Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Summer is such a richly indulgent season, with equally indulgent parenting on our parts. Stay up until 10pm? Absolutely! Head out to the pool at 7pm when showers and stories should already be underway? I'll race you to the car! Ice cream for dinner? It's dairy--it's protein. Scoop me a dish!

We have all been dreading the end of this time, but now that Labor Day has passed, and we have the first day of school under our belts, I feel an odd sort of relief. I'm showered, my teeth are brushed, the kids have been sound asleep for an hour--and it's only 9:30pm. The alarm will go off at 6am, and I (hopefully) won't push the snooze button for 48 or so minutes as I have for much of the summer. The dog will be walked, Kyra will be on the bus, and I'll happily sip my coffee as I drive to work on time with consistency. The pattern feels comforting....as though we are returning to a sort of health and normalcy.

I remember when Matt and I first fell in love (disregarding for the moment the three crazy years of my being in love with him, his being in like with me, and so on....). Being with one another was such a feast for the senses. The sight of him, even from a distance, created heat deep in me. Taste...touch...scent...it was incredibly indulgent to just be near one another, and we gave into all sorts of crazy urges. We'd stay up talking into the wee, wee hours of the night. We'd be participating in public life, together, but utterly absorbed only in one another. I'm certain there were hours where we sat in church, went to movies, enjoyed family dinner when we literally didn't hear a word that was spoken by another person. It was exhilirating, and it is still exhilirating for me to remember those days.

But just the same, as with summer's end, it was something of a relief to settle into one another with comfort, with familiarity. I can still find that heat, but I don't have to call the fire department every time Matt brushes by me. We indulge in one another, but we can also sit with the kids at dinner and actually hear the stories they tell us about school or the game they just played. We have reentered the greater world, and while we savor the times when we can shut out that world and dive into the banquet of one another, we are just as glad to return to this new pattern of togetherness when those nights or weekends come to a close.

Will autumn's gold bring indulgence, too? But of course! The canoe is strapped to the trailer, and we have plans to float and hike our way through the bounty of the harvest--but Sunday evenings will bring a return to "early to bed, early to rise," and really, I'm glad for it. Glad for all of it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Blessing the room

Monday mornings are hard for me, in stiff competition with Sunday evenings. It's difficult to determine whether the actual return to work each week is more a struggle than the anticipation of leaving behind the home and family I so love. My resistance to leaving there (home) and being here (work) sometimes blocks my ability to work and accomplish what is before me to do in the here and now. In the interest of creating a new ritual, today I decided to bless the room--to literally ask God's light to shine in a space that sometimes feels more closed than open, more away from than toward. And in so doing, I want to bless there, and them, as well.

God of Light and Mercy, be with me in this space. I have been led here by your hand, and I have no place to be today but here. May I, too, be a light, and may I shine through each and every task that is before me. Give me eyes to see the opportunities to serve in love, to act for justice, and to bring hope to the hopeless. Even here, I am a minister of promise and opportunity--a new way to be, to know, and to love.

When my mind strays to other places, other times, forgive me--bring me gently back to the breath, to the moment, to now. I thank you for Matt--gracious, loving partner and friend; for Kyra--underwater-swimming, snuggling once again, almost 7-year-old; for Lucas--long, lean 4-year-old with a sweet "w" for "r" and energy from head to toe and back again. And yes, God, thank you also for Ty--walking companion, reminder of "now" and focus and the present. Help me hold them in my heart when I can't be present with them, and when I return to them once again, help me to have the same undistracted focus.

Thank you--for the gifts, for the struggle, for the learning, for the energy that is You moving through each and every moment. Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer Camp: Then and Now

The RevGalBlogPals have brought a "Friday Five" that hits the spot! Here goes....

1. Did you go to sleep away camp, or day camp, as a child? Wish you could? Or sometimes wish you hadn't?

I'm not certain I ever attended day camp, but I know I went to sleep away camp at Pathfinder Lodge. Staying at camp for a week was so much my norm, it's actually the modern day inclination toward day camp that seems odd to me! My camp of choice was Pathfinder Lodge, an American Baptist Church in Cooperstown, NY. I can still picture one of my counselors, Debbie, with her hair in Princess Leia-like braids--blonde and beautiful, swinging her legs as she sat on the diving board....the same diving board that was wisely removed years later by my sister-in-law due to major safety concerns.

