Thursday, December 13, 2012

Riding out of site


But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!"

It's been a great ride, but it's time for me to bid goodbye to Riddles on the Harp. I now blog at sydneyavey.com/blog. I am grateful to those who have followed and those who have visited Riddles on the Harp.

The great folks at Writers Relief  have built a website for me and are hosting my new blog. I would be ever more grateful if you would do one of three things:

It has been a joy to explore the riddles in life in these blog posts. Thanks for going with me on the journey. 
I will turn my ear to a proverb: with the harp I will expound my riddle:" Psalm 49:4

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Night Before NaNoWriMo


‘Twas the night before NaNo, and all ‘round  the Earth
The plot lines were forming, awaiting their birth
The writers were ready, all poised with their pens
While visions of victory erased four week-ends.

The MCs were sketched and ready to speak
As villains burst forth with havoc to wreak;
And friends in support roles and we with our plan
Had finished our outlines, took a moment to scan...

And there on the ‘net there rose such distraction
We logged on, checked email and sprung into action
Away to our Facebook we flew like a fiend
Checked Twitter and newsfeeds—we thought we were weaned!

Now Pinterest, Instagram, Ask and Yahoo
Google, and eBay, Groupon and Squidoo
To the top of the rankings! to the top of the stats!
Now sign out, sign out, before we go bats!

As inspiration before the dawn comes
When it meets pure resolve, that about sums
up the challenge to us as we bravely commit
to one thousand six hundred plus words to spit

daily, and just when the clocks sound cukoos
Then lights! Camera! Action! yon comes the muse
who turns our story fair on its ear,
destroys the outline we held close and dear.

And then, in a twinkling, we know it’s no spoof
Each day we must churn out the words as the proof
That we know in our gut we’ve got something to say,
Something profound that must see light of day.

Our eyes, oh how bleary, our hair is a wreck
Our cheeks are inflamed; dirt rings our neck
A bundle of laundry lies on the floor
We feel like fungus! Our muscles are sore.

But wait—this is brilliant! Our MC takes wings!
Look here, she is saying the cleverest things!
Her speech is engaging, her actions enthrall,
Did we really write this? We cannot recall!

The end is in sight now, our joy feels no bounds
Despite the sad truth that we’ve gained twenty pounds
Rewarding ourselves when we’ve felt just plain dandy
With coffee and doughnuts and Halloween candy

Tomorrow it is we’ll go straight to our work
Filled with a fire that drives others beserk
 But now, lay your heads down, close your eyes and sleep tight,
SWEET DREAMS TO YOU WRITERS, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo, Carbs and the Giants


A woman adopts an alternative lifestyle and walks into a Denny’s in Phoenix...no joke, it’s NaNoWriMo time and this go ‘round I’m writing in my den of creativity in Arizona instead of my bat cave in the Sierra Nevada’s. Thought it would be fun to get to know some writer types in the desert at the regional NaNoWriMo kick off, and it was. Here’s what I learned.

Writers aren’t healthy. Most identified their brain food of choice from the carbs and caffeine section of the abandoned food pyramid (guess they also retro). My favorite was fruit leather wrapped around a pickle (hmmm, is this writer planning to give birth to more than a novel?). The snack I aspire to is green peppers and crisp cherry tomatoes – the crack and pop is energizing, according to one of my new writer friends. I believe it.

Writers are overachievers. When asked what their biggest challenge was this year many trotted out new jobs, multiple children involved in activities such as competitive gymnastics and scouting, and college classes they are enrolled in  on top of their commitment to produce 1,667 words per day for 30 days toward a plot not fully fleshed out. My biggest challenge is to decide what point of view (POV) will work best for the sequel to The Sheep Walker and whether to write in first person again or switch to third person.

What I’ve learned from my 2010 participation. I’m going into this session with a full chapter by chapter outline and some experience with Scrivener, a content generation software program (I supply the content, it organizes my outline, character sketches and scenes and spits out a manuscript when I’m ready to push the button.) I have twice as many characters to get to know; we’re already living together.

I keep a 5-year diary. I checked my entry two years ago. On November 1, 2010  I wrote, “2, 409 words and the Giants won the series!” Hoping history will repeat itself.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Neglect



Dialing the muse
Dialing up the muse
Holy muse, mother of imagination, I have neglected my blog (apologies to my Catholic friends for the inference). It’s not that my creativity has dried up, it’s been redirected. The Sheep Walker is in the capable hands of Writer’s Relief and an agent in New York is taking a look; time to start the sequel. That’s right, it’s NaNoWriMo time again!

