Meditation on Mt. Ranier: Random thoughts about a summer of change

mt rainierI’ve been quiet for a few weeks.  It hasn’t been because I have nothing to say, but rather because I have been occupied with caring for my sister and getting her settled. Now I am back in Alabama and contemplating what’s next.  I have been thinking a lot, talking to trusted souls in my life a lot, and wondering what is next.

Earlier today I read, and subsequently listened to, Elizabeth Gilbert talk about not following your passion but following your curiosity.  I am always curious.  Always. I love being curious and questioning, thinking about what I am doing and how it fits together and most of all about the possibilities ahead   I am in a period of “not knowing”  and there are days when that scares me out of my mind and other days when I find it exciting and challenging. I’ve been in this space before – knowing that change was on the horizon but not exactly what was coming.  I plan and watch the plans disintegrate (like the plan for candidacy or thinking I knew my next career move) because there is something that I can’t yet imagine ahead of me.

Since the beginning of September I have re-discovered many things that I had left behind.  bala yogaWhile I was in Seattle I re-engaged with yoga practice  (not yoga as just another form of exercise) at Bala Yoga, a wonderful studio in Kirkland.  I attended several classes during the 10 days I was in Seattle – enough that I decided to buy a pass because I know that I will be back in Seattle and that I will return to the studio.  I had not practiced yoga for many years but was pleased at the way my body responded and remembered poses. It wasn’t all easy or exact, but there was an ease and I discovered a much needed place of retreat at the studio.  I worked with three different teachers and attended a Yin Yoga class for the first time.  The restorative poses accompanied by live music of Steve Gold were exactly what I needed.

I also spent time with Erika Ebbeson, a wonderful massage therapist and teacher, who helped me with releasing tension and relaxing during the week.  She pointed me to Katya Difani at Herban Wellness where I purchased tea and herbs.  Herbal teas and tinctures things that helped me a great deal when I worked with Jock Smith while I lived in Grand Rapids. I am already feeling the positive impact of what Katya recommended.

I continue to see some kind of ministry in my future.  I am a servant at heart.  I just do not think that it will probably be the traditional route that I was envisioning earlier this summer. It may through a non-profit or integrate the storytelling that I love so much but have rarely had the opportunity to practice since moving to Alabama.  I am confident that there will be an element of health and healing involved in what ever I wind up doing and that the triad of faith, story and healing will evolve in some way that I have not yet quite imagined.

You might wonder what Mt. Ranier has to do with all of this? ranier from the air Over a three day period while I was in Seattle Mt Ranier was glorious.  The mountain came out. The days were clear, bright and warm and as I rounded a corner or drove over a bridge, Mt. Ranier was there – stunning and magnificent.  I kept trying to find a spot where I could take a photo but it was like playing hide and seek.  There was no good place to stop and take a photo (hence the photo from the South Center parking lot at the beginning of this post).  As the sun set each day the glow of the sky changed and the red hues around the mountain created a sight that I find is beyond words.   Those of you who live in Pacific Northwest or who have seen the mountain like this know what I mean.  The rest will have to imagine. Most of the time that I was in Seattle, however,  Mt. Rainer was hidden in a veil of mist and clouds.  I knew it was there but I couldn’t see it.  I had to trust that the huge and magnificent mountain was just beyond reach and that at some point I would see it clearly.  I was not disappointed.  I did see the mountain for three solid days and again as I flew home.  My future is the same.  I can’t see what is ahead at the moment, but I will in the right time.

For those of you who would rather read about my training, I am two weeks away from Augusta 70.3.  Today we learned that the river is contaminated with some kind of spill or leak so hopefully it will be identified and cleaned up quickly.  I am back to some training before I taper for a few days before Augusta.  I swam on Friday and rode 15 miles today at a very good pace. The goal will be the finish line – just get there and cross it.  I have no stunning time goals to meet or anything else.  Just cross the finish line. After Augusta I will reassess triathlons with Sam. In discussing races with him as well as a few other people, it really seems that it is time to give up running long distances. Again, time will tell what the future holds for my athletic endeavors.