2. How about camping out? Dream vacation, nightmare, or somewhere in between?

I have mixed feelings about camping out as vacation. We own an amazing tent, and for the first few years of owning it, we'd actually bring it on every summer visit to Matt's parents' house. Before the kids were born, the tent was a place of passion! It's not nearly as pleasant to sleep as a family of four there, despite that it is large. Anyway, Matt's parents live on a large piece of property, and at the time we had essentially no yard--they were our camping destination of choice. But there were privileges in that arrangement, of course--access to indoor plumbing, a nearby kitchen, etc. I have camped in a more rustic environment as well, but those memories all seem to have rain in them somewhere....and it doesn't matter how amazing the tent is after days of rain. Things are just going to get wet!

3. Have you ever worked as a camp counselor, or been to a camp for your denomination for either work or pleasure?

Oh yes, yes, yes! I was a counselor and worked in the kitchen at Pathfinder. I have stated for years to Matt that when I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes sprinkled in Lake Otsego--Pathfinder is just that special to me. (Of course, with my new passion for the Farmington River, we might have to spread the dust over a few favorite waterways!) My maternal grandfather was at Pathfinder as a counselor the night my mother was born--the very first year the camp was opened. My parents met there, and indeed I met my fabulous partner and spouse there as well. We married in the chapel right on the edge of the lake, and I am still stirred to walk into that space. The Spirit of God is just present there for me, and I suspect my faith was most significantly shaped by my time at camp.

My daughter and I went to Camp Wightman, CT's American Baptist camp, for the first time this summer. I was amazed to find myself in love with Wightman, too, and eager for Kyra and Lucas to cultivate a relationship to this place so they might have the sorts of memories I have of Pathfinder.

4. Most dramatic memory of camp, or camping out?

Dramatic? Hmmm....this one is a little gross. I am not a fan of vomit--I'm actually vomit-phobic. Anyway, one summer while counseling (bear in mind that I was a recent high school graduate....), a stomach virus hit camp. It hit camp hard--and it started in my cabin, with a sweet, chubby, blonde-haired little girl who threw up all over her bed. I wanted to run away, truly I did, but somewhere in me, a voice said, "You are the only mother she has right now," and I was able to hug her, wash her hair strand by strand, and essentially become the person I never imagined I could be. The vomit was everywhere that week....and the week after....and the week after....and eventually, when camp was entirely done, it caught up with me. Gosh, that was awful. And that night, precious Matt took care of me.

5. What is your favorite camp song or songs? Bonus points if you link to a recording or video.

This shouldn't be hard for me, but it is! There are many songs I loved and love--Rejoice in the Lord Always, This is the Day. I'm sure there are others, but they're alluding me at the moment. I'm simply grateful for guitars, a dark sky lit only by the campfire and fireflies, and the sounds of voices raised in praise.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On My Knees

Forgive the funky font sizes and changes....I'm feeling just lazy enough to leave them!

This morning at church during the sharing of joys and concerns, I spoke about the privilege of worship--the pleasure in being back in a church community we have grown to value and love after two weeks away. It's a hot day--and humid, too, most critically--so the congregation met in the basement fellowship hall. The air conditioning was the pull, of course, but the more casual worship environment was pleasurable for me as well. We're tighter there, sitting side by side, and sharing in worship in the space where we typically share fellowship--lemonade, coffee, a friendly word or smile--somehow brings this spirit of exchange into the service.

Last Sunday I had church on my knees, hunched over our garden rows, patiently pulling weeds to unearth one and two inch basil seedlings, the unmistakable scruffy leaves of a carrot top, and the bushy green signs of watermelon coming to life. God was as much in evidence in that garden as She was today in fellowship hall--my co-congregants were spiders and ants and birds and trees and dirt....luscious, heavenly dirt. And while I didn't encounter any grasshoppers, Mary Oliver's phrase about not knowing how to pray--but knowing how to kneel down in the grass--kept coming to me. It's been with me all week long. So here is this treasure of a poem from a treasure of a poet:

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.

While searching for "The Summer Day," I found this new-to-me poem below, and it feels like a gift from God on this melancholy night when I'm struggling against returning to work tomorrow morning and leaving behind that garden and being on my knees in the grass. I suppose I do have the sort of spirit that carries a thorn--and that far too often I don't dare to be happy. But I do feel as though the world is somehow as it ought to be--as though what will be is what should be, even in the too-frequent losses and lamenting that follows. Somehow we are--Creation is--always straining toward life, toward energy, toward God. And Mary Oliver once again says it better than I ever could.