I was surfing my blog for pithy quotes when I came across this entry Imade two years ago:

The point of this exercise is to beat my internal editor into submission; banish her to some netherworld in my brain; tame her insatiability for my words which she likes to chew on like a cow on cud.

Well that was then, this is now. I’m no longer too concerned with my internal editor. Today the point is to produce a second novel. What concerned me then was how my life would change when I bumped writing up on the priority list. What concerns me now is that The Sheep Walker spawned new generations and I have more characters to develop in the sequel, The Lyre and the Lambs.

This go ‘round I am in my new office in our desert retreat in Arizona and my guy is well trained from the last go ‘round. He knows when to disappear and when to reappear with tempting offers to dissuade me from spending too much time writing when the muse is tired.

I smell Polish sausage on the barbie and red cabbage and apples on the stove. The Giants are heading into the seventh for a shot at the series.
I’m ready.

Do not despise these small beginnings for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Zech 4:10

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Signs that make me wonder


But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  Matthew 5:22 (ESV)

There is a lot of angry speech in the world.  Signs are popping up alongside the rural roads in my hometown that make me wince. Heading down the Grade after church this morning I saw that someone had tacked a sign to a tree denouncing President Obama as the antichrist. If we are looking for where the line is drawn between free expression and speech that should be called into question, Christ drew that line. He told a crowd on a mountainside that anger directed toward another human being is tantamount to murder.
 
 In a recent discussion about free speech a friend pointed out that those who do not live in free nations do not understand that what is spoken in public in a free country is not vetted by our Government. With freedom comes responsibility. In America, each person is responsible for his or her words—in court if their speech is deemed defamatory or hateful and, according to Christ, before God if the dignity of another person is disparaged.

Although it may be distasteful, freedom of speech guarantees people the right to publically discuss the gamut of sensitive issues, but a line is crossed when invective is hurled at the heart of an individual or a group. The more we let our arrows fly, the less accomplished we become in participating in meaningful discussions.

I don’t think there is a person among us who has not had an unflattering epithet pop into his or her head. Because most Americans so value free speech we are usually willing to overlook a diatribe as poor taste unless the consequences are extreme ( for example, a teenager dies as a result of bullying).  Christ sets the bar higher than the courts.  To call someone silly or stupid (or worse) is to elevate ourselves above someone else, we all have done it, and it’s a sin.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Piece of Cake



Cream cake, Lake Bled, Slovenia
I’ve had my share of cake this year; a trip to Europe: a writer’s conference in Denver; an extended stay in the desert; a visit with family in the Pacific Northwest combined with the annual pilgrimage to Ashland, OR to bask in the wisdom of the bard.  I was looking to let the rest of the year slide. Then Lesley popped up at Bucket List Publications suggesting the year’s not done and challenging her fans to write a list of five things to accomplish before 2012 ends.

  I tripped over the word accomplishment.  Haven’t I accomplished enough for one year? Then la petite voix in my head said “they don’t have to be BIG accomplishments.” So here goes:

1. Walk a trail at Yosemite
2. Celebrate my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday with family
3. Help someone heal
4. Organize just one of my photo projects
5. Draft 50,000 words of my next novel in November’s NaNoWriMo

You see what happened by the time I got to item # 5.

If you check out Lesley’s list, you’ll see she likes to live large. Me, I like to live in a large world but next year I’d like to conserve some energy to give to God as temple offering. I’m going to attempt to pare down my resolutions; No bucket list next year, more like a shot glass approach—quick, powerful, done.

1. Start something
2. Finish something
3. Celebrate something
4. Kill something
5. Figure something out

Most fun will be identifying what to kill. This year, I killed my landline. Pre-election season was a brilliant time to do this. My house is blissfully quiet. I save money on a redundant service and minutes in a day checking to see if the light on my answering machine is blinking. I’m motivated to actually go see people so I don’t lose all my friends.


Panorama, Bled, Slovenia
Little in life is a cakewalk. Whether 30 amazing adventures crowd your calendar or five activities challenge you to make changes, list making pushes you to accomplish something that is often harder than you imagined it would be.  So leave a little room for a piece of cake.



