Tuesday, December 30, 2008

As we close our first night

I am blessed to be here in this beautiful place surrounded by so many good people. I am humbled to be a part of their retreat experience, honored to be a part of this threshold experience for each of them.

Some of my early thoughts are around the many doorways that were printed out. Each door had it's own story, it's own maker and owner, it's own history. Each door inspired some one to photograph it and to have the courage to share that photograph. The long daisy chain of events that transpired to bring each of those photos into being is inspiring. And, that each of those sixty images were picked by yet another individual, who found something inspiring in them ... Each image now finding a new home, living on as a reminder of this retreat?It is truly something that is larger than the sum of it's individual parts. I'm in awe that I had a part in the process and once again humbled by the enormity of God's intricate plan.

Our retreat begins

With a blessing.

New Year's Eve Retreat: Preview!

Tomorrow afternoon marks the start of our New Year's Eve retreat. Things are in order, for the most part. I want to finish up my talk on Guardians at the Gate, and then put some final thoughts on the sermon for New Year's Eve.

Tonight I finished up the cards that we will be putting out for everyone at the start of the retreat. Each person will pick one, and we will use it a couple of times during the three days. The first night, it will help sort out our small groups. It can be challenging splitting up a crowd of 60, but this should simplify things. (The name of their group is on the back of the card). I am also hopeful that we can use them on the final day, in a small group's blessing ceremony.

Doorway cards

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ram Dass speaks in Maui

While we were in Maui in October, we had the priviledge of hearing Ram Dass speak. He's had a stroke, so he speaks slowly. I truly found his words and speaking inspiring. After his time on stage, he exited to the hall, and was signing autographs and spending time with people. One man asked about how to find peace, and here is Ram Dass explaining that you need to go deep into your soul and heart, instead of using the "I" in your head. It is quiet, so you may need to turn up your volume.

Ram Dass in Maui from Trixie Jinx on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How to Plan a Retreat

Here is what I came home to tonight, after visiting my sister's house:

For some reason, this cracked me up. It seems planning a retreat requires a bag of chips, metronome, Santa fairy and a pile of books so high it's a wonder anything is left on the bookshelf. Oh, and the "Where's Waldo" bonus? Can you find the watering can? (Click through to my flickr and you will find the answer!)

My guy commented, "It's good you got those chips out, you know, in case you couldn't find your way out of that chair and got hungry."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Culling it all Down for a Retreat

One of the big things I face with every retreat is culling down my thoughts into a logical flow that fits into a neat package over three days (or one day, depending). With our work on the Threshold retreat, there is a fairly simple flow that seems to work - approaching the door, crossing the threshold, and moving on from the threshold.

The real question for me sits in the New Years Eve sermon. Yes, me! doing the preaching. I am thrilled and excited to do it. The options seem endless, but I have narrowed down to some thoughts on Shalom, and Shalom as the key to opening the door to God's kingdom. The metaphors are rich, and hopefully not too mixed. There are amazing references to peace (Shalom) in the Old and New Testaments, with great passages to use. I want to make sure and round out the year on a happy, uplifting, promise filled note, and I feel that this message will be really appropriate for that. And, we do have a surprise in the mass, which will be fun.

I have chosen the readings, and I know I want to use the Prayer of Saint Francis as the hymn. I am going to take inspiration from the teachings of Letty Russell, and work her message of liberation into my sermon. I am worried, at one level, that this message will be very new and possibly challenging for a Catholic crowd. That's not my intent, but if it is, I know that Letty would be delighted if it has a few people thinking in a new light as they enter a new year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

So Many Doors

As part of the upcoming threshold retreat, I've been looking for 60-70 pictures of doors. Each participant will get one, with a quote on the back. I've really enjoyed looking at all of the doors, and seeing the many different kinds. For a long time, I've enjoyed photographing flowers because I feel like they display such distinct personalities. What shocked me is that doors seem to be very much that same way; each has character, personality, and each truly reflects the people that own it, use it, or walk through it.

It's nice that I have a few photos of doors and gateways, and I came across this one, which I took near sunrise on my last day in Positano, Italy in October 2007.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

O Holy Night

My family has a long history in the Southwest, and the images of the desert are a familiar part of my past. As a small child, we would drive around the neighborhoods of town on Christmas Eve and one of my favorite parts was to see the luminaria along the driveways. A luminaria is a a brown paper bags, weighted with sand, and it holds a single lit candle. At night people place these in front of their homes, on walk ways, drive ways and along the road at even intervals. The effect is stunning.

The luminaria were originally placed out to light the way for the Christ child to come to each person's house on Christmas Eve. More recently, they have become a more secular decoration. Either way, they are lovely.