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Maybe we need front porches: Conversations and reflections on the Red Boot Coalition

One of the things I remember about growing up is our front porch. I frequently sat out there with my dad – two lawn chairs, side by side, watching the world go by. But we didn’t just watch, we talked to one another and to people who walked by. Oh, and we listened to baseball on a transistor radio. We also sat in the backyard that didn’t have a fence and we could see people and they could see us. And we visited. These were gathering places in my childhood. This was common  every day life. Kitchens were also gathering places, around tables, sitting and talking.  Relatives, neighbors, people who just dropped in all gathered around the table.  My mother was known for “throwing on a lunch” and my aunts could always pull a brownie or some other treat out of the oven or freezer.  Depending on the house, there was coffee or iced tea (not sweet tea – I didn’t learn about that until I moved South).  Most of all there was conversation.

Thus, my perfect house would have a wrap around porch, a big back yard without a barrier of a fence and a big kitchen.

Maybe I don’t need those things though.  Maybe it is just opportunity – presented, taken and created.

I have had a lot of chances to talk to people this summer and it has been wonderful.  Conversations that are not just “hi, how are you?” “oh, I’m fine (though I am not)’ kind of conversations, but deeper discussions ranging from the meaning and place of reconciliation, what is happening in community and what can I do to help, engagement with community and others, and deeper spiritual discussions about passion, where we fit and how we find our own way in the universe.  I don’t know that I realized how many of these discussions I have been involved in until Thursday night when I was fortunate enough to be part of a small group who gathered at Social Venture in Birmingham, Alabama to share an evening with Molly Barker as part of her Red Boot Coalition tour.

I discovered Girls on the Run and Molly Barker while I was working on my MA in Health Studies. I was immediately awed by the amazing work she started and that continues today, providing space and opportunity for girls in elementary and junior high to run and to learn about how to avoid the girl box. (more on boxes in a few paragraphs).  I had a project for a class so I wrote to Molly, not necessarily expecting an answer from an Executive Director of a national organization, but I received an answer and met a generous spirit.  Molly retired from GOTR and began to explore other avenues for her passions and change.  The Red Boot Coalition is one of those. She has been traveling around the country listening and talking with small groups about politics and change, what makes an excellent leader, what’s broken and how can we as individuals and in small groups, fix it?

I discovered that Molly was coming to Birmingham. Hooray!  I was hoping that she would.  Birmingham was the last stop for this venture.

group photoThursday was not the best day I had all week.  It had been filled with sorting through a maze of issues regarding Group Health, Medicare, nursing homes, and where my sister will ultimately wind up living when she exhausts benefits or when Group Health decides she is no longer making proper progress.  It was a frustrating day in a frustrating week. I was exhausted and thought for a moment about not going to the event. I also had a vendor visit and met her for dinner before the event.  Dinner was great and this is one of my favorite reps so it is always fun to catch up with her but I was cutting the time close and I was not quite sure where I was going. I left the restaurant and turned the wrong direction, of course, and got lost.  As I wound my way around Birmingham, trying to find the Woodlawn section of town and the building I still was not sure I would make it. But I did and it was great.

molly and millieAs I pulled up, my friend Theresa Mince was also pulling into the parking lot. (See her blog post about the evening here.)  We went in and found a small group gathered.  The group was great – passionate men and women who care about community, politics, resources and making where they live a better place.  We talked about politics – what does an excellent leader look like?  What are his/her qualities?  We talked about education. How do we help parents and students know the resources available? One of the most meaningful moments was when Dylan talked about meeting a student and parent face to face to talk about a program the student wanted to get into.  Face to face.  Not e-mail or text or even a blog.  They talked and the student had a face and a voice for Dylan, who seems like a wonderful administrator from the short time I was with her, but who talked about how that encounter made a difference.  Other teachers in the room talked about similar encounters. It is so easy to hide behind our internet and social media presence, but when we sit and talk then we can understand each others stories.  We talked about resources and working together instead of trying to create one more organization to do the same work.  I love the mural project that Kathleen Hamrick talked about creating in Birmingham.   There was much more.

group 2

This reminded me of my years in Grand Rapids, and especially living in the Wealthy Street and East Hills area.  It was the Center of the Universe. (For real. I have a photo of the sign somewhere.) There were people who really cared about the neighborhood and making it a better place to live. Many of them still live there and I watch the change that continues with some envy at times.  I miss my neighborhood.   Neighbors knew one another and watched out for one another.  Developers lived in the buildings they were renovating.  The neighborhood changed and became a place where businesses wanted to locate and where people wanted to live.  When I first moved there I had more than one person question what I was doing moving to “that” part of town.  The change came through engagement.

