Home

“I never realize how much I like being home unless I’ve been somewhere really different for a while.” – Juno

After a number of trips to really different places over the past month or so for work, vacation and otherwise, I am happy to be home. And my travels are over for a little while.

But I’m happy I got to visit one of my favorite places in the whole world today at the close of a work trip — a convent in Northwest Missouri.

tree

Check this out. That is ONE tree. It provides a natural arch over that sidewalk. I couldn’t even fit the whole thing in a picture.

jesus

This is one of the most peaceful and moving places I’ve ever been. It gets me every time. The silence is profound. Every breath, every step seems deafening and invasive.

I loved this Sister. I watched her for the longest time. She’d pray. She’d read. She’d nod off. She’d pray. She’d read. She’d nod off. I loved the way her fingers gently moved across her Bible when she read. She was delicate and fragile in build and movement, but so strong in presence.

She makes me wonder: what occupies your prayers at this point in life?

prayer

This place. Takes my breath away every single time.

chapel

We finally had to drag ourselves away and head to the airport.

Where I discovered my spirit animal.

kitty

And now I’m home.

Home, home, home. My place, my safe space.

I’m so thankful.

Art Adventure

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he* grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

*or she. Sorry, Pablo. 

evapainting

Check out my Little Sister, the artist!

You can see her handiwork on this wonderful metro bus (in partnership with the Saint Louis Art Museum), along with the handiwork of lots of other artist-children.

What a fantastic idea!

This was the beginning of such a fun adventure at the art museum — a place my Little Sister had never visited before. In fact, she’d never even seen Forest Park from this vantage point.

evaandthebus

After she painted the bus, we walked across the street so she could look out over Art Hill.

The photo doesn’t do the scene – or the day – justice. The weather was gorgeous, so there were picnickers, kite fliers, paddle boaters, bikers, and loungers everywhere.

art-hill

Then we headed inside and this little girl had us exploring every square inch of this place.

Our favorites? The Chihuly…

eva-and-chihuly

…and Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone Sea.

This installation was created to fit in this specific space. The best part? You can see it from inside the museum…

stone-sea

…and outside (from above).

stone-sea-above

But the most unexpected surprise? Today was family art Sunday. So my buddy was able to create art at a workspace right inside a museum gallery. I was knocked out and so inspired. What a wonderful to encourage young artists (and old).

coloring

Today’s adventure made me love our museum and our city even more than before.

Can’t wait for fall!

A Little Quiet

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass

I’m sorry that my blog has been a little quiet for the past few days. I’ve not been neglectful, I’ve just spent the last few days on a silence retreat on the grounds of a convent in Indiana. With all of life’s recent changes and transitions, I really just wanted to let the dust in my brain settle for a bit and sort some things out.

It was surprisingly difficult to cut off most communication and social media for a few days. Fortunately a miscommunication with the convent during my booking  cut my visit a day shorter than I’d anticipated.

bike

Don’t get me wrong — it was time well spent. I enjoyed the quiet and the chance to think and relax.

I also enjoyed my horse and alpaca neighbors.

road

horse

horses

alpaca

alpaca2

This cat hung out with the alpacas every evening. He seemed to be BFFs with one alpaca in particular.

cat

The grounds were beautiful…when I was able to see it.

It seemed that I brought storms with me when I came to town. It rained practically the entire time I was there. Not. Even. Kidding. Any plans to hike the trails were totally dashed. And frankly, being stuck indoors with only my thoughts for company was more than a little challenging.

Okay, it drove me nuts.

sit

Fortunately, I’d taken a mandala workshop my first day there. I had no idea how valuable this mindfulness tool would become during this visit. When I was confined to the four walls of my little cabin by the rain, I created a number of mandalas.

This was at the center of the room at the workshop. I just thought it was gorgeous.

candle

These were two examples of my instructor’s mandalas. Suffice it to say, it’s going to take a lot of practice before mine look like hers.

mandalas

This was my first mandala that I produced after the workshop. My goal was to reflect the rainy view from my back window.

mandala-lake

lake

But every now and then, the rain would stop, I could put my pencils down, and I could take a few pictures — including one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve seen in a long time.

clouds

cloudy
sunset

Even when it drizzled, I went to mass and explored the grounds when I could.

bridge

There were shrines, grottos, statues, and beautiful things all over the place. It was like an Easter egg hunt.

grotto

shrine

This was the cathedral ceiling.

ceiling

cathedral

And this was just the chapel. (!)

chapel-full

There were also two tiny chapels on the grounds, including what was called the “shell” chapel and a log cabin chapel. I’m not sure if they are used for anything.

chapel-2

chapel

log-chapel

The Sisters are also buried on the grounds — this is just a small portion of the cemetery.

stones

This was my favorite photo I took during my visit.

crucifixion

This was a close second.

mary

sister

jesus

mary2

My cabin was very simple, but it had everything I needed.

cross

Obviously the grounds were very beautiful and well kept — but it was in total contrast to its surrounding community. I was actually taken aback by the widespread disrepair in the area. Maybe the dilapidation was confined to this particular end of town, but I’m not sure. I never ventured far from the grounds.