Monday, September 10, 2012

Door #1 or Door #2?


Holly Lane Gardens

Inn at Vineyard Lane
We recently sampled lodgings on Bainbridge Island, WA. They could not have been more different, but each had its appeal. Organic farmer Patti Dusbabek has four rooms and a cabin down an unpaved road on 8.6 acres at Holly Lane Gardens.  Llamas keep the grass trimmed and geese supply eggs for breakfast. The charm is joining Patti in her warm farm-style kitchen, watching her put the finishing touches on a cranberry kuchen and hearing the tales this retired federal labor law investigator tells about giving the good old boys a hard time at the local farmer’s market.

I’m not sure who runs the Inn at Vineyard  Lane.  Our daughter made reservations online. We received email instructions for how to access our room electronically and directions to breakfast in the morning.  The first day we never saw a soul, but hot coffee waited on the counter in the empty commons and fresh homemade yogurt, granola and fruit chilled in the under counter refrigerator.  The Inn comprises four well appointed, zen-like rooms meditating in the middle of a complex of flats and penthouses near the Bainbridge Ferry--as  urban a landscape as the Gardens are rural. It was peaceful. Eerily so, but we liked it.

So, which to choose when we snatch our ninety-year-old grandma out of Arkansas and whisk her to the island for Christmas? She would feel at home on the farm. Patti would warm her insides and make her laugh. But she chills easily. We have to keep her warm on the outside. We will choose Door #2.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The "Zowie" Factor


It was senior date night at the cinema last night. Couples of a certain age packed the theater to cluck at Hope Springs, a movie in which unhappy Meryl Streep drags repressed Tommy Lee Jones off to intensive couples counseling. Midway through the movie I leaned over and whispered to my date, “why doesn’t she just rearrange the furniture?”

We rearrange our marital furnishings about once a decade. I used to literally move the furniture around when my husband went on a business trip. I did it for effect. He never knew what he would come home to, so to save his shins from nasty bruising(“Ouch! You moved the table!”) he made sure not to go away too often or be gone too long.

Our most recent re-arrangement is a getaway in the desert. We’ve had a lot of fun establishing a home to fit priorities that are different from our normal daily life. This culminated in our choice of an area rug to define a grouping of comfy mission style furniture. It came down to a choice between this—
Choice #1

and this—
Choice #2

Conversation #1:
Me: Well, the colors are perfect.
He: And it fits the theme. The pillow will work.
Me: But, it’s kind of a clichĂ©.
He: I was thinking that, too.

Conversation #2:
Me: Wow! Not what I would have picked but
He: Very different from what I thought we said we wanted but
Me: It has energy
He: It has emotion
Me: Yes! It makes me feel good!
He: Will your pillow work?
Me: No, but I don’t care. It’s...zowie.

When “zowie” is part of your mutual vocabulary, your chances of needing marital counseling diminishes.

Pillow for sale

Monday, August 6, 2012

Life Gets Wild


It’s 4 pm and I’m trying to save an article I’m writing that’s heading off a cliff called mundane when a shadow passes across my face. I look up and a jumbo jet-sized wing blocks my view of the mesquite tree.  It’s not a plane, it’s a bird; an owl to be specific. He lands on the rocks not ten yards from where I now stand, camera in hand. We have a staring contest. He wins.
I’ve wanted all my life to be this close to one of these magnificent creatures, and here I am in my office blogging about it.
He stays on the rocks for quite awhile, aware of the bunnies cavorting around him (dumb bunnies) but uninterested. The ground around our desert house is littered with body parts that tell us he is well fed. Later he lifts into the air, circles at minimum altitude and ascends into a neighboring mesquite tree. There he stays for quite awhile, but now he’s back down on the ground upsetting the cactus wrens. His chin feathers beat to the rhythm of his panting breath. It’s 111 degrees outside. I want to bring him a dish of water, but I know better.
This beats anything I’ve seen on TV, except maybe for Gabby going for gold. This is a CBS Sunday Morning moment of nature. When the bunny we’ve been watching hops right in front of the owl, I write the headline for this blog: Murder on the Patio. I see the talons grip the furry body, the beak tear the baby bunny limb from limb, the blood fly...but it doesn’t happen. I think I could have watched it though. I surprise myself.
I’m watching him now. He dips his head at something in sight. He raises his head and his throat vibrates. He looks at me and I confess; I don’t know very much about owls but I don’t think he should be here. I hope he’s okay.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hungry



David Coleman | dreamstime.com
I just finished the Hunger Games series. I wasn’t surprised that the ending was similar to J.K. Rowling’s wrap up of the Harry Potter series. What is left after fighting the horror of evil but to hunker down in the reflection of the family firelight?

