Category Archives: Live

Where Did Lent Go?

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Why yes, Lent has come and gone for another year. My Lenten discipline of plastic-less living has timed out (theoretically), and I didn’t write about the journey once. Not one time. Let’s just say life got in the way in some really big ways. More about that later.

So what about all those plastic avoidance tactics? Were they just so many words?

Actually…no. You may remember my goal was to eliminate these seven simple plastic “sins” from my Lenten life:

  • plastic cutlery
  • straws
  • bottled water
  • take-away beverage cups
  • plastic toothbrushes
  • plastic shopping bags
  • take-away containers
  • plastic wrapped toilet paper

I made some significant progress. I managed to avoid plastic cutlery all during Lent. When we take our lunches (which is frequently) we either pack metal cutlery or use some from the office. That one was pretty easy.

Straws were a bit trickier. I don’t use them at home, and I normally don’t use them when I’m dining out either. Only one time did I almost fail. I say almost because I thoughtlessly began to peel the paper from the offending article because everyone else at the table had already done so. I stopped, and sadly I’m sure that unused straw with the damaged wrapping ended up in the trash anyway. But I did stop, and I have reflected frequently on the power of peer pressure, societal conformity, and normative behavior that works against plastic avoidance. Some restaurants even bring you straws in your water WITHOUT ASKING.

Bottled water was easy. I have a lovely stainless steel water bottle (thanks, Maggie!) that helps me say NO to plastic disposable bottles. I carry it everywhere.

Takeaway beverage cups were also pretty easy. I have a stainless steel coffee mug that I fill at home. It’s cheaper than purchasing coffee out–and much more environmentally friendly. Plus, the coffee we make at home is usually better. I will admit to drinking from a Starbucks takeaway cup once this month. It was a lovely and thoughtful gift/gesture from my husband who was taking pity on my early-morning-caffeine-needy brain before an important presentation. It’s not something I would have done for myself, but one should never refuse radical generosity given in love.

No more plastic toothbrushes for me! I have switched to bamboo and won’t go back. It’s been a happy switch after the first couple of days of getting used to the “mouth feel” of unfinished bamboo vs. smooth plastic. Yes, it’s a little bit more expensive (but not significantly more than a good plastic toothbrush), but I feel better about the choice. n added plus with the brand I bought is that there was no plastic packaging! The four pack was completely packed in recyclable paper Woohoo!

Plastic shopping bags are something already we try at all costs to avoid. We carry reusable cloth bags in all of our cars; however, occasionally we do get caught out without our bags. There were at least two occasions that I had to resort to plastic during the month (for shame!). In retrospect, I could have asked to have the items loaded back into my cart and hauled them home in the trunk sans bags. One lives and learns.

Because we rarely dine out, take-away containers are not usually a concern. This month, however, we did order in Indian food for my birthday, so we ended up with some plastic and Styrofoam containers. We did recycle them, but still. We could have opted to dine out and bring our own glass take=away containers.

The purchase I’m most proud of during this Lenten discipline was toilet paper. I looked in the stores at the price of toilet paper wrapped in paper. All I could find were single rolls, and they were almost double the cost of comparable rolls wrapped in plastic. I am a frugalista, so that was simply unacceptable. I looked on line at office supply stores and found a cardboard case of 80 rolls of Angel Soft commercial grade at 40% discount. Wow! Who would have thought one could get so pumped about purchasing toilet paper?

In the end, I’m convinced that we could all live with a lot less plastic if we simply try and are aware of our purchases and choices. I’ve made some good changes that I’ll keep on doing–buying TP in bulk and using bamboo toothbrushes, for example. I will also keep on trying to avoid plastic in other areas of my life, including avoiding purchasing items that are grossly over-packaged in, yep–you guessed it–PLASTIC.

What tips do you have to avoid plastic whenever possible?

Photo: Your Best Digs, Creative Commons. Thanks!

 

 

Why Neighboring Matters

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Do you know your neighbors? Can you name the people and pets who live in the houses on your block? Have you shared stories and/or meals with one another?

