even reprinted in one of their other publications, The Cozy Issue, and another, “The Magic of Reading in Bed” was published in the Bella Grace blog.

Although I hav continued to submit essays, such as “Porch Envy” or “Window Wishes,” none have been accepted the last couple years. Disappointing, of course, but I have come to realize and accept that as a near 75 year old woman, I am no longer their audience. The magazine is geared to much younger women. Women during the child-raising years. Women managing careers and family life. Women discovering who they are.

I’m still discovering who I am, but now in a much later decade. Not only is Bella Grace no longer a good fit for my writing, but Bella Grace is not a good fit for me, and yet, I have stacks of past issues on my bookshelves. Ok, Lenten Lady, it is time to clear the space. But first, I decide to page through each one, saving some photos and quotations I may want to use as writing prompts for the church writing group I facilitate.

Good. I like the idea of having one more almost empty book shelf, although I am keeping the issues in which my essays were included, but this activity, this decision is not only about letting go, but also about acceptance and awareness. Accepting who I am now and awareness of who I want and need to be now. A Lenten practice.

It's true that
you may need
to do some crumbling,
That some things
you have protected
may want to be
laid bare,
That you will be asked
to let go
and let go,

But listen.
This is what
a desert is for.

The true spiritual practice for me this year, perhaps every year I am blessed to have, is to pay more attention to how I am to love and live right now. Right now, right here. What does each day call me to do, to be? What bookshelves in my inner life need to be emptied and in what ways am I holding that sacred space? How do I carry this sacred season of Lent with me? And how do I notice the movement of God?

How does being an elder become my spiritual practice?

I am my silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions. I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silences so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living.

Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese

As Jan Richardson would say, “this is where the breath begins,” and perhaps, this is where my Lenten practice emerges.

An Invitation

What spiritual practices are emerging in your life right now? I would love to know.

Book Report: Shopping my Library for Books on Spiritual Practices

February 23, 2023

Get ready for a barrage of books.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, leading those of us in the Christian faith into the Lenten season. Lent seems like a good time to reflect on the role of spiritual practices in our lives. Even though I have written about and offered workshops and talks on this topic many times before, I know I can still learn more. My ongoing hope is to demystify the nature of spiritual practices and to explore ways to integrate spiritual practices into our daily lives.

Often the place I begin is in my own library. What have I underlined in books I have read? What books feel like a classic resource in my own spiritual development? What books opened me to something new? What books no longer fit my evolving faith? Which books have become a presence in my life? Which books deserve another look?

Well, it is quite a rabbit hole, but here are a few impressions and notes from my recent browsing:

Jane Vennard in Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul introduced me to the Buddhist terms, “on-cushion practices” and “off-cushion practices,” and changed the way I think about spiritual practices. “On-cushion practices are the more intentional, formal, perhaps traditional kinds of practices like meditation and centering prayer. “Off-cushion practices” are less formal and more spontaneous experiences, like pausing to look at a sunset and feeling connected to all of creation or sending blessings when you see the neighbor children walking to school every morning. The poetry/meditations of Being Home by Gunilla Norris have helped me be aware of the many opportunities for off-cushion practices throughout my days.

from "Choosing What to Wear"

I stand by the closet door
barefooted before this choice.
When I pick now I want to remember
that You have picked me--
no self-made woman, but one brought forth
by the lives that have gone before me,
lives that have made mine possible...
from the first single-celled creatures,
those ancient ancestors,
to the dear ones I call parents.

Liturgy of the Ordinary, Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren also starts with the possibilities for spiritual practice in each day, the overlooked moments and routines, like sitting in traffic or checking email. She examines these moments as doorways to the sacred and to living a life of deeper awareness of the holy.

I want to learn how to spend time over my inbox, laundry, and tax forms, yet, mysteriously, always on my knees, offering up my work as a prayer to the God who blesses and sends.

page 100

I have consulted and even re-read in their entirety several of these books, including An Altar in the World, A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor and two of Christine Valters Paintner’s books, The Soul’s Slow Ripening, 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred and The Soul of a Pilgrim, Eight Practices for the Journey Within. All three of these books have become sacred texts for me.

Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it. So welcome to your own priesthood, practices at the altar of your own life. The good news is that you have everything you need to begin.

An Altar in the World, p xvii

Some of the books I have had on my shelves for a long time, and they continue to inform and inspire me. I think I bought Tilden Edwards’ Living in the Presence, Spiritual Exercises to Open Our Lives to the Awareness of God when I was in spiritual direction training in the 90’s–one of those basic texts. Not as dense, lighter, but no less wise is A Sacred Primer, The Essential Guide to Quiet Time and Prayer by Elizabeth Harper Neeld. Another title that has served me well is Living Faith Day By Day, How the Sacred Rules of Monastic Traditions Can Help You Live Spiritually in the Modern World by Debra K. Farrington. Farrington approaches spiritual practices from the structure of creating a rule of life for one’s life. That may sound daunting, but she makes it approachable and desirable.

The topic continues to be relevant, and I continue to add books to my collection, including Pilgrim Principles, Journeying with Intention in Everyday Life by Lacy Clark Ellman, The Wild Land Within, Cultivating Wholeness Through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colon Delay, and another with an intriguing title, Desperately Seeking Spirituality, A Field Guide to Practice by Meredith Gould. Each one of these books feels like a generous and welcoming companion. One more –a book I have acquired, but not yet read, Essential Spirituality, The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind, by Roger Walsh. Stay tuned for a further evaluation.

Several of the books refer to spiritual practices that include specific ways the body is a tool for care of the soul, but one book stands out, Spiritual Exercises, Joining Body and Spirit in Prayer by Nancy Roth. This book reminds us that walking and doing Pilates and yoga and T’ai Chi and dancing and receiving a massage are also ways to experience the movement of God.


My library includes separate shelves with books on aging and spirituality. Several of those titles address spiritual practices, including Aging as a Spiritual Practice, A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser by Lewis Richmond, A Season of Mystery, 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing A Happier Second Half of Life by Paula Huston, and Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth by Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Morgan. I will save reflections on these books for another time.

A Gentle Reminder

As much as I love books and as much as book enriches my spiritual life, reading about spiritual practices does not substitute for practicing. Writing posts in my blog is one of my spiritual practices.

An Invitation

What are your spiritual practices? I would love to know.

Snow Days and Found Time

February 21, 2023

The prediction is that this part of the world will get 20-30 inches of snow this week. Fresh snow everyday beginning Monday and continue snowing through Thursday. I chuckled Monday morning when I looked at the hourly forecast and read “Snow stopping in 39 minutes, starting again in 7 minutes.” I thought about setting the timer on my phone.

When I was decades younger, this kind of weather meant rearranging schedules and planned activities and figuring out how to do what must be done. Would school be cancelled? What would be the easiest, safest way to get to work? Do we have enough milk? Or in more recent years, I called my Dad to make sure he was ok and wouldn’t be venturing out.

During the years of raising children and working full-time, the pre-retirement years, predictions of debilitating weather certainly raised my anxiety levels.

Now, however, as a privileged woman in her mid70’s, my immediate concerns are far less. Yes, I have a couple dates with friends this week, but we will put a new date on the calendar. And appointments with clients can either be reset or we can meet on zoom. If my church writing group can’t meet this week, I will email them some snow day writing prompts.

I so hope we can get to one of the Ash Wednesday services, but if that isn’t possible I will create my own contemplative time, minus the ashes, and will enter the new season in that way. It won’t be the same, but it will be whatever it is.

In the past I have written about the concept of “found time,” the space that is created when something is cancelled or changed. Instead of feeling frustrated by the necessary and sometimes inconvenient changes, I decided years ago to breathe into that space. Oh, surprise, I have a bit more time to read or write or bake cookies or do nothing at all. And that is how snow days can feel. (Easy for me to say–my husband is the one who does all the shoveling.)

Lately, I have also realized that I can create more “found time” in my life not just on snow days, but on any day, if I am willing to let go of worries and concerns, of a need to control, and to the way I think things should be or the roles I have had in the past.

Christine Valters Paintner is offering a Lent retreat called “A Different Kind of Fast” in which she suggests fasting from what gets in the way of living fully.

  • Multitasking and inattention
  • Anxiety
  • Speed and rushing
  • Strength and holding it all together
  • Planning and deadlines
  • Certainty

If you fasted from any of the items on this list, what would your day look like? How would you feel? In what ways might you become more aware of the movement of God in your life?

Instead of clinging to what feels necessary and familiar, dwelling in the lost, can you rejoice in the found?

How about envisioning this found time as a kind of Sabbath?

God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting.

Meister Eckhart

More God is the only thing on my list…When you live in God, your day begins when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you, and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise.

Barbara Brown Taylor

An Invitation

What does “found time” look like for you? I would love to know.

Book Report: Writing Books By Eric Maisel

February 16, 2023

I love to read.

I love to write.

I love to read about writing.

One of my favorite writers about writing, as you can see in this stack of five books, is Eric Maisel. I have other favorites, of course. Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, and more recently, I loved the book, Memoir as Medicine by Nancy Slonim Aronie. And you will see a collection of Julia Cameron books on my writing bookshelf, too.

There is something about Maisel’s books, however, that resonate with me, and I make it a point to re-read at least one of his books each year. Most often the EM book of choice is A Writer’s Paris, A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul. (2005). The book, small, easy to hold, the size of a small journal or travel guide, is a call to follow your fantasy image of yourself as a writer and where better to do that, but Paris?

What might it mean to your creative life if you included, as part of your education as a writer, a risky experience like running off to Paris to write? Something on that order may be needed to unlock the trunk and let out those thousand poems, those hundred short stories, that full shelf of novels or narrative nonfiction.

pp. 2-3

I have been to Paris just once and even sat in a cafe and wrote in my journal, but I don’t have plans to go to Paris for a writing retreat. If I did, I would take this book, which hovers between fantasy and reality, for it has practical hints for living in Paris, but also addresses ways each of us wannabe writers can live that life now. Here and now.

I write in a garret. Yes, it is in St Paul, Minnesota, USA, but somedays it is easy to think of it as a French garret in some centuries old building. I imagine walking down several flights of smooth stone stairs and crossing the street to a boulangerie, greeting the baker and buying the day’s ration of bread and then returning, walking back up those same smooth stone stairs, flight after flight, to my garret. My view today, however, is not of Parisian rooftops, but instead our garage roof and an occasional bird sitting on the electrical wire. My Paris. My here and now.

I begin to write.

And in the summer I write in a secluded small garden I call “Paris.” I sit at a bistro table and write. I can see neighbors walking by, but it is rare I am noticed. True, this little garden is not beyond the French doors of a Paris apartment, but I can pretend, and sometimes I do.

This little book reminds me to “access the Paris already inside of you. There is a Paris-of-the-mind that resides in each of us…It is available to you right now.” p. 191

I may not have gone to Paris to write, but many years ago I did go to Bainbridge Island, Washington to write, and I have given myself solo writing retreats in a cabin on one of Minnesota’s lakes, as well as writing retreats led by other writers. I have found ways to create Paris for myself, including in the garret.

Recently, I pulled Maisel’s A Writer’s Space, Make Room to Dream, to Work, to Write off my bookshelf, and the book opened to this:

The writing life is defined by the succession of choices you make, primary among them whether or not you will write.

p. 54

I have been lucky over the years, no matter where we lived, to have a room of my own, but that is only part of the issue. The other aspect is creating time to write and devoting energy to do that. I looked at my calendar recently and realized that with one small change I could create Writing Wednesdays. Yesterday was my third Writing Wednesday, and I devoted the day to working on an essay about walking labyrinths.

I write on other days of the week–my twice-weekly blog posts, for example, and most mornings I write in my journal as part of my daily devotion and meditation routine, but setting apart a day to work on something that has been percolating or been in process, but set aside honors myself as a writer. How good this decision feels.

An Invitation

What do you need to make room for in your life? I would love to know.

NOTE: Eric Maisel is a psychotherapist, teacher, coach who focuses on helping creative and performing artists meet their emotional and practical challenges, and his list of books is long.

Always More to See

February 14, 2023

The day was too glorious–warm, sunny, clear– to spend at my desk, checking off my list what had not yet been accomplished. Even though making those check marks nourishes my soul in a certain way, what I needed was nourishment I could feel radiate throughout my whole body. I needed to roam and am grateful my husband had a plan.

His plan was to drive up the Minnesota side of the St Croix River and then cross over the river into Wisconsin at Taylor’s Falls. We remembered a charming cafe near a waterfall in one of the small Wisconsin towns, but which one? That’s what makes roaming interesting–when you “kind of, sort of know,” but who knows what you’ll see or discover in the meantime.

We love this drive at anytime of the year, but during the summer and fall months, the route is crowded with others who have the same idea–enjoy the colors, explore the river, walk, hike, visit fun little shops, wineries, garden nurseries along the way. In the winter, however, the same route is quiet. The invitation is to savor.

I felt the lingering items on my list languish as I gazed across expanses of snow. From here to where? Remnants of harvested corn poked through the crusty snow, and smoke rose daintily out chimneys of solitary homes. I imagined the river views sweetening the life in those homes. A horse here and a small herd of cattle there, puffing steam through their nostrils. I know tending animals in the winter is a challenge, but for the moment it seemed like an idyllic way of life.

And the river–no boats, of course. No waterskiing, no parties of sun gods and goddesses reveling. Only stillness on the surface, leaving underwater life to our imaginations. This is the river’s own time, which does not have to be shared with others, it seems. I hoped our roaming didn’t interfere with the needed rest, the solitude of sanctuary.

We congratulated ourselves when we found the remembered cafe. Our lunch was delicious and our conversation the kind of catch-up we needed. On the way back to the car I stopped to take a picture of the falls. I suppose I should have recorded the sound of the rushing water, but, oh well, I didn’t. I just wanted a simple souvenir of the day, of the nourishment I was receiving.

What Do You See?

Only when I inserted that photo of the falls, which are barely visible, did I notice the real reason for the image.

Look at the tree in the foreground on the right.

The eye. The large, unblinking eye, looking right at me, and now, you.

In fact, I see the profile of a face—an arched eyebrow, nose and turned down mouth.

You may see something different in this image or you may derive a totally different meaning of the eye or none at all, but here’s what it means to me. There is always more to see. There is always more than meets the eye, especially at first glance. And in my seeing, I am seen.

We took a different route on our way home, one we had not driven before that led us gradually back home to our urban life. Back home to my lists, of course, but they could wait for another day.

An Invitation

What have you seen lately that has nourished you? I would love to know.

NOTE: The cafe we enjoyed was the Water Shed in Osceola, WI.

Book Report: Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

February 9, 2023

I gave my daughter this book, Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng for Christmas, knowing eventually I would get it back from her and then I could read it. Smart, huh? The word she used when she passed it on to me is “exquisite,” and it is. Every word, every sentence is perfect. Not a word wasted. Not an overblown or unnecessary sentence. Exquisite.

The book, a dystopian novel, is also chilling and upsetting.

So often dystopian novels are far-fetched, and truly stretch our imaginations, but as I read this book, I had to often remind myself that the book is fiction and not nonfiction. The references to books taken off library shelves, to the crimes against Chinese Americans, to children separated from parents at our southern borders, and to the fear and systems created to “protect” American culture are all too relevant.

The main character is Bird, a 12 year-old Chinese American boy, whose mother is a poet. Her poem “Our Missing Hearts” becomes a slogan, an icon for protesters, and she leaves her family and becomes a fugitive. Bird, after finding some clues, attempts to find her. You will fall in love with Bird.

The book also lifts the power of words and of story. And memories.

I don’t want to say more, except READ THIS BOOK, but instead I share two of my favorite passages. The first is Bird’s father’s reflections about his wife, Bird’s mother. And the second is almost at the end of the book and brought tears to my eyes.

