Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas


Here in New England we have just had our first bout of snow. It was only a few inches, just enough to give us time to find our mittens, hats, scarves and boots from the dark recesses of the closet where they had taken refuge earlier in the year. The little playhouse in the background is snowed in. The fence mid-yard forms a barrier between the dog’s yard and the play area. With the next snow, she will be able to walk over it. A bit of our red canoe still peeks out behind the garage, reminding us that the lake once thawed. And poor St. Francis, surrounded by zinnias in the summer, now sports snow for a hairpiece.

Seasons help me recognize parallel shifts in my own life. I need dormant times too, times to regroup, slow down and become more contemplative. Winter, with its short days, encourages me in these pursuits. And Advent is a time for reflection and stillness.

The roads are a mess as they always are after the first snow. Even the plow drivers have to get back in the groove. And people need to remember how to drive on ice and snow. By the next onslaught we will be back in the pattern of winter. Going out early to clear off the car(the garage on the left of the picture houses tools and the snowblower, leaving no room for the car!), salting the steps, clearing the sidewalk. We will once again yell:”Take off your boots before you come in here!”

Then spring will come along and startle us with buds and breezes. We will have forgotten all about it, so convinced that winter would never end.


The Rosary and Me


When I was a teenager and my parents were loudly arguing in the room below me, I used to tune my bedside radio to a station in San Francisco, 600 miles away. Late at night, I would hear a very repetitive prayer go–it seemed–on and on. It was very soothing, though I really had no idea of what it was. I would fall asleep to its calming words.  I was unchurched and really didn’t even think to ask anyone about what I was hearing.

Fast forward 30 years and I was praying in a place in Portland, Oregon called The Grotto. It is a lovely sanctuary open to all. I found the quiet very grounding. One day I heard a group of mainly Philippine women saying that same repetitive prayer while holding strings of beads. Then the woman in front of me turned around, handed me one, a lovely amber string of these beads and said, “I am supposed to give this to you.” She handed it back to me and went back to prayer.

By then I was Christian, but I had heard horror stories about Catholic prayer practices which supposedly prayed TO Mary, as if she were God. But it didn’t seem to me to be the case. The sequence of prayers included a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and five repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer. It was, as far as I could tell, theologically sound.

Fast forward another 20 years and my next door neighbor, newly widowed, asked if I would join her once a week to pray the Rosary with her. So I printed out the prayers, picked up my amber beads and went to her house that Tuesday. We meet each Tuesday morning and pray the prayers. I still get flummoxed occasionally, worrying that I am counting wrong, which definitely interrupts the contemplative nature of the prayer! But when I can drop down into the repetition, it has the same calming effect on me that it had 55 years ago.

Now when I get to Mass early (God’s sense of humor leading me to Catholicism over my Protestant friends’ dismay) I see others quietly holding the beads and moving their lips silently. I feel grateful remembering how important those beads were so many years ago.

If you want to learn more go to (As always, I respect many traditions, and I have no interest in proselytizing; I’m just sharing my perspective.)

Thank You Gregg


Back in the “olden days” girls all had to learn to type. Since my high school curriculum was full of academic classes, I had to take typing in the summer. We learned using the Gregg method. I never got a job where I needed to type. That’s because I was never hired after I took the timed typing test and got a word count below what was needed for the job. The timed test made me nervous and I made many mistakes, all of which reduced my count. In those days, there was no auto-correct, so all mistakes had to be carefully “whited out” with a little brush. If the paper was important, it had to be mistake free, since the white out was ugly. I used to use so-called erasable paper in college which still left a tell-tale smudge but beat having to type the whole page over.

Then, after graduate school, I never needed to type again. Until computers! Who would have guessed in 1963 when I sat in that hot summer school classroom learning to touch type that I would use the skill on a keyboard.

So now I touch type on my Mac. I can easily correct errors with the handy delete key. It alerts me if I make a mistake by underlining it in red. I don’t have to use carbon paper to make duplicates. I can push a button and a printer makes as many copies as I need. I impress all the younger hunt-and-peck typists in my life with my touch typing skills.

