Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Music: Shawn Colvin and Mary Lou Lord

I've seen Shawn Colvin perform three times; once in a college town bar in 1997 while I was a grad student at Yale, once in an old winery in San Jose, and then just months ago in my office when I sat literally feet from her and hoped I didn't look too goofy or delighted in front of my co-workers. Her voice is lovely and melodic, her lyrics are like memories from stories you knew once, long ago, as a child. She is one of my favorite female performers, without a doubt.

It's funny because each of the times I have seen her have been memorable for many reasons. Each was a very distinct period of my life. It's amazing to look back and see how the concerts fit into my life. She was the only performer I ever saw at Toad's Place, which is a fairly famous venue in New Haven, CT. I had just been through a fairly big break up and my room mate invited me to go with her. I was honestly grateful to be included in a girls night out and get out of the house. At that time, I only new Shawn Colvin from her hit "Sunny Came Home." In that first introduction to her wider repetoire of work I became fascinated.

About two years after that, I saw her at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Her opening act was Mary Lou Lord, an amazing singer with a quirky sweet voice. I still very much enjoy her music as well, so I included her below as well. "He'd be a diamond" is one of my favorites (which was covered by Teenage Fan Club later).

In July, Shawn Colvin was in town and through a twist of luck, she stopped by our office for a little introduction to her latest album. She sang a few songs, including "Fill Me Up," and spoke a little about herself and her daughter. She was charming and engaging, and gave us each a copy of her new album!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Our Dining Room "Valet"

I have something very silly to share. Back when we re-arranged our dining room and got some new furniture, I decided that I very much wanted to move some of the "stuff" that had accumulated on our kitchen counter to a new space. We had a big box of charging chords for phones, camera, rechargeable batteries placed next to an outlet on our kitchen counter. The great thing is that it was convienient to get a chord and leave the phone there over night while it charged. The bad thing was the placement; this was one of the first things you saw when you entered our front door, and the area tended to become an unsightly cluttered hot spot.

So when we had the new buffet set up and ready to go, I recalled a clever idea I'd seen countless places, the electronic "valet," like this one that I located the "gadget bargains," to the right. This little invention allows you a single place to plug in all of your electronic items, and they run from between about $15 and $158 by a quick survey this evening on various models online. I'll admit, I like the idea, but it always seemed like an expensive item, not something I could justify purchasing.

With a new space on our "buffet," I realized I could do a make-shift valet of my own. I took the basket that already housed all of the chords and other electronic accessories and put it on a serving tray in the dining room. Next I ran an extension chord from behind the buffet and passed it through the handle of the serving tray, so that when the electronics are unplugged, the extension chord doesn't fall behind the buffet causing frustration. When I'm charging something, the electronic item sits in the tray and can't get knocked off. When nothing is being charged, the chords go away and I put a picture frame in front of the unseemly extension chord. And what you have is this... a home made valet that cost $3, and could have been free if we didn't need a new extension chord.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Faith on Ash Wednesday

Today I came across the gorgeous artnlight blog, and found myself really inspired by the words in this specific piece of art. It is a striking quote as we enter Lent, in this time of searching, of purification, we must remember faith. Of course, in these days, we know how this story of Lent turns out. It leads into a glorious Resurrection. It leads up to great hope. It is a message of complete, total and abundant Love.

Faith, Originally uploaded by nairvee

How do we move ahead in those times where we don't know the ending? How do we bravely face moving ahead into these forty days as we examine our lives, our thoughts and our hearts? While each of us may have dark hours and tough times, we may be met with disappointments and hardships, faith keeps us true.

Perhaps one of the big lessons in the time of Lent is learning to lean into that faith. Feeling with our whole being that even when we don't know how the story ends, we will be held in capable hands. Hands that hold us tight and safe or hands that push us along to our own potential and our dreams. Hands that made each of us. Hands of the One who loves us, totally, completely, and abundantly.

About Me

Hi there! My name is Paula Jenkins and this blog is my little home for sharing what inspires me. My posts focus on:
  • leading retreats and spirituality
  • crafts and DIY decorating
  • gluten free living
  • updates on our nine month old son (his nickname is Zoom)

Starting in 2004, I began leading retreats at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, CA. You can see the team on the San Damiano website. I've led both day and full weekend retreats there.

Are you looking for someone to lead an upcoming retreat? I'm happy to talk about ideas, and give you more information if you'd like to drop me an email at welcomingspirit [at] gmail [dot] com.