…this unshakable belief that the world was a knowable place. That by studying its branches and byways, the tracks it had rutted in the dust, you could understand it. For her the magic was not what words had been, but what they were capable of: their ability to sketch, with one sweeping brushstroke, the contours of an experience, the form of a feeling. How could they make the ineffable, how could they hover a shape before you for an eye blink, before it dissolved into the air. And this, in turn, was what he loved about her–insatiable curiosity about the world, how for her it could never be fully unraveled, it held infinite mysteries and wonders and sometimes all you could do was stand agape, rubbing your eyes, trying to see properly.

p. 176

When does she stop speaking? When are you ever done with the story of someone you love? You turn the most precious of your memories over and over, wearing their edges smooth, warming them again with your heat. You touch the curves and hollows of every detail you have, memorizing them, reciting them once more though you already know them in your bones. Who ever thinks, recalling the face of the one they loved who is gone: yes, I looked at you enough, I loved you enough, we had enough time, any of this was enough?

p. 302

My one complaint about the book is the cover. Did I miss the relevance of the feather? Yes, the boy is named Bird, but the flock of birds on the cover doesn’t seem to represent him. Did those responsible for the cover art read the book? Oh well.

An Invitation

What books make you shout, READ THIS BOOK? I would love to know

A Time-Out

February 7, 2023

What could be better than a trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on the coldest day of the winter. So far, that is. The temperature was well below zero, but the first day of the spring flower show enticed us to bundle up and treat ourselves to color and creativity and promises of the season to come.

The day before we had received some unexpected and unsettling news, (Thanks for worrying, but I am fine and so is our whole family.) and we needed to take a deep, cleansing breath.

I needed to step back, even if for only a brief time. Not in denial. Not in false comfort, but as a reminder of the varied ways God is visible. Pausing in front of each of the displays, the easy rhythm of my breath was restored. Instead of my mind swirling with questions which I had no way to answer, my heart beat, steady and sure, invited me to be present to the beauty in front of me in that moment.

Later, while having lunch in the arboretum dining room, the beauty of the present moment continued, but in a surprising way. The dining room was full of colorful plants and artwork, but what drew me was the view out the large windows. The winter view on that cold, cold day.

Chickadees filled the bare branches waiting their turn at the various bird feeders. Squirrels performed gymnastic feats as they attempted to pilfer what was not meant for them. Downy woodpeckers seemed still, stationary, on the suspended suet. And cardinals–three of them, dazzlingly lipstick red against the expanse of white– feasted.

This was what I needed. I thought what I was after was some relief. From winter’s intensity. From what ached in my heart.

But what I really needed was the clarity of those bare branches full of life. The movement of God could not be missed as I looked out the window. Yes, I oohed and aahed at the colorful, let’s pretend it’s spring displays, but the winter view was reality, and it was just as stunning.

I’ve been reading Prayer in the Night, For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren, who is an Episcopalian priest. The book examines phrase by phrase the compline or evening prayer.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.

The Book of Common Prayer

In the chapter on suffering, Warren writes, “The suffering need soothing, not just numbing. We need real hope, the kind that can carry us through the night.” p. 131

I delighted in the spring flowers, but I found hope in the clarity of the bare branches.

Earlier in the week I bought forsythia branches. The branches were bare, no blossoms yet, but over the next few days, look at what happened. What was bare is now full with delicate, sweet yellow blooms. Once more I witness the movement of God.

An Invitation

Where has God been visible for you in these winter days? I would love to know.

Book Report: JanuaryRound-UP

February 2, 2023

I was in a bit of a reading slump towards the end of January. It may not look that way on paper, but I rejected several books I started and just couldn’t immerse myself in what I thought I wanted to read. Why was that I wonder? Is it because the first books I read this year, which I wrote about in earlier posts, were so good, and finding something to meet that quality just didn’t happen? Or was I simply preoccupied with other tasks? and activities that took lots of energy? Or am I building energy for something new? Am I in some sort of shifting sands time?

I’m not sure it matters, for I still read a good pile of books.

During the deepest part of COVID many people who had considered themselves devoted readers had a hard time focusing on books. That didn’t happen to me. There have been other times in my life, however, when I’ve not been able to concentrate on reading in the way that had always been normal for me. Mainly, those have been times of grief and loss, and I am paying attention to that.

January’s Last Two Books

  1. I decided to re-read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. I can’t remember the first time I read it, but I think it was sometime post-college and probably early motherhood years. I have a vague memory of immersing myself in her books then, experiencing especially the power and relevancy of A Room of One’s Own. I often think of that when I walk up the stairs to my garret. What a privileged person I am. This time I read Mrs Dalloway for the beauty and breadth and depth of the language. Her writing makes me very aware of the importance of commas! This is a book I wish I had studied in a class, as a way to explore the layers and the layering of characters and the times they lived in.
  2. Bomb Shelter, Love, Time and Other Explosives by Mary Laura Philpott is a book of essays. Philpott characterizes herself as a worrier, but at the same time someone who believes that “as long as she cared enough, she could keep her loved ones safe.” So much for theories: Philpott’s teenage son is diagnosed with epilepsy. And life goes on in all its joys and sorrow, fears and acceptances.

There will always be threats lurking under the water where we play, danger hiding in the attic and rolling down that street on heavy wheels, unexpected explosions in our brains and our hearts and the sky. There will always be bombs, and we will never be able to save everyone we care about. To know that and to try anyway is to be fully alive. The closest thing to shelter we can offer one another is love, as deep and wide and in as many forms as we can give it.

p. 268

Now it is time to go through my TBR list and request from the library whatever most tempts me. And I will stand in front of one or more of my own bookshelves and listen to a call, “Reread me!” I’ll let you know what rises to the top.

An Invitation

What kind of a reading month did you have? I would love to know.

It’s Your Body and Your Funeral

January 30, 2023

Looking for something to do on a cold January day?

How about planning your funeral/memorial service?

Does that sound like fun? Well, maybe not, but let’s face it, we are each going to die, and we will each leave loved ones who will be faced with many decisions during an emotional time. Wouldn’t it be a helpful, even a gift, if we provided some guidance ahead of time?

Recently, the pastors at my church offered a session about funerals/memorial services–their purpose and how they fit into our faith tradition. So informative and uplifting. Then the following week, as part of our church’s programming for those of us in the Third Chapter of life (ages 55+), I hosted an informal conversation about funeral planning. This was an opportunity to explore and open to ideas about this key event in our lives. I invited the group to not only listen to others, but also to pay attention to what they were feeling, for this topic forces us to face our own mortality.

The conversation was lively and inspiring and helpful, and like an earlier Third Chapter conversation about downsizing, planning my memorial service is a process. I may be sure of some things, like the fact that I want my service to be at my church, but other aspects, like which pieces of scripture I want read may still be in flux.

After some time of silence and an opening meditation, I invited everyone to share a hymn they would like sung at their service. I shared my two choices: “Beautiful Savior” because my parents loved that hymn (I can still hear my father singing the tenor line.) and also because it is almost the “national anthem” of the college I attended, St Olaf College. It touches a very deep place inside me. The other hymn is “Mourning Has Broken” made famous by Cat Stevens. You don’t suppose he would come sing it at my service, do you?”

Morning has broken like the first morning;
blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning! 
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven,
like the first dew-fall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
sprung in completeness where God's feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning,
born of the one light Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God's recreation of the new day!

So many wonderful possibilities were offered by others in the group, however. Hymns I have loved and love to sing. Choices!

What was more important than picking out hymns to sing during the service, however, was sharing thoughts about other key questions:

  • What is the purpose of planning your funeral now?
  • How does it feel to do this?
  • What are you learning about what you hold to be true, about your faith, your fears, your hopes as you undertake this process?
  • What experiences have you had planning a funeral or attending funerals and how does that inform the kind of service you would like to have?
  • What’s important to you? What “not so much”?
  • Have you had conversations with your loved ones about your desires? How has that gone?
  • What’s the balance between your desires and the needs of your loved ones?
  • How is the service a gift for those who attend?

I’m sorry you weren’t there to hear all that was shared, but you can have this same conversation with your peers, your family, your faith community, and I encourage you to do so.

Funeral Planning as a Spiritual Practice

I encouraged those who attended to approach this process not just as something to cross off your list (“Good, Now I’ve planned my funeral.), but instead to think of this as a spiritual practice. In what ways do you experience the movement of God in the planning and considering, and also in what ways do you express the movement of God in your life through the service you plan?

My husband and I have done some planning. For example, we have decided on green cremation and have paid the funeral home in advance. Even though I have thought about other aspects of the service, such as meaningful scripture and that I want time in the service for silence using the Psalm line, “Be still and know that I am God,” I have not yet written it all down and then handed the completed form over to the church office where it will be kept until it is time to use it.

I have decided doing that will be my Lenten spiritual practice. Stay tuned.

One More Thought

I used to think I didn’t care about my funeral. When the subject came up, I generally laughed and reminded people, “I won’t be there. The rest of you can organize whatever helps you –sitting in a mournful circle or telling edited stories about me or partying, if you like.” But I am realizing that the occasion will bring together people who might not otherwise come into conversation and that it may be a ministry to them in their grieving. My service can be a message of love and God willing, an occasion of grace.

A Faithful Farewell, Living Your Last Chapter With Love by Marilyn Chandler McIntyre

An Invitation

What are your thoughts about planning your funeral/memorial service? I would love to know.

Book Report: My Love Affair with Public Libraries

January 26, 2023

My last trip to the library was a bonanza of books. A pile I had placed on hold were waiting for me, and I returned home eager to determine which one I would read first. (Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton won, by the way–and it is a gem.)

I knew that more than likely I would decide not to read each one. I would at least read the first few pages of each one, but not more than a few pages if what I read didn’t appeal, didn’t spark interest in the characters, the writing, or the plot to come. I no longer feel obligated to read something because it is on my list or someone has recommended it or because I think it is a book I “should” read. I have a long TBR list and even though I am a fast reader and dedicate parts of everyday for reading, I know I will never read every title I want to read. (An aside: I hope when I die I have a book in my hand.)

How grateful I am for the library. I request books knowing I can test the temperature, dip my toe in, but then I can retreat to shore if the book is too cold or too warm. And then I can return the book to the library for someone else’s pleasure.

Public libraries will always be on the top of my favorites list, so when I heard about what lawmakers in North Dakota are trying to do, I could feel my own temperature begin to boil.

A bill has been proposed by the House Majority Leader of Dickinson, ND to ban books with sexually explicit material and books that depict gender identity from PUBLIC libraries. Librarians who refuse to remove banned titles could face up to 30 days in prison.

This proposed bill is not about protecting children or anyone else, but it is about censorship.

If you live in North Dakota or have ties to North Dakota, it is time to speak up and support the gift of freedom that public libraries offer. Wherever you live, support your public libraries and librarians.

An Invitation

What do you love about your public library? I would love to know.

The Presence

January 24, 2023

The Presence by A.E. Borthwick

Recently, I moved this print from underneath the guest bed to the garret where I can see it from my desk. In previous homes it hung above a fireplace, but I never found the right spot for it in this house. I’ve missed it, however, and finally, with minor rearranging, “The Presence” is now a presence once again.

This print by Scottish artist, A.E. Borthwick, has been a presence in my family since I was four or five years old.

My father, who had a lovely singing voice, was the liturgist in our church in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and when we moved away, the church gave him this framed print. At one time there was a letter for my father taped to the back of the print and oh, how I wish I still had that. However, I am grateful the print has survived the many moves.

My parents were master of resettlement and within a couple days of each move to a new location, boxes were unpacked and our home was organized and comfortable. That included hanging pictures, and “The Presence” always had a prominent location, usually in the living room.

Many years later when I was grown and had children, my parents asked my sister, brother, and me which of their possessions we would want someday, and I said the only thing I really wanted was that print. It symbolized home for me. Soon after that conversation, my parents gave me the print, instead of waiting until they downsized.

History of “The Presence”

A. E. Borthwick (1871-1955) was a painter, stained glass artist, and printmaker born in Scarborough, Yorkshire. He studied at the Edinborough College of Art and also in Antwerp and Paris.

He painted “The Presence,” which is set in St Mary’s Scottish Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, in 1910. Before WWI began he sent the painting to Munich where prints were going to be made. When war broke out the painting was sold to an American company and “lost.” It was rediscovered when it emerged to illustrate a newspaper article answering the question, “Is Religion Dead?” The answer given was “No, because of Christ’s abiding presence in his Church.”

At the end of the war an Act of Congress was passed that meant the painting would be returned to Scotland and during WWII it was preserved in the vaults of the Royal Scottish Academy. It had been presented to St Mary’s Cathedral in 1944, and there it remains.

The Changing Meaning of the Painting in My Life

The painting depicts a scene in the cathedral. Communion is being administered at the High Altar, and at the back of the cathedral Christ extends his hand toward a kneeling penitent. Christ is shown in radiant light. The light is so bright in the shadows of the cathedral that one needs to look closely to see the figure.

For most of my life I didn’t think much about the meaning of the painting, and I certainly didn’t relate to the setting. The churches my family attended were far more simple and humble than this massive cathedral. Nor did I think about what would make a person hide in a corner in grief or pain or in need of acceptance or forgiveness.

No, the presence of the painting in our homes meant we were home once more.

When I was training as a spiritual director, however, the word “presence” became more significant for me. During that two-year training, I was exposed to a variety of spiritual practices, including centering prayer. Part of that practice is to use a centering word that in the words of Thomas Keating, “expresses your intention of opening and surrendering to God…Gently place it in your awareness each time you recognize you are thinking about some other thought.” (Open Mind, Open Heart, The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating, p. 36). I tested a number of words, such as “light,” “open,” “heart,” and finally, much like receiving a word for the year, I received “presence.” I knew without a doubt that was the word.

Over time the word itself transformed in my mind into the painting itself. I felt the image, the meaning of the painting itself.

My Mantra as a Spiritual Practice

Eventually, the one word, “presence,” expanded into a mantra: “May I feel the Presence and may I be the Presence.”

I whisper these words to myself, for example,

  • When I begin or end my morning meditation time,
  • Before I meet with spiritual direction client,
  • As I begin to write a post for this blog or work on another piece of writing,
  • When I plan a new session for the church writing group I facilitate.

I find myself saying these words to myself as I move through my day, for I never know when I will need the guidance and comfort of the Presence nor do I know when I will have the opportunity to be the Presence for someone else. That can happen as easily at the grocery store or library as it does in one on one conversations at church.

The mantra is a form of prayer.

And now once again I have the physical presence of “The Presence” to support and remind me that I am beloved and I am to reflect that belovedness in the world.

An Invitation

Is there a word or phrase, an image or object that reminds you of the presence of God in your life? I would love to know.

Book Report: Books by Brian D. McLaren

January 19, 2023

I begin most days sitting in my Girlfriend Chair in the garret, meditating, praying, writing in my journal, and reading a book that will stretch me into deeper spiritual growth.

Currently, I am reading Faith After Doubt, Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It by Brian D. McLaren. Each time I read one of his books or listen to his podcast, (Learning How to See with Brian McLaren, I can almost feel my limbs being pulled, my brain enlarging, and my heart expanding. Easy reads? Not exactly, although McLaren is such a good writer, making the experience of confronting tough issues and below the surface thoughts, a pleasure. Not only does McLaren become a real person with his own challenges, but he invites the reader into the conversation. In fact, each chapter includes questions for reflection and action.

McLaren was a conservative evangelical pastor who struggled with issues of belief versus faith for many years. Eventually, he left his formal role as a congregational pastor to write (over 15 books so far) and to live his faith as an activist and public theologian. He is on the faculty of the Living School at the Center of Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr.

The first book I read by McLaren was The Great Spiritual Migration, How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian (2016). I don’t know how I became aware of him–perhaps through Diana Butler Bass whose work is also important in my spiritual development. Once I had read The Great Spiritual Migration, I knew I needed to read some of his earlier books.

I read A New Kind of Christianity, Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (2010). Those ten questions continue to be relevant.

  • What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
  • How should the Bible be understood?
  • Is God violent?
  • Who is Jesus and why is he important?
  • What is the Gospel?
  • What do we do about the church?
  • Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
  • Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
  • How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
  • How can we translate our questions into answers?