I miss the “ding” that the typewriter made when it got to the end of the line and needed you to return the carriage back to the left margin. If you have no idea of what I am talking about, I refer you to the You Tube video titled “Typewriter Training “Basic Typing I:Methods.” (I don’t yet know how to embed a video link)

Now if I could only get my fingers to write instant messages with the same dexterity!



Photo Bombing


Before I talk about photo bombing, let’s notice how I look like a 102 year old Eastern European lady in this photo!

My granddaughter introduced me to the term “photo bombing,” when you jump into someone else’s photo, uninvited. Here my dog Cinder seems to be trying to claim the foreground of the photo. At least her rear end is trying to nudge me out.

I think the President-elect is doing the equivalent of photo bombing my tranquility and self-regulation. I will be calm, grounded and optimistic, secure in my faith and surrounded by those who love me and then  BAM–I walk by an insane headline such as “Trump says no one is sure about climate change.” Disregulation, internal argument about the truth, frustration, despair creep in. This happens when I least expect it, such as waiting in line at the drug store.

So I am trying to let God photo bomb me instead. I am mindful of the hawk that sits up on the power pole, pulling me out of my funk, restoring my calm. I watch the long line going to Communion and my faith is buoyed. I see my husband standing on the ground cleaning the gutters with a hand made vaccum device worthy of Rube Goldberg, and I remember that he promised me he will stay off ladders because he loves me.

I welcome such interruptions of joy, light, peace, and love. Keep them coming God.

An Ever Present Help


While this is a picture of me and my grandfather(and yes, I could read when I was that little), this piece is on a different connection. I continue to honor my commitment to not post living relatives, so this is a stand-in photo.

I was divorced from the father of my daughter 38 years ago. Our marriage had failed, but we made a promise to raise our daughter together, to always let the other have full involvement in her life, and to make sure she always knew that two parents had her back. We also promised never to put down the other parent in front of her. She lived mostly with me, but freely spent time with her dad. Sometimes it was as simple as him stopping over to take her to ice cream. Sometimes it was a camping trip. Once it was a cross country trek to meet the extended family spread over the United States. Once when I was very ill, he immediately took her to his home for a month, making sure she could continue in the school near me.

He and I each remarried in 1988, and we both remain in solid marriages. Our grandchildren are blessed with four grandparents on their mother’s side!  We all attended college graduation, wedding, and musical performances together. We had honored our commitment to our daughter.

Was it easy? No. Did it require each of us to sacrifice our need to be right? Yes. We learned as we went along, knowing only what we had seen  damage  children. We tried hard to avoid those pitfalls.

So this Advent I am grateful to my first husband and his wife. Merry Christmas.

Unlimited Long Distance


I loved my maternal grandparents very much, but after we moved to Oregon, I only got to see them every few years, since they lived in Buffalo, New York. We got to talk to them on Christmas every year. Long distance phone calls were expensive and complicated to arrange. My grandparents would place a call with an operator. Then we would wait all day for the operator to call and say, “I have a person to person call for D.” Then my dad would get on the phone and we would all take turns saying a quick “Merry Christmas” before we had to hang up “before this all costs too much.”

One of the things I am grateful for this Advent is unlimited long distance phone calls for a set price. We moved  across the country 15 years ago, leaving close friends behind in Oregon. Some of our friends had also moved around the country. I have made new friends here, but there is no replacement for people who have known you deeply for much of your life.

Now I am able to talk, at length, to these friends as often as we like. We don’t have to worry, as we once did, about what it is costing us. We can have deep conversations and maintain a real connection.

I never could have believed that would happen, back when long distance was an event!

“These Rooms”


Compassion can be found in many physical locations. This was my grandparents’ summer home where I found love and safety. Another place I discovered great kindness was in “these rooms,” shorthand for 12 step meetings which offered me solace as I dealt with the addictions of members of my family.