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver
© Mary Oliver

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Friday Five....on Saturday, of course!

I just love the RevGalBlogPals. Peering in on their "11th hour preacher party" on Saturday evenings always fills me with a sense of relief (so glad I am relaxing at home rather than frantically writing a sermon!), a sense of envy (perhaps I'll one day be one of those sermon-writing folks!), and the realization that I have once again missed the Friday Five. So, a day late, but never a dollar short....

With their fine introduction leading me off:

"With this Sunday's gospel reading in mind, that wonderful revelation of Christ to the companions on the Emmaus road. I wonder where you might have been surprised by God's revelation recently. So, with no further waffle I offer you this weeks Friday 5: How has God revealed him/herself to you in a...."

1. Book--I have read some fine books of late. Most recent was "Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion,"* and I certainly found God quite explicitly in Sara Miles' story of an unexpected communion conversion. I'm also reading "Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit"* by Bolman and Deal, and I love the happy surprise I feel when there is a message within that seems intended just for me. This is often how I recognize the ever-presence of God. In this case, I've been struggling with holding a project close to my chest, knowing all the while I need to open my circle wider and integrate some partners in more meaningful ways. I read a section on "authorship" and the gift it is to extend to colleagues the gift of authorship, and I realized I wasn't extracting from them--taking their time, their energy that could be otherwise spent in other ways. Instead, I am gifting them with the opportunity for involvement and meaningful authorship.

*Is it me, or does every book I pick up have to have a colon and subtitle??? Time for me to find a novel to read!

2. Film--This answer might seem odd, but we watched "The Business of Being Born" the other night, and I saw God as I remembered so vividly the beauty of the births of my children. I was gifted with two natural births, both different and unique....experiences that have no comparison elsewhere in my life. I remembered through watching the women of this film what it felt like to be in the throes of transition, fully present in the moment, aching to be in that "not yet" moment toward which and for which my body was stretching, and suddenly to have the calm (well, at least in the first birth!) of pushing a slippery, slithery human being from my body into the world. My gosh, is there any greater evidence of the divine than that? To be side by side with Matt as we celebrated our partnered births and our partnered life together was a gift.

3. Song--A seminary professor at ANTS (forgetting his name at the moment--so sorry!) wrote a piece that I learned at a workshop this past February. I returned home to teach it to the kids, and we sing it often. They sing it because they like the words and simple melody; I sing it because I need to. It is again about the "now and not yet" tension that is my life. The words are "We are going to a place where music falls and fills up everything. And though it might be a long time, I know it's gonna be alright. 'Cause we've already started to sing." It's a very modern-day spiritual, and whether I'm washing dishes at the sink, taking the sometimes lonely trek to work, or simply needing to take a deep breath and sing, it restores me.

4. Another person--Long pause....this should be the easy one, shouldn't it? I see God in our associate pastor, Amy, who has become a source of great encouragement to me. My friend, Cathi, passed along her ethics paper the other day, desiring to share that she happily found herself in the space of claiming the "rightness" of gay marriage. I affirmed her for her process, telling her that I would hope to affirm her process even if we didn't reach similar conclusions--but of course felt joy that we did and do. When she wrote about how profoundly my own journey has influenced her, I knew that God was somehow using my life--and that being "used" doesn't always mean being on the world's stage, as I so often assume. Sometimes it means just showing up, being oneself with integrity and authenticity, and letting the rest happen. And of course God appears in my family each and every day. That we love one another, lift one another up, and continue to bring the best of ourselves into this home is a blessing.

5. Creation--A single purple crocus has sprung forth in the middle of our expansive backyard. Need I say more?

Bonus answer: your choice- share something encouraging/ amazing/ humbling that has happened to you recently!