You may think you know the answers to those questions (and maybe you do), but I invite you to read McLaren’s explorations. You will learn something new and maybe feel something new.

Next I read We Make the Road by Walking, A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (2014). Books with “spiritual formation” in the title are always a reason for me to look beyond the cover. Even though the book follows the liturgical year, I didn’t wait to read season-designated sections. I started and just kept reading, but with Lent starting soon, I may re-read those chapters under the heading “Alive in a Global Uprising.” As I look at the table of contents I note several chapters I have marked with a star: “Women on the Edge,” “Your Secret Life,”, “Moving with the Spirit,” “Spirit of Love: Loving God,” and “Spirit of Love: Loving Self.” Perhaps I need to re-read those chapters and see what so appealed to me.

I still have two unread books on my shelf by McLaren. The first is Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World ((2012). I’ll get to it, I promise, for I agree with McLaren’s premise that we need a new faith alternative built on “benevolence and solidarity rather than rivalry and hostility.”

Before reading that book, however, and as soon as I finish Faith After Doubt, I will read his latest book, Do I Stay Christian, A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (2022). Several people I know have read this book and have encouraged me to read it, but once buying it, I realized I first needed to read Faith After Doubt, and I am almost done reading that book in which McLaren proposes a model of faith development.

  • Stage One: Simplicity
  • Stage Two: Complexity
  • Stage Three: Perplexity
  • Stage Four: Harmony

Along with defining and describing each of these stages, especially their limitations and consequences, he goes further to highlight the potential gifts of moving through the stages. He encourages faith communities to become four-stage communities because they “produce spiritual activists, harmony activists, whose faith expresses itself in socially transforming love, politically liberating love and ecologically restoring love.” (p. 184)

The operative word in Stage Four, by the way, is LOVE.

When you read a McLaren book, don’t overlook his footnotes, and have your highlighter in your hand, for you will need it.

Now back to reading the last chapter in Faith After Doubt.

An Invitation

What spiritually stretching books have you read?

The Gifts of a Roaming Day

January 17, 2023

“How long has it been since we roamed?” I asked my husband as we buckled our seat belts.

We guessed the last time was late in November when we drove around the lakes in suburbs west of Minneapolis. With most of the leaves on the ground, rather than on branches, we had clear views not only of lakeshore, but homes with water views –some huge and ostentatious and others old and more like summer cottages. A perfect day to imagine what it might be like to live in a lake community.

Since that day we had been occupied with the holidays and family events, the death of a dear friend, and weather unsafe for driving. The day had come, however, to resume our weekly practice of roaming. Seeing what we could see. Relaxing in the rhythm of the road. Learning something new, perhaps.

Our destination was Winona, a town in southern Minnesota situated on the Mississippi River. I did a little research and discovered that Winona means, “first born daughter” in the Dakotah language. I happen to be a first born daughter, so that felt like a good omen. When I looked up Winona on the internet I discovered there were over 40 homes or buildings listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites, including the public library, and we hoped to spot many of them as we wandered city streets. Part of our roaming this past fall was to visit the library in each town, but Winona’s was closed for the weekend as part of commemorating the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. Next time, we said. And, believe me, there will be a next time.

Our main reason for going to Winona was to visit the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. on the banks of the Mississippi River. That has been on our list for years, but even though a number of friends had told us what a special place it is, somehow the timing was never right. Who wanted to spend time in a museum during non-winter months and during the winter, finding the day when the weather conditions allowed for easy travel was a challenge. Besides, the image I had of the museum was a dark cavern of crusty oil paintings of old clippers ships. That just didn’t appeal to me, even though I think of myself as a person influenced by the element of water.

Instead, this museum, which opened in 2006 and is housed in a gorgeous turn-of-the century influenced building, is dedicated to great art inspired by water, including world-class impressionist and Hudson River School art. But the museum also seeks to showcase contemporary art that expands and opens one’s relationship to water.

Our timing, as it turns out, was perfect. We immersed ourselves in the work of Anne Labovitz. And immerse is the operative word. Along with nine large paintings that focus on water’s surface quality and luminosity, we entered into what felt like sacred space–an installation of gently swaying walls that mimic the slight movement of calm water. Along with seeing and feeling, one hears a soundscape recorded at sunrise on the shores of Lake Superior. I sat inside the waterscape, contemplating, remembering, as if real water was washing over me.

I know most of you who read my blog do not live close enough to visit the museum, but if you do, I urge you to go see this exhibit before it closes on January 21. Our visit to this museum reminded me, once again, that treasures reside everywhere, including our back yards.

What has been on your list forever that you simply have not accessed yet? What might you discover accidentally if you got out a map, a real map, and figured out how to get THERE from HERE? Or if that is not possible, what are the other ways to enliven your curiosity? Of course, books, and perhaps something in a genre you normally don’t read. But that can also be true for other media–watch a documentary, instead of a mystery or crime show. One friend is taking an online class on bird identification and knows that will add to the pleasures of her daily walks. Another friend told me recently that she does virtual tours offered by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and I am sure many other museums offer similar opportunities. Or even simpler, have you ever walked through the doors of the church down the street or visited a library other than the one in your loop of life? Recently, a friend and I were driving home after lunch, and I spotted a beautiful old library I had never seen before, and that is now on my list. Perhaps follow a block and see where it ends and then turn around and see where it ends in the other direction, stopping when something interests you.

Become a tourist in your own part of the world. Become a tourist in your life.

Saturday my husband I set out in sunshine, hoping to see eagles and hawks and we did. (The day’s tally was nine eagles, but only one hawk who looked permanently frozen on a bare branch.) But we had not expected to be so uplifted and amazed. We felt honored and privileged by the gifts offered to us. And we know we will return in the spring and summer when the river is open and the museum gardens are in bloom.

In the meantime, I wonder where we will roam next.

An Invitation

Where or in what way is your curiosity inviting you to roam? I would love to know.

Book Report

January 12, 2023

It is only January 10, and I have already read a book that for sure will be on my Favorite Books of 2023 list: The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell.

This is the first book I read in the new year, and it sets the standard high for my reading life this year. (An Aside: The second book was The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles and while it doesn’t surpass The Marriage Portrait, it is good, very good, indeed.)

Lucrezia is a young noble girl in 1550’s Florence, daughter of the grand duke, and she finds herself married to another duke after her older sister dies. She is intelligent, curious, an amazing artist, imaginative, active, not passive, but her role in life is to produce an heir. Her husband shows tenderness and care for her, but…

He bends at the waist and, sliding a hand around her neck, stoops and presses his lips to hers–a brief, emphatic pressure. It reminds her of her father, bringing is seal down on top of a document, marking it as his.

p. 138

The characters are well-developed, as is the setting. The writing is impeccable, and as for the plot, well, I felt my heart race as I read the last few pages.

I have read other books by O’Farrell, including her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am; Seventeen Brushes with Death, and she is a writer who clearly gets better and better with each book. I remember not being excited about reading her 2020 book, Hamnet, which was about Shakespeare’s wife and young son. That was probably because as a decades ago English major and teacher, I read so much Shakespeare, but the book was a gift and all the reviews were excellent, so…. Needless to say, I loved it. Now I think I will add Hamnet to my re-read list.

Now I am reading a fun palate cleanser, Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Rayburn.

An Invitation

What’s your first book of 2023? I would love to know.

January Check-Up

January 10, 2023

Defrocking happens first.

And then resetting.

Room by room.

From this:

To this:

Even the bedroom moves from holiday cheer to winer warmth.

Sometimes I feel like a set designer, but restoring order and creating comfortable, interesting spaces has always helped me move forward into the next step, the bigger task. At this time of the year the goal is to move into the new year.

Shopping the house and rearranging and fashioning a slightly different look in each of our rooms is only part of the new year assignment, however. Not as physical, but just as important, if not more so, is my annual ritual of re-reading my journals from the previous year.

Sunday afternoon I settled into my Girlfriend Chair in the garret and re-lived the past year, As I read, I wrote down in my new journal some key events and thoughts, and I noted signs of growth, along with what I still need to learn. I looked for patterns and ongoing questions. I was touched by the joys and the deep sorrows.

I honored the past year and my life in that year.

Some Key Learnings

  • My word of the year was rhythm. I was more aware of my own rhythm. Along with being aware of each day’s rhythm–appointments, items on the To Do list, my husband’s needs and plans etc–I became more aware of my own rhythm and the pace I needed to function and live well. I often asked myself, “What is possible now?’ as well as “What do I need right now?”
  • About this time last year I entered a time of intentional discernment about whether or not to continue working on my memoir. I gave myself time and space to listen to my heart and to explore what gives me purpose and meaning. I asked myself how I wanted to use my energy now. The result of this discernment time was to let go of my memoir as a book, No regrets. In fact, I have felt lighter, freer, and in some ways I have reclaimed myself as a writer, not as someone who hopes to have a book published. Here’s the other thing: I have discovered that I was not just discerning whether or not to continue working on my book, but I was discerning how I want and hope to live my life, this stage of my life. Like decluttering, discernment is an ongoing process.
  • This stage of life, these elder years, are tender ones in which loss plays a primary role. More and more I realize the importance of spiritual practice in my life; the need to maintain the ways I ground myself and deepen my relationship with God, along with ways to remain open. How do I continue to discover and live as the person God created me to be?

Simple Things That Added Joy

So much in my life continues to be life-enhancing, including meeting with my spiritual direction clients, facilitating the writing group at my church, attending weekly services, being with family and friends, writing this blog, and even continuing the process of decluttering. Along with these ongoing aspects of my life, I noted in my journal other pleasures.

  • Entertaining at 4 o’ clock. Some snacks and beverages and gathering with a couple friends in the living room or on the patio. Easy. No fuss. Wonderful fellowship.
  • Continuing to roam. Driving to small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin. What’s interesting here? What would it be like to live there? We made a point of visiting the library in each town, and, of course, having lunch at the local bar or coffee shop.
  • Installing new carpet in the bedroom. Fresh and clean. A lighter look.
  • Working on shorter writing projects. Submitting to various online venues and having some published.
  • Trying to stay away from my desk on Sundays. I’ve noticed major slippage in that department as the year progressed, but I am restating that intention for 2023.
  • Writing 6 words to describe my day. For example, “Explored near and not so near.” or “Practice, play, prepare for next week.”
  • Listening to my Pandora station, Christmas piano music, all during Advent. Such a lovely, soothing background for whatever I was doing.
  • Facilitating conversation groups on topics important to those 55+.

I have not completed my January list—there are closets to clean and papers to organize and the oven is dirty, but even so I am planted in the new year, and I am grateful to be here.

One more thing: Thank you so much for reading my posts and for your kind and thoughtful words. Writing this blog is one of my pleasures; one of the ways I continue to learn and grow, and I thank you for your patience as I continue in the practice of life.

An Invitation

What are your new year’s rituals? I would love to know.

Book Report: December Round-Up

January 6, 2023

I read a lot in December–not my usual December activity, but, thanks to a crummy cold, I spent more time curled up with good books. VERY good books.

I’ve already written about the latest Louise Penny book, A World of Curiosities, which I loved, and I re-read her first book, Still Life, but the month was full of other book delights, too.


  • Faces of Christmas Past by Bill Holm. A friend loaned me this charming memoir written by a Minnesota author who was a frequent guest on Prairie Home Companion. He died in 2009. The premise of this short book was writing the annual Christmas letter, whose purpose is to declare, “I am alive, it says, still on the planet. I have not forgotten you. The thread, whether of blood, nostalgia, or friendship, that sews us together has not been cut.” p. 15.
  • Let Evening Come, Reflections on Aging by Mary C. Morrison. I re-read this book before leading a conversation about what those of us 55+ hold in our hearts. Full of wisdom, simply, beautifully stated.

Mystery–it is all around us, and we do not know it. But sometimes when we give it time and space, whether in deep peace or great anguish, it will come up behind us, or meet us face to face, or move within us, changing the way we see everything, and filling our hearts with joy and an upbringing of love that needs no direct object because everything is its object.

p. 87
  • A Place in the World, The Meaning of Home by Frances Mayes. Best known for Under the Tuscan Sun, a bestselling book that also became a movie, Mayes writes so evocatively about creating and being in home. Reading this book made me think about the many homes I’ve lived in and loved and how hometending remains a key spiritual practice in my life. Mayes says, “My house became my icon” (p. 126), and I understand and identify with that.


  • The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Ferat-Fleury. This small, one-sitting book is a love letter to books and reading and matching people to the right book at the right time, along with the power books hold to change one’s life.
  • Wild Geese by Margaret Ostenso. I love it when I am led to an author from the past whom I’ve not known about. Ostenso, originally from Canada lived much of her life in Minnesota, and this book, a psychological and sexual drama, caused quite a sensation when published in 1925. The patriarch of a family on the Canadian plains controls his family, always threatening to expose his wife’s secret of an out-of-wedlock child. Written beautifully, this would be a terrific book club selection.
  • The Ski Jumpers by Peter Geye. I have enjoyed other books by this author, such as Wintering, and I am glad I read this one, too. However, at times I was irritated by the ongoing barroom scenes and sometimes the chronology was confusing, but the characters intrigued me–the brothers who followed in their father’s footsteps and became ski jumpers at early ages. We meet them as grown men–one has become a writer–and many secrets are revealed along the way.
  • No Land to Light On by Yard Zgheib. I was so impressed with this book about the plight of refugees in this country that I gave a copy to our college granddaughter for Christmas, and I am eager to hear what she thinks about it. A Syrian grad student at Harvard married another Syrian who returns to Syria for his father’s funeral and then because of the presidential order is not allowed to return to this country. I’m not sure what I feel about the ending. Read it and let me know your thoughts.
  • Joan is Okay by Weike Wang. A young female of Chinese descent is a physician in NYC right before the pandemic. Working in the ICU is the totality of her life. At first she just seemed quirky to me, but the book becomes more serious as it explores immigration, relationships between generations, and the role of women.
  • The Love of My Life by Rosie Walsh. I was sucked in to this book almost on the first page. SECRETS!!! The wife in the couple has much in her past that her husband knows nothing about, but as an obituary writer for a newspaper he begins to question some contradictions. The author keeps the reader guessing in a masterful way.
  • The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani I have not read any of this author’s previous books, but may in the future, for she tells a good family saga. The story is set in both Italy and Scotland mainly around the years of WWII. The family background is unveiled as the matriarch is dying.
  • Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. I received this book for Christmas, and if that had not been under the tree for me, I would have bought it the next day. What a book! No surprise–the writing is lush, and if I had started underlining favorite lines, the whole book would be a pink mess. David Copperfield by Dickens inspired this story of a boy who suffers terribly as a foster child in Appalachia. Sometimes the subject matter makes it hard to read–he was always hungry, for instance–but don’t stop. This character and his desire to love and be loved made me continue turning the page. And the Big Picture message about poverty and opioid addiction and stereotypes about a region in this country are profound. This book definitely needs to be added to my favorites of 2022 list.
  • Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout. As lush as Kingsolver’s writing is, Strout’s sentence structure is simple and clear. I read this in one day, but that doesn’t mean it is a simple book. The time period is the pandemic and Lucy’s former husband decides they should move together from NYC to Maine. Lucy is grieving the loss of her second husband who died just a year ago, and her adult daughters are going through their own struggles. This book can be read without reading the previous books in which these characters are developed, (My Name is Lucy Barton and Oh, William!) but do read the trio. Strout wrote the books Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again, too and that character is mentioned in this recent book. You get a whole family and community when you read Strout books.

Not that it matters, but I am often asked about the number of books I read in a year. This year I read 150 books–101 fiction and 49 nonfiction. But who’s counting! In 2021 I read 120 books. Why the increase? Well, I will think about it and let you know, if I come up with a theory.

Here we are in January and a whole year of reading is ahead. My TBR list continues to grow, especially since I just received the most recent copy of BookWomen with its list of ‘best reads” submitted by readers, including me. I am moving slowly into 2023, but this coming week I will return to my normal Book Report days on Thursday.

An Invitation

Did you receive any book gifts this past month? I would love to know.

