I used to bake bread.

Really, I did!

Delicious, perfectly textured, yeasty, golden brown bread in gorgeous pottery loaf pans, scenting the house with a hint of heaven.

I loved the process.

Planning. Checking the pantry. Checking the calendar. Doing the math on mealtime.

I loved the mixing. Measuring just so, even though that’s not my usual thing. Everything in just the right order. (It matters!)

A bit of help with the kneading from the magical mixer. My shoulder singing its gratitude.

Mostly, I loved what came next.

Rising.

Helped out, according to the season, with a light bulb or an ever so slightly warmed oven.

Alchemy in my kitchen!

Then, what bakers refer to as punching down, which always struck me as a bit more assertive than necessary. The heel of one hand pressed into the puffy dough, deflating it before my eyes.

And then, hand kneading. Just a bit, with a smidge of leftover flour, silky, elastic dough on the way to loaf pans for more rising.

Baking, next of course. Fragrant. Comforting. And the torture of cooling.

Actual eating, almost (but not quite!) anti-climactic after a day of music for all the senses.

Take. Eat. Ritual as much as anything.

I used to bake bread.

And how my grandmother used to bake 40 loaves a week on a wood stove will remain a cosmic mystery for me!

Now, though, I am in a season apart from eating bread. (And pasta and most grains. Except for a bit of rice with really good sushi now and then.)

It’s not that I no longer appreciate them.

It’s just that I feel a lot better when I don’t eat them. I’m more mobile. Less limited.

These are great things!

Greater, perhaps, than actually eating the bread.

Oddly, the baking of the bread is still with me, even though only in my memory just now. In some unexpected way, I am changed by the bread I have baked.

By a commitment to the best ingredients I could get.

By finding time for an art form.

By rolling around in the process with all of who I am.

Do I have questions?

Well, yes. Conflicts, even, some days.

For now, though, I’m appreciating.

Appreciating what I learned baking bread.

Appreciating how I feel when I choose, in this season, not to eat it.

This is not an “all or nothing” kind of experience.

Instead, it’s something much harder.

An experience of making room for the many things that are true, even when they don’t always go together very well.

Harder, and still more helpful, I think.

Where have you had similar experiences?

What have you learned?

What difference might it make in your world?

I used to bake bread.

Bread is baking me still.

A Blast From the Past

In 1968, I lived with my parents, a younger sister, a springer spaniel and a golden retriever, in a west-side Chicago bedroom community called Wheaton, Illinois.

I was in the 4th grade while we lived there,  and then the first half of 5th grade.

Wheaton was a tiny town most known for a college made famous by Dr. Billy Graham. (And some fairly well-known relatives on my dad’s side.) There was a quaint downtown area, a couple of blocks square, with a commuter train stop.

What I didn’t know then was that, in the days when Dr. King was killed, leaders of the Civil Rights movement were helping black families settle in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods right there in Wheaton. A child of one of those families went to my school.

What I did know then was that I’d been the new kid often enough to be concerned for that particular new kid.

It would be reasonable for you to wonder why this story is rolling around in my head this day.

Perhaps it’s simply lack of sleep from last night’s bone broth marathon.

More likely,  it’s Turner Classic Movies’ showing of the movie, Yours, Mine, and Ours, complete with Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda and a young Tim Matthieson, who grew up to be John Hoynes on The West Wing.

Yours, Mine, and Ours was the first movie my sister and I were ever allowed to go see by ourselves. It was 1968.

The movie theatre in Wheaton was a tiny, vintage sort of establishment, just next door to a popcorn vendor, who claimed a space half the width of the adjoining alley. It was really, really, really good popcorn, complete with actual butter.

Mom and Dad dropped us off one afternoon with money for popcorn and for the pay phone when the movie was over.

Given the amazing fact that we were almost exactly the same ages that my girls are now, I have more than a bit of trouble imagining that felt safe even all those years ago.

I’m also oddly glad it did.

The news these days doesn’t exactly sound like Yours, Mine, and Ours. 

It didn’t sound so much like that then either.

So, tonight, I watch old movies while perfectly dry brined chickens roast in the oven with some basting help from Bill, and pray that the news will be better and the fires will stop and all the kids will be welcome and love will prevail.

Afterall, we’ve been working on it for a long time.

It may be time to work harder.

 

 

Good Enough!

I remember the Sunday before the first Gulf War began. Much of the world–the portion I want to be part of–was hoping and praying that bloodshed would somehow be avoided.

I was not only hoping and praying, I was also preaching in a tiny church in Tennessee.

In a time when there was really nothing to say, I put it all out there. Everything I had. It was terrifying.

The parts of my internal process that my friend, the fabulous artist and author, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, refers to as inner critics were having a field day.

Who are you to think you have something to say?