Luminaria 2
Originally uploaded by jaredkuper

For Christmas this year, I put our a few luminaria, out in front of the apartment, and in the windows. I used the fake flickering candles, but it felt nice to be honoring the past of my family.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas Eve! Updates on presents and carpets

Merry Christmas Eve to everyone! My presents are wrapped and ready to go, and I need to give a big thanks to two folks on the internet who helped with ideas for Christmas gift wrapping this year - Cuore, who made the very cute felted critters (yay! handmade!), and Nicole at Making it Lovely who posted ideas about gift wrap on her site.
Christmas wrapping 2008
I can't wait to give these :)

Last week I made mention of some carpet cleaning concerns here at home. Yes, the carpets are about four years old. They were cream. They got dirty. So, I was looking for a way to be both Earth friendly in the cleaning, and avoid bringing bad chemicals into our home. What I decided, after looking at prices for renting, etc, was that purchasing a Bissell at Target for $79 made sense. Renting would get near $65 (or a lot more), and paying to have it done would be likely near $400. While it meant that me and my guy did the work ourselves, it also meant that we chose our cleaner (Bissell Multi-Allergen, which is rated as safe by the US EPA) and we did a finishing clean rinse on the carpet, after we cleaned it. I'm really pleased with the results. The picture shows the before on the bottom, and the after on the top. Amazing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Crossing the Threshold, More thoughts

In doing more researching on doorways and thresholds this morning, I came across this line, from Revelations 3:20 ""Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me."

My first thought when I read this, I thought "wait, I know Rev. 3:20, it's from the In-N-Out Burger burger wrapper!" I mean, I knew that's not where it originated from, but my first frame of reference for this quote was from seeing it on the bottom of a burger wrapper. But if you're not from California, let me defend In-N-Out for just one second. It's awesome. There.

Did you know this little tidbit? Each of the wrappers (except the fries) have a different Biblical reference on them. While attending UCSB (Go Gauchos!) I would drive to the closest In-N-Out, which was about an hour away, and eat there as a treat sometimes after a test. And, I noticed once, while looking at the cup that there was a quote referenced on the bottom. Then I checked the wrapper of the burgers, and sure enough, they had them too. After "investigating" and finding a new quote, I'd write them down and look them up when I got back to a Bible (as a Religious Studies major, I had at least 3 - NRSV, The Tanakh, Hebrew Bible in Hebrew). It became a little like a scavenger hunt, since I didn't know any of the quotes except for John 3:16 which is on the beverage cups. At the time, the adventure seemed so suitably "Southern California Religious Studies Major," and I was quite tickled and delighted by the whole thing. Now In-N-Out has grown, and now I've found all of the quotes, and so has everyone else since they are available here, on the Wikipedia.

Palm Tree and Wires

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lots of Twinkly Little Lights

Our Christmas Tree is up and now somehow there are still cards to address and presents to wrap and food to be made. Yet amongst all this hurrying, I am reminded that it is the people that make these days special. And all days special. My wish to each of you is that you can slow down and take in these days, savor this time, enjoy these Holidays.

And, to be included in the "expanding your horizons" category, I bring you this picture, which also has so many pretty twinkly lights ...

Which happens to be from the Metallica "Death Magnetic" concert from Saturday, December 20 in Oakland. So perhaps it seems a little um, unusual, for it to be posted right below a Christmas tree, but it was a great show. I'm no die hard fan, but I had to respect that these guys have been writing music for 29 years, and they clearly love what they are doing. It was really cool, and I'm glad I went. It distinctly reminded me that people who follow their passion are inspiring.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Create a Homemade Ugly Christmas Sweater

Seeing as there has been a lot of love around this post, for Ugly Christmas Sweaters, I thought I'd give you all the step by step on how I made mine. It's easy! And fun. It might actually be a really cute project for the kids if you substituted the hot glue gun for some Elmer's or craft glue.

My goal with this project was to make something I could wear, likely once or twice, to a holiday party. I had no grand ideas that this would be a keepsake, or that it would be taken seriously. In fact, the goal was for it to be funny, and the tackier it got, the better. So, how did we do it?

1. Buy a sweater from Goodwill. Solid colors work best, this gold one from Talbot's (at about $5) happened to be what I picked. I think a sweater vest, or a cardigan also has a lot of potential. I recommend that you wash your sweater when you bring it home from Goodwill.

2. Decide on your design. Simple, iconic Christmas items work best like a wreath, snowman, stocking, tree, Santa, or a candy cane. You want something that's easy, and not too detailed. You may want to find a picture of what you're going for on the internet (try Flickr). Decide on colorsHow to Make an Ugly Sweater and sizes. The idea is that you will make the base of your design on felt, and then attach it to your sweater later.

3. With your design in mind, head to the craft store. I went to Michael's, and knew I needed:
For the wreath: green felt, a metallic ribbon for the wreath, some holiday leaves, and some extras like small pinecones, and berries.
For a tree we picked up: green felt, some glittery garland from the ribbon area, and then from the small craft area we got some small lights, bows, fake gems and package stickers.