Word of the Year: Beloved

January 3, 2022

Happy New Year!

Along with defrocking the house and writing thank you notes–neither of which I have done yet–opening a new journal, and rereading the previous year’s journals, receiving a word for the year is a new year’s ritual.

Notice I said, “receiving” and not “choosing.” More about that later.

Last year I didn’t receive my word, “rhythm” until mid-January, but some years I am aware of my new word during Advent. For several years I made a collage to represent the word I received, but one year when a word had not appeared, I made a collage first, hoping it would reveal the word to me. And it did. “Fullness.”

(Left to right: “spaciousness,” “word,” and “fullness”)

This year thinking about a word for the year had not even occurred to me as Christmas approached.

Surprise–on Christmas Day, like the birth we celebrate on that day, my word appeared.

That morning before going to church I read the day’s meditation from Richard Rohr, “We are the beloved.” He quoted Henri Nouwen’s reflection on the word “beloved,”from his book Life of the Beloved. I have a copy of that small book, and I decided to re-read that book in 2023.

I also noted how often in recent months I have said or written to someone, “You are beloved.”

During church I experienced an overwhelming feeling of being beloved myself. First, because of my love for this community and the ways I have felt ongoing love within that community. But also such a clear voice from the Creator God, “You are my Beloved.” I felt that voice and those words reverberating throughout my whole body.

“Don’t forget this feeling, Nancy,” I said to myself. “I wonder if you have received your word.”


Once home the family festivities began, including opening a staggering number of presents. We took our time, taking turns, passing each one around the circle. Oohing and aahing. Grandson Peter immediately tried on the clothes he received–each one from his list. The used wrapping paper mounded on the living room floor. And then I opened one last present; one sent to me by a friend. It felt like a book, which my husband says is a dangerous gift to give me because I read so much, and it is hard to keep up with the books I own or have already read.

I was stunned when I saw the book: You Are The Beloved, Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, a collection of Henri Nouwen’s words compiled and edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw.

Yes, I have received my word. There was no doubt. Beloved.

January 2 Meditation

In this meditation Nouwen refers to Jesus’s baptism when he hears a voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17) and Nouwen says, “Jesus lived his life from that inner place of love.” He also emphasizes how those words are for you and me, too. “Once I have accepted the truth that I am God’s beloved child, unconditionally loved, I can be sent into the world to speak and to act as Jesus did.”

I have no idea how this word will become manifest in my life, and I suspect it will be a challenge, actually as each of my previous words have been, to live the word fully and openly and to accept where the path of that word beckons me.

Looking Back at Previous Words

Asking for a word has been one of my intentional practices for many years. My words have included “devotion,” “sacred yes, sacred no,” “spaciousness,” “fullness,” and last year’s word, “rhythm.”

(Collage using the artwork of Steve Sorman)

What I am beginning to realize is how each of these words continue to live in me. To nourish, challenge, and lead me. I don’t finish with a word, accomplish or outgrow it, but instead the words grow in a kind of active relationship with each other. What does it mean, for example, to maintain “spaciousness” in my life and at the same time welcome “fullness”? I know I will continue to learn the rhythm of sacred yes, sacred no.

Each word call me forth.

Each word deepens me.

Each word is an expression of knowing I am beloved and of holding others in their own belovedness.

Receiving A Word

I have heard people say, “I’ve decided my word for the year is going to be “hope.” Or perhaps, “faith.” Who am I to doubt that the word they’ve chosen is not the word actually delivered, but I encourage you to allow the Spirit to work within you; to open to the mystery.

One of the best guides for this process is Christine Valters Painter in her newsletter Abbey of the Arts.

Words of Wisdom

We were made in love, for love, and unto love, and it is out of this love that we act. This deep inner “yes” that is God in me, is already loving God through me.

Richard Rohr

Happy New Year! You are beloved.

An Invitation

I would love to know your word, as you discover it.

Book Report: The New Louise Penny

December 22, 2022

NOTE: I’m taking a holiday break from the blog and will be back the first week in January.

Louise Penny’s latest book is A World of Curiosities, and, no surprise, I loved it.

Although it was released (and on my doorstep) on November 29, I just read it last week. My husband devoured it right away, but lest you think I am an incredibly generous soul, my plan was to read it after Christmas when I could immerse myself in it without a long list of Christmas tasks pulling me away. And preferably, on a cold and snowy day. Well, I got the cold and snowy days, and thanks to my own lingering cold and lack of full energy, I snuggled in with the book earlier than planned.

This book seemed even more complex to me than earlier books–lots of characters, old and new; a hidden room; a puzzling painting; old cases, all connected, of course. One of the themes is forgiveness, but also the belief that there is always more than meets the eye, a statement made more than once in the book.

How good it was to be back in Three Pines with the people we faithful readers have come to love. And the cover is beautiful.

Two More Things

  1. You may have noticed in the photo a bunch of pencils with the inscription I’M F.I.N.E. I subscribe to a couple Louise Penny fan blogs and entered a drawing to win these pencils. I’M F.I.N.E. is the title of one of Ruth’s books of poetry and in true Ruth style F.I.N.E. stands for “fucked up,” “insecure,” “neurotic,” and “egotistical.” Perfect pencils for a writer!
  2. Yes, I watched the Three Pines Amazon series and enjoyed and recommended them–and hope there will be more. Is Gamache as I pictured him? To some degree, but I didn’t imagine his hair and eyes quite so dark. I had a softer look in mind, but his demeanor is very much the way I think of him.

I’ve been reading more this month than I normally do in December and there is still over a week left. With a predicted blizzard on the way, there may be even more reading time than anticipated. My hope, however, is that our loved ones arrive as planned, and we are too busy enjoying family time for more than bedtime reading. I will post my December Book Report early in January.

An Invitation

What books do you hope to receive and what books are you giving? I would love to know.

Advent #4: Cold Days Before Christmas

December 20, 2022

By “cold,” I don’t only mean the temperature, which will soon be below zero, but also the lingering cold I have been fighting for two weeks. No, it isn’t COVID, and I am grateful for that, but who needs to be less than at top form on these days approaching Christmas. Besides, I love the Advent season –both the waiting and the preparing–and this limited energy is frustrating.

I have cancelled appointments and missed some special events, but I am keeping the prize in mind –Christmas with our family. Therefore, I’ve gone to bed early, slept later than normal, and napped when I felt the need. I’ve wrapped myself in a shawl and sipped hot cider flavored with a slice of dehydrated orange, and read more books than normal for December.

I have baked only a few loaves of cherry walnut bread and have not made any cookies. Sigh! However, missing those good smells, I made a simple simmering potpourri, which fills the house with the scent of comfort and welcome. My husband has done most of the wrapping (Bless him!) and I did the bows, and the presents are all in place.

Every Christmas is different and no one year is apt to be exactly the way you envision. Some years will be remembered more than others. I doubt any of us will forget last year when we spent Christmas Day on the patio because our grandson had COVID. He sat by the kitchen window, and we were able to watch him open his presents. Or there was the year when our granddaughter, who is now a sophomore in college, was only six weeks old, having arrived five weeks early. We all knew that would be my mother’s last Christmas, and it was.

We try to make each celebration perfect, but perfection comes when we accept and rejoice in what is. When we start from a place of gratitude and open our hearts to the love that is present, to all the ways we are held and beloved. When we remember that our task is not to fix the perfect meal or try to find the best present, but rather to live in the light of who we have been created to be.

I admit I hope to leave this cold behind by December 24 –preferably before then–but whatever happens, I know I will feel the warmth of those I love and who love me.

May these be days of warmth in your life.

An Invitation

Do you recall any Christmases that didn’t quite turn out as planned? I would love to know.

NOTE: Ingredients for Simmering Potpourri

Fresh or frozen cranberries
Orange slice
Fresh rosemary
Whole Star anise
Whole cloves
Whole allspice
Cinnamon sticks

Add 2-4 cups of water or apple juice. Simmer on the stove. Add more liquid as needed. 

Book Report: Christmas Books

December 15, 2022

I have a plan.

Some snowy and grey day before Christmas (oh let’s be real, maybe the week after Christmas or even later. After all, Christmas lasts till Epiphany, January 7) I’m going to fix some hot cider with a dried orange slice for extra flavor, and I am going to wrap myself in a shawl and get cozy in the snug. Here’s the important part: I’m going to browse our collection of Christmas books and read whatever appeals to me in the moment.

To be honest, I plan to do this every Christmas season, but then shopping and baking and writing Christmas cards and wrapping presents and… and… takes precedence. I enjoy all those activities, so I don’t feel too sorry for myself, but still… This year the desire for this kind of gentle luxury feels more necessary. Maybe it’s the crummy cold I’ve had that has lasted far too long or more likely it is the need to sit quietly with the sadness I feel about the death of a friend. I am also aware that my age, being an elder, lures me towards the simple pleasures more and more.

Over the years we’ve passed on many of the books we collected when our kids were growing up, and what remains are some special favorites plus a few old books I’ve found when antiquing. At the top of the pile is a small paper copy of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. Bruce was in a reader’s theater version of the story when we were in college, and one of the first presents he gave me was a copy of the book with lovely wood prints. I might begin my immersion into my Christmas books by reading it aloud–even if it is just to myself.

…I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six…

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the light in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed, I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

Next I will smile my way through my favorite picture book version of The Nativity. Mary, as imagined by illustrator Julie Vivas, is not exactly beatific. Rather she is LARGE with child and has a very hard time getting on the donkey and is exhausted by the labor. There is a reason it is called LABOR.

I also love Tomie De Paola’s illustrations of Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies and the De Paola book that will always be my favorite, Clown of God about the juggler, Giovanni and the miracle of his gift. Both of our books are signed by De Paola from the days decades ago when I worked in an independent book store in St Paul, Odegards.

I am just as delighted with Susan Branch’s illustrations and also her calligraphy. In the Christmas stack are two of her books, Christmas From the Heart for the Home and Christmas Joy. Branch encourages us to “Light candles, say a prayer holding hands, play music, dress up, take pictures, kiss everyone within 5 feet of the mistletoe, and keep your senses alive so you can remember THIS Christmas all year long.”

One of the books I have not read in years is The Story of Holly and Ivy by the English author Rumer Godden who wrote for both children and adults. In this story Ivy is an orphan and Holly is a doll left all alone in a toyshop window on Christmas Eve. It won’t be a surprise that there is a happy ending to the story. which in this version is illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

I’ve read a few of the stories in the Everyman’s Pocket Classic, Christmas Stories, such as Green Holly by Elizabeth Bowen, The Turkey Season by Alice Munro, and several times Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory about making the traditional fruitcake with his distant cousin.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable–not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. ‘Oh my, ‘ she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, ‘it’s fruitcake weather!’

The book that entices me most, however is also called Christmas Stories, but it is by Charles Dickens. This old, small red leather-bound book with tiny print and pages you can almost see through just feels good to hold. In the last year or so I have been feeling a tug to read some of the Dickens books I have never read like Bleak House or The Old Curiosity Shop. I loved Great Expectations when I read it in 8th grade, and I think reading that book was influential in my decision to teach English. Perhaps reading some of these stories will be the beginning of a Dickens year.

I have a plan, and my shawl and mug of cider, and books wait for me. What a good Christmas present that would be to give myself. And it’s snowing!

An Invitation

What Christmas books do you enjoy reading year after year? I would love to know.

My Christmas Letter: Advent Week #3

December 13, 2022

Dear Friends,

                                                 the bearer of God.
                                                                  Night Visions, Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas 
                                                                  Jan L. Richardson

Isn’t that the invitation of this time of the year? We read of Mary’s willingness to accept the call, but Joseph also accepted fatherhood ahead of schedule. We watch and listen as the shepherd and the Wise Ones followed the star to discover what might be new, what might be possible. In each of their “yeses,” they became a bearer of God.

When in the last year have you received the touch of God? When have you been the bearer of God?

In a recent sermon at our church Pastor Lois Pallmeyer quoted Jaclyn Roessel, founder of the Grown Up Navajo blog,

When we are able to act for the betterment of others…we will speak sacredness fluently.

I love that phrase “speak sacredness fluently.” Imagining myself as a bearer of God is not easy, but somehow acting in ways that can be seen, heard, felt as a sign of the sacred seems more possible. In this elder stage of life, it seems I see the sacred everywhere. Even the challenging changes that come as we grow older seem to offer more ways to practice speaking sacredness. Sometimes that means holding the hand of a loved one as she approaches death and saying, “I love you with all my heart.” Or it may mean listening more than speaking.

Speaking sacredness fluently means staying awake with gratitude in my heart.

A Grateful Summary

  • Our life has not changed much in the last year. We are in the same home, both healthy and doing what gives us meaning. Bruce paints and gives new life to cast-off furniture and other home decor accessories, which he sells at summer garage sales with the proceeds going to Rezik House, a program for homeless youth. He loves his monthly men’s book group at church and also volunteered as the church gardener this past summer, even while maintaining our own gardens. I continue meeting with spiritual direction clients, writing this blog along with occasional other pieces, and facilitating various groups at our church, including a weekly writing group. This fall I revived the Third Chapter, Spirituality as We Age group, facilitating informal conversations on topics like decluttering and downsizing. Our faith community remains a source of joy and growth and connection.
  • You will see in the picture below that grandson Peter (almost 15 and in the 9th grade) is taller than his Papa –taller than everyone in the family, except his Dad. He follows a strict weight-lifting regimen as part of his devotion to both baseball and football. We enjoyed going to his football games this past fall and now Papa drives him twice a week to a baseball class. At church he is one of the sound technicians for Sunday morning services and at school he is the lighting guy–learning great skills.
  • We drove to Portland, Oregon in the spring to bring our granddaughter Maren (age 20) home from her freshman year at Lewis and Clark. What fun to not only see her on campus, but then to have her all to ourselves for the return trip. This past summer she worked at Northern Lights, a YMCA family camp in northern Minnesota, co-directing outdoor activities. Perfect for her! She will return there this summer. This fall as a sophomore she was the stage manager for the college musical, Rent. How good it will be to have her home for a chunk of time over the holidays.
  • One of the best parts of this time of our lives is having such strong and loving relationships with our adult kids, son Geof and daughter-in-love, Cricket who live in Cleveland and daughter Kate and son-in-love Mike who live five blocks from us. How good it will be to have “together time” this Christmas.

Minnesota author Bill Holm in his book Faces of Christmas Past muses that the tradition of writing Christmas letters is a way to state “I am alive…still on the planet, I have not forgotten you. The thread, whether of blood, nostalgia or friendship, that sews us together has not been cut.”

I agree and add that these letters are a sign of our all being one. Each of us in our connection speaks sacredness fluently and has the chance to become a bearer of God.

Warm Blessings, Nancy and Bruce

Book Report: Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2022

December 8, 2022

For a fiction book to be on my “favorites” list, the writing must be superb and I must have been able to engage with the characters in some way, even if they are from a totally different time and/or background. They must become real to me. I also love books in which I can imagine myself in the setting. Plot isn’t as important to me as the feeling created in the book.

I turn to books to deepen who I am, to grow and to expand my world. That is true for nonfiction books, too. Favorite nonfiction books are ones in which I pause as I am reading to marvel at a new thought, new perspective, a new piece of knowledge. At some point while reading each of the books on this year’s favorite list, I said, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” Or I might have thought, “This is just what I need right now.” Or “What a good idea” or “I can’t wait to share this with…”

As is the case with many fiction titles, one book leads to another –other books by the same author or books on the same or similar topic. Once again, so many books, so little time.

Perhaps my list of favorites will lead you forward into the next good book. I hope so.