What difference could it possibly make to hope and pray in the face of war? 

What if you piss somebody off?

My inner critics clearly did not realize that when 11:00 Sunday morning (or in that case, 10:00) rolls around, the one in the long black robe has to have something to say.

To be fair, the inner critics mean well.

In many ways, they’re either mimicking the things they heard and believed when we were growing up, or they’re trying to keep us safe.

Though often safe in the sense of overprotected and voiceless which isn’t really safe at all.

My inner critics have been jumping up and down again in these days, perhaps urged on by the many requests for prayers on Facebook countered by folks raising questions about whether hope and prayer actually help people facing wildfires and hurricanes and earthquakes and poverty and violence and threats to civil rights.

Who are you to think you have something to say?

What difference could it possibly make to hope and pray in the face of all the overwhelming news in our world? 

What if you piss somebody off?

It seems that the inner critics haven’t learned a lot of new stuff recently!

And, those are not totally unreasonable questions.

They are, however, the questions of comparers and perfectionists and they are not our most resourceful questions.

For now, I’m sticking with SARK:

Good enough is the new perfect!

You, and I, and all of us have something to say about the needs of our world.

Spelling doesn’t count.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the Oxford comma or not. (Well, it might, but not in this moment!)

And, as somebody once printed on a T-shirt, speak your mind even if your voice shakes.

That’s how we teach our kids. Yours. Mine. All of them.

And whether you believe in hope or prayer or positive energy, I’m counting on the notion that enough of us doing it together does make a difference.

As for pissing people off, if you speak your truth, you probably will. But a whole lot more folks will stop and wonder if they might just be able to speak their truth, too, since, afterall, you did.

Words work. Art works. Soup works. Running a post on Facebook to see if anybody knows anybody who has a horse trailer available to help rescue horses near Sonoma and Napa works too.

Listening also works. Sitting with the pain. Staying in the room.

Hugs work.

Money certainly doesn’t hurt, sent carefully to the people who really need it.

The counselor and coach who live inside me, wrestling with the inner critics, have taught me many things.

One of those things is that it’s entirely likely that the words I’m writing in this moment are the words I need to hear.

When you remember, though, that many of the things I need are things we all need, it’s not such a bad way to go.

So, for this moment, I’m sticking with Susan.

Good enough is the new perfect.

Welcome to the club! Let’s go make a difference!!!

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of This Moment

It is 2:22 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. In my world, it’s blog time. Usually editing. Maybe hunting for art. Fine tuning sorts of things.

Today, there is only Natalie Goldberg’s advice to writers. “Write what’s in front of your face.”

What’s in front of my face today is probably much like what’s in front of your face.

A lurking threat of tears.

The mass killing in Las Vegas. The hundreds upon hundreds wounded. The thousands dealing with trauma and grief.

The millions more of us caught somewhere between absolute shock and not.

Ditto, hurricane victims. Floods. Fires. Earthquakes.

Not to mention toxic water and global warming and starvation and war.

The innocence so many of us were raised with.

“We are Americans/educated/comfortable/insured/religious people… We are safe”.

Clearly, it’s not true. It wasn’t true then either.

It was just easier to pretend.

Easier when we didn’t carry all the stories of the whole world in our pockets.

Easier when we were not bombarded with 24/7 news.

Easier when we thought the news was true.

Today, however, our huge world is shrinking. We are neighbors with more people than ever before.

I think that’s worth remembering.

It feels terrifying in the sense that it appears to give “them” more power.

It also gives “us” more power.

You and me.

Power to choose how we spend our money and who that supports.

Power to choose how we vote.

Power to speak out.

Power to choose compassion over entitlement.

Power to do good where we can.

Power to teach love rather than fear. Tolerance rather than hate.

Power to make art and live love.

It isn’t easy. It never has been.

And, as my dear friend Henry Close would say, “If you’re not depressed some of the time, you’re not paying attention.”

All any of us can do is feel what we feel.

And do what we believe.

The only moment we have is this moment.

It’s time to teach our children well.

As is often true, Kleenex may be required.

 

I missed the equinox!

 

I missed the Autumnal Equinox this year. I was in Florida, still trying to get my friend busted out of intensive care, which is no place to know what light and dark are doing.

Today was the official first day of fall at our house.

Date brunch!

Our home away from home, The Corner Pub. Just in time to get a table on the patio.

It was 70 degrees, with the brilliant blue sky that only happens at this time of year, spot on at 12:30 pm.

A favorite springy rocker outdoor chair.

Baskets of grilled chicken wings, hot, fresh and delicious.

A mellow Chardonnay.

A sweet doodle-ish service dog who wanted to be friends. Especially with the pocket in my denim vest where the dog treats live, just for events like this.