It called to mind the comment our Hungarian tour guide Peter made on how his country survived war and oppression. “Politics and people are not the same thing,” he reminded us. “People will find a way to be happy.” Katniss finds snatches of happiness in her children and in Peeta’s love.

[Spoiler alert] I anticipated that Katniss would not be allowed to indulge her raging desire for personal revenge.  She came close but chose the higher ground—unseating the new regime’s power play that would institutionalize the status quo. What if she had aimed even higher? The God who says “vengeance is mine; I will repay” could write an ending that truly satisfies.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Quire in the hole


Quire: a collection of 24 or sometimes 25 sheets of paper of the same size and quality.  Would it be stretching it to inquire if the depression under our orange tree cares naught about who lowers a warm body into the cooling oasis at its roots? Yesterday, it was a bunny. Today it’s a covey of quail, roughly the same size as the bunny and sharing the similar qualities—the desire for shade and a safe place to nap. A dimple in the rocks visible from our living room window provides us with endless entertainment!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bunnies and bells

At sunrise this bunny hops across the rocks to the orange tree in our backyard. Sheltered by the leafy canopy, she rises on her tippy toes and gently nibbles the vegetation. Then she capers up a rocky incline and sits erect and still, facing the morning light. Do bunnies meditate? I think they do.

We go about our business and so does she until about two o’clock. In the heat of the day, she shows up under the orange tree for her nap. She’s scooped out a place in the rocks where she can lower her belly into earth cooled by irrigation. She wiggles down, gets comfy and places her head on a rocky pillow for a snooze.

These bells were once employed by my son-in-law’s family to call ranch hands to meals. Now they grace the wall of our desert getaway. I’ve always enjoyed the process of setting up a new home. It’s a chance to create change. We will live differently here. If I can keep distractions at bay, I will write more. It’s that’s a big “if,” because it’s my nature to engage.

“You went to water aerobics,” said my friend Sandy. “That’s a slippery slope!” She’s right. I also signed up to hear the pastor of the church we attend in the desert present his vision for senior ministry, “just so I can get ideas to bring home to our deacon board,” I assured my husband. Can I strike a balance between being neighborly and being reclusive? I hope I can.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to set up a house in a week


System Requirements: Make sure you have a HEALTHY MARRIAGE before you attempt to set up a new house in one week. If you detect a problem in your connection, go to your Travel Agent and plan a nice vacation instead.

User Agreement:
  1. We agree that it is a good idea to go to the desert in July while the country is in a heat wave and the desert dwellers have largely vacated to the Northwest.
  2. We have learned from every mistake we ever made setting up houses in the past and are EAGER TO GET IT RIGHT this time.
  3. We are ON THE SAME PAGE about why we bought this house and how we plan to use it.
  4. We have determined this will be FUN for BOTH OF US.


Sancho--a housewarming gift from the kids
Surprisingly, we did set up our desert getaway in one week and it has been fun, except for the part where I got dehydrated, my Windows went into a blue screen funk from which it has not fully recovered, and a garage door repairman stood in the long line of people we are shelling money out to so we can get this thing done.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Lust

When I started writing seriously my literature libido declined. Too busy engaging with my own little set of characters, I didn’t have the energy to mingle at someone else’s party. But now that Faerewryn has gone off to be compiled into a progressive novel that may or may not go to print and Dolores requires an additional 30,000 words of tale spin, I’ve started reading again.

Author Ann Voskamp says in this week’s World Magazine that when you hit a dry spell in your writing, you aren’t reading enough. She suggests reading several books at once. They talk to each other and you can join the conversation.  She also maintains that list writing generates spiritual attentiveness. To that end, I’m recommitting to my practice of keeping an annotated list of what I’m reading. I use the Book Lust Journal by Nancy Pearl.