Here's a little more of my background:
Some of the retreats I've led and and presented included the following topics:
Weekend Retreat Topics
- Awaken to the Sacred
- Standing on the Threshold
- Spiritual Pilates, Strengthening our Spiritual Core

Day Retreat Topics
- Be the Change you Seek
- Living the Retreat Every Day of the Week
- Day of Sacredness: Come, Leave your Burdens Behind
- Renewing and Recycling our Connection with God, Earth, and Each Other
- Creating Peace, Finding Hope

My background is fairly varied, and includes:
-Master of Art in Religion from Yale Divinity School
- BA in Religious Studies from UC Santa Barbara
- Ropes Course instructor at UCSB
- Camp Director, leading the Counselor in Training Program and teaching courses like horseback riding, rifelry, baton twirling, crafts, drama and ropes courses
- Community Life Coordinator at Yale Divinity School
- Improvisational Comedy through ACT and BATS in San Francisco
- Photography

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Totally Nerding Out Over Cool Vacation Ideas

Today I found myself dreaming of vacation. I don't know if its because we had a gorgeous sunny day, which sandwiched itself in between a couple of rainy gloomy days, or what. It might have been the impromptu trip to see couches at CB2 with my boss over lunch that inspired me to start thinking beyond the four walls of the building. (We also took some pretty awesome pictures of FedEx trucks lined up the street if I do say so myself.)

I love thinking about epic vacations, the kinds where you get away from it all, literally forget IMG_0803what day it is at some point, and generally get to see new things, taste new foods, and learn a whole lot. I also love visiting as many churches as I can, and taking as many pictures of things as possible. When we were in Rome, we not only went and looked at more churches than I can count, but we also got to go to Church a bunch too. I totally nerded out and loved every moment of it. Honestly, I think my favorite place to visit is Italy, but that's for a different post.

So here's what's got me drooling... and its a double dose of nerd filled goodness, I promise.

First, check out Squam Art Workshops, which are five day retreats where people get to spend their time doing all sorts of crafty projects and learning new things. Think sewing, painting, felting, making bags and I think there was an awesome wood block course in there somewhere. All sorts of really cool classes, all rolled into a single week. Just imagine how much fun you'd have if a group of friends wanted to all go together? Amazing. You can read more from the founder for Squam at decor8 too.

Then, Yale Divinity School offers a spectacular summer session around a bunch of religious topics. Every year I get the catalog, keep it close on the coffee table, read and re-read the course descriptions and try to decide which class or two classes I'd want to do most of all. I never can decide. Option paralysis takes over and then I end up not doing anything.

Turns out, at looking at the timing of these two things - I could do the Squam Workshop and literally the next day, head on down for a summer session at Yale. Totally drivable, totally doable. I couldn't believe that it would line up just perfectly like that.

So now, I think I just need to go to my wonderful and delightful boss and ask for the time off. And then get my butt in gear and sign up for these super duper events!

So, what's your dream vacation? What do you love to do when you're away?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lenten Thoughts: Balance and Decluttering

At the current moment, I am working on three upcoming retreats! With all of these retreats to work towards, there's a lot to juggle. I was doing some research on one of the topics I want to talk about in the retreat that's mid March and came up with some nice ideas around using Lent as a time to declutter. I thought I'd share a few of them here, with you.

Susan K. Rowland
does an amazing job in this article - of breaking down the weeks of Lent into six steps, each involving an area of your life to de-clutter and clean throughout the forty days. I've paraphrased her thoughts below, but if you want to see the Biblical passages she sites for each event, please click over to the original article.

Week 1: Clearing your surroundings of clutter
This week is full of locating a donation box, and over each of the five days of the week, finding five things in your home that you can donate to someone who may need them more. These items are taken from:
- the kitchen
- your bookshelf
- the linen closet
- a storage area
- clothing.
On the last day, you're to drop the collection off as a donation.

Week 2: Clearing your work life of clutter
The second week focuses on eliminating "busy-ness," stress, and workaholism. On each of the six days of the week, ponder one of these thoughts:
- To whom do I give my energy? Is it career, work, and chores? Should I look to reorder these priorities and how?
- Is there anyone who has laid a heavy burden on my shoulders? Are my burdens God's, or are they the result of human selfishness?
- How much of my busy-ness is dedicated to earning "a place of honor" in the eyes of others? Do I need to revise my thinking about this?
- The image of a tree, planted by a running stream is one that is constantly nourished. How can we be like that tree?
- What kind of "fruit" is my life producing? Is it the lasting fruit of the Kingdom, or is it the kinds of things that will not last beyond this lifetime?