When we moved to our current neighborhood three years ago, we were determined to get to know as many people as possible. I had just finished reading The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak, so I was motivated to draw a map of our block, post it on our refrigerator, and start being, well, neighborly. Why? Because neighboring matters.

Both my husband and I grew up in neighborhoods where we could leave the house in the morning and play all day with friends. We were welcome in one another’s homes, our parents made sure we were safe and reasonably well-mannered, and neighborhood moms dispensed many a popsicle and Bandaid. Casserole dishes crossed streets and warmed hearts after births or illnesses. We knew about major life events and both celebrated and mourned together.

Neighboring matters because people matter. We are stronger when we work together, when we build relationships and communities. Humans are meant to be connected with one another.

Unfortunately neighboring doesn’t happen automatically. Relationships aren’t built overnight, getting to know folks takes time and effort (as well as trust and vulnerability), and one must actually get out of the house and into the neighborhood to truly be a neighbor.

We’re still working at it in our neighborhood. We know most of the people on our block by name. We watch each other’s cats at vacation time. We exchange gardening tips. We check on elderly neighbors, and we keep an eye on each other’s houses. One young family even hosted “Neighbor’s Table” potlucks last summer, hand-delivering invitations door-to-door. Lots of people walk their dogs, and my husband (an extreme extrovert) is always ready to strike up a conversation.

Our hope is to continue cultivating relationships and growing a neighborhood web of interdependence and friendship that enriches everyone’s life. Are we there yet? Not hardly, but we’re working on it.

What simple things might you do to begin neighboring (or increase your efforts) where you live?

For Further Reading/Reflection:

Check out The Art of Neighboring website and book.

Here’s an interview from NPR with Professor Peter Lovenheim on the value of getting to know your neighbors.

Community Dinners is an interesting take on how a worshiping community decided to get to know its Seattle neighbors through dinner churches and how that has expanded in surprising and wonderful ways.

Check out the story of Sarah and her backyard dining “room” where she connects people and creates community. Here’s her Neighbor’s Table Facebook page.

Photo: Carl Mueller, Creative Commons License. Thanks!

 

2017: The Year of Interdependence

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The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.  — Thomas Merton

Citizens of the United States have long prided themselves on their independence, on the notion that anyone can succeed with a firm tug on the old “bootstraps” and a little bit of elbow grease. Unfortunately, that ideal that’s been held so dear and romanticized is not true. We are bit islands unto ourselves with equal opportunity and equal outcome.

Life can be hard. It’s often unfair. Some folks just can’t seem to get a break. Lots of people are left behind. One in five children in America is hungry. It’s tough to earn a living wage. In short, our independence has not served us well to knit a strong fiber of community, a viable safety net, so that all citizens can live decent, relatively secure lives with access to the basics of food, housing, work, and healthcare.

2016 was a particularly contentious year, with the presidential election bringing to light the fears, concerns, and anger of people of both major parties. Many are now hopeful that there will be change for the better. Many now fear that we will suffer greatly. We are a nation divided in our quest for independence and our vision of what it means to be “America.”

In response to last year’s division, I’m going to work this year to lift up examples and possibilities for interdependence in hope that we can all begin in some small ways to work together for the common good. Folks, we need one another. We need to listen. We need to share. We need to tell stories and listen to stories and write stories. We need to open our homes and hearts and minds in ways that move beyond  social media rants and fake news.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have much at all at this point except a desire to make a difference, to be as Gandhi once said “the difference I wish to see.” Will you join me in my quest? Will you commit to finding ways to be interdependent, to knit together our fabric of community in your neighborhoods, workplaces, houses of worship, and families?

I hope so. I think we can have some fun in the process. And I pray we can leave this world in just a little bit better condition–one conversation and one person, one day or hour at a time.

Photo: Nic McPhee (Creative Commons License) Thanks!

Begin (again)

Dooway, The Druidston Hotel

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.         -T.S. Eliot

And so we begin again. The new year of 2015 is underway. The roads near my house were surprisingly free of traffic. The gym was nearly empty. Our neighborhood is quiet. It is time to make a beginning, to find a new voice and fresh words. For me, however, this new year is not a time for resolutions.