The other day I had the privilege of taking our new provost to lunch. She was happily asking questions; I was happily answering. Only later when I returned to my office and was again reviewing some of her accomplishments did I realize how little I had asked her--how little I had listened to hear the gifts she will bring to us. I'm excited to work with her--her arrival is in and of itself a huge gift. But giving in to the intoxication of being asked my opinion was a humbling moment. I am vowing to listen more when next I have the privilege of her company.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Million Dollar Question

Today the RevGals have put out the million dollar question--a simple, "What would you do with it?" question, with five responses requested, as is always the case for the Friday Five! I've griped on my more family-centered blog about money--my sense that winning a bundle would ruin us, and my growing wish that we had more of it. The two sentiments are hardly in synch with one another, and more often than not I'm glad I'm not a lottery-playing kind of person (though we do typically buy one ticket if we're on vacation--the prospect of not returning to work on Monday is too sweet to avoid!). But if it were magically to appear in my bank account....Hmmm....

1. I want to be the sort of person who would say, "I'd tithe." That SO should be my reality. So in the spirit of "act as if," I'm going to put philanthropy front and center. The recipients of my gracious funds? Our church, certainly--and the church we attended for eight years before our move here. The fund I direct at a local university would be a beneficiary, taking the overly-ambitious fundraising goals I have before me out of the way! I've given money to Habitat for Humanity for many, many years now, and I see no reason to stop now. And the sentimental favorite? The camp where Matt and I met and married.... I don't know exactly what we would support there, but something unique and needed.

2. I must move on to the house. We are in a state of, ahem, deferred maintenance. And we are deferring further by the day! I'd put on the new roof and install new windows, but then there's a truckload of cosmetic changes I'd like to make--bathrooms and kitchens top of the list. Given that means are not the issue at the moment, construction would be exclusively green, of course!

3. I'd like to help our families with some small needs. Sadly, a million dollars seems not to go far these days, but I do see all of our relatives struggling in ways that we might be able to alleviate slightly.

4. TRAVEL! As an intentionally-one-income family, trips and vacations aren't part of our lives at the moment. I'd pick one place we'd all really like to go--perhaps a return visit to Sedona, sight of a favorite extended-family vacation many years ago--and I'd begin organizing our trip!

5. I'd set aside regular funds for nights out for Matt and me. While the long-term plans have been set aside to support a less-taxing lifestyle, it is probably most difficult to have given up the short-term plans we used to enjoy with regularity. I'd hire a good babysitter, I'd plan a regular night out, and I'd enjoy every minute of it!

Oh gosh--the ideas are rolling in....restoring my gorgeous Steinway baby grand piano, buying a headboard for our bed, on and on and on the list could go.

I'm off for a good old dose of gratitude, though, as I feel my life is already overflowing with riches. I'm so blessed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Music and Mercy

Tissues are a must for me on Easter morning. The combination of an early rising, the glorious music, and the resurrection message--better felt than explained--leaves me in tears every time. Palm Sunday can be hit or miss, though, and I don't have many memories of being moved to tears once we get past the palm-waving processional. Today was a clear exception, and I was sniffing throughout--no tissues!

Sure enough, the weepy eyes began as our dear children walked down the aisle, most (including my own two) in absolute bewilderment, and others like dear L. from our Sunday School class. She skipped and waved her palm high above her head, shouting "HOSANNA! HOSANNA!" as the first bars of "All Glory, Laud and Honor" piped loudly from the organ. Children will bring me to tears every time. It is difficult for me to depict the power of the remainder of the service--how the choir's rendition of "Ride on, King Jesus" left such a ring in the air, the entire congregation seemed to pause, breathless; how a parishioner played a Bruebeck jazz piece that left me utterly convinced that jazz is the only form of music that can capture the dissonance of Holy Week--the praise, the despair, the longing, the possibility of resurrection. And then there was the message--part spoken sermon, with our minister extolling us to embrace the passion of the Sunday even as we take part in the celebration; part video set to strikingly perfect music. As he introduced the video, created by our ministerial team and some younger members of our congregation, Tom remarked that the ambivalence of this day--the paradox of Palm Sunday--cannot be fully captured in prose....and when words fail us, we must turn to artists. Image after image cascaded across the screen--of the cosmos, the beauty of nature, the absolute destruction of war and poverty, the hope of human connection to each other and all of creation, our continual crucifixion of our natural environment and our neighbors, and symbols of God's mercy. The music was ideal, if a bit unusual--Metallica's "Unforgiven" played in a moving strings version by Apocalyptica. The sounds washed over me as the sorrow of our brokenness--my brokenness--was relieved only by an equal measure of joy in Jesus' unmatched act of mercy. The service was crafted by human hands, but woven together by the Spirit of God....merciful, loving God.