Week 3: Clearing unforgiveness from your heart
This week, we look to see if there is someone we need to forgive. Ponder on the following, over a day during the week:
- Does it ever seem that those who respect you the least are those who you are closest to? Sometimes forgiveness starts with a person's own family.
- It's good to keep forgiveness in perspective. Take some time to thank God for all of the times God has forgiven you.
- How does our example play out for those around us? Do we teach children around us how to love and forgive?
- As a Church or a community of faith, sometimes there are disagreements. In order to be strong, a group can not be divided upon itself. Is there anyone in your community of faith that you need to forgive?
- Take some time today and write the names of those people that I need forgive, and ask God to bless them.
- Ask God for healing, and recognize that sometimes healing requires the help of others like counselors or clergy. Seek the help if it is needed.

Week 4: Clearing worry from your mind
This week is about letting go of being worried about what other people think of you, and not being afraid of being bold. Pray during this week for the strength to do both. Think on the following:
- Have you ever trusted in God for something, but then needed to wait to see the outcome?
- Can I really trust in God for everything? What would this life be like if I did not have to worry?
- Even Jesus said that he could "do nothing on his own." How can I learn from His example? What is there in my own life that I can ask for God's help with?
- Do I ever do things seeking the approval of others, even above approval from God? Pray to put God first in those moments.
- Do I worry about what others say about me? Do I feel the need to set the record straight when that happens? I will ask for guidance from God on this.
- Sometimes doing the right thing is hard, because it can bring ridicule from others. Ask for the strength to continue on the right path, even if it is not the popular thing to do.

Week 5: Clearing your relationship with God of clutter
- How can I treat people more mercifully and gently? What draws me to treat people otherwise?
- In moments that we've fallen in doing the right thing, take the time to treat yourself kindly and ask for forgiveness.
- Do I share myself with God and Jesus and let them share in my life?
- How do I keep God's word?
- How have I experienced a deep relationship with God?
- Ponder the passage "“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is the essence of what prayer should be. How does this change my image of what my relationship with God should be?

Week 6: Free to love and serve
This is Holy Week!
- Is my love for God, Jesus and life impossible to hide? Do I love Jesus with abandonment and lavishness?
- Have I ever denied God and Jesus? We need to remember that each of us is weak, but God's love is constant.
- Can I wake each morning and remember to pray?
- Like washing the feet of others, what simple services can I do to help others and show them their worth in God's eyes?
- Consider the love that is involved with a Father giving his only Son, and being happy to have saved us. Has there ever been such a love?
- By conquering death, Jesus shows us that we do not need to be afraid of anything. What is more important in our lives than that?

I really like this idea of making room for new things with the coming of Spring and Easter, and feel that I will be revisiting this article again and again in the weeks to come.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Recession: Finding Joy in Everyday Things

Today the Retreat Planning Team met to talk about our March retreat. We always do a check in, just to see what's happened in the last month with each other. It was interesting today that much of the conversation drifted into talk of the recession. One person's job will likely go away at the end of this school year. Another one of us is contractor at a major computer hardware company and she's unsure of her company's stability. Big companies, school districts, banking industry employees, even myself - each of us is very aware that the recession no longer has the boundaries people once thought and hoped it might. Even jobs that seem "safe" may not be so stable. What are we to do?

On the way home from the meeting, I was listening to NPR. The host was talking about how she was raising children in such amazing times. When the terrorist events September 11 took place, she was living in New York and worried about raising two toddlers in an uncertain age. She longed for stability. In the next couple of years, she worried about raising children in a time of war. She celebrated in November of last year and said that she felt great hope and excitement at the election of a new president, and with the breaking of an important barrier in politics. What a time for her children to be seven and nine, just old enough to remember this historical event. But her hope and excitement has fallen again, with the ongoing news of a recession. How will children remember these times?

When my guy and I went to the hardware and supply store yesterday, a long term employee mentioned she thought that many people this year would be planting vegetable gardens. In hard times, people often do as much at home as they can, and she expected that the store would be very busy all spring and summer. Growing fruits and veggies at home helps with the grocery bill and allows people to feel they are "doing" something. Truth be told, we were there to find seeds for tomato plants and flowers because we want to grow some on our patio.

On Friday I got an invitation to join a recipe swap group on Facebook. Women that I went to college with are banding together to share favorite recipes because times are tough, people are eating at home more, and two good friends are finding that they are getting bored of their staple recipes. They've opened their lives and their recipes up to each other, and there is a sense of camaraderie in the group.