A bit more practice than I would have liked, sending love to the yellow jackets flitting around the table. It’s a growing edge for me. And a reminder that it’s Epi-pen season again.

A few quiet minutes to plan the winter garden, plot on the weeds, and get everybody on board with the next steps in my soup extravaganza.

Then, a huge freight train trundling by. It reminded me of Taylor when she was little, waving at a similar train in the same place.

And then I saw it! A shipping container bearing the swirly signature of an unknown grafiti artist…”Bernie” in bright red, white, and blue paint.

While two little train fans cried because there was no caboose.

Good times, now and then…

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Stepping in the River

I’ve been much reminded, in these last days, of the old saying that we can never step in the same river twice.

In many ways, I am surrounded by people I’ve known most of my life, camped out in an intensive care unit, doing things I’ve done nearly forever.

Prayer. Listening. Straightening sheets. Talking with doctors. Feeding people.

It is a river old and deep for me.

In other ways, I have joined the cast of Steel Magnolias!

Women, and a couple of very kind men, many of us grandparents, doing what needs to get done, each in our own way and yet all together.

Another river old and deep, yet also wider, with room for more travelers.

It’s a filter thing, really.

Just as the metaphorical water moves, leaving the river ever new, our perceptions keep changing because we see and hear and feel through our ever-increasing experiences, letting new things in and, sometimes, clearing a few  more out.

My friend is doing better each day, which is the biggest part of what’s getting through my filters at the moment.

I’m glad to mostly filter out the feedback from swollen feet and restless nights and the predictable consequences of a couple of things I probably shouldn’t have eaten.

Today, though, it’s time to listen at least a bit to those messages, too. I’m pretty tired.

It’s feet up for me until the “night shift” starts at the hospital. Well, mostly!

We still need laundry and food and more frozen water!

Not to mention time for healing energy and prayer.

For my friend, certainly.

For the people of Mexico in the face of this latest earthquake.

For the people in the path of more hurricanes.

For the “guy in the red hat” I met at the hospital. His wife did not survive an injury similar to my friend’s. Last night and today, six people scattered across the country received life saving organ donations from a mom in her 30’s.

These stories, and so many others, changing the river we all share. Which is, perhaps, a thought we need to cling to more and more consciously.

That, and hope.

 

Praying With Dots

It isn’t often that I feel speechless.

This week has been pretty close to one of those times.

My tear ducts, however, seem to be working overtime.

My dearest friend has been in a hospital in Florida all week, gravely ill, and I can’t leave yet to be with her, because of Hurricane Irma.

The hospital is now running on generators and they’re taking her back to surgery.

As I imagine so many of you have done, I’ve practically worn the buttons off my cell phone checking on her and all my other friends and family in the path of this storm.

I grew up in Florida.

My heart wants to be there now.

Instead, I am rationing my Weather Channel time to leave time for praying. (And sanity!)

There are lots of ways to pray.

I, who am what is now called a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), have been learning to pray the rosary. My friend is Roman Catholic.

This is not something I learned in Seminary. Imagine my surprise when I discovered, after looking it up on my cell phone, how much this ancient practice includes many of my own traditions!

I am stunned by all the connections I feel.

Fires. Friends still struggling out from under Harvey. Friends not heard from yet in the early days of Irma. Another friend’s family near the center of the earthquake in Mexico. My family. A beach restaurant Bill and I love, complete with treasured memories of Key Lime pie and strong coffee with real whipped cream for breakfast.

Those connections are a huge part of the reason for these words, in this moment, now.

I’ve also been doing a lot of what my Pilgrimage friends would call painting in dots. Tiny random-esque polka dots, applied with the handle end of a paint brush to the image of a Black Madonna I’ve been painting.  Each dot an immediate prayer with, in my case, a name attached to it.

My friend. Her daughter. Her mom. My family. And, the all-encompassing Irma.

It feels a great deal like meditation. Somehow making the dots seems to engage more of me in prayer. It feels like help in setting down some of my anxiety and  doing what I can in the moment.

It seemed somehow out of context when the Facebook elves reminded me, yesterday afternoon, that today is “Grandparents Day” in the U.S.

Honestly, I had a bit of trouble finding space for that particular piece of information just now. And yet, despite the fact that I clearly did not get the Hallmark genes in my family, it tugged at me.

Then I figured out why.

You may have heard these words by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes here before, for they are among my favorites:

Do Not Lose Heart. We Were Made For These Times.

“I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now.

Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is, we were made for these times.

One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair, thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.

The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.” And neither are we….

No matter who you are…if you are a grandparent, or hope to be one, or had one who loved you, or cherish in some way the archetypal grandparent energy in our world, please imagine that this is your “card” for today.

Live who you are.

With hope and blessings for all the world, Sue