I just finished reading again Parker Palmer’s reflection about the artificial marking of a new year. Click here to be redirected to the onbeing website to read the post. I always appreciate Palmer’s perspectives on living and being and faith, and this entry is no exception. His words remind me of why I resist making New Year’s resolutions. They seem, well, so artificial. We lay our best intentions on the line, a bold hope, seeking some sort of accountability and encouragement in writing and/or speaking the words of them. Yet life, in its relentless passing, has a way of grinding those good intentions down to finest sand. They endure, but all too often the don’t resemble the idea or hope with which we cast them upon the tide of our days and hours.

No, I won’t make resolutions this year, but I do think I’ll join Palmer  in pondering some life-giving questions rather than hammering out pronouncements of change and intended improvement that will likely fade as winter’s chill gives way to spring’s greening.

Palmer offers a lovely poem, “We Look with Uncertainty” by Anne Hillman and a quote by Ranier Maria Rilke as inspiration for this process of questioning. The Rilke quote is from Letters to a Young Poet (one of my favorite books):

“…I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them, and the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then graduatlly, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (treanslation by M.D. Herter Norton)

So here are the questions I’ll be pondering (do check out Parker Palmer’s, too):

  1. Is what I choose now central to what really matters in life? If not, can I let it go?
  2. How can I be a better steward of all that’s been entrusted to my care?
  3. What is God up to in my life? In the world around me? Am I listening and paying attention?
  4. Am I being vulnerable and taking risks for the sake of the gospel?
  5. How am I giving my call to creative work sufficient power and time?*

How about you? What questions might you ponder this year? How will you begin (again)?

*This question comes from a quote by the poet Mary Oliver that I read a few days ago. This statement has convicted me to do a better job of giving power and time to my creative gifts this year. Here’s the quote:

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time. — Mary Oliver

Photo: Chris Wild, Creative Commons License. Thanks!

A Rose is a Rose . . .

Once in a while I stumble upon an idea that tickles my fancy; usually it has to do with a fresh idea to reuse or re-purpose and everyday item. Here’s a great idea for recycling newspapers (or books or magazines) that will appeal to those who treasure words: paper roses.

For me these wordy wonders have a double attraction because our cat loves nothing better than destroying real flowers and plants. With these “roses” I can have my words and whimsy without risking real, expensive blooms being strewn half-eaten across the floor.

I’m looking forward to making a batch for my next dinner party–complete with a literary theme. We own a couple of vintage typewriters, so I’m thinking a centerpiece might include paper flowers arranged artfully in and around this focal point.

I suppose decorating with words is better than eating them, right? What creative ideas do you have for living with words?

(Photo by msmstewart used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

Vacation Reading

Today I’m off to the shore with my daughters for one last “girl trip” before college (the younger) and marriage (the older). It will be a quick trip, but what I’m most looking forward to is curling up under the umbrella with a tall glass of iced tea, a good “fun” read, accompanied by the sound of waves, the smell of salt air, and the warmth of the sun.

I’m taking Stephen King’s Bag of Bones and Debra Marquart’s memoir The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere. I will also have, of course, a journal in hopes of continued inspiration interrupted by yesterday’s kitchen fire.

The two books I’ll be reading are worlds apart, but both authors know how to tell a good story and paint a vivid scene with words. Add a little beach music to the mix, and I’m good to go.

What’s your pick for vacation reading this year, and why did you choose it (or them if you lug multiple volumes or an e-reader with you)?

Photo by ngader used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Warning: Writing can be Hazardous to your Health

It started out as a splendid morning: June 30, the last day of the month, hot and sunny, a Saturday. I got up early enough to see my youngest daughter off to work, make some coffee, and run a couple of errands. All the while, I was writing in my mind. You know, where you’re learning about your characters and listening for clues in their stories while you get to know them. I’ve been pretty deep into a new fiction writing project, so I guess using the word “distracted” to describe my mental state would be an understatement. In fact, I probably should not even attempt to drive during these creative warm-up exercises.