Last weekend we had my sister and her husband over for dinner and spent a lovely evening together, later playing cards. I hope to have some other dear friends over in the next couple of weeks and cook a very yummy chicken BBQ in the crock pot. We haven't had people over in months, but it seems like a nice way to get together, without everyone having to meet at a restaurant for a meal out. And, we get to play games after dinner together, which many of us haven't done in years.

So what will children and other people remember this age by? It seems to me that already, people are coming together. We are doing what we can to get by. We are sharing with one another, communicating with each other. We are finding community in ways that our fore-fathers and fore-mothers once did. We're valuing hard work, ingenuity, community and a hopeful spirit. We are finding great pleasure in the small, timeless, important, and valuable things that make life interesting. Instead of looking to exterior things to bring us joy, we are each looking within, digging deep, and finding joy at home, more now than ever before.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Cathedrals of California

Today I came upon a very gorgeous and ambitious project called "The Cathedrals of California," taken on by just two people: Eric Stoltz and Francesco Cura. Their plan is to visit and photograph all of the 35 or so cathedrals in the state. They've included cathedrals from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions. And, it looks like they've dug deep and gotten into the history of a lot of the sites, which is impressive as well.

What really strikes me is the absolutely breath taking skill of photographer, Francesco Cura. He is a fine arts photographer, and his amazing skills are apparent in his ability to capture light in each of the images of the cathedrals. Photography like this reminds me of why I love the medium, which I would love to get a DSLR camera, and why I have such utter respect for those artists who are able to create this kind of magic. It also makes me think that it might be fun to embark on a similar project, yet focusing on the Missions of California.

St. Steven's Cathedral

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Music: The Music of Eva Cassidy

I realize that my Friday music postings seem to have a pattern. They tend to be female singers, and tend to be covers of other songs. Next week I'll push myself to pick something out of both of those realms.

My Friday music pick this week the work of musician, Eva Cassidy. I was first drawn to her with her cover of "Fields of Gold." I love that she enunciates each word, and that you can understand the lyrics very clearly. There's a sad moodiness in this version that you don't hear in Sting's original.

She also recorded "Over the Rainbow" (which also we heard last week from Iz) and "Wonderful World," which was the last song she ever sang on stage. I've included them all here .. along with "At Last" and "Songbird."

Eva Cassidy passed away in 1996, dying at age 33 of cancer. Much of her recognition has come post-humously. I hope that you enjoy her as much as I do.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How to Plan a Retreat: Making the Flyer

It's week three of the "How to Plan a Retreat" series, and this week, we're tackling: The Flyer. We've already looked at "The Beginning," and "Coming up with a Theme" which are worth a read as we move into this third step.

You've got a lot of hard work behind you, and now you're ready to put that work to good use. A flyer should give your potential audience an idea of what they're going to do at your event. And here's the great thing about a well planned flyer; you don't need to have everything planned before you create it. First and foremost, your flyer is a marketing tool to draw people into your event.

So, pull out your notes on your theme, if you would. You should have jotted down:
1. A single word that defines your event
2. A sentence that describes what people can expect from their experience
3. The Hook (aka a tag line) that grabs people's attention and makes them want to read more
4. A quote or passage that relates to your theme and helps center your message

To finalize this awesome flyer, I'm going to recommend you hunt down a couple more things to round out your content. Let's dig into that now.

Find a picture that conveys the message or spirit of your day
Outcome: a non-copywrited image that you will place on the flyer.
There are many good places to look for images for your retreat flyer. I highly recommend starting close to home in your search for this image or images. You or a team member may have taken a picture that fits with your theme just perfectly. Or, you may want to ask a church member (or group member) to submit a photo for consideration. If you have time, why not make it a contest, and open it up to everyone in your congregation? You're likely to get a lot of submissions and you can probably use most of the photos, somehow, in your day or weekend.

There are a couple of great reasons I'm suggesting finding photos from a known source. First, it builds in excitement. People who are engaged and have submitted a photo are likely to be more excited about your event, and attending your event. The second reason is a practical one; every image, no matter if its taken by a professional photographer or not, that image has a copyright on it, and the copyright is held by the person who took that photo. While it is highly unlikely that anyone would be upset at the use of their photo for a retreat, its best not to put yourself or your church or group in the position of having to worry about it. So, if you find a photo on the internet, on a site like Flickr, please ask if you can use it before putting it on your flyer. And, regardless of where you find the photo, be sure to credit your photographer.

Find or take a picture of your retreat leaders or keynote speaker
Outcome: a photograph of the people leading the retreat
This one's pretty simple; take a picture of your team, including any clergy that might be joining you on your retreat. This will help put faces to names for people, and make them feel comfortable with the leaders.