Though I grew up with an eye toward justice, as I age, I long only for music and mercy....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Give it up

The following was written for our church e-newsletter, a reflection on my own Lenten practice, and how it has coincided and interacted with our pastor's sabbatical:

I'm sitting at my desk, indulging in a snack of raisins and pretzels....a Lenten practice of sorts. Since giving up all sugar for Lent, I'm astonished to discover sweetness in forgotten places: raisins certainly, but also bananas, a honey-based cereal I enjoy each morning, and even in the flavors of certain teas and coffees.

Despite being the child of a pastor, my growing up home was not a place where we typically "gave something up for Lent." We were more likely to take on an extra act of love or kindness, and even that was more my parents' effort than mine. So why now, as an adult, do I fast on Ash Wednesday, and deliberately choose a gesture of self-sacrifice as I walk my way toward Easter?

Somehow, in creating an experience of emptiness or absence, I discover new ways of being filled.

When fasting with spiritual intention, I discover that hunger doesn't overwhelm me. There are layers to that hunger, and as my body passes through each layer into the next, I contemplate longing and desire and connection and satiation. I couldn't explore these places without first clearing space for a short time and creating a purposeful emptiness. While the first few days without sugar sometimes left me gazing longingly at the tray of treats during coffee hour, I am now at a place where I appreciate the new tastes that spring forth from foods and flavors I had previously not regarded as sweet. I am not so much sacrificing as I am discovering anew.

Our senior pastor's absence from us, while not fully correlated with Lent, has been its own spiritual practice for us as a congregation. Who has stepped forward to fill us? Our new associate pastor's capable leadership certainly comes to mind, along with all of the visiting speakers, member pastors, and lay leaders who presided over worship and provided pastoral care. What empty places felt sharp and evident at first, but now barely noticeable? How have we learned to be self-sustaining?

Easter Sunday will come, and I'll face a choice--whether to continue my practice of "giving up," or to try to remember the lessons learned while indulging once again. It's a decision I have yet to make, but one I will make with intention. Our pastor will soon return. How will we exercise new strengths discovered in his absence? How will we cling to the discovery of new tastes and talents, even as we delight in his presence with us once again?

One primary lesson is evident to me: God provides. We have in our community all that we need, an abundance to be shared. I look forward to seeing how we reconnect with intention, and together discover once more the glories of Easter and the promise of the resurrection.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Whispers of a call

It's been a long, long time since I've written--as always, evidence that between work, my coursework, and a new computer-free Sabbath, reflection is happening more in my head than on this blog! With the kids quietly settled into bed and Matt at a church meeting (the board we share--deciding eventually that one of us a month was enough to have our family's voice and presence!), there is a brief pause. It feels a bit like the sigh in my day....that great big in-take of air to ensure enough oxygen is flowing to the brain of my life.

This past weekend I attended a prospective student event at a nearby seminary. This is a seminary with a great deal of history, as well as a cooperative relationship with the local seminary where I presently take courses. We persisted to gather despite snow and threatening road conditions, some enthusiastically "working the room" while others sipped luke warm coffee quietly in the corners of the foyer. I was somewhere in between. I knew one person there, and it's in my nature to introduce myself and make the first move, but it's also uncertain space. I'm still not entirely sure how to name what is happening inside of me, and the steps I'm taking to perhaps put the inside to the outside of me.

At no time was this more in evidence than in an opening session designed to meet a small segment of the people there. The instructions were simple enough--tell us your name, where you're from, and what you're doing at such-and-such seminary today. Ok, um, well....the name and where I'm from part came simply enough, and then I followed with an oblique mention of my current seminary courses, exploring my options for the future, etc. How to explain the lifelong monologue (no room for dialogue on this one--I haven't been terribly interested in listening!) with God about my willingness to do anything--anything at all--except this? And what of the Maundy Thursday service when I looked up at the pastors I love and was struck at the privilege of their role? And that moment at the Black Nativity as the choir belted out "Go Tell It On the Mountain," and my questioning, "help my unbelief" self suddenly rose up inside me and simply said, "The world needs Jesus." (Somehow this same self knew then she has a role in bringing him back into the world.) And then there are the images of bread--the realization that serving people at the communion table....facilitating their service to one another...is perhaps the one place where I can offer authentic hope and transformation to a hurting world. I could go on and on. But in that moment, a simple "exploring my options" had to do.