I have been reflecting on something I learned years ago in such a room. When the family member of an addict changes, she will encounter a very strong message of “change back.” The addict counts on the people around her staying the same so that she can continue on her own course. Once the other person stops their routine behavior-whether walking out of a room where the addict is raging, or refusing to make excuses for their behavior- the addict has a problem. Things have changed. The solution the addict comes up with is CHANGE BACK. I LIKED THINGS THE WAY THEY WERE!

It seems to me that there is a lot of “change back” going on in our country at the moment. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous to resist the pressure to change back. But we are called to continue on the paths to justice, racial and religious reconciliation, respect for women, welcome of the outcast, and embrace of the homeless that we were on earlier this century.

We can’t expect that our persistence in the face of such powerful and scary messages to “change back” will be welcomed. Ask anyone who has sat in “these rooms” and discussed the ramifications of refusing to give into an addict’s demands. But persist we must. It is the way to healing and wholeness, both for the future and for our country.


My Personal Elves


I choose to not show any pictures of people in my family who are still living, believing that they deserve privacy. So this stock image will have to suffice to substitute for my actual grandchildren.I have been reflecting on kindness this Advent, and now reflect on the kindness of children. My own grandchildren to be specific.

On Saturday they showed up at my door to get out all the Christmas decorations I have in the basement. I have always worn myself out carrying all the boxes upstairs and setting everything up. That day, they carried everything upstairs, just needing me to point to what needed to go. Then they opened all the boxes and set up decorations where I had put them in previous years. They are only 7 and 9, but they had a clear sense of what went where. They rearranged things just enough to show their involvement, but basically repeated what they had seen in earlier years.

We saved the tree ornaments and lights for next weekend when we all go to Charlie Brown’s Tree Farm(the real name!) and cut a tree and buy wreaths for both of our houses. One of their dogs is still young enough to attack a tree, so ours will be the only one this year.

I was touched to the core by their kindness that day. They squealed with delight each time something they remembered was unpacked. They set all the musical decor playing at once knowing it made me crazy(but in a good way.) I ended up with a decorated house and my energy intact.

Thanks kids.

A New Perspective


Sometimes kindness comes from another person seeing something that has caged us in by offering a different view of the situation.

Years ago, a dear pastor friend Stan Thornburg was listening to me take responsibility for something he didn’t believe was my fault. He couldn’t get through to me, as I continued to carry the blame. Finally, in pure desperation I think, he said,”Suppose I threw you through that window.” I imagined that taking place and wondered what on earth that had to do with my struggle.

“Well,” he said, “I guess I could say you broke the window.” “Yes,” I agreed, still stuck in my way of seeing things.

“Wrong!” he insisted, ” I broke the window; you were just what I used to do it.”

He got through to me with a blunt example, but he gave me a great gift of freedom from unwarranted guilt.

We minister kindness to one another in many different ways. Thanks Stan.

No Santa?


When I was a child, I still believed in Santa Claus and I visited him at Meier and Frank, the big downtown department store. Going downtown was an occasion to dress up, and so I had.

In the recent election, many voters seemed to see our  President Elect as a present time Santa, promising an end to many problems, most beyond any one person’s ability to solve.

Today I am feeling compassion for those folks who may find many of their hopes crushed as the country moves forward. As I have written before, there is no going back to a so-called golden age of the United States. Not only will there be massive changes to access to health insurance; there are rumblings about privatizing Medicare. In the good old days there were millions of poor, ill, uninsured citizens, many elderly, in this country. I pray that doesn’t happen again.

When I found out that Santa wasn’t real, I was reassured that the spirit he represented still lived. Compassion, generosity and a listening ear are all available even if Santa isn’t the one providing them. I pray that, when people learn that the promises of the campaign may not prove to benefit them, they not become bitter and disillusioned. May we as a country find a way to meet the deepest wishes of all our citizens without pitting them against each other. When we turn on each other, no one wins.