  • Wife/daughter/self, A Memoir in Essays by Beth Kephart.
  • In The Country of Women by Susan Straight
  • The Inner Work of Age, Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig
  • Late Migrations, A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl
  • Crisis Contemplation, Healing the Wounded Village by Barbara A. Holmes
  • The Wild Land Within, Cultivating Wholeness Through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colon Delay
  • All That She Carried, The Journey pf Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles
  • Decision-Making and Spiritual Discernment, The Sacred Art of Making Your Way by Nancy Bieber (a reread)
  • Spirit Car, Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson
  • Between Two Kingdoms, A Memoir of life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
  • The Divine Dance, The Trinity and Your Transformation, Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell
  • Without A Map, A Memoir by Meredith Hall
  • A Life in Light, Meditations on Impermanence by Mary Pipher
  • Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh
  • The Green Hour, A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend
  • The White Stone, The Art of Letting Go by Esther deWaal
  • Windswept, Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abby
  • The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
  • Trusting Change, Finding Your Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering
  • How The Word Is Passed, A Reckoning With The History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
  • The Electricity of Every Living Thing, A Woman’s Walk in the World to Find Her Way Home by Katherine May

Such rich reading–almost takes my breath away!

An Invitation

What nonfiction books do you recommend from your 2022 reading? Is there anything on this list on your TBR list? I would love to know.

The Mary Card: Advent Week #2

December 6, 2022

One day early last week I sat in my Girlfriend Chair, took a deep breath, and shuffled the Advent Perspectives, Companions for the Journey deck of cards. Discovering my companion for Advent has been one of my Advent practices for the last few years, ever since my beloved sister gave me this charming set of cards.

The set includes images of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, the innkeeper, two shepherd cards, three Wise Men cards, the angel, the manger, the donkey, the sheep, the star. Each card describes the character’s role in the Christmas Story and also asks some reflective questions about the ways the character is present in your life and can lead you deeper into your own faith life.

I shuffled the cards and then turned them over, face down, and fanned them in my left hand. I closed my eyes, took another deep breath and moved my right hand lightly over the cards, whispering a simple desire, “Companion me. Be with me.”

My hand stopped, selected a card, and turned it over.

Oh no! MARY! It’s the Mary card!

Why couldn’t it be the sheep or the innkeeper? I know how to be those characters. Or why not another Wise Man. For the last two years I had chosen two of the Wise Men cards. Let’s complete the trio, I pleaded, and be the third Wise Man.

Or how about Elizabeth? After all, I know what it is to be old.

Mary? This is too much. I can’t be Mary. The first year I had these cards I selected the Mary card too. What didn’t I learn then? What is the reason for this card now?

I suppose I could have called a “do over,” but I’ve learned to sit with what appears in my life–the signs, the gifts, the changes, the challenges, the disappointments, the joys.

I took another deep breath and remembered that just because the Mary card chose me doesn’t mean I have to be Mary. Rather, Mary has asked to companion me on this stage of the journey.

The day before I sat with the Advent cards, I read this in Christine Valters Paintner’s daily meditation:

Mary is the gate through which Jesus enters the world and our hearts. Her consent was required for him to cross that threshold.

I should have known.

And so I sit with Mary.

And I sit with the reflection questions on the back of the Mary card:

  • What experience have you had with God that altered the course of your carefully made plans? How did you respond?
  • How comfortable are you in being honest with God, wrestling with God. and asking questions of God?
  • How do you, as Mary did, feel like God’s favored one? How are you being asked to birth your special gifting of God’s light and love in our world?

In recent weeks the word “vessel” has hovered in and around my heart. Mary was a vessel of love and nurturing and willingness to be and do the hard thing. And these last few days have been hard. A dear friend died, and none of us who love her were ready. My vessel has overflowed with tears.

This was not the plan. I was expecting to be fully immersed in Christmas delights, just as I expect engaged Mary was preparing for her wedding. Perhaps her girlfriends were planning a wedding shower for her, and her parents were consulting with her about wedding details? Did Mary and Joseph sit quietly and talk about their future hopes and dreams?Well, that’s not how life unfolded. Gabriel appeared.

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and powdered what sort of greeting this might be.

Luke 1: 28-29

Mary is with me as I ponder how to hold and to be in this new loss. I ponder how to be a vessel.

Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain...

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this because you must be large.
A passage.
People will find their way through you.
A bowl...

Light will glow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light...
             by Christine Lore Webber


I trust that Mary is the chosen companion for me right now in this place and time, and I promise to open to the learnings and gifts she offers me–even through my tears.

An Invitation

When you think of the Christmas story, what characters do you most identify with and why? I would love to know.

Book Report: December Round-up AND Favorite Fiction of 2022

December 1, 2022

Today’s post will do double duty. First, a look at what I read in November and then a list of my favorite fiction of 2022. Last year I was asked by a few readers to post my favorite books of the year before the year ended as an aid for Christmas shopping. Next week I will post my list of favorite nonfiction from this year. So here goes.

November Summary

Compared to October when I read 13 books, I was a slouch this month! Only 9 books.

Three of the fiction titles are on my 2022 favorites list —The Overstory, Foster, and The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Each of those books were emotional reads in which I felt such warmth and concern for the characters, although these books could not be more different from each other. I thought The Maid was an ok read–a good one to read in one sitting. I was disappointed in Fly Away by Kristin Hannah. I have enjoyed other books by her, but in this one the characters never seemed to rise above their whininess and I didn’t see much growth. It was a long running soap opera kind of book.

The last book I read this month was Writing and Healing, which I have had on my shelf for a long time, and it is a series of exercises used in a group of cancer survivors. I got some possible writing prompt ideas for the writing group I facilitate.

I borrowed one of the books from the library, and I am sorry I don’t own it. How The Word Is Passed, A Reckoning With The History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is an amazing book, beautifully, poetically written and it opened me to so much I didn’t know or had never considered. I littered the book with tags and have made copies of many of the passages. Smith visits several key places in the history of slavery, including Monticello, Whitney Plantation (Louisiana), Angola Prison (Louisiana), Blandford Cemetery (Virginia), Galveston Island (Texas), New York City, and Goree Island (Senegal). It felt like an honor to read this book, and at the same time I felt shame for the necessity of this book.

No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler is about the author’s struggle with colon cancer (at age 35). She writes openly, honestly about this life-threatening challenge and wonders about the ways we approach adversity in this culture.

Finally, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, A Woman’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home by Kathering May. I was attracted to this book because I am always attracted to books about people going on extended walks (I wonder about that attraction in myself!) and also because I loved her more recent book, Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. This book was a surprise, however, for it was really a journey in her discovery of herself as someone with autism. The walking gave her room to realize and contemplate this about herself. Quite the book.

I suspect I won’t read as many books in December, but there is always January and snow days. Now onto the end of the year lists.

Favorite Fiction This Year

When I decided which books to include on my “favorites” list and then gathered books to illustrate this post, I realized how much I now use the library. Most of my favorites are books I borrowed from the library and few are ones I acquired. Because my list of favorites is so long, I divided the list into First Tier and Second Tier. I listed the books in the order in which I read them–not according to which favorites were my most favorite!

First Tier Favorites

  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
  • Oh William by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yea Gyasi
  • Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk (a reread)
  • Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams
  • The Floor of the Sky by Pamela Carter Joern
  • A Town Called Solace, The Other Side of the Bridge, and Road Ends–all by Mary Lawson
  • Beneficence by Meredith Hall
  • Great Circle, Seating Arrangements, Astonish Me –all by Maggie Shipstead
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (a reread)
  • French Braid by Anne Tyler
  • Three by Valerie Perrin
  • Honor by Thirty Umrigar
  • Recitative by Toni Morrison
  • The Midcoast by Adam White
  • Fencing with the King by Diane Abu-Jaber
  • The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
  • Landslide by Susan Conley
  • The Other Mother by Rachel Harper
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • Foster by Claire Keegan
  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Second Tier Favorites

  • Celine by Peter Heller
  • The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
  • Zorrie by Laird Hunt
  • The Eighth Life by Nina Haratischvili
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Sharfak
  • Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • Jubilee by Margaret Walker
  • Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (a reread)
  • The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois by Honore Fannone Jeffers
  • Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
  • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
  • A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery
  • Violetta by Isabel Allende
  • Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Mystery Favorites

As I write this I await for the arrival of Louise Penney’s latest. Because I am such a generous soul, I will hand it over to my husband to read it first. I will wait for a day when I can fully immerse myself in it and savor every word.

  • The fist two in the series by Richard Osman: The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice. I am on the list for the third one.
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • A Sunlit Weapon, the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear
  • The Frieda Klein series by Nicci French. The first is Blue Monday and they progress through the days of the week, ending with Sunday Silence
  • A couple by Chris Pavone: The Expats and The Paris Diversion
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I think there will be more in this series.
  • Fox Creek by William Kent Krueger, the most recent in the Cork O’Connor series. I didn’t think this was his best, bu I can’t not read WKK.

I make the decision to not continue reading a book quickly, which is why I don’t have many books listed in my Book Journal that I didn’t like. Sometimes I will bring home a pile I have requested from the library and only read one or two. I am sure that there are times if I had continued to read a specific book, I would end up enjoying it, but that is a chance I am willing to take. Too many books–too little time.

An Invitation

What were your favorite fiction titles of 2022? I would love to know.

Ready for Advent: Week #1

November 29, 2022

I’m ready for Advent now, but Friday morning as I defrocked the house of its fall look, I wasn’t so sure. Our grandson had retrieved all the Christmas bins from the storage area underneath the snug, and they waited for me in the lower level bedroom. EEEK!

When I read a novel, setting and characters are more important for my reading pleasure than plot, and that is true for me in my day-to-day life as well. Creating an interesting and creative setting that inspires reflection and growth, as well as an atmosphere for connection with others has always been a priority for me. That is especially true at this time of the year.

I confess that this year the process felt daunting to me. I wondered if this was the year I would say “been there, done that” and limit myself and decide to be a convert to Christmas Minimalism. (Is that a thing?)

Once I opened the bins, however, and became reacquainted with reminders of Christmases past, I was on my way, and the house is now alive with a Christmas glow.

The setting welcomes me into Advent reflection –this time of waiting and promise and finding the light in the darkness. The setting creates a space for the birth that needs to be revisited over and over again. The setting is a threshold for whatever unfolds. The setting asks me to open to what most needs to be discovered and honored, as well as the ways I need to challenge myself.

I am ready.

An Invitation

How do you prepare for this new season? I would love to know.

An Aside:

Not only did I prepare the house for Advent, but I also continued the ongoing process of decluttering. I packed up one bin of fall decorations and two bins of Christmas decorations ready for our annual spring/summer garage sale. I suspect when I pack up the Christmas decorations after Epiphany, I will add more to the “ready to let go” piles. How good that feels!


My post on Thursday, December 1 will include a list of my favorite novels of 2022. On Thursday, December 8 I will list my favorite nonfiction books of 2022.

Be Gentle With Yourself/Myself

November 22, 2022

Note: No post on Thanksgiving Day. I will return on Tuesday, November 29. Have a blessed holiday.

One day this past weekend I wrapped myself in my favorite shawl and moved into the snug to browse through a pile of new home decor magazines. I needed a time-out. Escaping into pictures of beautiful homes, possibly delicious recipes and contemplating holiday decorating is one of the ways I am gentle with myself. One of the ways I restore myself into a rhythm that is calm and open and essential.

These are confusing days; these days right before Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmas. At least for me.

These are days of conflicting messages. The grocery store is loaded with all the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner, but at the same time stores are full of Christmas decorations. Driving through neighborhoods especially in the evening, I am surprised by the number of homes with Christmas lights sparkling against the snow, and I even catch glimpses of Christmas trees all aglow inside homes.

Some people have strict guidelines about not decorating until after Thanksgiving and others are busy doing that right now.

We have received our first Christmas cards, and a couple people have told me they are done with their shopping. And that is fine. Whatever works for you and however you meet the demands of your life is your decision, but I can feel myself tightening, wondering how I will get everything done.

Advent begins in a few days, and I am not ready!

There is always a lot to do this time of the year, and I wonder how I managed before our children were grown when I was working full time and my husband was a busy family doc or those years when we traveled from our home in Ohio to the rest of our family here in Minnesota. Now we don’t host Thanksgiving, and we don’t have as much shopping to do as we once did nor do we decorate in the same extravagant way.

Our grandson will come get the bins of Christmas decorations out of the storage space for us this week, and I will decorate beginning Friday. On Thanksgiving Day we will have our photograph taken with our grandkids and then I can order copies for our Christmas cards, but I am not yet in the mood to write an accompanying letter. Maybe I won’t do that this year.

I want to do some entertaining, and I always bake many loaves of cherry walnut bread. It would be fun to make some different cookies this year, too. My husband said he would help. (That’s when I will miss having a big kitchen.) We’ve done some shopping, and I bought wrapping paper, but need to get ribbon.

In the midst of the December list, I also need to do some planning for the new year. When in January should I start the winter series of the church writing group I facilitate and when can I set aside time for the planning of those sessions? What about the other groups I lead?

For the most part I relish it all, but at the same time I am aware that day to day life continues. I meet with clients, fix dinner, pay bills, do laundry and even write my twice a week blog posts. (I don’t anticipate much other writing will get done.) I am also aware of those I love who are in pain and trying to manage what is unwelcome and unexpected. How do I stay open to those needs?

We live near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. A place sacred to the Dakota people. An area important in their creation stories; an area of great energy and meaning.

These November-December days feel like a confluence to me–time flowing into each other, joining the past year, leading to a momentous birth and on into a new year and new beginnings. Beginnings that may grow from endings. Past, present, and future almost all at the same time, and at times that can feel chaotic. But eventually the rivers of time become one, and order of some kind is created.

I wonder how many times I have advised someone to “Be gentle with yourself. Remember to breathe.”

When we seem to be in a time of confluence, when the past is moving quickly into the future and the present is overflowing, treating oneself with gentleness is not just a good idea, but a necessary one.

An Invitation

What are the ways you practice being gentle with yourself? I would love to know.

Book Report: Bookshelf Browsing

November 17, 2022

I am a happy woman today.

I will spend a chunk of the day planning two more sessions for the writing group I facilitate at church. Each session I offer some quotations related to a specific theme, followed by a writing prompt.

For example, the theme this month is hospitality. Last week the quotes I presented included:

In your own way, do you keep a lantern burning by the roadside with a note saying where you may be found, “just in case?” Do you place a jar of cool water and a bit of fruit under a tree at the road’s turning, to help the needy traveler? God knows the answer and so do you!

Howard Thurman in Meditations of the Heart

The guest in Benedictine spirituality is a visit from the God of surprises…Guests bring the world in, place it at our feet, and dare us to be who and what we say we are.

Joan Chittister in The Monastery of the Heart, An Invitation to a Meaningful Life

The quotes may be poems or prayers. They may come from novels, as well as books or articles on spirituality or they may be Biblical passages. The first week we explored hospitality, for example, I included only one quote and that was the Martha and Mary story as told in Luke 11:38-42. Most often, however, I invite exploration of the topic through a variety of quotes–and a variety of sources and writers, balancing men and women’s voices, also.

Sometimes the theme is the result of something I have just read. Sometimes I think of a prompt first and need quotes to support it. No matter the doorway into the planning of a writing session, I love the scavenger hunt for supporting content.

I stand in front of my shelves in the garret and ask, sometimes even aloud, for guidance. What books will have the perfect words for deeper understanding and insight and inspiration? Sometimes the answer is obvious, for there is a specific book that addresses the topic. For example, Invited, the Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness by Leslie Verner or The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. I glance at what I have underlined and I note sources the author mentions. As I immerse myself in the topic, I think about other books within my reach or file folders in my drawers that may have a nugget on the topic. I have a journal of quotes I have read in other people’s blogs and I may page through that, often finding just the piece of wisdom I need for myself that day

I turn to my favorites–Jan Richardson, Christine Valters Painter, Joan Chittister, Richard Rohr, Parker Palmer.

I add sticky book flags to pages that seem relevant and begin a stack of books on the top of my desk.

One book leads to another. And searching for material for the current topic often leads to ideas for future topics or for other programs I facilitate. Or for my blog posts or essays I may want to write.

Ultimately, I only use a few of the quotes I find, but engaging with this process, an intuitive and playful process, immerses me in the topic and opens me to whatever direction the participants in the writing group may go with their writing. The process broadens me and deepen my own reflection. It is a process that leads me into a kind of stillness, even as it energizes me.