When I was driving to the pool way too early Friday morning I thought about Tuscaloosa and what has happened since the April 27, 2011 tornado.  We have an excellent leader in Mayor Walt Maddox.  He didn’t just show up for the photo opportunity. He has been part of leading the community back to a better place than it was before.

On Friday I continued discussion with my friend Heather.  I sent her a note, saying I wished she had been able to come but knew she had an important school event with her husband and daughter.  She asked about meeting and I first thought, “not today,” but then said “yes, of course” and I am so glad I did.  We had a great discussion about a wide range of topics – the kind of discussion that leads to something evolving and happening.

I have much more to write but I am in an airport, taking up a coveted plug for recharging, so I will end here for now.  Thursday evening was one more piece in my own journey of thinking about story, faith and health – what will I do and how can I make a difference for other people?  The possibilities are coming to light and I am excited to see where this will lead.


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Questions About Angels: Musing about literature

Questions About Angels by Billy Collins : The Poetry Foundation.

angelsI spent part of last week surrounded by wonderful books, books that were selected with love and care, books that brought back memories of learning to read, of childhood, of my mother’s annoyance for having to read the same book over and over and over because it was the one book that all three of her children loved (and she couldn’t stand the book).  Many of you will say, “aren’t you surrounded by books everyday?? aren’t you a librarian??”  Yes, to both questions.  But my sister’s personal library is a much different collection than the endless books on rows of shelves in a library.  Of course, some of the same books are on the shelves but they have not been loved and shared in the same way.

I came across Questions About Angels, a collection of poems by Billy Collins.  Though I was familiar with Collins and other collections, I had not come across this collection.  The title poem delighted me for a number of reasons. (Click the link and read it. See if it makes you smile too.)  I have continued to dip in and out of this volume over the past several days and have found several poems that contain images that make me pause, phrases that are a pleasure to read and contemplate.

I have thumbed through several volumes of poetry over the past week, however.  There are a number of volumes that were formative in my love of literature and language.  I have never been very good at remembering poetry for some reason but as I have looked at these books and thought about my sister, snippets of poems have been surfacing like lost gems.  Words and images provide comfort and reassurance that all will be well in time.

I also perused novels on the shelves in my sister’s apartment. When she requested that I bring her George Eliot’s Middlemarch and a notebook, I told her that I would finally read Dickens. Three degrees in English and I have never made it through a Dickens novel.  I hope no one rescinds my degrees.  So in her honor, I am reading David Copperfield.  I asked to use her copy, full of notes from her AP teaching, as my reading copy.  She said to keep it as long as I liked.  I feel truly blessed.



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Review: The With or Without Meat Cookbook

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN.  The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking.  Alexandria, VA: American Diabetes Association, 2014.  $18.95.

Recipes in The With or Without Meat Cookbook are flexible, full of flavor and simple.  Jackie Newgent has included 125 recipes that cover all meals as well as starters and snacks. Every recipe is plant based and is accompanied by tips on adding meat, poultry or fish.  Nutrition is balanced and meet guidelines for diabetic eating. Recipes include information on exchanges with or without meat.  Tips include ways to add meat to just one serving and to the full recipe.

The introduction explains the concept of flextarianism, someone who eats plant based but also eats poultry, fish or meat from time to time.  Recipes  generally serve 4 and can be easily divided to include meats.  Full of vegetables and whole grains, the recipes are appropriate for diabetics or for anyone who is seeking healthy options for meals.  Tips about how to include more vegetables as well as information about eating a plant based diet are also featured in the introduction.

Caribbean Black Bean Bowl is one example of an easy, flavorful meal.  Ingredients include sweet potato, green bell peppers, gingerroot, garlic, scallions, black beans and grape tomatoes.  This is prepared as a stir fry and is quick to fix.  It also includes several spices, giving it a distinctive taste.  Adding brown rice can make this a complete meal or you cn use the options included for adding pork.  (I will add the recipe when I have a chance to scan it.)

I highly recommend this cookbook.

carribean blackbean

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Intention: From the heart

This postcard hangs on my bulletin board above my desk.   I wrote it at the end of one of Jay O’Callahan’s wonderful workshops by the sea many years ago.  Several weeks after the workshop, Jay mailed the cards to us to remind us what our intentions were over the weekend.

intentionsOver the past few weeks I have been realizing that I need to return to the work that comes from my heart – the work of story. I am not sure how or where it will lead, but I know that my heart yearns for stories and once again to tell stories and teach others to tell their own stories. There is such power in being able to voice what you know and what comes from your heart.

