Playdate: a Photo Essay

For the last seven years, we have had the joy
and the privilege of
living within easy driving distance
of our youngest two grandchildren,
both girls.
Every Wednesday and almost every Friday for a little over two years,
we had the youngest one in our care.
Last September, Lilly began pre-school and our weekly visits
became fond memories.
But this week,
ah, this week was spring break,
even at pre-school,
so on Monday and Wednesday,
we had a little fun.
Wednesday, we hung around the house,
created a Princess Wand from a kit she
received for her birthday,
and watched a couple of movies.
On Monday, however,
we hooked up the car seat and went on

We were headed towards Santa Barbara’s excellent small zoo,
but got there before it opened.
So we took a little side trip out to the marina,
where all the colorful fishing vessels,
and more than a few pleasure craft
were lined up in rows.

It was cool and overcast and the tide was in, but we braved our way
partway out the breakwater pathway.

 A stiff breeze sent the flags straight in toward shore.

The waves crashed mightily right over the top of the wall, however,
so we turned back at the halfway point.

 I love the juxtaposition of the mountains against the masts
and the reflection of the boats against the water.

It was time for the zoo to open!
So we unloaded the stroller,
and hit the ground.
Lilly wanted two stops right off the bat – the koi fountain . . .

. . . and the children’s play area.

Because you know,
dinosaur eggs are the most fun thing in the world.

And Poppy just had to have his picture taken, there, too.

She checked out the spider web and the butterfly bench and then
we started on the animal circle.

 Colorful macaws.

Can you spot the boulder?
Looks a lot like whatever these animals are, don’t you think?

 Shooting through a glass shield, trying to capture
this golden monkey,
I got our girl’s reflection, prancing in her ballerina skirt.

 A very tiny fox with very big ears.

 The only difficult exhibit for me was this one —
not enough space for a small pride of lions.
Having seen these magnificent creatures roaming huge game parks in Africa,
this one was tough to see.

 But these guys?
Well, they’re just plain wonderful to watch.
These two are female and both are pregnant.

And Michael makes three.

 He moves gracefully, slowly, deliberately,
always on the look out for something to nibble.

These large creatures are surprisingly dexterous,
bending their front knees to grab at the grass,
reaching around to scratch an itch.

 So beautiful and gentle.
Can you see the ocean out behind him?

 So cute. And the eyelashes?

This zoo is a rehab station for large birds of prey, including
the California condor and the American bald eagle.

 Clivia, pincushion protea, cactus garden – geographical landscaping
as we moved through the exhibits.

 Our beautiful bird lagoon, not an official part of the zoo,
but adjacent to it. There is a family of gibbons on one of the islands.

 Lots of exotica — but barnyard animals are pretty fun!

A swing by the elephants,

 a quick move to antartica for the penguins,
and then. . .

 . . . a treat to end the morning.

 We love this girl so much and are always grateful
when she invites us for a playdate.
Try it sometime — I promise, it’s good for whatever ails you.

31 Days in which I am Saved by Beauty – Day 9

This circle walking.
And circle praying.
Tonight I was a little distracted.
This is the season for the acorn drop,
and there are hundreds of them,
all over the paving stones of our driveway.
Can you see them in this picture?
The one below these words?

Earlier this fall, my grandgirl Gracie and I picked up a few,
and put them in a bowl on my china cabinet.
We don’t usually see their small caps,
just the cylindrical bodies.
But this year, early in the dropping season,
we found a hundred or so that had their hats.

My husband believes that 
the number of acorns on the driveway
is a good predictor of how rainy it will be during 
the winter months here on the coast of California.
So far, he’s been right. 

I think maybe we’re in for it this year.

They’re in every crevice, 
cracking underfoot as I turn circles,
round and round.
And when our cars drive over them,
they break open,
revealing the nutmeat inside.
a small brown bird hopped out
from his hiding place under the
jumping into the space I had just left.
He began busily picking at the broken pieces.
When I’d get within about 15 feet of him,
he’d hop away into the bushes again.
He did this on almost all of my 36 circles this night. 

I like the crackling sound these acorns make as I walk.
That noise, these small objects – they remind me
that it is now fall,
even as the changing angle of the light
helps me remember that the seasons
are shifting.
We don’t have a lot of other clues in 
central California, 
just these subtleties, these small things.
To me, they are beautiful
and evocative,
reminding me of how things
stay the same,
even as they are changing.

If I have planned well,
and begun my walking early enough,
I can finish my time outdoors
by sitting in this swing,
which hangs across the yard.
It’s a beautiful spot,
sheltered under the oaks,
and the swing is strung up by sturdy chains,
wrapped around a large, twisting branch. 

If I have planned well,
I try to spend between ten and twenty minutes
in this swing,
focusing quietly on one or two words
from scripture.
I breathe carefully,
with awareness, trying to stay
in rhythm with both the words
and with the swing.
It always feels to me like I am
Secure, cradled.

Even when the words are these:
“Mercy, Lord.”
Which is what came to me tonight,
for a long list of reasons. 

I choose to believe that God hears and answers.
And even when I don’t particularly like
the answers,
there is still mercy to be found. 