Moving from book to book I realize this is meditation, this is prayer.

Yes, today I am a happy woman.

An Invitation

Is there a quote in your life that continues to inspire and guide you? What does that quote prompt you to do, to be? I would love to know.


An essay I wrote is featured on the Brevity’ Nonfiction Blog site today. I hope you will read it. Here’s the link:

Being A Vessel

November 15, 2022

At a recent session with my spiritual director, she noticed how I cupped my hands as I spoke. That posture suggested a word to her. Vessel. The word resonated with me, and I wondered about the implications of that word in my life.

Soon after that session I read a prayer, “Blessing the Fragments,” by Jan Richardson in her book, The Cure for Sorrow, A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief. This is the first verse.

Cup your hands together,
and you will see the shape
this blessing wants to take.
Basket, bowl, vessel:
it cannot help but open
to welcome what comes.

Welcome what comes? I’m not so sure about that. Why, for example, would I welcome the sadness I feel about a friend’s dire cancer diagnosis. Then I read the last verse.

Look into the hollows
of your hands
and ask
what wants to be 
gathered there,
what abundance waits
among the scraps,
what feast
will offer itself 
from the pieces 
that remain.

“Oh, Nancy, ” I say to myself, “You do not yet know the gifts of this time. And you can’t know if you live with your hands clenched in a rigid fist.”

With my hands cupped I …

Receive and Release

Open and Offer

Honor and Hold

Isn’t this what we envision for ourselves when we walk with someone who experiences pain or confusion, doubt or fear?

At those times I want to receive what is shared, spoken or unspoken. Not only do I want to release my own fears, but also my need to control or correct or fix or solve.

I want to open my heart and listen with the ears of my heart. I open to the inner voice, the Divine that whispers to me.

I open to surprise, to possibility, to what feels new and perhaps not quite acceptable. I open to change, to transformation, to hope and salvation. I open to imperfection and a lack of answers. I open to the spaciousness of this time, whatever that means.

I offer what I can, what I am able. I offer myself, my heart and my intuition, too, along with my understanding, even when I don’t understand.

I offer my presence.

I honor for we are beloved. We are holy. I honor our fragility that lives within our wholeness. I honor vulnerability and the willingness to be seen, to be known.

I hold the space for all that is swirling or sometimes for all that feels static. I hold the fear and allow love to be borrowed, if love feels distant. I hold the in-between times. I hold myself accountable, even as I am gentle with myself.

I hold the present moment with my presence.

I hold open the door.

I remember my prayer bowl, a vessel that sings. When I strike the rim the tone is clear and strong and reverberates for a long time, fading gradually into the space around me. The energy and the memory remain.

May I be that vessel–a vessel that receives and releases, opens and offers, honors and holds. A vessel that sings even as she cries.

An Invitation

Cup your hands. What do you see? What kind of vessel are you carrying? I would love to know.

Book Report: The Overstory by Richard Powers

November 10, 2022

I’m not sure why I finally decided to read this book. It has been on my “fiction yet to be read” bookshelf for a long time. Often when I finally take a delayed plunge I wonder why I waited so long, and this was the case with The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Perhaps I finally settled into this big book (500 pages) because I had discarded several books I put on hold at the library. The descriptions of each of those books appealed, but after reading the first few pages I knew they would not satisfy a barely perceptible itch for something more substantial.

Perhaps I finally turned to The Overstory because of the season and how much more aware I am of trees as they shed their leaves and reveal their bones.

Perhaps I was influenced by the paperback release of Richard Powers most recent book, Bewilderment.

Perhaps after reading thirteen books last month, I was ready to settle into the world of one book.

This is a novel about trees–their significance and how we treat them. That is a simple statement, but this book is not simple.

In the first section, “Roots” we meet nine main characters. Yes, nine, and each one is essential. We learn their backstories, each one fascinating, and then in later sections, “Trunk,” “Crown” and “Seeds,” we learn how some of them interconnect as tree defenders and for others the understanding of the essentialness of trees is discovered in more solitary ways.

As I read further and further into the book, I thought about a walk I took almost every day when we lived in Ohio. Sometimes our old dog Boe went with me, sniffing and shuffling along the trail. At the beginning of my walk a large oak tree, a tree I thought of as the Grandfather tree, welcomed me each day. I often stood in front of the tree, taking several deep breaths, before veering off onto the trail along a small lake. Boe was always eager to get moving, but I needed a moment to settle myself and find the rhythm of the day and to listen to what whispers the tree might offer. Further on I encountered another large, very large tree, with a sizable opening at the base of the tree. I imagined this was where Peter Pan and the Lost Boys descended into their underground world. Once I peered into the hole, almost as tall as I am, hoping I could hear them. There were other trees at other stages of their lives, juveniles reaching into the sky or fallen elders, still present, but giving life and wisdom in more discreet ways.

I didn’t think much on my walks about how trees are above and beyond and deeper than humanity and how they are our ancestors, but I think at some essential core, I knew that. Powers clearly knows that and wants us to know it, too, and his beautiful and passionate writing creates and reinforces that knowing.

If you’re holding a sapling in your hand when the Messiah arrives, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.

page 89

…a great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

page 89

Now they only need to learn what life wants from humans. It’s a big question to be sure. Too big for people alone. But people aren’t alone, and they never have been.

page 489

This book is not an easy read, but that’s not a good enough reason not to read it. You might want to consult one of the many reviews of this book for some guiding insight. Here’s one:

I look out our front window and realize the ash trees along the boulevard (or as it is called in Cleveland, the “tree lawn,” which I think is a wonderful name) are at the end of their lives and soon we won’t benefit from their shade and their energy. How sad that makes me, and I think about a Chinese saying Powers quotes, “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.”

This book is Powers’ contribution to increasing awareness and call to action regarding climate change. What will be your contribution?

An Invitation:

What big books are waiting for your attention? I would love to know.


One of my favorite nonfiction books about trees is The Healing Energies of Trees by Patrice Bouchardon (1999), but I also have on my TBR list To Speak for the Trees, My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

The Landscape’s Answer to My Spirit’s Need

November 8, 2022

What do you see here? How would you describe this scene?

I imagine some would call this bleak, cold, barren, dismal and wonder why I would even take this picture.

This landscape is exactly what I needed recently.

Last week I was cranky, easily irritated. Unsettled and touchy. When I feel that way, I know I need more time in morning meditation. I need to write in my journal, read sacred words and ponder them, sit in silence, and pray. But this past week, although it looked spacious enough on paper, somehow zoomed past without room for what I most needed. A correction: The time was there, but I failed to use it in the ways I knew would help.

A dear friend has received a dire diagnosis, and I am grieving for her and for her family. And I am grieving for myself, too. I wake up in the morning in the midst of thoughts for her, and a prayer for her is the last thing on my lips before I shut my eyes at night. I experience both grief for what is being lost right now, and I anticipate the grief that will come.

I am so sad.

At the same time I want to be present to my friend and whatever she needs right now. A helper. A doer. A responder. A receiver. A calm and quiet presence. Whatever is needed in the moment.

A Call to Roam

The past week was beautiful, warmer than normal temperatures. Sunny, and many leaves were holding on in a continuation of fall’s majestic show. But Friday was cooler and grey; a day signaling introspection and contemplation.

How grateful I was that my husband and I had set aside that day to roam. At his request we drove down along the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side of the river–one of our favorite routes. The towns along the way. Maiden Rock, Stockholm, Pepin, are busy on summer weekend days, and I imagine not long ago the leaf-peepers were oohing and aahing at the color and the sparkling water.

Now every tree was bare. The skeletal branches revealed the essence of each tree, and the sky and the waters almost blending together as one whispered a message of connection, of wholeness.

How grateful I was to be able to rest my eyes. Instead of missing what was no longer there, I paused in what is. This is beauty, too. This is love, too.

I still felt sad, but I also felt a kind of peace. The spaciousness I glimpsed between the branches reminded me that we are each part of the ongoing cycle the seasons offer us.

We crossed the river back into Minnesota and found a quiet place for lunch, next to a railroad track and right on the river. How fun it will be to return there in another season when the days are warmer and the scene is livelier and more colorful, but this was just what I needed in that moment.

An Invitation:

What landscape nurtures your soul’s need? I would love to know.

Book Report: October Round-Up

November 3, 2022

Oh my goodness, what a good reading month it has been. You would think this was a hibernation month, when, in reality, the weather has been fall perfect.

I read thirteen books this month, but who’s counting! People ask me how I manage to read so much. (Is there an implication that my life is dull?) I guess the answer is that I structure reading into my day, beginning with my morning meditation time, which includes reading a book on a spiritual topic. This month I read three books in that category:

  • The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters by Prya Parker (2018). I am quite sure this would not be shelved in the spirituality section of a book store, but thinking about how we connect with one another and how we offer hospitality is a totally spiritual topic, I think. Written in a breezy, conversational style, this book has lots of helpful and insightful ideas that can make a difference when you plan a small dinner party or a big work or community event.
  • Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman (1953). This book had been on my list for a long time, and I read it slowly, savoring one brief meditation at a time. For example, in #10, “In the Moment of Pause, the Vision of God,” he writes, “It is good to make an end of movement, to come to a point of rest, a place of pause. There is some strange magic in activity, in keeping at it, in continuing to be involved in many things that excite the mind and keep the hours swiftly passing. But it is a deadly magic; one is not wise to trust it with too much confidence.” Keep in mind, if you read this, the time period, for the language is sexist, but there are gifts to be found here, and Thurman is one of the greats of the 20th century.
  • Trusting Change, Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering (2022). One of the first programs I attended at Wisdom Ways when we moved back to St Paul in 2013 was a book launch for Karen Hering’s Writing to Wake the Soul, Opening the Sacred Conversation Within (2013), a book that has inspired my own writing. Since then I have participated in writing retreats and sessions with her. She is a gifted teacher and writer, and this book is packed with insights and inspiration. The book offers ten skills for living on the threshold (actually, I wish the title included the word “threshold”) and deep and creative exercises to do by oneself or with others. I have a feeling I will refer to this book often as I plan for the writing and other groups I lead. Hering is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister who has worked as a literary minister. Isn’t that intriguing?

Along with devoting part of my meditation time to reading, I read during lunch, but I also try to leave my garret desk at about 4 and read before I start fixing dinner, and, of course, I read before going to bed. That time adds up to a bunch of books. I guess I am a fast reader, and sometimes that is not a good thing, for I don’t always retain what I read. That is one reason why I keep a journal of what I read.

Here are my top four October novels:

  • The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian (2022). An American movie star invites friends and colleagues to join her and her new husband on a honeymoon safari in Tanzania. The novel is set in the 1960’s when the country was still called Tanganyika. Kidnapping, murder, page-turning suspense. The big question is who survives? The descriptions of the Serengeti and the animals they see are breath-taking, but be still my heart, so is what happens. This is the first book I’ve read by this author and I went on to read The Hour of the Witch (2021), which, even though I have never been drawn to books about the days of witch-hunts in the colonies, this book intrigued me, and I am afraid I am going to have to read Bohjalian’s extensive back list.
  • Fencing with the King by Diane Abu-Jaber (2022). Amani accompanies her father from the U.S. back to their Jordan homeland where he has been invited to celebrate the birthday of the king by engaging in a fencing match with him. What is more important about the story is Amani’s search to learn about her father’s mother, whom she resembles. Secrets are uncovered in this beautifully told story.
  • Landslide by Susan Conley (2021). I almost read this book in one sitting, for the witty and natural dialogue moved the story along so easily. Set in Maine, Kit has a serious fishing accident and Jill needs to cope with their two teenage sons, whom she calls “the wolves.” I loved all the mother-son interactions, reflecting teenage angst, the mother’s typical, but also difficult worries, and all the love needed to survive and move forward.
  • The Other Mother by Rachel M. Harper (2022). A complicated story of secrets and trauma related to the secrets. Two women are in a relationship with one another, but one is more committed to the relationship, and she wants a baby. The other woman agrees, but even though she adores the child, does not want to adopt him. Much of the story takes place when the child, Jenry, starts college at Brown University where the man whom he believes is his grandfather is a famous African-American professor. Some secrets are revealed, but others….well, I don’t want to reveal too much. I was intrigued by this book.

I also read five other books, each worth reading or I would have discarded them fairly early on!

  • Violeta by Isabel Allende (2022)
  • The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (2021)
  • A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie (1993)
  • The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg (2010)
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)

One more book note. This past weekend our roaming destination was Red Wing, MN, and, of course, we visited the library. I was impressed with the comfortable and set-apart reading room, but also liked some of the hand-outs available to patrons, including this one:

I would love to know what books are read to fulfill this challenge.

An Invitation

What did you read this past month? How are you challenging yourself in your reading life? I would love to know.


I loved this article about one’s personal library.

October into November

Some people hide their heads in the sand, but, I guess, squirrels choose to hide their heads in the pumpkin. I love my pumpkins, and seeing them become squirrel food is frustrating, but I had to laugh. And some days you need to laugh.

We are bombarded these days with so much that worries us, especially as we head towards election day. How important it is to open ourselves to what amuses us and makes us smile, even if I wish my pumpkins had not become a feeding trough.

Sunday I drove through the neighborhood, stopping to fill Little Free Libraries with a stack of books —food for other readers, and I felt fed by what I saw.

What a gorgeous fall it has been, and I am grateful for each of these days; each one calling me to open my eyes, to find beauty, to notice what brings us comfort and joy. And to smile.

An Invitation

What feeds you these days. What has made you smile? I would love to know.

Book Report: Library Field Trips

October 27, 2022

Public Library, St Peter, Minnesota

My husband and I love to roam. “Roaming,” I think is a bit different than traveling. No tickets are involved or reservations. There is no need to stop the mail, board the dog, if you have one, or hire the neighbor kid to shovel your walk it if snows. Nope, all we do is pick a destination, make sure the car is filled with gas, the plat book is handy, and off we go.

This fall we decided to include in our casual itinerary the libraries in the towns we visit. Because it has been such a busy fall, we have only explored two Minnesota towns so far, St Peter and New Ulm. At some point I intend to write about what we learned about each of these towns, but since it is Book Report Thursday, I will focus just on the libraries.

The St Peter library is a new structure–not particularly inviting from the outside, but the inside was an entirely different experience.

I immediately felt welcomed and uplifted without feeling overwhelmed. Even though the limestone could have felt cold and unapproachable, the light pouring in from above and the entire perimeter of the building added to the hospitality of the space. And it was busy. Not noisy, but buzzing with people of all ages.

I know libraries these days are not just places for books and readers, but are an integral part of the community, responding to community needs and interests, and that was evident in the St Peter library.

Along with bags of books for book groups, we spotted these Memory Kit bags. Clever, creative, helpful, innovative, and accessible. Good job, St Peter.

We visited New Ulm on a Friday and the downtown was active and bustling, but that was not the case in the library, even though it is located not far from the downtown area. In fact, Bruce and I were the only people in the library other than the librarians who quizzed us about why we were there. Did they think we were state library officials on a surprise inspection?

That isn’t quite fair, for I think the library staff have done the best they could do with an extremely unattractive building in the Brutalist style of architecture.

Brutalism dates from the 1950’s and is characterized by minimalist constructions showcasing bare building materials and structural elements over decorative designs. Cold concrete, and I ask you is that the look you want in a library!

As I said, however, they have done the best they could do with what they have, and I loved the sculpture of children’s writer/illustrator Wanda Gag (Millions of Cats) outside. We had hoped to tour the house where she grew up, but it wasn’t open.

The saving grace of this library was the spacious and bright children’s space. This was the old Carnegie Library and is attached to the newer facility. The space was filled with art work and areas for creative activities. I hope on other days and times the space is alive with children and their excitement for books and reading.

We intend to continue our library tours, including ones in our own area. One summer when our grandson who is now fourteen was nine, he and I visited a few St Paul libraries, and, of course, came home with stacks of books. Obviously, we don’t do that when we visit libraries in other parts of the state.

How grateful I am for the public libraries and urge you to use and support them in your community. In fact, I am about to head to my library where a stack of books I have placed on hold is waiting for me. Happy reading!