Even places of worship were crude. I’m not complaining or judging — still just processing it.

crosses

It was a good trip, and I’m happy to be home with a few more days left to reflect and relax.

Always Remember…

You are braver than you believe,

Stronger than you seem, 

And smarter than you think.” –A.A. Milne

Since the mind behind Pooh Bear said this, I’m going to trust it is true. Because Pooh is never wrong. But if you figure out how to accomplish all of the above, please let me know. Because sometimes it’s really hard. 

But I love that, no matter how things are going, life manages to gift us with funny, happy, encouraging pick-me-ups along the way. 

There is always a reason to smile. Always.

Good to Go

Despite any drawbacks or concerns accompanying pop culture’s Pokemon Go craze, I will say this: I have never seen so many public spaces being utilized by so many people. Especially young people. I’ve had many a Sunday stroll through Laumeier Sculpture Park, and it’s typically a pretty solitary exercise.

Not today.

I’ve never seen the place so crowded. Today I exchanged lots of smiles, scratched dogs’ ears, listened to people discover unusual art.  I don’t care if half the kids had their phones superglued to their hands, it was great to see them wandering through this wonderful space they would likely never visit otherwise. I even heard a teenage boy say, “This is the coolest place ever.”

Yes, it is, young man.

I’m sure the phenomenon will fade and the park won’t be a hotspot for catching Pokemon anymore. But I hope people will continue to utilize the space for what it is — a peaceful, interactive, creative retreat from the world. Frankly, I enjoy having the company.

building yellow leaf canopy hills sculpture

This rock’s tiny face made me laugh. Impish little thing.

smile

On a different note…this was a utility company casualty along my running route this afternoon. It bummed me out to see it discarded on our sidewalk, but I thought it was beautifully made. I hope mamma bird doesn’t mind making a new one.

nest

Patterns, Shapes, and Hidden Things

Try to find patterns, interesting shapes, and hidden things. That was my photo challenge to myself early this morning when I went to the Botanical Garden. I also confined myself to the front of the garden, with a boundary of the pools near the climatron. My favorite subject, the Japanese Garden, is beyond that boundary. But I wanted to challenge myself to find things where I don’t typically look. So here are a few of the results.

climatron

Okay, this photo from the rose garden fell outside of the challenge, but I had to laugh at this robin. Her posture made me think that she knew that she lives in an upscale neighborhood compared to her feathered counterparts.

robin

cascade

Loved this little fuchsia rebel.

blend

Below was also outside of my challenge, but demanded attention. This is a corpse flower (titan arums) that is ready to bloom. These guys are weird and supposedly stink to high heaven (a stench like a decomposing body wearing sweaty gym sneakers found in a dumpster of rotting fish at the height of a steaming summer day. Or so I’ve heard.). But to see (and smell) one in bloom is rare. In fact, only 157 blooms have been recorded ever between 1889 and 2008. But get this — botanists across the US are mystified and trying to figure out why so many corpse flowers are blooming simultaneously. In the US alone, at least seven flowers have bloomed this year — and here’s our guy adding to the count. I’m still debating whether or not to go back when the bloom opens. I’m leaning towards no, but we’ll see.

corpse

susans

spikes

succulent

lilies

little-yellow

orange

I spy a little orange butterfly. See him?

pink

purple

feet

two

white

yellow

But the best sighting came at the end of my visit. In the parking lot, in fact. This mammoth creature floated in front of my windshield as I backed out of my parking spot, coming to rest on the landscape in front of me. So naturally I pulled back in. Isn’t he a trip?? I love the face staring back at me like a grinning Halloween mask. I’ve never seen anything like him outside of the Butterfly House, so this still has me feeling giddy.

big-guy

Three-Day Adventure…and a New Chapter

When you spend 24 hours of a three-day road trip in the car, you make your own adventures.