Anyway, I came home and started cooking. My plan was Portobello mushrooms stuffed with sauteed onion, garlic, red pepper, spinach, and herbs, mixed with brown rice and goat cheese. Yum. What I forgot as I merrily chopped and stirred was that my daughters and I had put a large plastic bowl full of popcorn in the cold oven last night to keep it away from Pete-the-ravenous-Springer-Spaniel-and-counter-surfer-extraordinaire. I turned on the oven to pre-heat it for the shrooms and continued my mental visit with my main character and her best friend. Bad decision!

Within minutes smoke was billowing out of the oven vent, filling the kitchen with the smell of burning plastic. About that time I remembered the popcorn. Dumbly, I opened the oven door to see the plastic dripping into a molten, burning mess in the bottom of the oven. Fortunately, I did have the presence of mind to turn off the oven and burner and place the skillet over the vent. Next, I called 911 with a most inarticulate explanation and got the dogs outside on the leash while I looked for the fire extinguisher. Note to self–Why was it NOT under the kitchen sink?

To bring this tawdry tale to a hasty close, within 10 minutes the volunteer fire crew had arrived in force and within 20 minutes they had the smoke cleaned out of the house with the help of their fancy fan. The fire was history. The only casualty is the stove/oven.

Yes, I know better than to use the oven as a storage space for just this reason. Yes, I know to check the oven before turning it on, and yes, I realize that accidents do happen. Nevertheless, I am mortified, embarrassed, and exhausted. So much for happy character development today!

The moral of this story, dear fellow writers, is to be aware of the reverie into which you may sink while your characters come to life and lead you into their world and life stories. Make sure to take the proper precautions so that you don’t find yourself cleaning up toxic chemicals from a kitchen fire, or calling your insurance company after a fender bender. Multitasking and writing can indeed be hazardous to your health. Consider yourselves warned!

Have you ever had anything like this happen while you were immersed in the writing process? If so, do tell. It’ll make me feel better, and confession is good for the soul.

Photo by Chris Corwin used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Happy New Year!

A new year, a new blog, a new life? Well, actually yes. It’s 2011, so the new year is a no brainer. If you are reading this post then it’s obvious this is a new blog. As to the new life, I’ll turn 50 in April, marry the love of my life in September, and move–yet again. So, yes, “Happy New Year” is a loaded statement for this writer, but it’s all good.

Out with the OLD…

Bye bye job, stuff, cars, security, and life as I envisioned it.

2010 was a strange year. I left a call serving four congregations and people I loved to return to my hometown and help my parents. My youngest daughter and I sold/gave away a whole parsonage full of stuff and moved just what we could load in our two cars (along with a few boxes mailed ahead). Oh, I also moved without a job, not the wisest move in a weak economy. I took a significant financial hit, but it all worked out, thanks be to God, and I have even had the privilege of working in family ministry with my home congregation. Oh, and my oldest daughter graduated from college and moved to South Korea to teach English. There was much joy, many meaningful challenges and  opportunities, and a few bumps along the way to add spice to the mix.

In with the NEW…

Hello simplicity, purpose, new beginnings, and the unknown.

We’re now a one car family, and I continue to simplify by reducing the amount of “stuff” I possess. I’m also reducing the number of commitments and fragmentation in my work life. At the end of 2010 I was working four part-time jobs.  Guess what suffered most? Yep, that’s right–creativity and family, two things that should matter most. Life’s too short, so that’s changing in 2011.

In September I’ll marry the most amazing man–my muse, long-time friend, colleague, and soulmate. Needless to say, he’s one cool guy, and I am one lucky woman. So, hello new beginning! Do we have everything figured out? Of course not! I know I’ll move 600 miles away to where he lives; it simply makes more sense to do so for a whole host of reasons. Hello, uncertainty! There are many loose ends we’re not quite sure how to tie up. I’ll be looking for a new job, my daughter will be a senior in high school, and I fret about putting 600 miles between me and my parents. I have no doubt it will all work out, but I have no clue how the days will unfold.

What I do know is that 2011 promises to be exciting, and I intend to live in the present and enjoy the goodness of each hour. It is, indeed, a happy new year.

How about you? What “old” did you leave behind? What “new” are you bringing in for 2011? What gives you joy? Let’s share the journey…one word at a time!