Learning from the Humming Birds: A Photo Essay

It’s been a wild ride the past few weeks – a major writing project to complete, followed by two weeks living in community with the charismatic Benedictines, wonderful friends who think deeply 
about life and spirituality and who teach me so much – with their words and with their wisdom. 
Our last evening together (in each of the two 2-week school sessions over the last two summers) is spent sharing stories, skits, reflections and laughter. This year, I put together a slide show with a narration. 
And I promised my friends there that I would post it in this space. 
It will not show up as a slide show here, but what I can do in this space is interweave the narration a bit better than I could with the time constraints of a 4 minute Chris Rice piano version of “Come Thou, Fount.”

Fourteen days ago, I drove myself into the parking lot
of this beautiful retreat center, 
exhausted from too many deadlines and too few hours. 
I was not exactly ‘conscious.’*
Fumbling for words, dropping things, overwhelmed by the kindness of friends, 
I took a deep breath,
looked around at the curving architecture,
the quadrangled green space,
and thanked God that I had made it.
My room welcomed me to smallness and quietude, 
and I began to feel the almost imperceptible movement
of muscles unclenching, stomach settling 
and spirit stretching. The foggy mornings helped to slow the pace, 
gently covering all the sharp edges of the landscape – 
the one around me and the one inside me, too.
Morning walks helped point me to beauty –

light and shadow;color and texture and shape; pinks and yellows and purples and reds.

circles and oblongs and heart-shaped buds;

Afternoons found me tucked away in a small side garden, where leaves,
 backlit by the western sun, 
shimmered and shook with glory.
Water soothed and stilled me, running off the edge of a nearby fountain, 
abundant and nourishing. 
A deep-seated thirst found quenching.
Surrounding the gentle circles of water was a sea of deep blue lilies, 
held aloft by long stems moving in the afternoon breeze. 
As I sat and soaked it in, those blue spires began to dance
without the help of wind,
stirred instead by fragile wings,
wings that beat 2 to 3 thousand times a minute.
Tiny feathered flyers ducked and swiveled, 

hovered and darted,


long, thin beaks dipping deep for nectar in each periwinkle bloom 

To my right was one bright red feeder, and hanging far above my head, another. 
Sometimes one feisty bird at a time, they sipped and rested – gathering nourishment for the next few minutes of fevered flight.
And sometimes, they came in gangs,
dive-bombing one another to find a seat at the table. 
One small trio shared well and drank deeply.

And so did we.

I will remember these two weeks for many reasons –
for good conversations, for stellar teaching,
for the nourishment of worship and eucharist.

But I will remember the hummingbirds, too. Tiny carriers of creation goodness, reminders of the need to inhabit my own smallness.

For to see these glimpses of glory, I, too, must become small – small enough to sit still,
to be quiet,
to listen well,

            and to trust the goodness of God.

*The word ‘conscious’ in this context was an inside ‘joke’ (very feeble!) based upon much of what we learned together about becoming persons who can be more fully present to others and to God. Learning to be increasingly aware of ourselves and our own struggles/issues/shadows is often called ‘coming to consciousness.’ It is hard work to become more consciously aware of all the stuff that churns inside of us, often causing reactivity, defensiveness, projection-of-our-own-crap-onto-others. But the kind of work we strive to do with others in spiritual direction requires us to do our own work first. Much of what we learned together over these two years was directed at helping us become increasingly aware of when, where and how (and how frighteningly often!) we are not aware, not in tune with our own spirit or with God’s. I feel like I am just beginning some days! 

I will join this with a few friends over the next day or so – most likely Ann Voskamp, Laura Boggess, L.L. Barkat, Michelle DeRusha, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Jen Ferguson.

On In Around button

And with Cheryl Smith, too – if this linky works –


Weekends Are for Quieting

Sitting in the yard for the first time in several weeks,
I was struck by the bright colors of the trumpet vine that covers our fence. I looked with the camera and snapped this shot of the light bouncing on the flowers and leaves.
And then, I looked again – and this is what I saw. 
 We have a pair of orioles who visit our yard every spring.
They are very, very shy, coming out carefully to sip the nectar from the hundreds of red flowers all around our yard.
This is the male, who is of course, much showier than his mate. I was about 30 feet away and was struck, as I often am, at how the birds teach me about life. This boy had a job to do – suck the nectar out of that flower – and he did it with gusto, sitting in the fading afternoon light with no desire to call attention to himself.
Nevertheless, I paid him a great deal of attention – for the 10 seconds he allowed me to peek at him.
He was most definitely the brightest and most beautiful part of my day yesterday, doing exactly what God created him to do – every second of it shedding God-glory like tiny flecks of glitter as he flitted across my line of vision.
“As you learn more and more how God works, 
you will learn how to do your work. 
We pray that you’ll have the strength 
to stick it out over the long haul—
not the grim strength of gritting your teeth 
 but the glory-strength God gives. 
It is strength that endures the unendurable 
and spills over into joy, 
thanking the Father who makes us strong enough 
 to take part in everything bright and beautiful 
that he has for us.”
Colossians 1:9-10, The Message 

May the rest of your weekend be layered with glimpses of the bright and beautiful things God has for you.
Joining with Sandy King for her Still Saturday
and Deidra Riggs for her Sunday invitation.