I was struck at the tentative nature of most of our comments. If we were in another setting--a business school or perhaps law--we would have spoken affirmatively. We would have said words like, "I've always been interested in numbers," or "I believe I have gifts to enact justice." But here, the choice seemed not so much ours as God's, and how beautiful it is that we are fearful and hesitant to name God's calling with too great a degree of certainty. It's there, though, for some, and I celebrate the woman who leaned over at lunch to describe her inexplicable desire to lay prone on the altar before God, receiving ordination into service--ordination formally denied her as a practicing Roman Catholic. And of course I could share back the images of the laying on of hands, of all those called before me naming my calling and empowering me with their touch. I wonder about an inner circle of women, and then the many men encircling them....would their touch feel heavy and burdensome, or like lightning flashing through my body, electrifying the moment? But what if it isn't so? What if this isn't to be?

And so I continue to whisper....utterings of a call both known and still unknown to me, hoping that God is somewhere there in the voices.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Friday Five....on Monday!

I'm woefully inadequate as a participant in the RevGals blog roll, but I love reading other people's Friday Five comments....and this week's was such a fit. So today, on Monday, the actual anniversary of my birth, I'm joining the Friday Five.

1. When is your birthday? Does anyone else (famous and/or in your own life) share it?

Well, I suppose I gave that away with my sentences above! While I don't know off-hand of anyone who shares my actual birthday, I've had two lifelong friends with January birthdays--one on January 9th and one on January 21st. I can't have my special day without thinking of them. I also have a couple of friends with birthdays exactly six months later, so we share birthdays/half birthdays in a special way. Today I'm thinking of them, too!

2. Do you prefer a big party or an intimate celebration for the chosen few?

Of late my parties seem a little too intimate--just the immediate family: me, Matt, the kids, and occasionally my sister. I like the idea of having a birthday celebration with this group, but then something special with a group of women friends--perhaps a dinner party or a pot luck lunch.

3. Describe your most memorable birthday(s)--good, bad, or both.

Oooooo....this is tough. Winter has been hard for a birthday season. I've had ice storms, snowstorms, and everything in between. While I suspect there are a few all-time lows (more than I care to recount), I remember well the year when we were on the verge of the first Gulf War. My father, a pastor, had a peace service at the church. Forever lamenting his call to serve the world and how it sometimes conflicted with being present for our family, I remember feeling (hear the irony/sarcasm in my tone) as though my day could never compete with world peace....and it wasn't a happy thought. This year has been a good birthday, in part because I'm slowly letting go of expectations. Fireworks don't need to erupt over the downtown skyline....surprise visitors from afar don't need to drop in. An ordinary day with some special moments can suffice--and today they did just that.

4. What is your favorite cake and ice cream? (Bonus points if you share the cake recipe). Or would you rather have a different treat altogether?

Hmmmmm....I don't know if I have a favorite. This year I made my own cake--an apple nut cake from a Moosewood cookbook. Yummy. I love anything with almond, and the catering service at a college where I once worked had an almond bundt cake to die for. Perhaps if I could find that recipe, it would become my favorite! And of course the ice cream should complement the cake, so usually I make my way to vanilla.

5. Surprise parties: love 'em or hate 'em?

When I was younger, I loved them--I had one surprise going away party, and one surprise birthday party. Now I'm wary, to say the least!

Bonus: Describe your ideal birthday--the sky's the limit.

WOW--I don't know where to begin! I suppose having a week's vacation right around my birthday would be spectacular. We're someplace warm--the Southwest, perhaps, or Hawaii, and friends are staying at the same resort or home. We all have our own living area, but shared space where we overlap as well. We walk the beach, ride bikes, hike, and the day is a sensory delight--vivid colors, luscious tastes, delightful smells. The kids are there, but I have time both with them and apart. Time alone with Matt is a must, as is time simply by myself.

Even as I'm typing, I'm aware that the ordinary day without "ideal" anything holds a real pull. A heavy, heavy snow fell last night and our front hedge was showing great damage, with more damage possible if the snow wasn't removed quickly. I raced out, pulling boots over my barefeet, and I spent a good half hour shaking snow from branches. With the vivid white all around me, and the sensation of the cold snow clinging to my sleeves and hair as I thrust each branch back and forth, I felt so wonderfully present and aware and alive--and isn't that what a birthday is all about? So ideally, I guess I show up for what is....

Happy birthday to me.