Have everyone that will be leading write a brief biography
Outcome: a personal or team bio that details everyone's credentials
The bio can be a tricky thing; some people are happy to keep a bio short while others, either because of experience or writing style, can be quite long. Ideally, you should ask that everyone write their bio in the third person, and ask them to keep it to two or three sentences.
An example would be "Carrie Barnes is an accomplished pianist and has been the choral leader of St Alban's Church in Concord for four years. She holds a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt, and feels that singing is a sacred form of prayer."

Once you have bios, you're ready to dig into the flyer itself. And, to help you out, I've found a couple of free templates, all courtesy of Hewlett Packard, which can be seen here. I like a single page format since it can be hung on bulletin boards and easily folded and mailed, but I think that the tri-fold one would work nicely too if you're primarily doing hand outs. I'm going to play around with this layout, using some of the examples we've already discussed.

So, about 20 minutes later, I've come up with a flyer (which I will post soon, just having technical difficulties for right now). I didn't have a picture of people to include, but just about everything else is there. Or, to see an example of a "real" flyer for a retreat I'm leading, click here.
Coming up next: Ideas for Break out sessions

What we've already covered:
The Beginning
Coming up With a Theme

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Talk About Migraines

Or, let's not. But I feel like I've been avoiding this post for oh so long, so OK. Here we go.

In June of 2007 I was diagnosed as having migraines. I went to urgent care because I'd had a cold that seemed to find its way to my sinuses and just lingered. And stayed. And never got better. And finally, I knew I was sick enough that I needed to get my butt home and asked an ex boyfriend to take me to the doctor.

The doctor was really good, and strangely frank about things. I liked her style. Totally no-nonsense yet reassuring. (I wish I had that kind of presence.) She said I had a sinus infection and a migraine. Huh? And gave me medicine.

I had never been told that I had migraines before, but honestly I was sick enough at the time that I filled my prescriptions and went home, took them, and fell into bed. And felt better after awhile.

The thing is, the migraine thing isn't really just a throw away diagnosis that you get one day and then don't need to pay attention to anymore. And once I'd been given that diagnosis, well, a lot of things just made sense. There had been plenty of times that I'd had horrible headaches, usually stabbing pain behind one eye, and a couple times they actually made me throw up. Lights would seem too bright. Smells would be overpowering, even though other people would insist there was nothing unusually strong about the odor. But somehow, this was just all normal to me and I never really paid much attention to it until someone had finally said the word "migraine."

So what is a migraine?

Well, first let's talk about what it's not. A migraine is not just a bad headache. It's not something that everyone or anyone can get. It's not something that comes on because of any one thing, like stress or cheap wine, or lack of sleep. It's not something that has a cure.

Migraine is a neurological disorder that is genetically passed down through families. Migraines can be caused by any number of "triggers," which can be food or hormones or lack of sleep or stress or smells or weather changes. But there's not just one thing that triggers them in everyone who has migraines, it's different for each person. Although, triggers may be similar amongst family members with migraines, since they have genetically similar neurological make up.

There are two kinds of migraines - one with an aura (where you have visual disturbances, this kind is called "classic") and the other kind that does not have an aura. Once a migraine has started, the person may have nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or smell, and usually a headache that is focused on one side of the head, generally right behind one or both of the eyes. The headache can last between 4 and 72 hours (or longer) without taking any medicine.

After having been to a couple of neurologists, I have since been diagnosed with having "classic" migraine, meaning I have visual or olfactory (smell) precursors to the headache. These auras don't happen before every migraine, and while it doesn't freak me out, it can be very odd. I've smelled things that are not anywhere near me (usually a certain men's cologne or hot dogs, go figure), and one time it appeared to me that my guy had been shrunk into a miniature size while sitting next to me on the couch. Hallucinations are not totally unusual during the aura phase, but I gotta say, when it happens it is definitely weird and somewhat surreal. That time, I just closed my eyes and refused to open them again.

I bring this stuff up because its been a rough road. It was really hard being diagnosed with something that is a chronic, invisible, neurological ailment. It was totally surreal to walk into the UC San Francisco Neurology department to speak with a doctor about what was going on. For a long time, I was very much flailing against this diagnosis. It was not right, it was not fair, and it hit me right in my own spiritual gut.

There's been a lot of growth for me in surrendering. And by surrender, I do not mean giving up (oh no, I won't give up!). I mean accepting that this is my life. I can not control what is going on, but I can control how I react to this situation. I can control what I eat. I mentioned in the twenty five things about me that High Fructose Corn Syrup is my primary trigger. I don't eat anything that has it, or might have HFCS in it. That's a battle in itself.