I am not sure which of Jay’s workshops I was at when I wrote this card since I can’t read the date on the front but I know where I was living so it had to have been at least 10 years ago that I set these intentions.  Over the years that I worked with Jay I developed wonderful tales from my childhood memories as well as my story about Annie Edison Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and live to tell others about it. (She was from my hometown.)  Other stories were about family and neighbors.  I think the one that remains a favorite was about the sense of community in the neighborhood I lived in at the time. It was titled, “48 dogs and 96 cats” and really centered on the story of the day the neighborhood gathered to bury my friend MJ’s dachshund, Fritz. Our pets were not just four legged animals; they were family and they meant a great deal to not only the owners but to others in the neighborhood.

Personal stories are not the only ones in my repertoire, however.  I also love to develop renditions of traditional tales, both fairy and folk.  I know I will find a way to tell these again as well. One of my favorite periods of time with story was the 8 weeks I spent teaching and coaching a group of 5th graders. They were lively, fun, and still uninhibited and unafraid.  The experience was joyful and watching them tell their stories at the final concert was delightful. I hope they have carried stories with them. This group is probably in their early 20’s if I have done the math correctly.

So I am keeping my heart open to the opportunities that I know will come.  I’ll let you know what happens.

many hearts

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Into the Woods: Journey into the woods of our soul

helen millie dougTwo volumes, one green and one red, nestled in their case and rested on the second shelf of the bookcase. These were among the first treasured books that were shared with me and read to me by my sister.  One volume was Grimm and the other Anderson. Words, images, stories crept into my soul at a young age. She took me to Sage Library for my first library card, opening up the world at large through printed pages and what seemed like an unlimited number of books from my five year old point of view.

Stories were followed by music -West Side Story, Camelot, Man of LaMancha, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles. She introduced me to all of these.  Later, she introduced me to art. We share a love of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks,  Winslow Homer’s Snap the Whip, John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark (don’t ask, who knows why) and Peto’s doors  among many others. Helen  took me to my first Broadway plays,  42nd Street and Sunday in the Park with George. Our seats were so close to the stage at the second play that we joked that Mandy Patinkin could spit on us.  I have loved the play ever since. She influenced my teaching though I was never the stellar teacher that she was for over 40 years.

What does this have to do with Into the Woods? Or a Journey into the woods of our soul?  Everything.  Into the Woods, the Sondheim and Lapine play based on Grimm tales, was the first selection for God on Broadway this year.  As I sat and listened to some selections and sang others yesterday I remembered one of the gifts my sister gave me – Broadway musicals, including this one.  But I was also reminded that she is currently on her own journey into the woods.  She has been ill and it will take time, will and hope for her to heal.  I was reminded that the original Grimm tales are dark and full of human tragedy, not the Disney happily ever after versions society knows now.  Life can be difficult.  I hope she finds her way through the woods.  I hope she knows that I have always watched and listened and that I have learned so much from her throughout my life.

I hope she knows that she won’t be entirely along on her journey. Many will be with her hoping for the best, because truly, No One is Alone.


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Kids + dirt=Vegetables! Druid City Garden Project

One of my very favorite projects is the Druid City Garden Project.  They are focused on teaching children about healthy eating, sustainability and  entrepreneurship through teaching gardens at schools.  It is a way to teach science and math to children that is fun and practical. There are now gardens at several schools in Tuscaloosa.  This past Saturday I experienced the joy of assisting with building raised beds at the Tuscaloosa Magnet School for their new garden. We worked alongside and with the children who will benefit from the gardens.  It was a fantastic morning.

I love this project because the staff and volunteers don’t just talk about the importance of health and providing children with opportunities to learn about and experience healthy eating, they carry out the mission and make it happen.  I have heard a number of stories from Lindsay Turner, the executive director, about children’s amazement when they pull up a carrot for the first time or eat a vegetable they never knew existed or work at the farm stand. I have purchased organic beets and kale from the Market that were wonderful and tasted so much better because I knew the work that had gone into growing and producing them.

Teaching children better habits will help them as they grow up.  Hopefully it will help prevent or lessen childhood obesity as well as other diseases that we are now seeing as a society in younger people and children.  Action and positive role models make a difference.

DCGP relies on volunteers as well as staff to carry out their mission.  Join in. If you are not familiar with the project, check out the link in the first sentence.  And buy a ticket to the Garden Party on September 14th, the DCGP major fundraiser.

dirtbuldsnows bend quote

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