4. Create your Christmas item. For the wreath:
How to Make an Ugly Sweater
- I started by making a circular base with felt, by tracing a dinner plate for the outside, and a bowl for the inner portion.
- After I cut out the base, I cut all of the leaves off the holly decorative flowers I bought at Michael's, leaving the berries to the side for later.
- Using a glue gun, I attached the leaves to the base.

Once the base was covered in leaves, I started putting the ribbon on.
close up of bow
- To get the effect I want, I cheated a little by cutting the ribbon in smaller strips, and attaching each portion separately on the back with the glue gun.
- The bow was done last, and I created it on its own and glued it on after it looked "just right."

The finishing touch was the berries, which I cut off of another floral assortment I bought at Michael's.
- I made groupings of three (berries, pine cone, leaves) and hot glued each on the wreath.
- Little berries and gems were added around the bow.tree crop

For the tree, the steps were more simple:
- create the shape you want for the tree and its star on a piece of newspaper and use as a pattern, tracing the shape onto the felt and cutting accordingly.
- add in the garland to break up the shape itself
- hot glue "ornaments"
- hot glue a brown base and the yellow star
- affix present stickers around base of the tree

5. Lightly sew your newly Christmas item onto your sweater. (This is another place kids might need some help from an adult.) I tacked each item about 4-5 times, using about 3-4 stitches. The idea is to make it stay in place, and anchor it to the sweater. This allows you to remove it later for washing if needed.

6. Wear Festively!

The whole project, for two sweaters, cost between $20-$30. The good news is that we'll wear the sweaters twice, I hope this year. And, the left over ribbon and craft supplies will be used in our decorating. Some of the garland was already used in my cards for the season.

Good luck, and Happy Holidays!

After all that, you'd prefer to just buy a premade sweater? why not check out these lovelies, (compliments of affiliate links)?
Ugly Santa Sweater  
 Ugly Holiday Ornament Sweater 

Linking up to:
So I Married A Craft Blogger

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Solstice: Yin Yoga and a Labyrinth

Sunday is the solstice, and the place I've started doing Yoga is having a Yoga and Labyrinth event! I can't believe it; these are two of my favorite things, and to have them bundled together will be a real treat. I have not done Yin Yoga before, and I haven't walked the labyrinth at Mercy Center yet, either. But I've been meaning to head over to Mercy to see what it's like. It appears to be outdoors, so we will be walking in the cold and dark of night.

I've really loved walking the labyrinth at San Damiano in all seasons, all times of day. I have an amazing memory of my best friend and I walking it together, in the hot mid day sun of August. I have funny memories of a group of us running down to it at 11pm, all going as fast as we could, and laughing and talking the whole way. My guy and I have done the labyrinth in total silence, which was not decided upon ahead of time. We instinctively touched hands each time we passed one another, and when we reached the center we sat still and silent, staring at each other until we both got up and started to head back out of the center.

Each walk of the labyrinth is something new, something refreshing. I'm sure an evening walk, with yoga folks, in the cold dark of the solstice night will be just perfect.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tokyo at Night: The Seminarian Turns off the Billboards

This last week at work, the CEO of Hulu came in to talk to us. We get to have lots of interesting folks come in and talk with us ... but I have to say, Jason's point of view and candid discussion about his company was really refreshing and dare I say, inspiring.

To begin with, the company is very focused. They decided to do one thing and do it well. He called this "obsessiveness." The key point I took from his talk was that too many websites (and companies for that matter) look like "Tokyo at Night." In other words, they try to be everything for everyone, and end up being a big smattering of flashy lights and pretty colors. In trying so hard to appeal to everyone, they actually appeal to ... well, no one.

I've thought about this over the past couple days and realize that the "Tokyo at Night" phenomenon is something that's easy for each of us to fall into. At so many levels. It's hard to for us to get comfortable with specifics that make us happy, or make the commitment to do things that we love. I feel like I'm often torn - while making a decision is attractive, I worry it shuts doors to other things, so sometimes I remain in limbo. It's almost like I fear that shutting down options will make me less interesting, more tethered to a single identity, less well rounded.

When I look at this blog, I see a bit of this "Tokyo at Night" problem. I dabble in posting about the crafty things I love, I chat vaguely about work, and I feel like I should dig much deeper into the spiritual things that I really do want to share. It's hard. It means putting myself OUT there. It means taking the leap. It means being committed to this part of my life that maybe I've been ignoring because its not popular or well understood, or because I'm afraid of what I might get labeled in my decision to talk about God.

What I see is that I need to turn off the billboards, the neon signs and all of the banner ads and the pretty lights of Tokyo in my world. In an extremely generous, and metaphorically appropriate move, I have been given two weeks off from my work in advertising, allowing me to celebrate Christmas, lead a retreat and spend time with family. I get the sense that my spirit would be best served to look inward and upward, to spend time with this piece of me, this piece of God. And see where it goes.