An Invitation

What do you appreciate about your library? I would love to know.


Next week I will share my October round-up of books read in the past month.

Dilemmas in Downsizing #2

October 25, 2022

The love of variety is one of my challenges when I think about downsizing/decluttering.

I love decorating for the seasons, and the house never looks the same, one season after another. Not only is that because I have so much stuff, but because I enjoy rearranging and using what I have in new ways. I’m not very good with my hands–don’t sew, don’t do crafts, but I know I have a good eye and know how to put things together. And oh, how fun it is to discover something tucked away in a cupboard that is just the perfect touch on a tabletop or shelf.

My mother once commented on a neighbor, a dear friend of hers, who in all the years they knew each other never changed the centerpiece on their kitchen table. A wooden bowl of artificial fruit, if I recall. She couldn’t imagine living that way. At least I know where my comfort and desire for change comes from, but as I declutter, little by little, I wonder if there will be a time when I won’t feel the urge to change the dining room centerpiece or the living room coffee table? As I continue this process of simplifying what is tucked in cupboards and closets, will I simplify my interest in and need for variety?

Here are some positive signs:

One day last week when I sat with a client in the snug, I noticed cobwebs floating under a bookshelf. Ugh! It was time to do a more thorough cleaning, and as I did that, I gathered a few small pieces of silver sitting on top of piles of books. Just sweet little accessories collected over the years with no real purpose, but adding a touch of shine to the shelf. Each one needed to be polished, which I started doing, and then I asked myself, “How would it feel to add these to our garage sale pile? Will I miss them if I no longer own them?”

Much to my surprise, I was ready to release them. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but one thing leads to another. By the way, I did keep two pieces I particularly love–a small English chocolate or tea pot from a hotel and a creamer.

As I continued cleaning, I pulled a few books off the shelves and added them to the Little Free Library basket, and I also made another decision. Decades ago when I worked in an independent bookstore, I bought books signed by every author who visited the store, usually for a book signing event. Many of those books I have never read, and as I stood in front of the living room bookcase, I realized I probably never will read them. Obviously, I will confer with my husband about this, but I envision clearing much more space soon.

Bruce and I have been antique collectors all our married life. Going to antique shows and shops has been our hobby, a form of entertainment, and although that activity has decreased in recent years, it has not disappeared. This past weekend, however, we decided not to go to an annual fall show; one we have always enjoyed and where we have often found treasures. Making that decision wasn’t difficult. Not a sacrifice. We quite simply didn’t feel a pull to go. I recognize that doesn’t mean our interest in antiquing has retired, but it is more moderate. That feels like a good thing.

Decluttering is a process. Unless you have a team of people who swoop in, take over, and do it all, once and for all, decluttering can not be done in one big now or never moment. Decluttering is a one drawer at a time process. One closet at a time. Even one shelf at a time. And as a process, it is possible to integrate it into my daily life–to organize what is scattered and to choose what still gives joy and what just feels like stuff, and to clear space as I clean.

Stay tuned, for I have a feeling there will be more Dilemmas in Downsizing to share.

An Invitation

What are you learning in this process? I would love to know.

Book Report: The Reading List

October 20, 2022

Recently I read The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (2021). I am attracted to books about books, bookstores, booksellers, and libraries –both fiction and nonfiction–and this one is a delightful example of that genre. Another example is The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (2021), which is set in a bookstore and is one of my recent favorites. I also remember reading years ago a memoir by the mystery writer Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing (2009) about the year she read only books she already owned. I could do that, but then I better hurry up and buy the new Maggie O’Farrell and Barbara Kingsolver and…

Back to The Reading List. I loved each of the characters, especially the two main characters. Mukesh is an elderly man who is grieving the death of his wife and Aleisha is a young woman who has a complicated family. They meet at the library where Aleisha has a summer job. A list of books labeled “In case you need it:” appears to both Mukesh and Aleisha as well as other characters and thus begins a reading adventure, but more than that, support and even transformation.

And what a great list this is! I have read each of these books; some, more than once. I love how the lessons and the insights gleaned from these books are woven into the narrative–once again suggesting the power of books and reading.

Thinking about my own “In case you need it list,” I remember a charming illustrated book, My Ideal Bookshelf, Art by Jane Mount, Edited by Thessaly La Force. (2012). Over 100 cultural figures share the books that matter the most to them and why. Here, for example is librarian Nancy Pearl’s bookshelf as depicted by Jane Mount.

I am not familiar with most of Pearl’s choices, and that, of course, could lead to an even longer TBR list.

Here’s doctor and writer Atul Gawande’s shelf. I’ve read more of these books, but this isn’t a contest. Rather, an insight into a person’s life and development.

Naturally, this makes me think about what would be on my shelf. These are a few of the possibilities–novels I have read more than one time and that have impacted my life.

  • Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag
  • All of Jane Austen’s books
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Persuasion by A.S. Byatt
  • A sampling of Nancy Drew books
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I need to stop or I will need a very long and sturdy book shelf.

An Invitation:

What is on your “ideal bookshelf”? I would love to know.

Dilemmas In Downsizing

October 18, 2022

“I don’t want my children to deal with this when I’m gone.”

I wonder how many times I’ve heard someone declare this as a reason for downsizing and decluttering.

On one level that is a noble idea, with which it is hard to disagree. Bravo, you! And yet at the same time, there is something inside me that isn’t 100% aboard that idea.

If you read my post on Thursday, October 13, 2022, you know that I am not ignoring the challenge of my own stuff. That post focused on books, but I could have written about my “Dish Problem.” I inherited the problem, along with actual dishes, from my mother, and my sister has the same problem. We love setting a beautiful table with dishes appropriate to the season or the occasion. Perhaps the problem would have been more under control, if my husband didn’t also love dishes and if we hadn’t been antique collectors all our married life.

Even though I still have enough dishes to serve the neighborhood, I want you to know that I no longer have as many sets as I once did. I have pared back significantly, and am proud to say, all our dishes, other than a set of Christmas dishes, are easily assessable in cupboards and not packed away in bins. I know I will continue to evaluate what I really want to keep and use for now, and it’s certainly possible there will be more than two place settings of the white dishes we use everyday when I die or move into a care center.

Our children will have to deal with our stuff.

Is that so bad?

First of all, let me say I believe in the principle of “like with like, ” which means staying organized, and I also believe in knowing what one has, which also means staying organized and not storing “maybe I’ll use this one day” items in difficult to reach storage items. I also don’t believe in keeping things like 25 year old tax returns, and clothes that haven’t fit for 5 years and if they ever were to fit again will be out of style anyway, and stacks of jigsaw puzzles that were fun to put together once, but twice? Not so much.

All that being said, I think there is some value for our children in dealing with the stuff that remains.

A story about my mother.

My mother loved jewelry, and she was blessed with my father who loved giving her beautiful jewelry. Before she died she designated her major pieces, but that still left boxes and drawers full of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings.

One of the first days after she died, we opened up the dining room table as far as it could go and filled it with piles of her jewelry–the pearl pile, the turquoise pile, the silver pile, the costume jewelry pile. You get the idea. Then we all gathered and starting with the oldest, which was me, went around the table one by one selecting one item from one of the piles. We went round and round and round draping ourselves in the treasures until what was left was not wanted by anyone. My father in the meantime sat nearby beaming. He was so happy we were delighting in these bits and pieces of Betty Ann’s baubles.

I still fill with tears as I think about that day, which was almost 20 years ago. That day was part of our grieving process, and because my mother had not figured out what to do with all those boxes and drawers of jewelry, she gave that day to us. We told stories and laughed and honored her gypsy nature.

When my father died, there was less to do because he had moved into a senior living facility a few years before, but, trust me, there was still enough stuff. Strange as it may sound, I am grateful for the days my sister and brother and husband and brother-in-law spent together sorting and tossing and packing and moving. Because of COVID, the grands and greats were not able to be with us, and they missed our storytelling and the moments when each of us needed some comfort.

I hope when the time comes my family won’t resent the fact that somehow I never got around to creating beautiful family albums and instead left boxes of loose photos. I hope they will pass around pictures and tell stories and comfort each other. I hope when they pack up the dishes I only use in the fall they will remember how good my applesauce tasted and the baked spaghetti hot dish and the pork loin with wild rice and how I loved setting a pretty table even when dinner was only pizza.

I am not suggesting you avoid what must be done or use this post as a justification for holding on tightly to what is only cluttering your present life, but going through the stuff of our loved ones’ lives also can be a tool in the process of grieving. Just a thought.

An Invitation

What are your thoughts about stuff and grieving? I would love to know.

Book Report: Downsizing My Books

October 13, 2022

A frequent conversation among elders is what to do with our stuff. We all have it.

We know it’s only stuff. But it’s our stuff, and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our stuff.

I can feel my body become rigid, my throat constrict, and my eyes narrow if anyone dares tell me I have too many books. What is too many? I am not willing to have that conversation.

But, of course, the truth is I do have lots of books.

What to do?

I know that the next move, if and when that happens, will be to a much smaller space; one in which there will be much less room for all our books. Does that mean I need to empty our bookshelves now and never purchase another book? Or do I just ignore the elephant –in this case hundreds of books–in the room(s)?ownsizing

Strategies and Process

My main strategy is to recognize and to practice the PROCESS of downsizing. Here’s what that means:

  1. Use the library more and buy fewer books. So far this year I have checked out almost 80 books from the library, and I have purchased a little more than half that amount.
  2. Every time I read a book I own I consider if it is one I might want to read again or refer to in my work as a spiritual director or small group facilitator. If I decide I don’t need or want to keep it, it is placed in a basket of books to take to a Little Free Library or set aside for our annual garage sale or pass on to someone else and say, “No need to return.” Occasionally, I want to re-read a book I no longer own. Well, there’s the library to save the day!
  3. The last two years my Lenten spiritual practice has been to eliminate at least one book from my spirituality/theology bookshelves each day. I intend to continue that practice this year, too.
  4. Each time I return a book to a shelf or find space for a new book, I spend time looking at the other books on those shelves and often I decide I don’t need to save one of the nearby books any longer.
  5. No books are allowed to gather in piles on the floor. Books do not become the base for a lamp or prop up a table leg.
  6. There are no boxes of books in storage areas. Seeing my books not only gives me pleasure, but that prevents the “out of sight, out of mind” issue that solves nothing.
  7. The books I have acquired, but not yet read are kept on two shelves. Nonfiction books are on a shelf in the garret and fiction in the snug. That means I am aware of them when I finish a book and wonder what to read next.

Practicing Awareness

Part of this downsizing process is to ask myself –not just once, but periodically–what is the meaning of this specific category of stuff? Why do I hold on to these books?

There is more than one answer. First of all, I am a passionate reader, and I prefer to read books in their paper form. You may prefer listening to books or reading on a Kindle. Good for you, and maybe, someday I will do that, too, but not now. Books are beautiful and are part of my decor and add to the warmth and personality of our home. I feel the presence of the writer and their words by having books physically present. Also, I am a writer and a teacher and browse my books for inspiration, for answers, for reinforcement and support and for ideas to broaden my perspective. I suppose I can do that on the internet, but it’s not the same. Finally, my books offer a glance into my history, a view into who I am. And my books remind me to continue the process of growth and evolution.

I know someday I will have to face (or my family will) the challenge of what to do with all these books, and I guess should apologize for that, but oh well… I continue to remind myself that downsizing is a process, and I am in the midst of that process. I am becoming aware that each book I let go of makes it easier to let go of another one.

One more thing: I’ve noticed it is much easier to prod someone else to do something about their stuff, than it is to tackle our own stuff. I’m guilty of that, and I am trying to reform and focus on my own stuff. Enough said!

An Invitation:

What stuff is plaguing you and what are you doing about it? I would love to know.

Pantry Envy: A Hometender’s Sin

October 11, 2022

This past weekend we visited family in Nebraska, including our niece and her husband. We had dinner in their lovely new home, and I have a confession. I had an extreme case of pantry envy. Kitchen envy, too.

Their pantry is the size of my kitchen. Need I say more?

And it was organized, spacious, and beautiful.

I was in love. Or should I say, IN ENVY.

Envy is not an unknown feeling for me. I am an enneagram FOUR and envy is the “sin” or “passion” of this personality type. In this case “sin” is not meant to be viewed as something bad or evil, but rather as the tendency to miss the mark in some way. When experiencing the sin or passion, we lose our center and are not our best selves.

Envy and the Enneagram

First a word about the enneagram.

The enneagram is an ancient system of self-understanding and self-discovery; a tool for personal transformation and development. Pronounced “ANY-a-gram,” the enneagram is a geometric figure that maps out nine fundamental personality types of human nature and their complex relationships.

My husband and I were introduced by a friend to the enneagram many years ago and studying it, returning to its subtleties and complexities over and over has been life-enhancing. The key step is to determine which of the nine personality types one is. After being introduced to the types, I knew almost immediately that I am a FOUR: an individualist or some times called the romantic or artist.

Envy is the sin or passion of the four.

Envy is based on the feeling that something is missing. Envy leads Fours to feel that others possess qualities that they lack. Fours long for what is absent but often fail to notice the many blessings in their lives.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram, The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

They see immediately who has more style, more class, more taste, more talent, more unusual ideas, more genius than they do. They see who is simpler, more natural, more normal, and ‘healthier’ than they are. There is nothing that a FOUR couldn’t be envious about.

The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert

Noticing Envy

Envy has been an issue in my life, for sure. And while I am not able to say it has disappeared nor have I conquered the green-eyed monster, but I am more apt to recognize it quickly and ask, “What is this about and why am I feeling this now?” Plus, I am more able to turn the feeling into gratitude for my own blessings and to honor the gifts in someone else’s life.

So here’s how my pantry envy evolved.

What happened first was genuine delight for my niece. She and her husband had waited a long time for their dream house, and they had worked hard to make it happen. Bravo to them. In addition, how fun it was to see my niece’s hometending skills, her creativity, ingenuity, and her love of beauty, and I hope I expressed my appreciation for her gifts.

Then I sat with what I was experiencing within myself. Here’s what I uncovered:

I am living in what is sure to be my last house. I assume wherever I live next I will have a kitchen, but chances are it will be smaller and simpler, more basic than what I have now. This is because I am in my mid 70’s and closer to the end of my life than the beginning. I have had many kitchens –some bigger, some smaller–than my current kitchen and I have cooked and entertained no matter the size or the design, but I realize I no longer do that on the scale I once did. I feel some sadness about that. I know it is time to let go of some of that need. How grateful I am for all the times we have gathered family and friends around our table. How grateful I am for the ability to feed others and ourselves and to never lack for food in our home.

My envy opened me just a bit more to what I still store in my inner pantry, and that is a good thing.

By the way, my current pantry, which is a closet a couple steps down from the kitchen, is adequate. More than adequate for my current needs, and I need to remember that. It could use a bit tidying, however. I will put that on my list.

An Invitation

What moments of envy do you experience and how can they be a teacher? I would love to know.


If you are interested in the enneagram, I highly recommend the Riso and Hudson book I quoted. Also, you can take a test at OR

Book Report: September Round-Up

October 6, 2022

Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mysteries dominated my September reading time. I read the last four in the series of fourteen books, but the last line in the most recent book certainly indicates there will be a fifteenth book to come.

Along with the Ruth Galloway books, I read other mysteries this month.

  1. The second Richard Osman, The Man Who Died Twice (2021). His third in the series featuring old and retired characters solving mysteries was recently released and is, of course, on my list–The Bullet That Missed.
  2. Fox Creek by William Kent Krueger (2022). I enjoyed it and swallowed it almost whole in a couple chunks of reading time, but I didn’t think it was his best. But, that being said, his best is better than good.

The novel I want to highlight from this month’s reading, however, is The Midcoast by Adam White. (2022) I wish I knew who recommended this or where I learned about it. Sometimes I note in my TBR list the source of a recommendation, but I didn’t in this case. The title refers to a section in Maine where the story takes place. The narrator, Andrew, grew up in the area and returns there with his family. He is a teacher and a writer and becomes an observer of another family: Ed, a lobsterman, his wife Steph and two children, Alli who is a lacrosse star and son EJ, a police officer. How is it that this family seems to have unlimited funds and money is no object? Thus, the story unfolds.