Surrendering also means that I have learned to not panic. Panicking makes everything worse, from my own outlook, to the pain, to everyone's reaction to whatever my situation is. I know that I am OK, and its important to put that vibe out to others. Yes, sometimes I'd like to crawl away into a somewhat cold, very dark, definitely odor free room and pass out. And, sometimes I do. But I am strong, and I sleep when I need to, and when I'm OK I come back out and get on with my life.

I feel like having migraines is part of my own spiritual journey. I felt like I needed to address it, it's very much a part of me, and I want to talk about it. I know I have a fellow migraneur who follows the blog (*waves* at Migraine Chick) and there is strength in owning the issue and talking about it. I also want people to feel like they can be real about who they are here, so I feel I need to be open about who I am.

Migrainelupe with Corset
Originally uploaded by Migraine Chick

This Pretty Much Sums it Up

Drawn by my boss on the department white board. True enough to real life that it made me laugh, but I do know that my co-worker Jane will be disappointed. She kept yelling "make me the trapezoid!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Occasions to See God at Work

"The challenge he poses is to discern in the midst of our darkness the light of God...How radically new my life would be if I were willing to move beyond blaming to proclaiming the works of God in our midst. I don't think it has much to do with the exterior of life. All human beings have their tragedies - death, depression, betrayal, poverty, separation, loss, and so on. We seldom have much control over them. But do we choose to live them as occasions to blame, or as occasions to see God at work?" - Henri Nouwen, 1996

In getting ready for retreats, one of the ideas that keeps coming back in conversation is the notion that each of us can choose to "be bitter or better," that we can "choose to be right or kind." Many great minds have stated this idea in various ways - each honing in on the same thing - we can not choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react to it. Would it not be wonderful to choose to see things as leading us to the light, revealing part of God's work?

Cemetery Angel: Stirling
Taken at Old Town Cemetery in Stirling, Scotland

Monday, February 16, 2009

It Has Been a Whirlwind

Sometimes you just need a moment to catch your breath. That would aptly describe my last few days; from being busy time-wise, and from being busy from heart and spirit - it has been a whirlwind.

At work, we had a group of colleagues in from out of town last week; people we work with closely but rarely ever see face to face. It was fun getting to put faces with names, fun learning that one of my close contacts (Jessica) also played the flute as a kid, it was so good to start to know the people behind the co-workers over dinner.

Some other co-workers and I also went to see Wicked, the musical. I am a huge fan of the book, well, and all books by Gregory Maguire. He does this amazing job of tying in stories we may already know, and adding back story that turns the original story on its head. I love that we are shown the Wicked Witch of the West in a new light, where "good" and "evil" become very dependent on the context of the story and who is telling it. She becomes a girl with a childhood, a brother and a sister, who falls in love, and who just wants to be accepted. You find yourself associating very closely with the witch, routing for her, and realizing she is not at all wicked.

Over the weekend, I flew to LA for Saturday to be at the funeral of my friend's brother. It was a very sad and difficult event, so hard to comprehend how someone twenty-nine years old could be taken from this life in just one moment. It is not something that makes any sense and I don't know that it will, ever. It is one of those things that hits me right in the gut, takes me to my knees, and leaves me questioning so much.

Today I met with Father Rusty to talk about the March retreat. It is coming so very fast, and there is much to do. I feel good about it, and know that things will come together. I also found a new poem by Hafiz:

Don't surrender your loneliness
so quickly
Let it cut more deep
Let if ferment and season you
as few human
or even divine ingredients can
Something missing in my
heart tonight
Has made my eyes so
My voice
so tender
My need of God

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How to Plan a Retreat: Coming up With a Theme

The last time we chatted about retreat planning, we talked a little about the beginning of the process. What kinds of roles you might need, what kinds of things to think about before you jumped in, feet first.

The next thing on our list is coming up with the theme. It's a big deal, so it will get a whole entry to itself. I've done brainstorming on themes both individually, and in a group, and it works well both ways. Here are some of the things I consider as I look for the theme.

First, who's your audience?
Outcome: One line description of who the retreat is for
We talked about this a little before, but knowing who will be attending is often the fastest way of reaching the "what" part of this question ... as in, "what" will you talk about? The audience will help determine how appropriate certain themes are. While many themes are universal, the audience may also help inform the angle you take on theme. "God's Love" is a great topic for everyone, but you might choose to focus on Noah if your weekend is with 8th Graders, and use the parable of the Prodigal Son for other groups. Certainly metaphors and examples would be very different in reaching a group of new mothers versus a retreat for newly retired men. The "new" part is the same, so "change" and how to face times of transitions could be things you address with both groups. But how you approach the topic might be very different.