And right now? It feels pretty good to be walking away from that glittery town, with my back to the glitter and glitz. I know there's a Light elsewhere, starting with the twinkling of the heavens, calling to shepherds and stargazers to remind them of the birth of a Child. A miracle and a promise, bigger than any of us, eternal and full of truth, and its calling.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Office Cheer and Prizes, and More About the New Year's Eve Retreat

Today one of our art directors brought by this little gem, a Santa asking, "Penguins?" I've long admired this guy's work, and this illustration made me giggle. Especially since he signed it "YAY! Shawn."

My co-workers were quite generous, and other little gifts (booty socks, Peets cards) were exchanged. Our boss took us for a round of drinks, and tomorrow is our last day before we have a full two weeks off. Hooray!

This evening, Rusty and I met to go over more ideas for the New Year's Retreat. I think it's coming together nicely; we've got the overall arch figured out for the weekend, and now over the next week I need to just finish researching and writing out some of the parts I am leading. I'm excited about tackling the section around "Guardians at the Gate" which I wrote about a little a couple of weeks ago. My portion at the retreat may briefly touch on some of what I wrote about here, but its going to focus more on the Guardians to guide us and help us. I'm also going to be working on the first evening's chapel event.

Chapel events and rituals are lovely things to orchestrate. What I like most about scripting sacred events is that as much as you think you've organized them, you never ever can believe what happens when a group actually walks through them. Suddenly themes and ideas and words on paper jump to life, and have living, breathing meaning to them. Real tears are shed, real emotions exchanged. Friendships are formed and bonds amongst people are strengthened. It is truly a joy to see these kinds of things come to life, so I am honored to have been asked to lead another chapel event.

I'm also excited about giving gifts to my own coworkers. I baked muffins, and packaged up some little ornaments I got in Kansas City - each has a different word: dream, hope, joy, peace, and wish. I love my coworkers and hope they each have a wonderful Holiday break.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of Castles

I was reminded today of a trip I took last year with my parents, to Scotland, to celebrate my Dad's retirement. It was an amazing trip; I was so glad to have been able to spend time exploring the Scottish towns and countryside with my very awesome parents. We had a great time, saw many castles, and so I thought I'd share a couple of photos here.

Kildrummy Castle

Inside Sterling Castle, The Great Hall

I have long been interested in the way light can inject a space with a sense of being sacred. When I turned the corner into this second picture, I was struck by the play of the light through the stained glass, and how the space seemed so full of spirit. Certainly, it has a historical feel, yet there is and was more.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kiva.org and Adela update

The loan has gone out to Adela in Peru, and now that its been dispersed, we get to see the other people who are also helping her. I like this feature of Kiva, that the fourteen people who pulled together the $500 loan can now see each other. There are two sets of people from Finland, and the rest are from the United States. If the person has created a profile, you can see a picture of them, along with seeing a list of other loans they have been a part of, complete with if those loans have been repaid or are being repaid. I could send a message to the other lenders if I wanted.

There's not much information about Adela, other than she lives in Pucallpa, Peru. She's a single mother and lives with her children and her families. This is her second loan, and she sells groceries. This particular loan is to help build a kiosk to sell her groceries.

So far, I like the Kiva experience. It does a nice job of creating a community around lenders, and giving us the opportunity to feel we know a little more about our borrower than a bank would ever allow or provide. Whether this group of people will form a bond is yet to be seen. It might be cool to invite friends or family (or co-workers) to sponsor a single borrower together, and really rally around what a group can do. For now, I'm happy to be a part of the experience as it stands. I'll keep reporting back if we get more updates.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Choosing a Vocation

Over the past couple of days, I've come across several quotes and ideas about how one goes about choosing a vocation in this life. I've really enjoyed Frederick Buechner's thoughts from The Sacred Journey - a man who always finds the most eloquent way of choosing words, and it is heartening to hear how he knew he was drawn to this work:

"And I found work to do. By the time I was sixteen, I knew as surely as I knew anything that the work I wanted to spend my life doing was the work of words. I did not yet know what I wanted to say with them. I did not yet know in what form I wanted to say it or to what purpose. But if a vocation is as much the work that chooses you as the work you choose, then I knew from that time on that my vocation was, for better or worse, to involve that searching for, and treasuring, and telling of secrets which is what the real business of words is all about."

This makes me think of how it was that I came to study religion at UC Santa Barbara. Such a choice was not a popular one; as a sorority girl at a known party school, many people threw me questions such as "Are you going to become a nun?" and "What in the world will you do with that major?" Even my own father asked what I'd do with this as a major, and I was quick to point out that he had gotten a Master's degree in Philosophy, to which he said "Touche."

At any rate, in my heart, I was drawn to religion in ways that I can not explain. I loved the history of it, and I loved the languages. Most of all, I first discovered my love of this discipline in a course called "Introduction to the Ancient Near East," in which we studied, well, the dieties of the Ancient Near East. Eventually, I did an honors thesis on the same topic.