I also recommend a nonfiction title, Windswept, Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abby (2022). I’ve always been attracted to books about walking; for example, Wanderlust, A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. I do like to walk, but I am not a long-distance walker or major hiker, so I laugh at myself when I read a book about walking. Am I like the woman I once knew who collected a pile of books about running, but never put on her running shoes and headed out the door? Oh well.

This book features women for whom walking, and often walking solo, was a major part of their lives–Georgia O’Keefe, Simone de Beauvoir, and others unfamiliar to me. The author then decides to walk some of those same paths, musing that the women walkers she admires, “walked to become,” and also how walking often leads to new thoughts. That is certainly true for me–even my short walks in the neighborhood.

The author also writes that silence is an element–like water and fire–and I keep thinking about that.

September was an incredibly busy month, and I was grateful, as always for my book companions, which allowed me to pause and take a deep breath. As much as I enjoyed the mysteries I tended to reach for in recent months, I now feel a desire to read fiction with a bit more substance. I’ll keep you posted.

An Invitation

What did you read in September? I would love to know.


For two other nonfiction books I read in September and highly recommend see my September 15th post.

Closing the Door

October 4, 2022

I love fall. The crispness. The colors. The sweaters. The apples and cider. And, of course, the pumpkins.

But oh how hard it is to shut the door. I know it is necessary to close the door, as the weather gets colder, but I miss the light pouring in through the storm door.

May the door of this home be wide enough
to receive all who hunger for love,
all who are lonely for friendship.
May it welcome all who have cares to unburden,
thanks to express, hopes to nurture.
May the door of this house be narrow enough
to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity...
May this home be for all who enter
the doorway to richness and a more meaningful life.
           "The Siddur of Shir Chadish in Life Prayers from Around the World
           edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon

Doors in our Lives

Many years ago I asked the women in a retreat I facilitated to draw a picture of a door and its threshold. An outside door or an inside door. A real door or an imagined door. The door could be from their present life or one from the past. I asked them to draw the image of what came into their minds when they heard the word “door,” and to draw a door with as much detail as possible, but assured them this exercise was not about being an artist.

The group moved into silence and using the offered crayons and markers drew their doors. Here are some of the questions we discussed after drawing our doors.

  • Is this a door that welcomes or does it feel unwelcoming?
  • Who enters this door? Is there anyone who is not welcome at this door?
  • What do you notice about this door that you have not noticed before?
  • How do you know when someone is at the door?
  • What is on the other side of the door?
  • What does this door reveal about you?
  • What needs to be healed as you enter the door?

What a rich discussion we had as we shared the drawings of our doors. Some sweet memories. Some painful ones. Some surprises and new insights, and even a few intentions to make their doors more welcoming and inviting.

The Door as a Symbol of My Heart

What is it, I wondered, that we were really talking about when we reflected on the doors of our lives? What happens if we substitute the word “heart” for “door.”

  • Is my heart a welcoming one or does it feel unwelcoming?
  • Who enters my heart? Is there anyone who is not welcome in my heart?
  • What do I notice about my heart that I did not know before?
  • How do I know when someone is waiting outside my heart?
  • What is outside my heart?
  • What does my heart reveal about me?
  • What needs to be healed in order to live with a full heart?

What would a picture of your heart look like? Are there any improvements you would like to make in the doorway of your heart?

The Door as a Spiritual Practice

Every time you open or close your door can be a moment of prayer, of blessing your home and all those who cross that threshold. As you stand at your door, pause, give thanks, and imagine God in your doorway. Every time you open or close your door, put your hand on your heart and feel it beating love and openness and welcome. Your door can remind you to invite God, the Sacred the Holy into your life.

I lock the door. I unlock it.
My days are punctuated with this act.
It is a rhythm, a kind of pulse.

Just now the door is locked.
I want to think of this not as 
shutting the world out or shutting me in.
I want to think of this more
like dwelling in a rhythm...
sweet measure. Soon it will be morning
and the door will be unlocked again.

I can dwell in this home as if it were a heart. When I feel that pulse
I know that all that comes to me will also go.
Living in this stream I understand
You are my lifeblood. Let me feel
You course through me, through this door,
throughout my life.
             "Locking the Door" by Gunilla Norris in Being Home, A Book of Meditations

An Invitation

What do you notice about a door you open and close everyday? I would love to know.

Book Report: The 14th Book

September 29, 2022

Recently blogger Melanie (http://comfy posted a series of fun book topics (“Best sequel,” “Currently Reading,” “Drink Choice While Reading,” etc.). The one that captured my attention was “Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book.”

I modified that somewhat and decided to pick the 14th book on several of my bookshelves housing fiction. Why the 14th? Well some of the shelves don’t hold 27, and I just chose #14 at random.

Here are the 14th books from seven different shelves–four shelves with only hardcovers and three with paperbacks.

  • The Tomcat’s Wife and Other Stories by Carol Bly (1991). Carol Bly was a Minnesota writer who died in 2007. She was married to (and divorced) the writer Robert Bly, who is probably better known than Carol, but she was known and respected not only for her writing, but also her teaching and speaking gifts. I heard her speak on a number of occasions and always appreciated her wit and wisdom. My favorite book of hers was a collection of essays, Letters from the Country (1981), originally published in Minnesota Monthly. Do I still own that book? I will check. Anyway, the copy I have of The Tomcat’s Wife is autographed, but frankly, I am not sure I actually read it. Yet.
  • The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton (2016).I loved her previous books, The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World. I only have a vague memory of this book, a coming-of-age story set on her family farm, an apple farm, the main character “Frankie” loves dearly and worries about its future.
  • Green Earth by Frederick Manfred (1977).Manfred was another Minnesota author (1912-1994) perhaps best known for his book Lord Grizzly, but he wrote many books, many in the “western” genre. Green Earth is a big book, over 700 pages, and Manfred was a big man with a big presence. I remember noticing his big hands when I met him at a book signing event at the independent bookstore where I worked many decades ago, Odegard Books. I don’t think I ever got around to reading this book, but I am attracted to it now because it is a family saga set in what he called Siouxland (northwest Iowa, southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota), an area that intrigues me for its prairie landscape. At one time he lived in a house that eventually became the interpretive center of Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County, Minnesota.
  • Moo by Jane Smiley (1995). Another autographed book, this book brings back memories. I won this book in a raffle at a library event in Cleveland, OH. This is not my favorite book by Smiley, but I love how she has written books in a variety of styles. My favorite book of hers is A Thousand Acres for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992. More recently, I throughly enjoyed the quirky novel Perestroika in Paris.
  • The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (2008). Just holding this book makes me want to read/re-read all of Erdrich’s books, first to most current. I know there are book groups who are doing just that, and I admire their devotion, as she has written 28 books–fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books and has won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A Plague of Doves, which is the story of the unsolved murder of a farm family that continues to haunt a community, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And I would be remiss not to mention that Erdrich is the owner of one of my favorite bookstores, Birchbark Books, Minneapolis.
  • How It All Began by Penelope Lively (2011). Lively is a prolific and celebrated English writer, whose works often explore the power of memory, which perhaps is why I am attracted to her books. I loved The Photograph (2003) and Moon Tiger (1987), and I recall thoroughly enjoying the disparate cast of characters in How It All Began. I can imagine re-reading it.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943). This is one of my all-time favorite books, and if you haven’t read it, do not delay. If you haven’t re-read it since your youth, re-read it now. If you decide to pick one book from this eclectic list of books, let it be this one. Enough said.

In plucking these books off some of my shelves, I thought I might discover some I could donate to a Little Free Library, but that is not the case. I was surprised by how many of the authors are Midwestern–Bly, Hamilton, Manfred, Smiley, Erdrich–and I wonder if that would be the case if I focused on a different number or other shelves. Also, I am pleased that I have only NOT read two of the five, and I am more inclined to read them soon. All in all, I am delighted to become reacquainted with these books.

Happy reading!

An Invitation

What are the the titles of your #14 books? I would love to know.


Next week’s Book Report Thursday will be a summary of what I read in September.

Breaking the Sabbath to Keep It Holy?

September 27, 2022

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

Sunday afternoon I cleaned the kitchen. All afternoon.

I emptied the refrigerator, throwing out what was no longer edible, and scrubbed the inside. I rearranged some of the cupboards, moving what is used most frequently onto the lower shelves and what is used less frequently onto higher shelves. I finally tackled the space under the kitchen sink where I keep cleaning supplies –a task that had been on my list for a long time. I sanitized the garbage can, scoured the microwave, re-organized the pots and their covers in the oven drawer. I moved methodically from one area to another, shining and cleansing and tidying and finished by washing the floor cloth first and then the floor.

I enjoyed every minute of the process.

In fact, when I stood in the dining room looking into my small kitchen, I felt refreshed.

This feeling of refreshment felt like my version of a “Sabbath exhale.”

Without the Sabbath exhale, the life-giving inhale is impossible.”

Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

Sunday Routine

My Sabbath started more traditionally the night before–taking a shower, washing my hair, deciding what to wear to church the following morning, and getting a good night’s sleep. We had missed church the previous Sunday when we were staying with friends in their northern Minnesota lake home and that was its own kind of Sabbath, but I was eager to return to the Sunday morning ritual.

How good it was to sit in the sanctuary before the service started–to take a deep breath and release the busyness of the previous week. How good it was to close my eyes, to pause, to remind myself to be there, only there, to listen to the music and prepare myself for the gifts of that time. How good it was to be in community, to witness the baptism of a beloved baby and to receive the bread and the wine. I sent blessings to each person who came to the table.

How good it was to greet one another and to rejoice in this gathering, both during worship and during the education hour.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Our tradition for many years, beginning when our children were young, was to go out for lunch after church. More than giving me a break from fixing a meal, although that was greatly appreciated, Sunday lunch in a casual restaurant was a time to relax with one another. To check-in. To remind ourselves of who we were as a family. To pause before moving forward into what was sure to be another busy week often of conflicting and complicated schedules and responsibilities. My husband and I have continued the tradition throughout our empty nest years. Now, I confess, we take the NYT with us, but it is a time of ease, an in-between time.

This past Sunday our grandson Peter joined us. He had been staying with us for a few days while his parents were out of town. He is a good conversationalist and oh how good it was to have him all to ourselves.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Paying Attention

Once home I continued my Sabbath–by cleaning the kitchen. Yes, by cleaning the kitchen. Doing that felt like a kind of rest because I didn’t approach it as drudgery or something that needed to be done or something to cross off my too long and too dictatorial TO DO list. No, one of my spiritual practices is hometending, and cleaning the kitchen that afternoon was a Sacred Yes. I entered the time with joy and gratitude for the privilege of living in a lovely home, for the delight of sharing my life with my husband of 51 years and in remembrance of all those who have crossed our threshold and in hopes and expectation of future gatherings.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Here’s a warning–mainly to myself. How easy it would have been for the pleasure to have turned into obsession. To clean out all the cupboards and drawers. To clean the inside of the oven, and yes, it needs it. To polish all the copper pots hanging in the window. And then to push myself to continue into a cleaning frenzy of the first floor.

The refreshment could easily have become exhaustion. And that would not have been Sabbath rest.

Dinner was easy–only leftovers. I spent the rest of the day reading in the snug.

The day had been “a piece of time that opens space for God.” (Dorothy C. Bass)

I realize my Sabbath rest may not have been a literal or traditional way of keeping and remembering the Sabbath, and many Sundays I attempt to be more intentional about resting, but this past Sunday I paid attention to my own rhythm, and I felt refreshed.

An Invitation

What does Sabbath rest look like for you? I would love to know.


Here are three resources about the Sabbath from my library:

  • Sabbath by Dan Allender (2009)
  • Sabbath Keeping, Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynne M. Baab (2005)
  • “Keeping Sabbath” by Dorothy C. Bass in Practicing Our Faith, A Way of Life for a Searching People, Dorothy C. Bass (editor) (1997)
  • The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1951)
  • A Sabbath Life, One Woman’s Search for Wholeness by Kathleen Hirsch (2001)
  • Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller (1999)
  • The Sabbath World, Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz (2011)

Book Report: Fall Wish List

September 22, 2022

Recently Acquired Books

Even though I have MANY books on my shelves I have not yet read, including those recently acquired, and even though my list of books I intend to request from the library is long, I still covet many new books–yet to be released this fall or recently released. Here’s my list:


  • Lucy By The Sea by Elizabeth Strout
  • A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny (Nov 29)
  • Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Rayburn
  • The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
  • The Ski Jumpers by Peter Geye
  • The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee
  • Lessons by Ian McEwan

Oh, and I am attracted to the British Library Women Writers Series–forgotten works by mid-century women writers. I think there are 18 in the series.


  • Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World by Karen Armstrong
  • A Place in the World, Finding the Meaning of Home by Frances Mayes
  • Hagitude, Reimagine the Second Half of Life by Sharon Blackie
  • How We Live Is How We Die by Pema Chodron

The scary thing is that I know I will be enticed by many other titles along the way–and every time I enter a bookstore. I guess as addictions go this problem isn’t too bad.

An Invitation

What new books are tempting you? I would love to know.

Going with the Flow

September 20, 2022

Since returning from our Labor Day weekend road trip to Cleveland, the days have been full. Notice I said “full,” not “busy.”

For me “full” indicates choice. What do I choose to do? What do I prefer to do? What brings meaning into my life and in what ways do my choices have potential meaning for others?

“Fullness” versus “busyness” reminds me to pay attention. When am I responding from my essence, from the person I hope to be, was created to be, instead of responding out of duty or obligation? Obviously, sometimes a task simply needs to be done, but the more I open to the life I think I am asked to live right now, the more those tasks fall into place.

All that being said, during these last two weeks I have needed to use my time and energy well, moving from task to task deliberately and intentionally and calmly. And that’s the way the next couple weeks will be, as well.

As I have moved through these days, I have thought about my word of the year, rhythm, and also the flow I hope to experience.

Word of the Year: Rhythm

As you listen closely for your deepest call, what are the greater rhythms to which you must accommodate yourself.

Christine Valters Paintner

You may recall that my word of the year is “rhythm.” I’ve been more aware in the last few months of how I need to respond to the rhythm of a day–what is planned and required in a day–but also I am more able to notice and create my own rhythm.

For example, I know my rhythm becomes raggedy and I begin to unravel when I don’t begin my day meditating, praying, reading sacred texts. Doing that faithfully, allows me to adjust my preferred rhythm to the needs of the day. At the same time immersing myself in slow silence also helps me adjust the needs of the day to my own rhythm. Much to my amazement when I ground myself in that spiritual practice, the needs of the day and my needs accommodate one another.

When that happens, I experience flow–when one thing streams into another naturally and easily.

A Reminder

Sometimes I need a physical reminder, an illustration of what flow looks and feels like.

We spent the weekend at the home of friends who live in northern Minnesota, and one afternoon we cruised their beautiful lake. We were the only ones on the water, except for a few loons, who have not yet migrated.

My favorite part was going through a narrow and shallow channel to enter another lake. Our friend turned the motor down and guided the boat under the low bridge, reminding us to keep our hands inside the boat and to lower our heads.

How appropriate was that–to bow our heads as we crossed a threshold.

Pause and bow your head.

Rest in the silence.

Experience the flow.

Discover the rhythm.

Often when I lead a guided meditation instructing participants to breathe deeply in and out, I include the phrase, “find your own rhythm.” I think I need to add, “Feel the flow. Notice the flow around and through you.”

This morning when I closed my eyes, lightly, not tightly, and breathed in and out, gently and deeply, finding my own rhythm, I imagined the shallow water in that channel, and I remembered the feeling of unrushed, undemanding, gentle and yet noticeable flow.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

The Message, Matthew 11: 28-30

May I live my life that way.

An Invitation

When have you experienced flow? I would love to know.


Here is my post on my Word of the Year: