Book Report: May Round-Up

June 1, 2023

Five Nonfiction Books.

Six Novels.

No duds! Now that’s a good month. I should say, however, that I quickly discard a book, if it doesn’t engage me in the first few pages, so the chances of being disappointed by a book is less and less. I am sure I miss some books because of such fast judgment, but so many books, so little time is becoming more true with each birthday. Sometimes, however, I know a particular book just isn’t the right one at the moment, and I don’t discount returning to it at another time.

Thus, the reading adventure continues.


Three of six novels read in May receive the “I couldn’t put it down.” rating

  • The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd. I initially thought of this book as a good “palate cleanser” book after reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, the first book I read in May and highly recommend. (See May 11, 2023 post ). I needed something lighter, but the further I read the more engrossed I became in the story, which focuses around a group of mapmakers, map experts. Much of the story is set in the New York Public Library, but also in a town that doesn’t exist. Mystery, some fantasy. A good summer read–and just out in paperback.
  • The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn. I have not seen this on any other list and only heard about it through Minnesota Public Radio’s book newsletter, The Thread. I am so glad I was led to this book–even though there are so many books about WWI and WWII right now. The story is about three siblings (complicated–different fathers, different mothers) who grow up in rural England and are devoted to one another. One day a dead whale washes up on the shore and Christobel, the oldest, claims the skeleton and uses the bones to build an outdoor theater. She later becomes a spy in France. Well, the plot is involved, but I loved the characters and the writing was fresh and even at 50 pages kept moving.
  • Homecoming by Kate Morton. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect this book to be as good as it was. I think I expected a fluffier, more lightweight book, but I was impressed with how the story kept unfolding, revealing new facts, new information, new aspects of the characters. Set in Australia in two times–1959 and 2018. A mother and three of her children ( a 4th, a baby, is missing) are found dead at a picnic site. The same day the visiting sister-in-law, who is pregnant, has her baby early. In 2018 that woman is dying and her granddaughter Jess, who was raised by her, returns to Australia from England to be with her–and the story begins to unfold. Lots of secrets. I like this quote from close to the end:

Being old, he had come to realize, was like being stuck inside an enormous museum with hundreds of rooms, each crammed full of artifacts from the past.. He understood now why the elderly could sit, seemingly still and alone, for hours on end. There was always something else to take out, to look at from a fresh angle and become reacquainted with.


As mentioned earlier, I started the month reading American Dirt. I also read Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal, a Minnesota author, and the book is set in Minnesota. The story is about a family, with emphasis on the women, who has owned a supper club for generations. A pleasant read. One other novel on the May list is Private Way by Ladette Randolph. Earlier this year I read and liked her memoir Leaving the Pink House. (March 30, 2023 post.) Set in Lincoln, Nebraska, I liked parts of Private Way very much, especially the references to reading Willa Cather’s books, but I thought the premise of the book–why the main character leaves her life in California and rents a home in Lincoln– a bit of a stretch. She learns much about herself along the way and develops key relationships, and I am not sorry I read it, but it was a bit uneven.


The star on May’s nonfiction book is One Hundred Saturdays, Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank, which I wrote about in the May 18, 2023 post, but I can easily recommend four other titles.

  • South to America, A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry. A remarkable book. I didn’t always understand each of the references, especially related to music, but repeatedly I felt stunned by her insights and revelations. Perry examines specific states/cities in the South–a chapter on each– and in that way it reminded me of Clint Smith’s How The Word Is Passed (see December 1, 2022 post). No matter how much we know about the terror of slavery, more needs to be understood, along with the legacy of that time. This would be a good book to read in a group, one section at a time.
  • Sacred Nature, Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World by Karen Armstrong. In her brilliance and her exhaustive research, Armstrong’s books are never easy reads, but worth the effort. This book looks not only at the dire straights we are in because of how we have separated ourselves from nature, but also the views of a variety of religions about nature. In Christianity and Judaism, nature hasn’t played much of a role, but that is not true in other traditions.
  • Catching the Light by Joy Harjo. I am so attracted to her words, and this little book in the “Why I Write” series is no exception. I loved her memoir and also her book of 50 poems for 50 days. (See post on March 30, 2023.) Harjo writes to remember (“The old ones urge and remind us, remember. Remember to remember.” p. 42)–and we white privileged need to read about and understand the ways we colonizers have traumatized indigenous people.
  • Lost and Found, Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz. This is another book now full of my underlining. At times, I admit, I found the book a bit tedious–for example, when she wrote about how the last letter of the alphabet was not “Z,” but “&”. Interesting, but what most engaged me was the focus on the dying and death of her father and the finding of love. And then the “and” of life; how life goes on. Beautifully written, which is no surprise because she is a writer for The New Yorker. One quote out of so many I could share:

This type of circular mourning, the grieving of grief itself, is perfectly normal and possibly inevitable yet also misguided and useless. There is no honor in feeling awful and no betrayal in feeling better, and no matter how dark and salted and bitter cold your grief may be, it will never preserve anything about the person you mourn. Despite how it sometimes feels, it has never kept anyone alive, not even in memory. If anything, it keeps them dead: eventually, it you cannot stop mourning, the person you love will come to be made only of grief.

p. 67.

So now that it is June, summer reading begins. I have started The Postcard by Anne Berest. You can check out my thoughts about summer reading in my May 25, 2023 post. Happy Reading.

An Invitation

Did you read anything this past month that deserves the “I couldn’t put it down rating”? I would love to know.

Re-reading Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”

May 30, 2023

My mouth dropped open when I heard the reports about Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” being removed from shelves in the elementary school section of the library in a K-8 Florida school. One parent said the poem included “hate messages” that served to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.” The objection to the book did not include examples from the poem to support the parent’s argument.

I always wonder when I hear about yet another book being banned (or in this case, the school argues, it was not banned, but rather, “moved.”) if those who are so concerned about a specific book have actually read the book. In this case I also wondered if they had seen Amanda Gorman read her poem at President Biden’s inauguration–days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

When I heard the reports about the attack on her poem, I remembered how striking this young woman appeared in her tailored yellow coat, a column of gold, standing and speaking confidently as our country’s leaders sat behind her listening intently. I remember the beauty of her hands –motioning not in accusation, but beckoning all of us to climb the hill of justice, the people we have always said we want to be. I’m afraid I don’t remember what Biden said in his speech, although I remember thinking, “Good job. This is a good start.” But I do remember, however, Gorman’s play on words: “‘just is’ isn’t always justice.”

I don’t remember words of hate.

I don’t remember thinking “Oh dear, this could be really confusing for young children to read or hear.”

But then again I am an old woman and I forget where I put my phone and just this morning I misplaced a favorite pen, so perhaps I needed to read “The Hill We Climb” again. I had purchased a copy of the poem, with its Forward by Oprah Winfrey –the complainant said Winfrey was the author–as soon as the book was published.

I read the whole poem aloud. And then I read it again, pausing often, asking myself, “Is this phrase full of hate?”

Somehow, we've weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn't broken, but simply 
To compose a country committed
To all cultures, colors, characters,
And conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not
To what stands between us,
But what stands before us.
We close the divide,
Because we know to put
Our future first, we must first
Put our differences aside.
We seek harm to none, and harmony for all.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover,
In every known nook of our nation,
In every corner called our country,
Our people, diverse and dutiful.
We'll emerge, battered, but beautiful.

I found no hate. I found hope wound in an out of the hard work required of us all.

In a way I am glad this decision by a Florida school has come to our attention, for it highlights the gift of Gorman’s words. Jo Harjo, the twenty-third Poet Laureate of the United States, in her book Catching the Light refers to poets when she writes, “As scribes of our generation, we are called to remember what matters.” (p. 39) She also says every poem is a prayer, and Gorman led us in prayer.

I found no hate.

One more note. I believe children generally know what they can handle, what they are ready to read–and it is usually more than what we give them credit for. People who want material removed from libraries or classrooms often do that, they claim, in order to protect their children from things they aren’t old enough to understand, from what might be confusing or might influence them in an unhealthy way. I am more inclined to believe that those parents are protecting themselves from the need to explore hard questions with their children and from confronting their own contradictions and fears. I wonder if they aren’t afraid they might not really believe what they say they believe if they open themselves to a different vision.

The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light,
If only we're brave enough to see it,
If only we're brave enough to be it.

An Invitation

Can you recall a time when a book led to a serious or deep conversation with a child? I would love to know.

Amnda Gorman reciting her poem at Biden Inauguration:

Book Report: Summer Reading

May 25, 2023

This is the time of year when lists of books for summer reading appear. Often summer reading is lighter. Beach reads. Vacation reading. Summer reading often appeals to people who don’t feel they have enough time to read during other months

Well, I am a voracious reader all year round and always have been, so what I read or if I read is not dictated by the time of the year. What changes for me is where I read. Not only do I continue to read in the snug or in bed, but during the summer I also read on the patio and in our side garden, “Paris.” However, I am still attracted to those summer reading lists, and one of my favorite summer reading lists is Anne Bogel’s guide. I listen to her podcast, “What Should I Read Next” and get her “Modern Mrs Darcy” newsletter/blog. I have browsed the new guide and know I will spend more time with it, weighing which titles to add to my TBR lists.

In the meantime I have a number of books waiting for summer reading time on my shelves.

  • For Mother’s Day I received two books: The Postcard by French author Anne Berest is getting lots of attention, even though it is long and some have called it “weighty,” but compelling. The other book is The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Indigenous author, Debra Magpie Earling. Both books are appealing, and my daughter was delighted she selected books I have not already read or purchased myself.
  • The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese. Through some great luck I was at the top of the library hold list. I loved Verghese’s earlier novel Cutting for Stone and based on the reviews I know I will love this new one. It is a long book–over 700 pages–which is not a problem for me, but I want to savor it and not worry about returning it on time. Plus, I am quite sure my husband will want to read it and perhaps others in the family, so I returned the library copy and bought my own.
  • At the same time I bought the Verghase book I bought The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig. This book has just been released in paperback after a long life on bestseller lists as a hardcover. Here’s an intriguing sentence from the back cover: “We all have regrets–choices we could have made differently, paths we didn’t take, other lives we might have led. But what if you were given a chance to fix your past? Enter The Midnight Library.”
  • At that same trip to a favorite bookstore, I bought two other books from my TBR lists: Lost and Found, Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz; Indiana, Indiana by Laird Hunt (I loved his National Book Award finalist title Zorrie. The character Zorrie is introduced in this book.); and a title I had not heard about but it just appealed, and was my Wild Card purchase of the day, Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams. She has a long backlist, so this could be a great discovery!
  • Earlier this spring I bought one of the titles in the British Library Women Writers series, Father by Elizabeth von Arnim This is a case of being attracted to the look of a book. Pretty. The whole series appeals to me because of the focus–female authors who enjoyed broad appeal in their day. The fictional heroines in these books experienced life at a time when the role of women changed radically. Von Arnim (1866-1941) is perhaps best known for her book, The Enchanted April.

If I have a goal for my summer reading it is to finish the books on my 2022 TBR lists. I have only four more novels to read, and I am currently reading one of them, Private Way by Ladette Randolph and another is waiting for me at the library, Flight by Lynn Steger Strong. And I have three titles left on the nonfiction TBR. One of those is Lost and Found, mentioned earlier.

I have no doubt I will veer from this pile of proposed books for summer, but shouldn’t summer be all about fun and discovery and being open to what presents itself. Needless to say, I will keep you updated on my June, July, and August reading.

An Invitation

Do you have any reading plans for summer. I would love to know.

A Week in Review

May 23, 2023

Have you noticed how some weeks just glow? The days flow with a kind of ease. Perhaps there are more than your usual share of special moments or perhaps the ordinary becomes extraordinary. This past week was one of those weeks, beginning with Mother’s Day and rich family time and ending on Saturday with a top-down drive in my husband’s Miata to a favorite nursery and an outdoor lunch in small town on the St Croix River.

In between I enjoyed productive writing time–writing my posts for the week, as well as working on an essay to submit to a publication. Oh how good it was to write in “Paris.”

I met with my spiritual director and we explored the ways I am lightening my life as I age, including a shorter haircut –silly or trivial as that may sound. I met with spiritual direction clients and the writing group I facilitate. The moments of silence, of sitting with one another open my heart and clear the space for what most needs tending. Such a privilege those times are.

The grandkids delivered homemade cookies one evening (delicious) and another evening we had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Sea Salt overlooking Minnehaha Falls. I walked every morning and read on the patio. Finished a book and started another.

We attended a gala for Theater Latte Da, a local theater that specializes in musicals, often new and never before produced, and enjoyed time with friends but also the wonderful musical entertainment. Once I figured out what I was going to wear, all was well!

One morning I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) to see an exhibit called “Eternal Offerings, Chinese Ritual Bronzes.” Yes, the objects created to honor ancestors or to communicate with the spiritual world were beautiful, but the atmosphere created —sound, murals on the walls, lighting— all added to the appreciation of the objects. I took my time moving through the rooms–allowed myself to relax into the beauty and the history, as well as the spiritual life of a culture not my own. I had not been to MIA for a long time and made a mental note to return soon.

The Foundation of Each Day

I began each day reading a meditation from You are the Beloved, Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living by Henri J. M. Nouwen, compiled and edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw. Perhaps this past week shimmered for me because each of those readings so resonated with me, beginning on Sunday, May 14 when Nouwen writes about prayer as a “careful attentiveness to the Presence of Love personified inviting us to an encounter.”

I felt as if I encountered God each day, wherever I was, whatever I was doing, and whomever I was with.

Contemplative prayer can be described as an imagining of God’s Son, Jesus, letting him enter fully into our consciousness so that he becomes the icon always present in the inner room of our heart.

May 15

…many words from the Scriptures can reshape the inner self. When I take the words that strike me during a service into the day and slowly repeat them while reading or working, more or less chewing on them, they create new life.

May 16

But when we believe that we are created in the image of God himself and come to realize that Christ came to let us reimagine this, then meditation and prayer can lead us to our true identity.

May 17

Listen to your heart…Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus who dwells in the very depths of your heart.

May 18

Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own hearts.

May 19

Just because prayer is the most precious expression of being human, it needs the constant support and protection of the community to grow and flower.

May 20

Here it is day three of the current week, and my days continue to flow, to glow, to shimmer, to open me to the movement and presence of God. Ah, how grateful I am.

An Invitation

What do you notice as you review your days? I would love to know.

Book Report: One Hundred Saturdays, Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank

May 18, 2023

I waited for this book for a long time. The library only had two copies and the people who checked it out must have renewed it more than once and then not returned it on its final due date. Finally, I received the notice that it was my turn. I must admit I wondered if the wait would be worth it. It was.

Stella Levi grew up in the Jewish area called Juderia on the Aegean Island, Rhodes. That Jewish community had existed there for half a millennium until the Germans seized control of the island in September, 1943. The following July all 1650 residents were deported to Auschwitz. It was a mystery why, when Germany was so close to being defeated and the end of the war so near, they went to all this expense and effort, but that is the nature of war, I guess.

Stella survived and eventually immigrated to the U.S. As an elder she met Michael Frank who was interested in her story, and this book is the result of 100 Saturday visits over a period of six years. Frank listened, asked respectful questions, and over time she trusted him, and they developed a rich friendship.

I’ve read many books about WWII and the Holocaust, but in each one I learn something new and come just a bit closer to imagining the horror of that time, but there are also moments of rejoicing when people somehow live beyond the terror and the evil. Stella is one of those people.

“You have to remember that the first time I ever left Rhodes was when they took us to Athens and from Athens through Europe by train. I looked out the window, I watched the stations flash by: here was the continent I’d dreamt about for so long. And afterward…afterward in the camps themselves, we met the French women and Madame Katz and Paula, who were from Belgium. They spoke about Paris, Lyon, Brussels. They had actually seen and experienced, or were connected to, the places I had longed to know and to visit. They’d lived there. They were from there, of there…”

Under the unlikeliest of circumstances, the wider world came closer.

p. 68

“Very early on, almost from the beginning, something curious happened. I detached myself from the Stella who was in Auschwitz. It was if everything that was happening to her was happening to a different Stella. not the Stella I was, not the Stella from Rhodes, the Stella I knew. I watched this person, this other Stella, as she walked through this desert, but I was not this person.”

After a moment she adds, “There was no other way.”

p. 140

About Stella’s relationship with Frank:

“And then you came along and were curious. And patient with me, even though I wasn’t always so…so easy. And in speaking to you I have learned a good deal about myself. As I tell you my stories, I learn. One thing I learn is that there is no single truth; there is a changing truth…and you understand a good deal from going back, returning, and more than once, to what you thought you knew, and felt, and believed.”

p. 208

A bonus in this book is that it is illustrated by Maira Kalman who is the author and illustrator of over 30 books for adults and children, and her work is exhibited in museums around the world.

This is her portrait of Stella.

One of my favorite books she illustrated is the classic The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr and E. B. White. Her illustrations make grammar palatable.

Here are Strunk and White:

And here is Maira Kalman.

An Invitation

What books have you waited for? Have they fulfilled your expectations or been a disappointment? I would love to know.

Notes about Spiritual Practices

May 16, 2023

Every morning our neighbors across the street walk the block and a half to the Catholic Church for mass.

Every morning.

Attending the service is certainly a spiritual practice that no doubt strengthens their faith, but the walk itself is a spiritual practice: a time to prepare for the ritual of worship and prayer; a time to open to the movement and presence of God, a reinforcement of the gifts of contemplation; and perhaps, incentive to be partners in God’s reconciling love for the world.

That’s a lot happening in a short round-trip walk, but when you make room for a spiritual practice in your daily life and commit to a regular practice, God will notice and you will notice God.

Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
As little as you can do to make the sunrise in the morning.
Then what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.
                              Anthony de Mello

I’ve written often in this blog and elsewhere about spiritual practices and the role they play in aiding the discovery of and living as the person God created me to be. That process is an ongoing pilgrimage, and I need spiritual practices to fortify and sustain me in my intentions:

  • To feel God’s presence and support,
  • To feel connected to the whole,
  • To integrate the model of Jesus into my life,
  • To give my life meaning, even as I age,
  • To move from fear to love.

I have core spiritual practices; practices that have been part of my life for a long time, including writing in my journal and starting the day with meditation and prayer time, but at various times in my life, and often with a change of the season, I add in other practices to spark and surprise me as I move through my days. Two examples:

  • Take one photograph on my daily walk. Just one. Right now as spring is bursting how tempting it is to click, click, click on my walk, but confining myself to one photograph only seems to open my eyes even more. When I see something of beauty, of interest I stop and ask myself, “What do you notice? How is this a sign of God? What does this sight awaken in you? What of this moment will you carry with you?” Even when I decide not to take photograph at that moment, the pause, the taking a breath, the observing is a gift that becomes part of who I am and how God is present in my life. And somehow I seem to know when it is time for the one photograph of the day. No doubts. No hesitation. It is time. Do I ever regret not taking a picture of something I’ve seen. Not so far, but that could happen. Instead, that makes me aware of the abundance of wonders all around me, and understanding I can never capture them all. Why not let my one picture of the day symbolize the whole, the all.
  • Adopt a mantra and whisper it throughout the day. Lately, thanks to a meditation in You Are the Beloved, Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living by Henri Nouwen, I recite the words, “I am the glory of God.” I repeat the sentence as I walk up the stairs to the garret or make the bed in the morning or open the refrigerator when it is time to fix dinner. I change the mantra to “You are the glory of God,” as I see my husband working his magic in the garden or I insert the name of a spiritual direction client as I sit in silence before the beginning of a session. Here’s what Nowen writes,

Make that thought the center of your meditation so that it slowly becomes not only a thought but a living reality. You are the place where God chose to dwell, you are the topos tou theou (God’s place) and the spiritual life is nothing more or less than to allow that space to exist where God can dwell, to create the space where his glory can manifest itself. In your meditation you can ask yourself, “Where is the Glory of God? If the glory of God is not there where I am, where else can it be?”

May 10, p. 144
  • Planning the week. On Sunday I turn the page of the notebook I keep on the top of my desk and I write down the schedule for the week. The events, the appointments. Yes, those are on my laptop and phone calendars, but writing them on this clean page is an act of mindfulness, of blessing. I also create my To Do lists for three categories–Writing Tasks, Church Tasks, and Other Tasks. Again, doing this on the Sabbath is an act of mindfulness and blessing. I’ve been blessed with a fresh start, another week to live with intention, but even more than that, with gratitude for this life I am privileged to live.

During the Sunday service one of our members played a gorgeous piano solo. He is a busy physician, husband and father, and I imagine that playing the piano is relaxing for him, but as I listened to him, I had no doubt this was a form of spiritual practice for him, also. All of us listening received the fruits of that spiritual practice.

Practices are a way of embodying the spiritual journey rather than merely thinking about it. Practices help us to bring the reality of what we seek into the physicality and earthiness of our lives.

Christine Valters Paintner

An Invitation

What are your spiritual practices? What is currently part of your life that is actually a spiritual practice without your realizing it? I would love to know.

Book Report: A Controversial Book–American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

May 11, 2023

When American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was published in 2020 and selected for the Oprah Book Club, controversy erupted. I remember hearing and reading about the objections–that the author who identified as white, although her grandmother was from Puerto Rico, had indulged in stereotypes and didn’t accurately portray the truth of migrant experiences. A conversation arose about who has the right to tell a story, and that conversation continues.

I didn’t rush to read it, but kept the title on my TBR, and there it remained until last week.

I was moved by it, often feeling tears on my cheeks, and I sometimes needed to remind myself to breathe, as I worried about the fate of the characters. One criticism is that it was too easy of a read–a book meant for the screen. I didn’t find it easy on the emotions, however, and should s book be criticized because it eventually, through a long and arduous process, finds its way to the screen? (American Dirt has not yet been translated to film, by the way.)And just because a book is a page-turner does that make it any less worthwhile?

The main character is Lydia who owns a bookstore in Acapulco. Her husband Sebastien is a journalist who writes about Mexican cartels, and he and many members of their family are murdered after he writes a particularly incriminating article. Lydia and her young son, Luca, realize they need to flee because one of her customers is head of a cartel, although initially she was not aware of that fact, and he has fallen in love with her. The bulk of the novel is their harrowing movement towards el norte. I read the chapters describing the dangers of accessing and traveling, illegally, of course, the trains called La Bestia, with my mouth open and my heart pounding.

I rooted for Lydia and Luca and for some of their companions as they did what they needed to do to escape. The ethical and moral issues raised are as harrowing as the physical dangers and demands. I realize that this is one picture, one story, one perspective, but the depiction of fear and strength and hope seems authentic.

Something to Think About: Two Passages

The first passage is about Luca, the remarkable young son, learning about his own situation. Rebeca, mentioned in the section, is a teenage girl also trying to get to el norte.

As Rebeca reveals what scraps of story she does have to Luca, he starts to understand that this is the one thing all migrants have in common, this is the solidarity that exists among them, though they all come from different places and different circumstances, some urban, some rural, some middle-class, some poor, some well-educated, some illiterate, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carries some story of suffering on top of that train and into el norte beyond. Some, like Rebeca, share their stories carefully, selectively, finding a faithful ear and then chanting their words like prayers. Other migrants are like blown-open grenades, telling their anguish compulsively to everyone they meet, dispensing their pain like shrapnel so they might one day wake to find their burdens have grown lighter. Luca wonders what it would feel like to blow up like that. But for now he remains undetonated, his hours sealed tightly inside, his pin fixed snugly in place.

p. 166

We are invisible, Luca says to himself, and he closes his eyes. We are desert plants. We are rocks. He breathes deeply and slowly, taking care that his chest doesn’t rise and fall with the cycle of the breath. The stillness is a kind of meditation all migrants must master. We are rocks, we are rocks. Somos piedras. Luca’s skin hardens into a stony shell, his arms become immovable, his legs permanently fixed in position, the cells of his backside and the bottoms of his feet amalgamate with the ground beneath him. He grows into the earth. No part of his body itches or twitches, because his body is not a body anymore, but a slab of native stone. He’s been stationary in this place for millennia. This silk tassel tree has grown up from his spine, the indigenous plants have flourished and died here around his ankles, the fox sparrows and meadowlarks have nested in his hair, the rains and winds and sun have beaten down across the rigid expanse of his shoulders, and Luca has never moved. We are rocks.

p. 333

I think this book is well worth reading. At the same time I have no doubt there are major discrepancies in the white publishing world and that people of color do not get deserved recognition or financial support and payment in the same way that white writers do. Perhaps the debate about this book will make a difference.

An Invitation

What authors and books about migrants and immigration do you recommend? I would love to know.

Clearing and Creating New Space

May 9, 2023

Recently, my husband “suggested” that it is time to simplify the kitchen cupboards. After all, we have twelve white plates, but we use the same two over and over.

And bowls–how many bowls are really necessary? Cereal bowls, mixing bowls, pasta bowls, serving bowls. I admit I do have a thing about bowls. One of my favorite bowls is the light blue bowl on the top shelf, and I only use it when I make cherry walnut bread at Christmas time. I suppose I could use it at other times, too, but somehow, that doesn’t seem right. And then there are the 24 small vintage bowls or as my grandmother called them, sauce dishes. I bought them several years ago when we hosted an informal soup supper for Bruce’s colleagues. How likely is it that we will ever again need 24 bowls at the same time?

Over the years we have hosted many dinner parties and parties. I have spent days planning menus and cooking and cleaning and have loved the whole process, but it now seems unlikely that we will host large groups again or even have more than six people for dinner.

Our entertaining style has changed. What we most enjoy now is inviting two people over (We have four comfortable chairs in our living room.) for “4 o’clocks”–a drink and appetizers. Cheese, sausage, crackers. A dip, maybe some fruit. Something hot. Nibbles. Often a recipe I have wanted to try. Most important is the relaxed, but intimate atmosphere for fun and meaningful conversation. Oh, and much easier clean-up. Now with warmer weather we will enjoy our “4 ‘clocks” on the patio.

I realize the issue here is not my deep attachment to a material thing, but instead I sometimes struggle accepting who I am now–my age, my energy. At the same time I have become more and more clear about how I want to spend my time and use my gifts. Still, however, I cling to the earlier images of myself. Those stacks of dishes and a bowl for every purpose under heaven represent the ways I lived in earlier years when I had much more energy. The more the merrier when it came to entertaining.

I still have a good amount of energy and lots of interests and am blessed with many people with whom I enjoy spending time, but how much of a good thing I can hold in a day is more limited. Susan Moon in Alive Until You Are Dead, Notes on the Home Stretch, reflects on what she can do with “joyful effort” in her late 70’s. I love that.

An Ongoing Process

Our daughter and son-in-love have hosted the previous two Thanksgiving dinners, but this coming year they may be visiting our granddaughter, who will spend a semester in Greece. How grand is that! Our son and daughter-in-love usually come for the Christmas holidays, and we love all of us being together. But what does that mean for Thanksgiving? Well, my husband, open and generous person that he is, suggested we should host a friendsgiving for all those in our life who are alone. Only a few years ago I would have rejoiced with the idea, but this time I didn’t respond–at least not aloud. I admit I thought about all the work, all the energy that would take (and the bowls!). I know this is a decision that doesn’t need to be made now, and there are lots of ways to make an event like that happen, but it is another one of those opportunities to pay attention to who I am now.

If you have read my essay in Next Avenue ( you know how decluttering and managing the stuff of life is an ongoing process. I suspect that leaving some room on the kitchen shelves will open some space in my heart and mind to more fully live as I age.

Words of Wisdom

When I look around the crowded room and wonder why I am keeping the large desk when a smaller one would do just as well, something inside of me is beginning to change. When three sets of dishes are two sets too many, I have begun to need more than just things. When the house is too crowded and the car is too big and the perfect lawn too much of a bother, I have begun a whole new adventure in life…It is the shaping of the soul that occupies us now. Now, consciously or, more likely, not, we set out to find out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what we care about, and how to be simply enough for ourselves in the world.

The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister, p.91

My Intentions

  • I will pay attention to what I actually use–how and when I use what fills my cupboards. Just looking at the above picture, I see two bowls that can go.
  • I will add some of my kitchen treasures to the annual garage sale my husband has in June to sell the discarded furniture he has rescued, painted, and given new life. The proceeds from his sale go to a program for homeless youth.
  • I will simplify the stack of 24 sauce dishes –keep 6 of them. Or maybe 8.

An Invitation

What outer and inner shelves in your life need to be cleared? I would love to know.

Book Report: April Round-Up

May 4, 2023

Have you noticed I read far more fiction than nonfiction?

Part of the reason is, quite simply, that I prefer fiction. My first career was as an English teacher—reading novels and short stories and poetry, too, was just part of the deal. That preference has only grown throughout my life. Another reason relates to my reading routine. I often read a book related to spirituality during my meditation time, and I tend to read those books more slowly–perhaps, only a few pages in one sitting. Finally, one of my daily reading times is in bed before turning out the light, and many nonfiction books require more concentration than that posture allows. Most of the time I read a nonfiction book alongside a novel, but the novel is usually my first choice during my reading times.

This month I read three nonfiction books. Two were about aging. I have an extensive library of books about that topic, which is becoming more and more relevant in my own life, but I am also becoming more choosy about what I add to that collection. I decided to keep only one of the two I read in April and put the other in the basket for a Little Free Library.

  • Alive Until You’re Dead, Notes on the Home Stretch by Susan Moore. Moore is a Buddhist and has written extensively about aging, challenging readers to be curious about this stage of life. I need to think more about her desire to “release my grip on my preferences. I wanted to stop worrying about whether what I was doing was the very thing that I most wanted to be doing.” (p. 23) I find myself thinking more and more about what it is I most want or most need to do; how I want to spend my time and energy, so Moore’s perspective interests me. The book includes an excellent chapter on practices to contemplate death, including walking in cemeteries, reading obituaries, and making a day of the dead altar. This book has found its place on my bookshelves.
  • Growing Old, Notes on Aging with Something Like Grace by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. I appreciate the author’s sense of humor and her common sense treatment of loss, including losing one’s hearing or keys and other things, along with losing significant people in one’s life, but the picture of her on the back cover lighting her cigarette with a birthday candle seemed inappropriate and not funny. I am not keeping this book.

The other nonfiction book I read was Enchantment, Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May. Perhaps you’ve read her earlier book, Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. I had intended to buy Enchantment, but before I did I spotted it on the Lucky Day shelf at the library. Lucky Day shelves hold current and widely requested books–just your luck to find one–but they can’t be renewed. By the time I was done reading it, the pages were dotted with colorful sticky tabs highlighting passages. I don’t often buy a book I have already read, but that’s exactly what I did in this case.

It occurs to me that I am resting. It is not the same as doing nothing. Resting, like this is something active, chosen, alert, something rare and precious. (p. 26)

I tend to think that God is not a person, but the sum total of all of us, across time. That only makes the imperative greater. We have a duty to witness the broad spectrum of humanity, rather than to defend our own corner of it. That is the work I crave: the sense of contact. The possibility that it might change me in ways that I can’t predict. The possibility that I might one day do better. (p. 100)

Play is a disappearance into a space of our choosing, invisible to those outside the game. It is the pursuit of pure flow, a sandbox mind in which we can test new thoughts, new selves. It’s a form of symbolic living, a way to transpose one reality onto another and mine it for meaning. Play is a form of enchantment. (p. 137)

April Fiction

I read nine novels in April and in earlier April posts wrote about three of them, each book memorable: Still True by Maggie Ginsburg and Women Talking by Miriam Toews and Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano.

Out of the remaining six my least favorite was Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. My main objection to the book, a family saga, is that the characters, mainly women, didn’t grow or change in any significant way. If these characters were real, I am not sure I would choose to spend time with them.

The other five were well worth reading, and I recommend each one.

  • Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson. A friend recommended this book to me. (Thank you!) In fact, she has bought several copies and given them away as “must reads.” Set in Sweden, Veronika, whose fiancé has recently died in an accident, rents a home next to an older woman, Astrid, whom the village sometimes refers to as a witch. She prefers her solitary life. The two women gradually become close friends; a model of intergenerational relationships, I think. They share their pasts, hurts, secrets, and develop deep trust with one another. They often shared a meal together –a kind of sacred ritual. Veronika is a writer and there were many lovely passages about writing.

It was as if the story were a fragile cobweb, and she had to take the utmost care not to rip the thread…The words on the screen in front of her seemed to paint an almost forgotten landscape. It was as if she were slowly unpacking, pulling out one scene after another and exploding them to this bleak light. The effort was enormous. Here, now, each passage seemed out of place, like clothes bought on holiday.

pp. 17-18

One of my favorite passages is about change.

It is in the nature of things to change. Nothing can last beyond its given time. And I think instinctively we know what time is. What is it that makes us know when the summer turns? The smallest shift in the light? The slightest hint of chill in the morning air? A certain rustling of the leaves of the birches? That is how it is–suddenly, in the midst of the summer heat, you are overcome by a tightening of your heart. The realization that it will all come to an end. And that brings a new intensity to everything: the colours, the smells, the feeling of sunshine on your arm.

p. 72

Now I want to read Olsson’s back list.

  • My Antonia by Willa Cather. I decided to sign up for a series of zoom events sponsored by the Willa Cather Foundation, and the first book discussed was My Antonia. I needed to miss that conversation, unfortunately, but oh, how I loved reading this book again, my third time. The story is told by Jim Burden, who as a boy was orphaned and leaves Virginia to live with his grandparents in Nebraska. The day he arrives on the train so does a Bohemian immigrant family, the Shimerdas, including daughter, Antonia. Antonia’s spirit sustains her, and she is loved by all who know her. She is not the only character in the book, however, who displays a hardworking and resilient nature, hopeful and strong.

The landscape is a major character, too, and reading the descriptions made me want to drive to the prairie right now.

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it, the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running…I felt motion in the landscape, in the fresh, easy-blowing morning wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo were galloping, galloping…

pp. 17-18

One of my favorite books of all time is Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag, another immigrant story, and I am drawn after reading My Antonia to reading that once again. I read someplace that books are like nesting dolls–one leads to another. How true that seems.

  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King. I had read this before and didn’t much care for it, but recently I heard a conversation about it and decided to re-try it. This time I really liked it, which goes to show how much mood and timing enter into an assessment of a book. Casey is a struggling writer living in a potting shed (!) and her awful landlord says to her, “I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say.” (p. 2). She becomes involved with two men–one, a writer her age and the other, older and a successful writer with children who adore her. How will it turn out?
  • I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makai. I loved her earlier book, The Great Believers, and I am happy to say I really liked this one, too. Bodie returns to teach at the boarding school where she was once a student –and where her roommate was murdered. She becomes obsessed with investigating this murder, convinced the man convicted was not guilty. There are lots of threads in this book, but Makai is a deft writer, preventing confusion for the reader. A couple favorite lines;

“When my husband passed,” Sheila said, “it was like losing the bookend to a row of books. We all tipped over sideways.”

p. 82

Not a single cell of his body was the same as it had been in 1995. But he was still himself, just as I was still, despite everything, my teenage self. I had grown over her like rings around the core of a tree, but she was still there.

p. 418
  • The Last Painting of Sara DeVos by Dominic Smith. A good novel about an art restoration expert, a young woman, and the man who owns the painting she forges. The original was painted by a Dutch woman in the 1600s. The art forger and the art collector develop a relationship (of course!), but it is told beautifully and not stereotypically. They meet again 40 years later when the painting is part of an exhibit. Good story. Good writing.

Wow–that’s a lot of books to share! Hope this didn’t detract too much from your reading time. Perhaps your TBR has just grown, however.

An Invitation

Any recommendations from April? I would love to know.

Spiritual Practices for My Elder Years

May 2, 2023

When I turned 70, I made a collage to honor that milestone birthday, but also to envision how I hoped to live as I aged.

I quickly sifted through the stash of pictures I kept in a pretty flowered box; pictures torn out of magazines, outdated calendars, and greeting cards too appealing to toss. I sorted them into two piles–the “maybe” pile and the “nope, not today” pile. No judgment. Just a quick “yes” or “no.” Cutting and pasting, I arranged selected images on the paper.

Only later did I sit back and ask, “What are the messages for me in this collage? How can this collage be sacred text for me?”

An image of the labyrinth anchored the center of one side. A candle with wispy smoke and a feather suggested the tentativeness of life. Chairs gathered around a fire and an aged hand that held the model of a house with a red door, just like our house, reminded me of my love of home tending. A big basket seemed to contain memories, as did the leaves gathered into a harvest handful. Of course, there were books stacked along the bottom of the paper. My terra firm.

Almost every collage I have made over the years has included at least one open gate, door, window, or path. This one includes two gates, an open door, and a window, plus a green path, all beckoning me onward, forward, it seemed. I remember, however, feeling some inner hesitation. What was across the threshold? What awaited me down that snow-lined path?

A prickly plant in the corner of the page and a pile of rocks taunted, “Beware. Obstacles ahead.”

Youthful innocence and naïveté were no longer my companions.

An older woman, smiling, pleasant looking, gazed at the labyrinth. I heard her whispering the words I included on the collage:

Choose simplicity.
Keep growing.
Learn something new.
Make room for what matters.
Breathe deeply.

She is my observer, my witness, my companion. My guide.

Being 75

Now I am 75, and I must admit, that age feels a bit daunting,

Since creating my 70th birthday collage, I have experienced losses–the death of my father and a dear friend, for example. I have sent so many sympathy cards and frequently re-order copies of Healing After Loss by Martha W. Hickman to give when someone in my life loses a loved one. And then there were the COVID years. Enough said! My health remains good, however, as does my husband’s, and we both continue to pursue our interests and to serve in ways that matter to us. True, I may not pack as much into a day as I once did, but my days remain full and rich.

I am grateful for these past five years.

I know I need to tend my days wisely, not only not to waste them, but to unfold into the gifts of this time. I’m not done yet, for I am both living and aging, but I respond now more with patience and curiosity, then with urgency and a desire for productivity.

I embrace a posture of contemplation.

A New Spiritual Practice

Recently, while browsing through my library of books about aging, I re-read a section titled “Pebbles of Life” in Aging as a Spiritual Practice, A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser by Lewis Richmond. He shares a story about visiting the home of a fellow Zen priest who had a bowl full of pebbles next to a Buddha statue. Richmond’s friend said each pebble represented a week in the rest of his life, based on statistics about average life expectancy. Every Monday morning after his meditation he removes one of the pebbles. One week gone; who knows how many left to go.

“A mindfulness practice.”

The average life expectancy for a woman in the United States is 80. I am 75 so if I live five more years that equals 260 more weeks.

I counted out 260 little glass discs and placed them in a green glass jar. I was a bit dismayed at first that they didn’t fill the jar, and I wished I had started this practice when I was 70 or even younger. I no longer overflow with weeks ahead of me, I thought.

“A mindfulness practice.”

Of course, I have no idea how much longer I will live, but my mother died at 79, several pebbles shy of her 80th birthday. However, my father died just three years ago at age 96. He would have needed more pebbles in his jar.

I realize some of you readers may find this practice depressing or it might make you anxious, but my hope is that when I remove one of the glass discs every Monday morning that I will reflect on a week lived in gratitude and joy. I hope each glass disc will remind me to live in the present moment; to live with purpose and to open to ways I can become more of the person I was created to be.

I hope the words from my 70th birthday collage will continue to direct and honor my days.

Choose simplicity.
Keep growing.
Learn something new.
Make room for what matters.
Breathe deeply.

These elder years are found time. Sacred time.

An Invitation

What are your guiding words and spiritual practices during these elder years? I would love to know.

Book Report: Reading Dilemmas

April 27, 2023

Recently, I received an email from the Willa Cather Foundation about a virtual study course for four of Cather’s books, My Antonia, A Lost Lady, The Professor’s House, and Death Comes to the Archbishop. Benjamin Taylor, whose biography of Cather will be published in November, 2023, will host the series. I love each of those books, and I am tempted to sign-up for the series and, of course, reread the books.

Here’s the dilemma: each book I re-read means I don’t read something on my TBR list. Each time I sink into a much loved book, I am not reading a new release that sounds really good. And in the meantime the attraction to books, new and old, and the ongoing growth of my TBR list continues.

This week I got an email from the New York Times with the headline, “12 Books You Should Be Reading Right Now.” RIGHT NOW! EEEK! I probably should not have read further, but I did and was pleased to see I have read one of the titles, Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano, and I am even more pleased to report I did not add any other titles to my TBR list. But how long will that restraint continue? Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs Darcy and the podcast “What Should I Read Next” will soon release her acclaimed Summer Reading Guide, and a plethora of other summer reading lists are just on the horizon.

If I ignore them, I may miss a book that would be a truly good match for me. Plus, I confess I like to be in the know about new books, an interest nurtured by working in an independent bookstore decades ago. I read a variety of book review sources, and bookstores are truly my happy place.

Perhaps I should think of this passion as a hobby, like knitting or bird-watching.

My TBR Lists

I keep elaborate book lists in my book journal. At the beginning of 2023, I transferred 57 unread titles from 2022. I have been working on that list steadily since then and am happy to report I have only 16 left on the list. I hasten to add I have not read, beginning to end, the remaining 41. I have at least started each of them, but only decided to complete a handful of them. If a book doesn’t appeal when I start reading it, I quickly discard it, usually returning it to the library or if I own it, adding it to the Little Free Library pile.

Of course, I have a 2023 TBR list, but I am trying to be more selective about what I add to that list. As of today, I have 59 titles on that list and have read or discarded 21 of those titles. Then there is my lists of acquired books and mystery series and the British Library Women Writer Series and books I want to re-read.

So far this year, by the way, I have read 45 books.

Current Thoughts About My Reading

I just finished reading Enchantment, Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May, who wrote Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. In this new book, which I am so glad I read, she decides it is time to

reset my terrifying “to be read” pile to zero and allow myself the possibility of choosing new books for this age I’ve landed in.

p. 150

Is that what I need to do? Close my book journal, except, course, to record what I’ve read. Forget the TBR list entirely–not an easy prospect for someone who loves to make lists almost as much as she loves to read. Perhaps I need to just read what is on my shelves already—the great majority are books I have already read and can imagine re-reading.

Obviously, as problems go, this is not major, but as a devoted and voracious reader what to read next is an issue, as is how to approach reading time. At age 75 there is more sand in the bottom of the hour glass than in the top.

I am aware that I am more and more attracted to re-reading old favorites, and at the same time reading older books I missed along the way or reading the backlist of an author when I read a current title.

What I suspect is that I will continue to muddle along –reading as much as I can, picking and choosing based on unscientific criteria, breaking my own rules, and quite simply loving the journey.

An Invitation

As you age, are you noticing anything different about your reading routine or rules, reading desires or interests? I would love to know.


Willa Cather Foundation

Anne Bogel blog and podcast

My Morning Meditation Shift

April 25, 2023

In a recent post I documented how I rearranged furniture on the first floor of our home. Just because I felt like making a change. The most major of the changes was to move a desk, which I always refer to as my Lady’s Writing Desk, from the entry way into the snug. I confess I have rarely used this desk with all of its cubbies since we moved back to St Paul. Instead, I have almost exclusively used my desk in the garret.