I can say without hesitation that at the time, I had no idea what I would do with this major. I knew I'd found something that spoke to my heart. I knew that I could sit for hours at a time reading about the Old Testament, and translating Biblical Hebrew, and it would seem like only seconds had passed. I knew that I would be OK, and that somehow somewhere I would use the education.

It surprises me in some ways that I am now a retreat leader, I can admit that early on I would not have seen being drawn to service in this way. But, the really amazing thing is that I find that same peace and happiness, that same sense of losing myself in a topic, that same joy when I am working on retreat planning, and when I am leading a retreat as I did way back in college, studying the material. I very much have found a home in this space, and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Card Making Brings Me Peace

I imagine that most people have something they love to do, something that brings them joy, and something that fulfills a passion they have. Perhaps they can explain why they love it. Perhaps they have no idea why this thing has captured their heart.

For me, one of these things is making cards and stationery. There's something about the creative process that is both energizing and centering. I find that my mind can wander about, happy-like, when I am putting together paper products. I enjoy the two phases, the creation and the assembly, equally. There is often a peaceful repetition in putting things together, a satisfaction that arrives from seeing the things I have made. But I also love how a simple idea can come to life, and the joy of knowing that I had something to do with it.

This weekend I finished designing and assembling the front of my cards. I still need to put my greeting in the body of the card, and well, then send them. I love what I came up with. Hope you enjoy this little preview.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Company Holiday Party with Heart

Last night was my company's holiday party. Budgets had been slashed, and we knew oh way back three months ago that this shindig would be funded by less than a quarter of the funds they'd spent last year. We work in advertising, and I'd say our office is well, a little different than some agencies. We like each other a lot. Really. There's an awful lot of honest to goodness comraderie and a true dedication to having as much fun together as possible.

Our theme, as discussed in this post, was "Homemade Christmas," and it was executed well. Our bar (yeah, yeah, there's a bar at our work, used for clients and happy hours and actually, meetings) held the DJs (all volunteer significant others of employees - how cool!) and well, drinks. There was fake snow on the floor and lots of classy candle and evergreen boughs decorating the place.

Downstairs was the food and more places to hang out. A conference room had been converted to a old style living room, very homey. The other conference room held the cookie contest. There was a keg near the kitchen.

OK. Remember the thing about people wearing "ugly sweaters"?? Well, folks did! Actually quite a few of them. Including some guys wearing some creeptastic fake mustaches and doing old man hair styles. My guy and I brought ours, you know, in case the ugly sweater thing had suddenly become the joke of the office, ala Clueless, where nobody actually dressed up. We were dressed nice for the party, but prepared to bust out should it be appropriate. Oh, it was appropriate!

And! There was a photo area, complete with a backdrop of a nice cheesy Christmas scene, ready for pictures. With pride, I show you our "prom" picture. (I'm looking upwards like that on purpose.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Environmentalism and Religion

Al Gore did a wonderful and insightful job with discussing climate change in "An Inconvenient Truth." How I wish I'd asked him more about his thoughts that one day I had an elevator ride with him in our office building over at the Current TV building... Instead I became instantly giddy and tongue tied, amazed actually by his towering height and large stature. He'd always seemed so small compared to Bill Clinton on TV. Then, something like "Gee, its nice to work in the same building as you, Mr. Gore" came out of my mouth. I mean, I'm proud of the fact that I actually said something at all. But there's always that Monday morning quarter backing that comes back to haunt you about how you acted when you've met someone famous. I did remain cool and collected when I met Leonardo DiCaprio, though, by some act of luck or happenstance. But what were we talking about?

So my alma mater, Yale Divinity School, does a nice job of putting up lectures and such for folks to view on their website. (We can thank Al Gore for this, since he invented the internet. And why I didn't ask about that?!?) Anyway, Sallie McFague gave a delightful lecture on “A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming,” which I thoroughly recommend you go watch. It's 62 minutes. Enjoy!

Oh and arg. In my honest and focused attempt to blog once a day for the month of December, I've come here four minutes too late to post. But let's count this anyway, since where else do you get religion, origins of the internet, elevator meetings with Vice Presidents and a mention of good old Leo?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can Carpet Cleaning be Green or Eco Friendly?

A little bit of a departure from my usual spiritual musings, but an important topic none-the-less. Over the past year, my guy and I have been making the move to change out all of our cleaning products to green / eco friendly brands. There's lots of timely and Earth focused reasons for this, but there are some personal health reasons as well. I get migraines, which are triggered by environmental and chemical factors like cigarette smoke, perfumes and cologne, and sometimes even shampoo. My guy has allergies, which were narrowed down to dust mites when he was young, but I often wonder if there's more that makes him sneezey in our apartment.