I’m drawn these days to read imagined characters set in real world context; most recently Caleb’s Crossing and Remarkable Creatures. In both cases the protagonists keep their minds and hearts open while working alongside people with limited perception. It’s always a push to see the bigger picture. 
As engaging as writing and reading are, it’s still a party with fictional people so I took myself off in search of the bigger picture—to Central Europe to meet real people in historical settings.  It’s inspiring to see young people emerging from centuries of oppression with hope for better times, even though hope is tempered with uncertainty.

My travel companion Sharon and her Polish cousins
I love the café societies where people meet face to face and electronic devices are consulted, not worn as armor against intruders.

I’m back in the New World now, missing the city squares where people gather in front of makeshift big screens to cheer their favorite football team—for free! I love crossing bridges that span the old and the new, walking cobblestone streets, popping into an art gallery or a palace (there’s not palace on your block?) to enjoy a concert before dinner, gazing out my window over red-topped roofs that undulate across the horizon of time, punctuated by golden church spires that wear globes, crosses and stars like a Hapsburg monarch wore her jewels. 


As lovely as the Old World is though, I would not trade freedom for antiquity.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

a Toast to Peter & Co.


We breakfast on cucumbers, cream cakes and cheese
We’ve all changed our thinking; we do want to please
We’ve learned to say new words, instructed by you
Like Allo and Ahoy and, of course, Dooby do!

A Ruin Pub in Budapest

Each day brings new challenge, wonder and fun
We know if it’s not good, the day’s just not done.
We do what we’re told; we go where we’re sent
Our optimism’s boundless, fierce, militant!

Our guides, Peter and Barbara

Your lectures inform us, now we know it’s not Zen
To say Eastern Europe, we won’t do it again.
And lest we forget who helped make our day
To Barbara and Bojan, Whoo hoo ! Na zdrajel!

King Matthias on Castle Hill in Buda

So let’s raise a beer to our next trip—Belize?
Heck, let’s raise a statue to our patron, Rick Steves!
Dear ladies and gentlemen, our trip’s at an end
To life, peace and Peter, our good commie friend.


Koszonom szepen Peter!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Traveling light

“Why are you doing this?” a good friend asked, “just for the hell of it?”  That sounded right; nothing truly compels me to trek through Eastern Europe but the trip is not entirely without purpose. 

I’m pushing my way through my 100 TTDBID* list; wiling away time in the beautiful city of Prague has scrolled to the top. It’s an appealing adventure—exploring the history, culture and beauty of the small countries that once were Yugoslavia. Discovering that my grandfather’s family came from the Eastern Bloc heightens my interest, but mostly the trip meets the criteria of forcing me out of my comfort zone.

I’ll be traveling without my husband and most agreeable traveling companion of 43 years. Sharon and I will be two of four singles in a tour group of 24. We’re counting on a connection formed in high school and nurtured over the years by a similar curiosity about life to make this a memorable adventure
.
I’m interested to see the spirit of people who live in relative peace now after so much turmoil. I wonder how long it will take me to adjust to a slower pace. Peeling myself away from the rituals that that give my daily life structure—checking my social media accounts, keeping my blogs going, fulfilling obligations, moving from project to project—leaves me with a mild anxiety, especially since I’m laying aside the tools I count on to keep in touch. I’m not taking my cell phone and will count on a low budget laptop with an hour of battery life to send smoke signals.

I took to heart the admonition to take only what I can carry. I’m normally a “plan for any occasion” packer but this trip I have a small roller holding a minimal wardrobe and a back pack with my plastic bag of 3 oz bottles, my map and guide book, my Nook, my Acer, sunglasses, umbrella, camera, notebook and that’s it. Not even a purse. A passport, a debit card and some cash are secreted on my person. My life fits in a paragraph.

I’ve been focused on getting everything done. Now it’s time to stop and go.

*things to do before I die     

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bad Kitty

Bonnie (aka Charlie) and Clyde are not living up to their reputation. The evidence is stacked against them; no bloody tribute lay on the doorstep but this morning the mousetraps in the wine cellar were muy ocupado. Dang! While the mice play B&C nap all day under the shed,showing up for kibble in the morning and evening.

Our property is teeming with wildlife. Birding isn’t in their job description but ya gotta wonder…this morning the quail hooted out front prodding a dozen babies the size of ping pong balls. Could B & C be bothered? Noooooo.
 
Tasty lizards scooted this way and that and a snoring buck with fuzzy antlers was really put out when he had to rouse himself off the porch side steps and trot off. It appears that B&C have joined a forest menagerie that eats and sleeps on our dime.

Ideas? Anyone?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tripping down memory lane

No brain cells were altered by the contents of this blog.

A blog is like a scrapbook of musing and memory. For over a year old family photos and cards have collected on a table downstairs like a pile of cold volcanic ash. Finally I began the onerous task of sorting through several generations of family history. I’m tossing duplicates, faded images and photos of people I can’t identify.  
   
I found some treasures  buried in this debris. I promised not to post the “when we were young and foolish” photos of the shaggy- headed two of us with matching seventies era permed ‘fros. With some trepidation I am posting a Mother’s Day card I sent my mother when I was a student at Berkeley—my attempt to share the culture with her.


 Looking at this some decades later I think I’ve finally figured out why she chose not to attend my graduation ceremony.

Then there were:
 the cards to celebrate hallmark holidays 

the child development charts I crafted

the verses I penned



To quote Dorothy of Oz, "Oh my!" I think Berkeley was my Land of Oz. Where is your Oz?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bonnie and Clyde


photo courtesy Alena Ozerova 

If you are a soft hearted animal lover who gives bed space to furry beasts you may want to skip this blog.

 I am a reformed cat coddler. My last cat, Mellow Yellow, was my undoing. After I adopted him we discovered he had been tossed out in the cold for a reason. He was psycho. His mellow personality disguised an inner turmoil that required medication—a cocktail of Prozac and Prednisone. He was needy and he peed everywhere. But we loved him until he died and then we said, “No more!”

Ding, dong the cat is dead! The word went out and the mice moved in. Nothing we have tried has worked so we are cat-pitulating.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mice


While digging through my kitchen towel drawer I turned up a dead mouse.  I don’t find them foraging in my pantry; they seem to be nesting in drawers crammed full of cozy fabric—sewing drawers, towel drawers—ugh!  Note to self: Time to do some serious drawer cleaning.

I hate to admit it, but the mice have moved in. They pay no rent and give no notice to any of my eviction strategies. I stomp around upstairs. I plug devices into my electrical outlets that buzz to discourage them.  I’m using old-fashioned mousetraps. Occasionally they sacrifice one of their own in a trap, but it’s a ruse.  For every crunched critter there are litters of critters line dancing behind the sofa.

 I stopped putting out poison, intending to pound a sign into my lawn: Perimeter Patrol Wanted—Feral Cats Only Need Apply.  This problem started when the last cat in the neighborhood died, but none of my neighbors will own up to seeing a spike in the mouse population. This is discouraging. It seems that my house is the party house. It’s demoralizing. I’m outwitted by a piece of fuzz at the end of a stringy tail. It’s disturbing. I lay awake at night while they slide through cracks in window casings, skirt under doors, slither along baseboards and fall into my drawers to slumber in pillow-top luxury.

Too bad Gila Monsters prefer the desert.  It would make my day to hear some lizard lip smacking a mouse kabob.   

Monday, April 23, 2012

Zorbing in Church


Melinda Nagy | Dreamstime.com

Sunday morning at Radiant we watched a video introduction to the third part of the sermon series. To illustrate The Journey Falters the video followed the seeker into the desert where rocks begin to rain down on his head. At that moment the pastor came running up the aisle with a huge “boulder” bearing down on him. It was a zorb, a giant inflatable ball painted to look like a boulder and propelled by a man inside; a bit of Cirque du Soleil in Sunday morning worship.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

96 and rising


Basting away again in Ocotilloville
Searchin’ for the most perfect malt
Some people claim that this desert’s aflame
But I know when to exalt.
Ocotillo bursting into praise

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Over the Top


Ragne Kabanova | Dreamstime.com

What did the morning worship service at Radiant Church in Surprise, AZ and my lunchtime spumoni ice cream stack at Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale have in common? They were both over the top.
The pastor filling the pulpit last week galloped up the church aisle on a horse. This week a different pastor rappelled from the ceiling down a rope into the pulpit. This shenanigan illustrated the sermon series, The Journey.  I loved it!

My spumoni was dressed up like a Vegas showgirl. All the good stuff you’d expect to be packed inside this Italian delicacy—pistachios, chocolate, cherries and marshmallows—piled like bling on top of the ice cream. I ate it up (with some help).

  Such drama is not to everyone’s taste. Poorly executed, theatrics can overwhelm the message and dull the palate for what truly nourishes us. In the hands of talented people who respect the elements they are working with, the results can bless our spirits.

When the Ark of the Lord entered Jerusalem King David did not give a speech, he leaped and danced before the Lord. His wife Michel looked down from her window and was filled with contempt. To be sure Michel was not predisposed to appreciate her husband’s antics. She had been returned to her marriage by force.  Still, God saw fit to judge a heart barren of any appreciation with a barren womb.

I can’t wait to see what will happen in the pulpit next week. It involves a rock.

2 Samuel 6:16 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hee haw!


horsing around in Wickenburg

The Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, AZ is billed as Arizona’s most western museum.  Apparently Caballeros is Spanish for “dude” because Wickenburg is the dude ranch capital of world.  Dudes from all over the world ride the Wickenburg trails next week. The clink of spurs on the pavement was the tipoff.

The museum’s Cowgirl Up! Art exhibit was impressive. Unfortunately photography was prohibited so you’ll have to take my word for it or hit the trail to Wickenburg yourself sometime before May 6, 2012. 

The soulful eyes of a young Yavapai girl; the masculine strength of a cowboy toting a bale of hay and impressing the heck out of his young grandson; the galloping abandon of women on horseback feeling their oats in a brass sculpture titled Girls Night Out; the in your face smug bunny; these all made me yearn to paint, sculpt or saddle up.  Lack of talent and courage preclude me from doing so but for a second I pulled a brush oiled with petal pink across the bunny’s cheek. I reigned in my horse with admirable expertise.

Weather got you down? Go to a museum. 
Desert Caballeros Western Museum general store exhibit


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life is tough, and then...


The equivalent to “suck it up” in my generation was “life is tough, and then you die.” That appears to be the theme of “Death” by Shelly Kagan, reviewed in this morning’s WSJ. In the review, Andrew Stark summarizes the Buddhist view and the existentialist take nicely. 

Summarizing a summary is a good writing exercise, so here goes:

A practicing Buddhist works at letting go of self focus. When he dies, there is nothing to lose. For the existentialist, self is all there is. The end of self (death) gives value to a life well lived. In the philosophical sense, nothing is important to the Buddhist and making good choices about how to spend the time you have is important to the existentialist. Two paths: not doing and doing. There is much to admire in these views, humility and courage among them.

This clarity helps me better understand my own path. For those who practice the Christian faith, death is not the end. Self focus requires a modification to love God and your neighbor as you love yourself. One day after death you will stand before your God and explain yourself.

To the existentialist point, many scriptures guide us in the area of choices. The difference to the Christian is that it is God who sets the agenda and not we ourselves.

For the Christian, how we live our lives determines what kind of an experience we will have after death. I would so rather hear my King say, “well done good and faithful servant” than hear fading applause or nothing at all.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Twitter Block


Anthony Hathaway|Dreamstime.com

Tout is sweet, mais
c’est mute, my tweet.
Been quiet all week
I’ve nothing to speak!

Some birds announce their presence in the field with piercing, joyous cries of victory that rip through the sky and send their prey scurrying for cover. We stop and listen, enthralled. Other birds hide in trees and chirp a limited repertoire; a few notes, insistent, incessant and interminable as a car alarm or a one-radio-station small town. Annoyed, we tune them out. Then there are those that go out on a limb to deliver refreshing song on a gentle breeze. We tune our breath to their song.

I’m a new bird on the block trying to find my voice. I don’t aspire to rip the sky with awesome proclamation. I don’t want to annoy my friends. I just want to chirp a little 140 character ditty that refreshes, amuses, or inspires. Okay, truth. I also want to garner the interest of an agent, a publisher and an audience for my novel.

I’ve never suffered from writers block, but I’m developing a bad case of Twitter block (see my stats). More truth.  I’m a choral singer, happy to weave my song into the larger work.  Ask me to open my beak and emit a solo tweet and it’s not pretty.  

I don’t think I need a social media seminar. I think I need voice lessons.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sibling Rivalry


Serban Enache | Dreamstime.com
The Wall Street Journal published a review (03/19/2012) of The Righteous Mind, which describes a research project that examines conflicting moralities. I read it the same day WSJTV host Gwendolyn Bounds called for Twitter comments about sibling rivalry—is  it more damaging in childhood or adulthood? I responded that unresolved sibling rivalry can play out in ugly ways at a parent’s deathbed and suggested adults should make peace before that happens. My remark was broadcast, prompting a friend to ask me for the link to the article. There wasn’t an article, so I’m writing one now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fretting Over Worship


Ragre Kabanova | dreamstime.com
I’ve been wandering around in a spiritual desert with my ancestors, the Israelites. I close my eyes and see myself in a crowd of people looking for something new. 

God is not against innovation. In Deuteronomy 12:8 He tells His people: Your pattern of worship will change.  He points out that presently they are doing as they please, but that He’s got something different in mind for them.

When we look for churches to attend while we are traveling it’s tempting to recreate what we’re used to, but that’s missed opportunity. Today we attended Radiant Church in Surprise, AZ. Setting aside that it is a mega-church in full pastor search mode, it is a church full of young people with a healthy dash of elders for seasoning. Best of all, the young people are in charge! At least they were this Sunday.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Regional divides

There are places I travel where I still hear the old saw “Oh, you’re from California, the land of the fruits and the nuts.” That’s the time when my tendency to stereotype fires up on all four burners. If you want to talk about nuts, there are sections of the U.S. where fresh fruits and vegetables don’t appear on any restaurant menus (unless it’s okra disguised as a corn dog).

I get teased for being a fussy foodie. My idea of comfort food is sushi or the perfect dark chocolate sea salt caramel. In my mother-in-law’s hometown comfort comes battered and deep fried.

Thinking about the cheery man who last offered the stale commentary on my state of origin, I took a deep cleansing breath and began to consider what we all could do to cultivate an appreciation for our differences before we jump to ridicule.

  1. Relax and enjoy. Sample what another region savors. While I believe a steady diet of carbs will kill me, one hush puppy won’t hurt, and they taste yummy. Okay, I’m more likely to indulge in a hush puppy than you are to sample raw fish. I’ll give you that one.
  2. Open your heart. Yes it’s difficult to watch a man dance down the street in a pink tutu, but if you let a slender youth with spiked hair advise you on makeup, you’ll probably learn something.
  3. Remember. The divides are legion. Besides regional, we judge cultural, socio-economic and generational differences. Skinny jeans and stilettos may look ridiculous on you (or not), but you have to admit they look darling on your daughter. She’ll figure it out when she starts developing bunions, just like you did. Caveat: If it’s your mom adopting every new fad and she’s in danger in breaking a hip falling off her rollerblades, do stage an intervention. She won’t recover fast.
  4. Practice tolerance. I’m mystified how abstainers can get buzzed on soda pop, which I consider should be an illegal substance, then burn me over an innocent glass of Pinot Noir, which should be on the Surgeon General’s list of healthy foods.
  5. Embrace change. And if you can’t, at least don’t throw your body in front of the bus unless you have a cause worth dying for.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Baseball as Theatre

Not being a sports fan I watch a baseball game as if it were a stage play. Like any good theatre production, acting and staging are critical to my enjoyment. Admittedly a baseball game is longish—three hours to a play’s usual two and a half—and the chit chat in the air can be tiresome. Last game, every time De Jesus came to bat the woman behind me recounted how her niece married a De Jesus and was on her third pregnancy.  This commentary is not forthcoming at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. But many of the elements of drama I do appreciate play out on the baseball field.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Light in the Dark (there's an app for that)

We grapevined through the pass, refreshed ourselves with date shakes at Hadley, gassed up at the Morongo Indian Casino gas station and then my phone beeped. An incoming text message wanted to know—did we really buy $500 worth of shoes at that gas station? USAA, who issued our credit card, was Johnny on the spot.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Revise us


Steinway artist Randall Atcheson gave new flourish to old hymns at The 2012 Christian Writers Guild conference. He also sang with gusto if not giftedness and practically danced on the piano, delighting worshippers with his colorful tie and matching socks sprouting out of checkered loafers. He embodied joy.  Best of all, he rewrote the lyrics for his audience of writers.  Revive us again became Revise us again and wouldn’t we all like that?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tree of Life -- the movie

Order The Tree of Life from Netflix, light a candle and take a comfortable seated position on the couch. As a gripping meditation, Terrence Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life is a stunner.

 The drama of the human family plays out against dramatic visual imagery that paints the bigger picture.  Set to classical music and an original score by Alexandre Desplat the film poses God’s question to Job—where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?—but without words.