Well, in its new location in the snug I find myself drawn to using it once again–not so much for writing blog posts or working on the content for the writing group I lead or for other writing projects, but perhaps for the use this desk was first intended: correspondence. Thank you notes and birthday and sympathy cards. And letters. This little desk is now stocked with note paper and stationary and favorite pens and stamps.

I love having a window on the world of our block, watching the neighborhood kids racing up and down the sidewalk and the dog walkers and joggers. Bruce even checks in with me much more than when I was tucked away in the garret.

I don’t like how the desk looks from outside the house looking in, but oh well.

In the past year I have worked hard to end my writing work life by 4:00 in the afternoon. I turn off the laptop and the lamp light and retire to the snug to read for awhile before fixing dinner. That is a good thing for me, but at the same time I have noticed a decrease in writing letters and other correspondence; something I have always enjoyed. I like writing at a desk, but if I return to the garret desk, I often end up working on other projects.

Because this desk is in the snug, I feel called to return to a part of my life that has given me so much pleasure in the past.

Another Change

Most mornings I head straight up to the garret, even before I get dressed, for my morning meditation time. I sit in the comfortable Girlfriend Chair, to pray, to meditate, to write in my journal, and to read sacred texts. During COVID when I wasn’t meeting in person with spiritual direction clients, I moved the chair into the larger space in the garret where I meet with most of my clients.

But guess what? My designated meditation chair in the garret is close, very close to my desk, and meditation often becomes muddled with work. Hmmmm.

In warm weather what I often do is walk first thing in the morning and move my meditation time into our Paris garden. But, alas, we have had one day of warm weather so far this month. and while the snow has finally disappeared and walking is possible, sitting in Paris is not. And who knows when that is going to happen.

While writing letters at my Lady’s Writing Desk on Saturday, I had one of those ah-ha moments, Why not start my day in the snug, instead of going up to my garret office right away. Another comfortable chair. Plenty of space to keep my meditation materials, and writing in my journal at a desk is much easier. And there will not be the temptation to answer email or dive into the day’s To Do list.

And it is a change. A change of scene often brings a change of perspective. A change shows me I can be flexible. A change often inspires creativity and problem solving, too. And, if it doesn’t feel right, I can easily move back into the garret.

And when I do go up to the garret later in the morning I will be ready to focus on my work.

So far, so good, but it has only been a couple days. Stay tuned!

Making changes doesn’t mean you’re not content. It means you’re paying attention.

Myquillan Smith

An Invitation

What change have you made recently that has enhanced your life? I would love to know.

Book Report: Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

April 20, 2023

Sitting on a balcony in beautiful Door County, WI, reading a stunning book–what could be better than that? Well, maybe a balcony with a water view, but no whining allowed.

So far the books I’ve read this month have all been worthwhile, even memorable. I wrote about two of them in an earlier post this month, Still True by Maggie Ginsberg and Women Talking by Miriam Toews, and in my April summary on Thursday, May 4 I will share the other titles. I couldn’t wait, however, to tell you about Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano.

I loved the characters, even when I didn’t like them. Sometimes I wanted them to be something more than who they were, but I admired the growth and the recognition of the pain they held within themselves.

I loved the writing, the impeccable sentences, and the fullness of the descriptions without being overwrought.

I loved the pace of the plot, Not too slow. Not too fast.

I loved that each chapter focused on one of the characters. The point of view, third person narrator, stayed the same, but somehow I experienced each person’s perspective.

I loved the overwhelming love, the humanity of that love, so tenderly, but sometimes so fiercely expressed. Powerful, redemptive, heartbreaking love. At times as a reader I wanted them to relax into that love.

Loosely based on Little Women, with emphasis on the word “loosely,” the characters have their times of being Beth or Meg or Jo or Amy. And there is a Laurie, too, in the character of William. We are absorbed into this family of sisters who don’t seem to need others until they do. A friend who loaned me her copy of the book said it made her envious of women who have sisters, and it made me think a bit more about my mother who was the oldest of four sisters and what her reaction to this book might have been.

Ok, the plot: William Waters grew up almost invisible in his own family when his parents could not cope with tragedy. He found solace in basketball and then in the love of Julia, the oldest sister. As each sister discovers her own identity and as William experiences a mental breakdown, all are forced to change and meet new challenges. I don’t want to say more.

A Few Favorite Passages

Julia experiencing the birth of her child:

She was a mother. This identity shuddered through her, welcome like water to a dry riverbed. It felt so elemental and true that Julia must have unknowingly been a mother all along, simply waiting to be joined by her child. Julia had never felt like this before. Her brain was a gleaming engine, and her resources felt immense. She was clarity. (p. 107)

They were dismantling their habits and routines, and it was like pulling up floorboards and finding joy underneath. (p. 349)

At their father’s wake, a young paper-factory worker said, It’s impossible he’s gone. And that man had been right–that had been an impossible loss…But perhaps what felt impossible was leaving that person behind. When your love for a person’s so profound that it’s part of who you are, then the absence of the person becomes part of your DNA, your bones, and your skin…the losses ran like a river inside her. (pp. 360-361)

“When an old person dies,” Kent said, “even if that person is wonderful, he or she is still somewhat ready, and so are the people who loved them. They’re like old trees, whose roots have loosened in the ground. They fall gently. But when someone dies…–before her time–her roots get pulled out and the ground is ripped up. Everyone nearby is in danger of being knocked over.” (p. 371)

Independent Bookstore Day is coming up on April 29. This would be a good book to purchase then. I guarantee there is already a long “Hold” list at your library, so unless you have the patience of Job or can borrow a copy from someone else who has had the wisdom to buy it, buy yourself a copy.

An Invitation

What book is tempting you these days? I would love to know.

Home Away From Home: Door County, WI

April 18, 2023

We spent this past weekend in Door County, WI, a place that over the years has become a home away from home, even though we rarely stay at the same place. At breakfast one morning at our favorite place, The White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, we tried to remember all the times Door County has been our vacation, get-away destination. We listed at least 20 times, and I’m sure we missed a few.

For those of you who don’t know, Door County is a peninsula with Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Many have referred to it as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. That’s fine, but I don’t think it needs to be compared to anything–it is its own kind of time-out haven.

My husband planned the trip this time to celebrate my 75th birthday, which seems like a logical time in itself to reminisce and honor the past without neglecting the present or denying the realities of the future. We roamed favorite routes, as we always do, staying alert for sandhill cranes and turkeys, glimpses of spectacular water views, and the pink haze on the cherry trees, moving steadily towards blossom time. We noted what stores and restaurants were still alive and hopefully well, and kept saying, “Remember when…”

A kind of life review of our adult years.

Neither of us could remember how we learned about Door County or when we had first visited, but we obviously fell in love with it and kept returning–sometimes just the two of us, but also family times when our children were little. And later when our children were grown. The summer of 2010, when we lived in Madison, we rented a house for a month. Bruce came for the weekends, and our daughter and family came for a few days, too.

I spent my alone time reading and writing. (No surprise!)

When I was growing up and my family moved frequently, we always went to the same resort in northern Minnesota for a week or two before moving to our new home. That time served as transition time, easing us from one place to another. Whether my parents realized they were doing that or not, that week offered a touchstone, making what was changing and what was ahead and what was left behind not quite so daunting.

Door County has become a similar touchstone–a place where I mark the changes in our lives, not just as memories, precious though they are, but as a timeline of growth and development. I recall many leisurely dinners, lingering over what we came to think of as “daiquiri talk,” dreaming and imagining what our future might hold, could hold. In fact, Door County was where we realized that we wanted to retire back to St Paul and put a plan to do just that into motion.

This past weekend was quiet, for the spring/summer season has not yet begun, and I realized how much less I need “to do,” “to see,” “to visit,” in this stage of my life. How content we were to spend more time reading in our pretty room or on the balcony.

Note the cherry wallpaper! Cherries are a definite theme in Door County.

We have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries in Door County and have been there each season. We have each had alone time there plus been there with friends and family. I don’t need everything to be the same with each visit there, although I would be crushed if the White Gull Inn closed, but instead enjoy seeing the mix of old and new. We’ve been young there, and now we are old there. I feel the span of time there, and it is a good feeling.

Perhaps if we were still living in the home where we raised our family, a home where we lived for decades, I might prefer to vacation always in new places, to cultivate new places, new experiences, but instead, Door County has become the place of returning. The place where time is measured. It is the place where each time we leave, I think about when we might return to our home away from home.

One More Thing:

As we often do, when we are out roaming, we visit a library. I think if I were living in Door County, I would spend a good chunk of time in Egg Harbor’s library–with its water view and comfortable places to sit and read.

Not only were there books, but a charming seed library too.

An Invitation

Do you have a home away from home? A place that is an emotional tug? I would love to know.

Spring Break

April 11, 2023

I am taking a brief break, but will begin posting again on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

An Invitation

Do you need a break? What would that mean for you? I would love to know.