My younger son started his new job in Tennessee today, so his brother, his girlfriend, and I moved him over the weekend. Each way, we drove through  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Day One

We didn’t stop much on the way down, but we managed to see some neat things. In the middle of Kentucky, we saw this ginormous bear head on the horizon.

bear-head

We had a rainbow sighting during a rainstorm that dumped four inches of blinding rain within an hour.

rainbow1

We dined at the same place as this gentleman just 40 minutes from Santa Claus, Indiana. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

santa-sighting

We rolled into Johnson City, Tennessee, around 11:30 that night.

Day Two

And here is one view from a parking lot at Tanner’s new employer.

Not too shabby.

We moved him into his new apartment and ventured into town.

campus

Eventually we ended up at Bays Mountain, one of numerous state and national forests in the area.

canopy

reflection

roots

Loved the creepy root systems snaking their way around the area. Which brings us to…

The last time we went to a Harry Potter midnight release, my children were in grade school. It just seemed like a fitting way to close this chapter in our family and open a new one.

kids-and-harry-potter

Some of these people really take their Harry Potter seriously.

pink

shades

witch

Day Three

Then it was time to go home and let my youngest start his new adventure. Given that we traveled through the most beautiful scenery in darkness during the drive down, we took our time to enjoy them in the daylight. This was Benge’s Gap in Virginia.

lookout

drew

me-and-my-boy

We stopped for lunch in Pikeville, Kentucky, and stumbled upon significant settings from the famous Hatfield-McCoy family feud. To be honest, I knew little of this story. But I’m really curious to learn more now.

hatfield

roseanna

mccoy

Another torrential storm hit us in Indiana…along with another rainbow. Only this one was a doozy. (Apologies for not doing justice to this end-to-end glory, but it was the best I could do and remain safe from interstate traffic on the side of the road.)

rainbow

We made it through the storm, shifted back to our time zone, and detoured to Santa Claus, Indiana — just before sunset.

welcome

We could not stop laughing at this majestic backdrop for a photo of a ginormous Santa Claus. It was over the top, just like everything else in that little town.

IMG_6009

And then we enjoyed the actual sunset. It was lovely.

sunset

We pushed on well into the night. But we made it home safely to our cats and our own beds.

Only our little unit was one person short. It’s strange, but you invest so much of your life into preparing your children to be worthy of taking care of and contributing to the world — then you have to trust that the world will take care of your children when you release them. It’s a strange partnership.

Okay, world. I did my part. Please hold up your end.

Life Lately…

…it’s been busy around here.

Within the past few days, my kids and I have seen Coldplay in concert…

coldplay

…saw the Legends of the Dome game (the Rams’ last hurrah in St. Louis. Thank you, Isaac Bruce.)…

rams

…including VIP passes and an autograph session…

jersey

…and went to the ballpark with my Little Sister for Build-a-Bear night.

kids

hugs

stadium

Somewhere along the line, I got really lucky. We’ve always had fun as a family, but the fact that my kids still want to hang out with me when they’re in their 20s is more than I deserve. Every mom loves her kids, but I also really like mine. They’re such good company.

29 Life Lessons…

…to learn from Thich Nhat Hanh:

1.) Never underestimate the power of a kind word, a touch, or a smile. 
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”

2.) If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence. 
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

3.) Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos.
“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos — the trees, the clouds, everything.”

4.) To be beautiful means to be yourself. 
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

5.) Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

susans

6.) Take time to relax and renew yourself.
“From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax and be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth.”

7.) Get in touch with yourself.
“In modern society most of us don’t want to be in touch with ourselves; we want to be in touch with other things like religion, sports, politics, a book – we want to forget ourselves. Anytime we have leisure, we want to invite something else to enter us, opening ourselves to the television and telling the television to come and colonize us.”

8.) Because you are alive, everything is possible. 

9.) When you have peace within, real peace with others is possible.
“Root out the violence in your life, and learn to live compassionately and mindfully. Seek peace. When you have peace within, real peace with others is possible.”

10.) You are more than your sorrows.
“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”

heart

11.) When another person makes you suffer, it only is because he suffers deeply within himself.
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

12.) Blaming has no positive effect at all. 
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”

13.) Never lose hope.
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

14.) Let go of everything that no longer serves you and you will be happy. 
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

15.) True love is free from bondage. 
“In true love, you attain freedom.”

love

16.) Let go of fear.
“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”

17.) Breathe yourself back to life. 
“Breathing in, there is only the present moment. Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.”

18.) Free yourself of concepts and keep your mind open to what is.
“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”

19.) Shift your focus from the negative on to the positive.
“I have noticed that people are dealing too much with the negative, with what is wrong. … Why not try the other way, to look into the patient and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?”

20.) Welcome all of your feelings, no matter if they are negative or positive. 
“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.”

pink

21.) The present moment is all you ever have. 
“The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”

22.) Love’s only interest is to love. 
“Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love.” 