Migraines are a topic I intend to address at another time with a post; there is plenty to discuss, for sure. Needless to say, migraine is a neurological disease, which gets passed generation to generation. If you have the disease, it gets triggered by environment, chemicals, food, hormones, lack of sleep, lack of magnesium, lots of things. It manifests outwardly as headaches, but also involves auras (visual disturbances), nausea and/or vomiting, inability to deal with light or sound or smells, just to name a few. I've encountered all of these in my own experiences with migraines.

So ... when we re-signed our lease for our apartment, it came with this little deal where we could get our carpets cleaned for free. We've lived there over four years at this point, and the carpets, well they are cream. At this point, they are dirty. Over the last week, I've called the rental office back to inquire about the carpet cleaner and was told it was a small business that cut the complex a good rate for a standard carpet cleaning.

OK, something about this discussion set bells off in my head, as I started to wonder what kinds of cleaning products this small business might use. A quick search reveals that the predominant carpet cleaning ingredients are "perchloroethylene, a notorious dry cleaning additive known to cause dizziness, fatigue and nausea if ingested or inhaled. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also links perc to kidney and liver damage. Another chemical, naphthalene, a solvent manufactured from coal tar, is considered toxic to the human central nervous system and a possible carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."

Yikes! Even if we didn't have any other concerns about health in our household, I wouldn't willingly let someone bring those two toxins into our home!

So I've done some more searching and it looks like lots of sites recommend that you just use plain old super hot water to clean your carpets, which can be done by renting a "Rug Doctor" from the local supermarket. Or there are mix-at-home solutions that involve using ammonia, and other less toxic products. At $19.99 for 24 hours, this seems like a deal to me. And, we'd have control over what is being brought into our apartment.

At this point, after making the conscious choice to remove chemical cleaners, and make food choices that avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup (another trigger), I really feel like I need to make sure and pay special attention to everything that goes on in our home because it effects my health. For the last year and half I've been very vigilant, and I've seen it pay off. While the offer of "free" carpet cleaning is enticing, I would rather continue my vigilance and make a choice that is healthy. So, I'll report back on the adventure of steaming my own carpets before the holidays.

To see the update on the carpet cleaning, click here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Free Things to add Joy to the Season

An acquaintance said an odd thing to me today. When I made mention that it seems that there is something in the air, a certain anxiety and perhaps anger in the world around us, he quickly dismissed it and said "It's because we're coming up on a Pink Elephant holiday. When everything is supposed to be happy and joyful and it just isn't."

Well, I didn't know quite what to make of this sentiment. So I thought ... am I happy? Well, yes I am. I have a job, I was able to fix my car, and I can give gifts to the people I love during the holidays. I get to help lead retreats, and I get to be around creative, fun people all day at work. My boyfriend and I are happy. I love my family, and they are healthy and well. My friends are dear to me. I have so much to be grateful for, I can't imagine how I'd be unhappy right now.

Joyful? Sure! I'm actually excited about the holidays and getting to see my family. We get time off work. There's the New Year's retreat. Lots to be joyful over.

And, I don't even know what a Pink Elephant holiday is, but it sure seemed that this guy had a bit of a Bah! Humbug thing going on. Let's shake that off, shall we?

Here's some good, free fun for your holidays!

Cute picture frames to print and hang on your tree. Or your door knob, or whatever you hang stuff on. From Jessica Gonacha at Treasuring.

Music, holiday or otherwise. Go to Pandora, do a quick registration and select "Genres" at the bottom. They have Holiday as one of the Genres. Play in your house, office or mobile phone!

To Do list templates
, adorably designed, ready to print and keep you on task through the season. From Patricia Zapata at A Little Hut.

Chance to win a designer handbag
, once a day for 12 days, starting today! Go on over to Luxaholics and enter already!

I'll keep my eyes open for other freebie fun. I hope you're enjoying the season, and that you and yours are happy and joyful.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Love Like That Lights up the Whole Sky

The Sun Never Says

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
"You owe Me."

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.
- Hafiz, from The Gift

I don't remember the first time I heard this quote, but it has dazzled and amazed me for some time. The idea that nature, with out any obligation, takes care of itself is a delight. The altruism of this quote is striking and inspiring. It is so rare for anyone to do something without asking for anything in return. Yet every day, nature works in harmony, without any thought of right or wrong, without any sense of debt or ownership. It happens because it is so.

If each of us can work within that same balance; giving freely, without expectation, how could we change this world? Would hunger and anger and hurt and hate and poverty be gone? I think so. If we just could forget our pre-assigned human roles, and reach for our Source a bit more, we too could Light up the Whole Sky.

When I was in Maui, we happened to sit near The Levins during most of our time at the Wayne Dyer seminar. The last day, after my guy had applied some especially delicious scented lotion, Julia turned to us and handed us a copy of her preview CD, "My friend Hafiz." And, the first song on that CD is "The Sun Never Says," which contains the lyrics to the poem by Hafiz that I love so much. I want to thank them for sharing their gift of music, for introducing themselves, and for passing on the spirit of Hafiz. You should go to their site and enjoy just a little more of their great music.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kiva.org: Helping Adela in Peru

For awhile now, I've wanted to sign up with Kiva.org, which finances micro loans to people who are looking for financing in the developing world. The idea is that if several people help fund a loan in small amounts to someone in a developing country, everyone wins. The individuals or companies that receive the loan are required to pay it back, and give a small overview of what the need the money for on the Kiva.org site.