Book Report: Blizzard Books

April 6, 2025

Welcome April 1! This was the view out our front door Saturday morning. Not only that, but we had no power for most of the day. What to do? Read, of course.

The sun was pouring into the snug, giving me plenty of light. I wrapped up in a blanket and read and read and read. In fact, I finished one book and most of another, and they were both excellent.

Still True by Maggie Ginsberg was a recommendation several months ago in the newsletter of one of my favorite bookstores, Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI. Ginsburg is a senior writer at Madison Magizine, but I hope she leaves enough time to write a second novel, for this one is stellar. You may recall that one of my favorite books of 2022 was Beneficence by Meredith Hall. Well, this book needs to sit on the shelf next to Beneficence.

The plot is fairly complicated, as I think about explaining it, but as I read, it didn’t feel that way. I think that says a great deal about the polished, smooth and compelling writing. Secrets, lies, grace are all themes in this story about a devoted, long-time married couple, Jack and Lib, who don’t live in the same house. Also, key to the story is Charlie, a young boy who has recently moved to Anthem, WI with his parents, and he becomes Jack’s buddy. Enter Matt who is Lib’s son, whom she left when he was baby. This is news to Jack. And Matt becomes involved with Charlie’s mother. See what I mean? Just read the book and ponder the questions, What is truth? What is true? Are some lies worse than others?

Maybe this is what grace felt like. Maybe the best things were too big and good to be understood. maybe what was holy, by definition, couldn’t be truly comprehended by mortal man. Maybe that was what he’d always sensed in the two of them, and in everything they held dear: that together they were so much bigger than the sum of their respective working parts.

p. 270

Women Talking by Miriam Toews is the book that inspired the award-winning recent movie by the same name. Read the book. See the movie. Both are excellent. The novel is based on a true story about a Mennonite community in Columbia, South America. The women, who have not been allowed to learn how to read, have been sexually-abused, and they struggle with a decision — to do nothing, to stay and fight, or to leave. These women may not be able to read, but they can think, and their deliberations will challenge and impress the ethicists, philosophers, and theologians of the world. They struggle with what they have been taught, with what the men have told them is in the Bible, as they clarify three things they are entitled to. “We want our children to be safe…We want to be steadfast in our faith…We want to think.” p. 153. One of the women says,

I believe that my soul, my essence, my intangible energy, is the presence of God within me, and that by bringing peace to my soul, I am honoring God.

p. 109

The author, by the way, was raised Mennonite and left her family at the age of 18.

I think my April reading is off to a good start. Now, if only the snow would melt.

An Invitation

What books have you read recently that challenged your thinking? I would love to know.

Finding Purpose as We Age

April 4, 2023

“I have time now to try new things, but also the need to use this time well.”

” I feel called to do something, to create community.”

“How important it is to be intentional.”

“This time keeps evolving and one thing seems to lead to another.”

“How can I best use my energy?”

“I sometimes say to myself, ‘I get to do this,’ and that brings me joy.”

Last week I facilitated a Third Chapter conversation called “What Now? An Informal Conversation about Purpose and Meaning in the Elder Years.” Third Chapter activities and opportunities are designed for those 55+ and focus on ways to grow spiritually and to explore both the gifts and the challenges of these years. In recent months many have gathered to share insights and thoughts, as well as questions and concerns about a variety of topics, including downsizing and decluttering, choosing the next place to live, making plans about funerals and memorials, and nurturing intergenerational relationships. In preparation for this conversation, I realized I needed to create a purpose statement for myself; some guiding words as a way to sort and focus how I choose to use my energy and time and gifts. First, I browsed a number of books in my personal library about aging to see what resonated with me:

  • Pay attention to your inner compass.
  • What is asking for more attention?
  • This is a time to come home to the self, the person I was created to be.
  • Know yourself. Know your boundaries. Know your gifts. And then be generous.
  • Aging is the gift of continuing on.
  • Cultivate your power to inspire. Be a muse and a guiding spirit.

My next step was to think about what I love to do, what I am currently doing, and what I feel I do well. And I thought about how those things relate to my spirituality, my relationship to the Divine, and to my ongoing quest to understand who I am created to be. And then I thought about what is possible, given my age, my energy, my relationships and my community.

David Steindl-Rast’s words, “When you can’t go far, go deep,” have become a guiding mantra for me in recent years. In my case, what I choose is to go deep. And, to help others go deep as well. Ah, I could feel myself growing closer to defining my purpose, or if you prefer, “call,” or even “vocation,” although that word sounds more applicable to an earlier time of life.

No surprise, I then sat with my journal and tried on some words and phrases to see how they fit. I realized, as the words came together quickly and easily, that thoughts about this stage of my life have been percolating and evolving and emerging.

My purpose is to deepen awareness of the movement and presence of God in my own life and the lives of others.

I took a deep breath after writing those words, letting them flow through me, inviting them to float around me. Do they sound pompous? Pious? “Holier-that-Thou?” I thought about questions I ask my spiritual direction clients frequently. How are you noticing the movement of God in your life now? When have you experienced the presence of God? I ask myself these questions, too, all the time, whispering to myself, “May I feel the presence and be the presence.”

Yes, this is my purpose statement, I told myself, but how is it I intend to live this statement right now, right here.

  • By writing.
  • By facilitating groups.
  • By listening and asking questions.
  • By living a contemplative life.

Over time these specific ways to live my purpose may change, may evolve, and I imagine if I live many more years, my focus will be on the gifts of a contemplative life, but my overriding purpose statement feels as if it can live within me for the rest of my days.

I wrote my purpose statement and intentions on a small card that sits in front of me on my desk, and I practice saying it aloud, sharing it with others. My hope is to fully integrate the words into both actions and contemplation.

How grateful I am for the wisdom and insights shared during our Third Chapter conversations, and for the opportunity those times offer to learn from and to support one another during this time of our lives, for as Joan Chittister says, “The gift of these years is not merely being alive–it is the gift of becoming more fully alive than ever.”

An Invitation

What is the purpose and meaning of your life at this stage of life? Have you written a purpose statement? I would love to know.


An essay I wrote, “Actually, Your Children May Want (Some of) Your Stuff” recently appeared in Next Avenue, a digital publication produced by Twin Cities PBS(TPT), which is dedicated to covering issues that matter most as we age. Here’s the link: I hope you will read and share with others.

Book Report: March Round-Up

March 30, 2023

I know here it is only the 30th and there are 31days in March, but I am eager to enter April, so why not post the summary of this month’s reading now. And what a month it has been!


I finished two books I mentioned in a previous posts this month.

  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer. I read it slowly, trying to absorb facts, and stories, and reflections. Such an important book. Perhaps the section that most fascinated me was the detailed analysis, which he included near the end of the book, about the protests at Standing Rock. Don’t be deterred by the length of the book, for it is well-worth the time and energy you give it.
  • Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light, 50 Poems for 50 Years by Joy Harjo. I loved many of the poems, but I also loved her notes about each of the poems, their content, inspiration, and often the mechanics of the poem, also. Such a good companion this was to the David Treuer book. April is National Poetry Month, and I recommend this book as a way to celebrate poets and poetry.

I also read two other books in the broad nonfiction category. One is a book of meditations and the other, a memoir.

  • Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese (1944-2017). A beautiful book in appearance and in its short reflections. I read a few pages in this book each morning during my meditation time. The author says morning meditation is his time to reclaim himself, and I concur with that sentiment. The book is divided into seven sections: Stillness, Harmony, Trust, Reverence, Persistence, Gratitude, and Joy. He writes this in the very first meditation:

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.

p. 15
  • Leaving the Pink House by Ladette Randolph. This book made me nostalgic about living in the country during our years at Sweetwater Farm. Randolph and her husband buy a dilapidated house outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, and she describes the year spent renovating it and making it habitable, but she also reflects on the years that led to this decision and about changes in her faith along the way;. Randolph refers to herself as a “devotee of the quotidian,” and her writing draws us into her daily sights and experiences.

I best understand my life through the houses where I’ve lived. I have only to remember a particular house to summon clear memories of a given time and place. Like many adults, I’ve returned to those places–both in memory and in person–seeking from this exercise I’m not sure what: some part of myself, some time in the past I want to better understand. Houses are often the archives for my deepest, most resonant memories, the places where I’ve curated life stories.

from Introduction


I read ten novels this month, and will highlight five of them.