23.) True happiness is based on peace. 
“Many people think excitement is happiness…. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”

24.) At the core level we are all one. 
“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

25.) It may be that humankind has created God in the image of humankind. 
“It is said that God has created man in his own image. But it may be that humankind has created God in the image of humankind.”

sunflowers

26.) Enlightenment is always available to you. 
“Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive—that you can touch the miracle of being alive—then that is a kind of enlightenment.”

27.) Until there is peace between religions, there can be no peace in the world.

28.) If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. 
“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”

29.) Life bursts with miracles. 

“Around us, life bursts with miracles–a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.”

sunshine

Wonderful wisdom accompanied by some lovely things I’ve seen this week.

This and That, Chi-Edition

While it was a short trip to Chicago, we still managed to see some neat stuff. Here are some miscellaneous finds along the way.

A little bit of garage graffiti.

bear

beavis

dog

And a disgruntled dumpster.

cranky

And a paint chip profile portrait..

profile

On a completely unrelated topic, it is worth noting that the hotel in which we stayed is where the brownie was first created. BROWNIES.

Oh my gracious.

brownie

I was pretty sure I heard the Hallelujah Chorus playing in the lobby, even if it was just in my own mind.

Rock ‘n’ Roll, Chi-Style

start

Just a few scenes from a quick weekend trip to Chicago for a race with my boy — a half marathon for him, a 10K for me.

me-and-drew

And apparently a half marathon for a Pokemon trainer and his Pikachu.

pikachu

The 10K took a different course than the half…all along Lake Michigan. It was gorgeous. And a total exercise in restraint for the photographer in me.

lake

I’m actually learning to take photographs on the move!

skyline

We’re both worn out, but this was a lot of fun.

Chicago, you are awfully purdy.

For the Love of Samaritans

Please take a few minutes to read this sermon from Nadia Bolz Weber, called “Why it is the Parable of the Merciful Samaritan and Not the Parable of the Robbers.” (Link here.)

So. Much. Yes.

It is a perfect commentary on the state of our world, the deafening barrage of violence and hate within our news, and the silent stories of goodness that matter the most.

“Evil might have the news cycle. But it does not have the victory. The darkness does not get to have our hearts, it does not get to fill our minds, it does not get to steal our joy. And looking for the love, the light, the kindness in the world around us is not the same as pretending that evil isn’t evil.”

“So by all means let us name evil for what it is, let’s root out the sin and racism within us, let us fight for justice, but then let us turn the cameras toward the light, lest we become so consumed by the effects of evil that we miss the chance to be kind to a stranger, and we miss the chance to stop and read to our kids and we miss the chance to notice how acts of beauty and kindness out number acts of evil by the thousands, because in so doing we hand evil a bigger victory than it earned when in fact it has already lost.”

Please, please do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. She goes on to list the good things that happen during the news cycle that can only manage to speak of evil. Babies are born. People love. Kindnesses are extended. Prayers are lifted.  And more. I loved this so, so much.

Generally I’m not big on “cool” pastors who try too hard to meet me at my level and speak “my language.” It feels patronizing and annoying somehow. Sheep can’t effectively lead other sheep. I’m more comfortable being encouraged to reach  higher ground by people wiser and, well, more holy, than me. But Nadia Bolz Weber… for whatever reason, I’m comfortable with her. She’s like the sheep who gained enough wisdom to be elevated to shepherd through lots of trial and error. She seems authentic — a slightly profane, reluctant, and relatable shepherd.

But in the spirit of her sermon, I stopped to think about the good things that have been going on while I’ve been consumed by the news.

  • An itty bitty baby bunny has taken up residence in our back yard with the tiniest white blaze of fur between his eyes. The very markings of the pony that I always longed for as a kid growing up. (One of the finest examples I have of an unanswered prayer turning out to be a very good thing.)

baby-bunny

  • Christmas in July was gifted to me by my Mom, taking the form of a new Hello Kitty Keepsake ornament and toy. I love my enablers. And I will love our overloaded tree in a few months.

IMG_5338

  • Lots and lots of rain showers have kept our flowers and plants happy and healthy out front — and the sweet potato vines are threatening to take over our patio.
  • Puffy clouds have just been begging to be interpreted and admired. (I see a face. And a cloud with a halo.)

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  • Most of all, I’ve had the love of friends. I’ve noticed something about my friends lately. They freely, openly, and unabashedly express and extend their love to others. A disproportionate number of my friends have this in common. They’re not just friendly or kind. They LOVE. It gives me so much hope for our future to overcome the awful, dominating noises of the hateful people in this world.