In the past, I've had paralysis on which person to help fund; there are so many on the site and so many entrepreneurs in the world, its been difficult to decide who to back. Tonight, after reviewing a few profiles, I found Adela, who lives in Peru. She is looking to gather $500 to build a kiosk to sell her groceries, and she will repay her loan in six months. I'm really excited that I've joined the group of people who will be funding her loan. It looks like we will also get updates from Kiva on the loan's progress.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"Ugly" Christmas Sweaters

There was much going on at our house today. We started early with some cleaning; it seemed like a lot of clutter had built up and it felt nice to get rid of some of the extra things that had found a way into the apartment. After we'd cleaned, we stopped by Goodwill to drop of a bag of clothes to be donated.

We also picked out some real treasures at Goodwill for my company's upcoming Christmas party. The theme this year (there's one every year ... the last two have been Prohibition and then Mad Men (the TV show)) is 'Homemade Christmas.' We're being encouraged to wear ugly sweaters, which is quite something. While I love a good ugly sweater, most seem expensive. How does that work, exactly?

Our ugly sweaters will be part Goodwill, part felt. I'm actually inspired by my cousin Matt, who made these awesome beauties for himself and his fiance (hardly ugly, but definitely crafty!). This same cousin made Halloween costumes this year, too. I'm totally stealing this photo from him on Facebook for an example. Aren't the sweaters awesome?

My sweater is gold, and I'm thinking a nice wreath with a bow on it will be charming, and my man's sweater will be white. I'm tempted to just out and out steal the tree design Matt used on the red sweater for his fiance and put it on my guy's sweater since it seems simple and doable.

I also have this strange idea that we should wear these sweaters for family Christmas dinner, you know, as a joke. I suppose it won't be a surprise anymore, since some of my family are regulars here. Hi guys! Get ready for some real fun!

Do you have any parties this season with funny or strange themes? What are you doing for them?

To see what we came up with, and how to make your own, check out this post: How to Create Homemade Ugly Christmas Sweaters Just looking to buy an ugly Christmas Sweater? why not check out these lovelies (via affiliate links)?


Friday, December 5, 2008

Gaurdians at the Gate

"The approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls, These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silences within ... They illustrate the fact that the devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis." - Joseph Campbell

As part of preparing for the next retreat, I've been reading a lot about door ways, entrances, gates and thresholds. This quote by Joseph Campbell, and the ideas that scary forms hide in the doorways of our own transformation is fascinating. They are there to discourage, to frighten you from entering in to true soul work. Just as a gargoyle might stand atop a tall building to frighten away unwanted spirits, it seems that the same kind of fears, whether they be in a person's own mind, or from ill advice from others, lay dormant as we search for the true meaning of our life.

These gargoyles and scary figures around the doors to our heart are our very own excuses for why we can not do something, why we can not change and why we are "stuck" in our own current situation. These haunts are the reasons we assign for keeping the doors to our heart and soul locked shut. Somewhere, deep in your mind, you know this to be true. It is more frightening to face our potential and live our dreams than to stay in our usual day to day routine.

At the center of this issue is the ego, which very much prefers the easy path in life because it gives the ego a chance to shine. On the easy road, the ego owns all the glory, it dominates everything else. When one is on the easy, unchallenged, ego filled path, one goes unchallenged.

Let's face it, our egos are attracted to shiny, pretty things. Fast cars, beautiful people, fashionable clothing, expensive restaurants and "the good life." In a way, this fascination with shiny objects reminds me of the raccoons described in "Where the Red Fern Grows;" they will grab on to a sparkly trinket in a trap and refuse to let go of it. A raccoon's interest in these pretty baubles will cause them to hold on to it until the hunter and his dogs come for him.

Originally uploaded by h.heiserman
Our egos are like that raccoon, drawn to sparkly pretty things, easy things. But do each of us see the trap that sits around our decisions made and powered by our egos alone? Our soul and our passion, our spirit are being ignored in these moments. The facets of our spirit begin to whither and die in the trap of the ego.

Until each of us let go of the ego, recognizing it for being obsessed with sparkly distractions, we will be stuck in its trap. In reality, these distractions, of ego, of shiny baubles, of empty promises are in fact the gargoyles that lie on the path to try to frighten us away from fulfilling our promise of this life.