  • Afterlife by Julia Alvarez. Perhaps you read some of her earlier books, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents or In the Time of the Butterflies. If so, you know what a good writer she is. Antonia’s family, which includes her three sisters, immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Antonia is now 66, a widow, and poet and English professor. Her eldest sister, who is mentally unstable, disappears and the sisters rally to try and find her. At the same time Antonia becomes involved with a teenage unwed mother who is undocumented, and along the way Antonia faces her own “dragons.”
  • The Swimmers by Julia Otsuko. What starts as a playful writing style and content (Has one writer ever used so many parenthetical phrases and done it so effectively?) becomes a poignant view of a dementia patient in a memory care unit. Alice is a faithful swimmer, but when the pool closes for good, her issues become more unmanageable. Sad and revealing and well-written.
  • Island of the Missing Trees by Elif Shafak. A treasure of a book. Set in Cyprus in the 1970s and then again in 2000s and also in London, a Turkish woman and Greek man fall in love, but are separated, eventually reuniting. They have a daughter Ada who in her teens mourns the death of her mother. Her mother’s sister plays a role in helping Ada heal and also fills in the blanks of her parents’ lives. The father, Kostas, has brought a fig tree with him to London from Cyprus, and the fig tree tells its own story. I know this seems strange, but I believed in the fig tree just as much as the human characters.
  • What Are You Going Through? by Sigrid Nunez. A woman dying of cancer ask a friend to be with her as she plans to take life-ending drugs. The woman is estranged from her daughter and has asked others to be with her, but all have said “no.” The friend, more of a distant friend from previous times in their lives, does agree, however, and they become closer and closer. The story is written from the friend’s point of view, but she relays everything the woman tells her. Brilliantly written.
  • The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear. Many of us eagerly wait for the next book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Well, we need to wait longer, for this new book by Winspear is a stand-alone, but definitely a good read. The main character, Elinor White, however could be Maisie Dobbs’ soul sister, for she is also courageous, compassionate, and intelligent. White was a spy both in WWI and then again in WWII, and she carries demons with her during her retirement years in an English village. She is drawn out of her quiet life to help a neighboring family who want to remain separate from the husband’s organized crime family.

Waiting for me are two books from the library, Still True by Maggie Ginsburg and Women Talking by Marian Toews. I saw the acclaimed movie,Women Talking, and now am eager to read the book.

An Invitation

What have you read this last month? I would love to know.

The In-Between Time: Moving Towards Spring

March 28, 2023

Just because it is officially spring doesn’t mean it is actually spring. Not with snow still much in evidence, but still the air feels different, lighter, fresher, brighter. There is no sign of green yet, but I bought the first bunches of daffodils. And I rearranged furniture.

This is transition time, and I often feel a bit itchy, restless in the in-between times. Often I channel that need for some kind of change by changing what I see, by doing more than the usual weekly hometending.

The snug transformed from this arrangement. (The pictures were taken in the fall — the pumpkins have long been packed away!)

To this:

One thing leads to another. Because I moved the desk into the snug from where it had been located next to the front door since we moved into this house, that meant changing the entry area, too. I moved the center table (top picture) to the desk wall and that left all sorts of space for this:

Voila! Another reading area and a place for one of the tables from the snug! The chair had been in the bedroom, by the way, which was changed from a heavier to a lighter look, too.

Of course, along the way, I washed floors and rearranged tabletops, shopping the house. Now instead of feeling winter cozy, the house has more breathing space and seems fresher, lighter, brighter, just like these days.

Winter Reflections

As I’ve written before in this blog, hometending is one of my spiritual practices and is a form of creativity for me. Doing this kind of re-envisoning space and our surroundings, however, is not just about changing what is visible, but for me it is also a bridge, a way to transition. As I shuffled piles of books and tweaked pillows and pictures, I thought about what changes I have noticed or deliberately made in the previous season. And what that might mean for the season just ahead. These domestic surges give me a chance to evaluate, to consider directions in my own life.

This particular winter season has been a challenging one, weather-wise, but I have noticed in myself more ability and willingness to adjust, to let go and to be with whatever is happening outside. How grateful I have been for our cozy, pleasant home, for the safety and comfort, which I realize my privilege allows me. At the same time I feel more ready for spring than I do most years. I am eager to walk without fear of slipping on the ice.

This winter has been a time to adjust to the death of a dear friend. More and more I am aware of how this time of my life, as I approach my 75th birthday, includes losses. An ongoing challenge is to accept the loss and at the same time open to the gifts of each day.

This winter has been a time when I have been more aware of how I choose to use my time. I cleared space in my week to create Writing Wednesdays, and that has become precious to me. I am working on an essay about walking the labyrinth and have submitted a couple shorter essays to online publications. In the coming months I hope at least part of Writing Wednesdays will be spent writing in our “Paris” garden.

This winter has been blessed with activities I love; for example, facilitating the church writing group as well as monthly Third Chapter Conversations, meeting with my spiritual directees, and writing my twice a week posts on this blog. As I move into spring, I know I want to continue in these endeavors, but I pray I will know when it is time to let go of any of them and that I do that with grace.

This winter has included some strife in our congregation, but what I see is that the community is stronger than one person and that we will continue to grow in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

This winter has included good health for Bruce and myself. A couple colds, true, but no trips to the doctor. No broken bones or concerns about mental or physical well-being. How grateful I am.

This winter has included my usual morning meditation routine, beginning with a short devotion in Henri Nourwen’s You Are the Beloved. My word of the year “beloved” resonates throughout the day.


Sunday my husband and I drove along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, one of our favorite routes. How good to see so much open water and bare ground. Along with seeing eight eagles and two hawks, we think we saw a flock of tundra swans. Although there was not yet any sign of greening, the earth seemed ready for change, for movement. Should we call these days “Sprinter” or perhaps “Wing”? These are the in-between days when we can begin to envision what is to come, but at the same time recognize what we bring with us into the new season.

An Invitation

How are you living these in-between days? I would love to know.

Book Report: Sick Time, Reading Time

March 23, 2023

I suppose you could accuse me of milking the situation, for I just had a cold. Nothing serious. We all get colds, but my end of the week schedule was quite open, and I certainly didn’t want to spread my germs, so I declared a time-out. I moved into the snug with books and a blanket and spent most of two days reading and napping, napping and reading. Voila! I am back to normal!

Here’s my report:

  • At the beginning of each reading session I read a poem or two in Joy Harjo’s Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light, 50 Poems for 50 Years. Harjo was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2019-2022. My favorite poem so far is “Remember” and here are the opening lines:
Remember the sky you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
  • I finished reading a novel The Long-Shining Waters by Danielle Sosin. In this case the waters refers to Lake Superior in all its mystery, majesty, power and beauty. Sosin tells the story of three different women in three different time periods, 1622, 1902, and 2000. One of the women owned a bar on the North Shore and after the bar burns down she decides to drive all round the perimeter of the lake, and now I want to do that. I admit some of the descriptions seemed obscure to me, but perhaps I need to spend more time under the lake’s spell.
  • I continued reading The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer. Much of Louise Erdrich’s lecture that we attended recently focused on the Termination Act of 1953, which Treuer describes in this way:

It proposed to fix the Indian problem once and for all by making Indians–legally, culturally, and economically–no longer Indians at all.

p. 250

Under termination and relocation, unemployment skyrocketed and so did the number of Indians living under the poverty line. By 1970 half of all the Indians lived in urban areas, the single largest demographic and cultural shift in Indian country in a century and arguably more pervasive and transformative than the reservation system established in the mid-nineteenth century. A total of 1, 365, 801 acres of land were removed from trust status during this period and twelve thousand Indians lost their tribal affiliation

  • Finally, I read a short novel, The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. The story begins in a playful way about swimmers at an underground pool. The writer’s use of parentheses engaged me, as if in conversation with her.

The rules at the pool, though unspoken are adhered to by all (we are our own best enforcers): no running, no shouting, no children allowed. Circle swimming only (direction counterclockwise, always keeping to the right of the painted black line). All Band-Aids must be removed. No one who has not taken the compulsory two-minute shower (hot water, soap) in the locker room may enter the pool. No one who has an unexpected rash or open wound may enter the pool (the menstruating among us, however, are excepted). No one who is not a member of the pool may enter the pool. Guests are permitted (no more than one per member at a time), but for a nominal daily fee.

p. 6

One of the swimmers, Alice is in the early stages of dementia and one of the rules is to “be nice to Alice.”

And even though she may not remember the combination to her locker or where she put her towel, the moment she slips into the water she knows what to do. Her stroke is long and fluid, her kick is strong, her mind clear. “Up there,” she says, “I’m just another little old lady. But down here, at the pool, I’m myself.”

p. 4

When the pool unexpectedly closes, life changes for Alice. As does the tone of the book –from playful to poignant. Alice’s dementia progresses, and it is necessary to place her in a memory care unit. Life at Bellavista pulls at the heart, as well as this trauma faced by Alice’s husband and their daughter, a reality facing so many. So well-written, but I am glad it was not longer than its 175 pages.

Before I emerged from the snug, I started another novel, The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafek. So far very good, but you will have to wait for a full report in a later post.

An Invitation

What would you want to read if you had a cold? I would love to know.

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.