Come Up With One Word to Describe your Theme
Outcome: A Single Word to Guide Your Work
The theme itself should be fairly broad, so it gives you enough proverbial space to play in as your retreat reveals itself. You should pick a topic, and have your team agree on that one thing. The theme could be a single word like "love" or "change" or "mercy." These are all great starting points. Or, you could focus on a subject or interest for a retreat, and pick something like "scrap booking," "adoption," or "fishing" as the central topic. You'll want to make sure its a broad enough theme that it will appeal to people, and be something your planning team (or you) have passion for.

Start Brainstorming the Outline of Your Retreat
Outcome: A Sentence that Describes What Retreatants Can Expect From Their Experience
This part is a bit of a challenge. You've decided on a direction, but you're not far enough along in planning to know exactly what you'll be doing with your whole retreat. Fear not, the specifics will fall in to place. For now, have your team talk in broad strokes about what will happen. You will brain storm for a bit, but don't get bogged down in planning the details, just talk about the outline of you'd like to do with your retreat.

If your theme is change, maybe you know you'll want to have time for journaling, a worship service, and have a lady in your group talk about a significant change she went through. Perhaps you already know that through your church, you'll have access to pastoral counselors, and an artist that leads workshops on expressing life's changes in charcoal drawings. Maybe you'll have access to some outdoor activities based on where your retreat is being held that you can incorporate, like hiking, meditation gardens, or even a labyrinth.

From this list of items you know you'll be planning, you can have the team craft a sentence or two like "A weekend retreat that will include journaling, spiritual direction, quiet time for reflection and worship in the beauty of the foothills. Linda Smith will be joining us for a special breakout session on channeling the impact of change through art."

Finally, Find the Hook
Outcome: A tag line that grabs people's attention, and makes them want to read more
Most likely, you're going to be printing fliers for your retreat, or putting a notice in the Church bulletin, maybe sending out an email to your young adults group. One thing to think about as you're still in the planning stages is finding a "hook" and using that for your "tag line" for the day or weekend. You want to find something that grabs a potential attendee's attention, and makes them want to learn more about your day.

Let's look at examples ... recently my team decided that we wanted to do a retreat on reconnecting with God, and finding ways to spend time with God. If you put that on a brochure or flier, people might think "meh." But when we brainstormed a little, we came up with the idea of using a popular topic of the time, and tying that closely with our big idea, leading us to "Renewing and Recycling our Spiritual Connection with God." An upcoming retreat I'm leading is called "Spiritual Pilates: Strengthening our Spiritual Core," and a favorite title for a talk at women's retreat from my friend Kathleen was "Protecting your Princess Heart in a Not So Fairy Tale World." These each have strong similarities; the titles tie in with something familiar, something that we culturally relate to, but then it turns that thing on its head.

Once your team has come up with this catchy title, you're ready to move on to ...

Find a Quote or Passage that Relates to Your One Word Theme
Outcome: A Passage to Include in Fliers and to Help Center Your Message
This part can be easy since we now all have access to teh interwebs. I encourage you or a team member to do a quick search on Google for a quote around the single word you all chose earler. You can do this by simply typing in "quote, Bible, Change" or "quote, famous, change" or some variation thereof. A quick search found these quotes quite quickly:
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi
"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." - Nelson Mandela
"The principle is competing against yourself. It's about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before." - Steve Young

Take one of these, or another one that your team likes, and agree that it will help inspire you all as you move forward. It's something you can put on your flier now, and keep at hand as you work together towards the retreat. You're making great progress!

In this series on "How to Plan a Retreat"
The Beginning: Figuring out the Who and Where, and Defining Roles

Coming up next: creating the flier, starting to come up with sessions for the retreat

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Dining Room: Before and After

Many of you already know that the weekend was spent re-doing our dining room. What we realized in the process, of much measuring and two trips to Ikea, was that our dining room is pretty small. Its 10 feet x 8.5 feet and its serving a dual purpose: its a dining room and an "office." OK, so I'm using the term "office" loosely; my guy does have his desk and computer in there, and it does house our table and chairs.

One of the challenges has been that our previous table was too big for the room. It fit, but it was tight. When we had people over, we moved the desk out to make room for everyone. But, our new table is smaller, but has two leaves. I think we could easily fit 10 people around the new table. Finding enough chairs (and a place to store them) would be the new challenge.