If one can slay these dragons and winged bulls of ego, as it attempts to draw our attention away from our true purpose, this person has a real chance at reaching the door to their soul and heart. While there may be much uncertainty, some fear, some things left unknown, the path to the heart's threshold holds the most rewards. When one chooses to follow one's passions and live in spirit, they will begin to reap the benefits of living an inspired life. Sometimes it takes hard work and dedication to reach the door, but once it is opened with love and purpose, a person's life is changed, transformed, as they journey onward to new heights of inspiration.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Standing on the Threshold

The theme for the next retreat I'm working on is "Standing on the Threshold." Father Rusty and I met this evening to discuss what we'll be doing over three days. I'm excited about this retreat - for lots of reasons. It's going to be midweek, over New Year's Eve. It will be really interesting to see San Damiano over the holidays. Father Rusty says that the retreat usually draws 70-80 people, which seems enormous, coming in at roughly the size of the retreat I led in August.

I really love the collaborative process of making a retreat come to life. It's fascinating when we take a single theme, brainstorm, and come up with ideas for large and small group work, possible rituals to match our theme, and events to tie in with the days. I'm really excited to get the chance to bring in The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner, Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture," and thoughts about my Grandma. I feel like so much of what I've been reading lately will tie in, and I'm really excited about seeing it all come together!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Buying Handmade for the Holidays

A few years ago I had a greeting card making business, which I started up during the dotcom bust. When I got let go twice in three months because start ups were closing down, I learned to look for a way to do what I love and for a way to remain in website production. I really loved being crafty, and it was a fun challenge to find ways to sell my wares online. I still love making cards and stationery, and can't wait to start making my Christmas cards for this year; I already have the supplies, I just need to hunker down and do them :)

A couple of months ago, after buying some really lovely pieces of art for my bathroom from vol25 on Etsy, I'd thought to myself that it might be nice to buy handmade things for some of my gifts for the holidays. I figured that it would be nice to support independent artists, especially in a rough economy. I liked the idea that I'd be supporting someone's passion and calling and I know how it is when you're running your own business. So, I'd thought to myself "I should make a post about this!"

Turns out, there is already an organization that supports the shift to buy handmade! And, its BuyHandmade.org I'm super excited about seeing some of the prizes (presents, for those unfamiliar with how I use the word) I have ordered from Etsy for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How I Got to Work Today

Without a car today, I got myself to work with ... walking and using Caltrain and using Muni and walking more. It only took about 15 - 20 minutes longer than driving, which is probably just my walk from my apartment to the Caltrain station. Not too bad, really.

I don't mind walking at all, and I felt smart and packed my heels so I could wear comfy shoes while I was getting to work. I don't know if I deserved a little reward for actually making it to my office building, but I did buy a small Peet's coffee to make me feel better.

So my total time today: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Usual time with the car: 50 minutes
My total cost (one way): $4 for Caltrain, $1.25 for Muni = $5.25
Usual cost (one way) $3.10 for BART, $1 for parking = $4.10 - but! when you add in wear/tear on the car and gas at .58* a mile (my corporate rate, if we wanted to use one), you add $8.12 = $12.22!!

I don't know that I can claim I saved $7, but I do feel good about being able to get to work on my own, and about not using the resources it takes to power the car. On the other hand, I feel like the corporate rate is high in estimating wear and tear, but it brings up the point, the gas and value of being able to use a car can be expensive.

Would I "walk" to work again? Sure! On spare the air days or days I know it won't rain I might. Now, the walk home in the dark, that will be another topic...

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Car, Cobie

Today my car, a 1995 Honda Civic, broke down in the BART parking lot. Bless his little heart, he'd had enough and his distributor gave way, rendering me immobile, sitting in a parking lot for public transportation. There's a bit of irony in that, since I could not park the car, and it was sitting in the way of most of the traffic. Instead of jumping on the next train, I called the tow truck and waited for them, and then escorted my little car to the mechanic.

I could be upset or bitter or angry about this. It's going to cost a lot to fix. Christmas is around the corner, and according to Yahoo this afternoon, we're officially in a "Depression*" Personally, I'm somewhat in a lurch by having my car out of commission for 3 days. But, instead of any of that, I am grateful. And here's why.

1. I knew this car needed some maintenance and it broke down in a safe spot. I was not caught in the rain, in the middle of an intersection or in the middle of nowhere. I had my cell phone, and I was safe.

2. Something fairly safe is what broke first. When the mechanic took a longer look, he found that the front brakes were nearly shot, and could wear out or lock up at any time, having only 1% left on them. Those brakes have 80,000 miles on them. The distributor is what broke today, and all that did was leave me unable to go anywhere.

3. My car has 180,000 miles on it. Almost. We have gone across the country three times together, and I haven't had a car payment in 10 years. It puts a few things into perspective. If I do the math, its only $42/month since the last time I had something fixed on that car. Now that's a good deal.

4. This silly problem forced my hand on finding a mechanic. I'd looked one up last week, so I knew who I wanted to call. Now the car will have a tune up, and I'll know that I have a good mechanic to trust.

All in all, Cobie has been a great car. And, with this little tune up and fix up, I know he'll be good for a couple more years.