So, here's where we started on Saturday. The boxes are holding all of the shiny new Ikea Furniture.

This is how we started: Saturday

Here is the same room, Sunday afternoon:

The new bigger, shorter book case.

And a couple more angles for fun:
From across the table

Bird's Eye View
This makes it look like maybe we live in a loft, but well, we don't.

So! Now we're just waiting on our new rug, and the transformation is pretty much complete. I want to paint a couple of those little picture frames you can see, to a dark brown. And I think the desk would look better darker, too. We'll get to that all in time. For now, I'm thrilled to have a comfy space to eat!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It is Not My Grief to Own

Early this morning, I got an email from a dear friend. A friend I met at my first year at UCSB, who I have lived with twice. Once in college, and once probably ten years later, after we were working in the big, real, world. Since college, there have been four of us who have remained very close to each other - it is amazing how times can change and things in your life can change, but there are people who stay with you and who you stay with because you love them so very much. She is one of these people, who I love like a sister, who I care about even when we have not spoken in awhile, who I can laugh with easily and who can make me laugh, too. I've learned with these four friends that sometimes, when you don't know what to say, silence is as good as spoken word.

My friend wrote to let us know that her youngest brother, David, had died this morning in a moped accident. He was 29, and he died on his mother's birthday. His friend, who had been on another moped was also seriously injured. A suspect is in custody, and she had fled the scene originally, but was followed by a witness.

This was a punch to the gut. My eyes filled with tears and I yelled out "NOOOOoooooo," and my guy wondered what in the world had happened, as he thought I was looking up the hours for Goodwill so we could drop off our table. But no, in one innocent moment, just checking email, everything changed.

I am left wondering why, why would such a wonderful person be taken from us? Why one moment was he here and the next gone? How is it someone near my own age can be gone, in a second? As I thought of my friend, I realized that it could have been any of us, or any of our siblings that was gone. In one second, I was jarred by how very fragile and precious life is.

I emailed her back immediately, and my first words were that I didn't know what to say. We talked this evening and it was good to hear her voice. She told me what she could, what she had words for. And we sat in silence.

This kind of grief is immeasurable, and even though I know her well, it is frustrating that I can not do anything to make this better. I can not take this hurt away. I can listen. I can be there in silence. I can cry with her, and let her know that I am here. All the time, any time, I am here. I know that this grief is not mine. It is confusing and it is consuming. There is a family that has suffered beyond what I can comprehend.

So tonight I ask for peace for each of them. And I send my love. This is not about me, for certain, but it has touched my heart and soul, and left me hurting for people I care so very much about.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Putting it All Together

Today was spent working on our dining room. At last report, we were going to replace the table, chairs, add a low bookshelf and change up the art in the room. Almost everything had been bought at Ikea last Sunday (honestly, the Super Bowl is a great time to go shopping), so it had been sitting around waiting for us just to put it together.

Three chairs in, we realized that one of the parts on the third chair was cracked. Cracked in a weight bearing spot. After some back and forth, we decided we should take it back because otherwise, two or three years from now, it would break, the chair would likely no longer be made by Ikea, and we'd kick ourselves that we didn't just take care of it way back when. So, we braved Ikea again and ended up picking up a low bookshelf today, since we hadn't gotten it last week.

By about 11:30 tonight, literally 12 hours after we'd started this morning ... well, all of the pieces of furniture are put together, and they are in the dining room! This means that tomorrow we need to take the old table to Goodwill, along with about 4 of the old chairs we have. We're keeping two of the old ones, and will paint them black to match the others (instead of the original idea of having a bench, since it means we won't need to spend that money).

All in all, the place is still a mess. It's amazing what putting together a few pieces of furniture can do, it just seems like we found so many things that need to be donated or thrown out - a lot of stuff had found clever hiding spots in the dining room in the last couple of years. I'm grateful to have had the nudge to get decluttering all this stuff I haven't used in who knows how long, and giving it away to have a new life with someone else.

I also discovered this very funny Ikea Furniture Name Generator ... I must say, my name translates to one sexy little desk!!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Music: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I saw this rainbow on the way into work, eventually it turned into a full rainbow, as I got near San Francisco International. (Hooray for the "Lolo" setting on iPhone's Camerabag!) It rained most of the day, and we still need so much rain that I'm grateful for every drop we get.

On the way to work

While I do love the original Judy Garland version of this song, Hawaii's native Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwoʻole puts such a lovely new spin on it, that I have to admire it as well. It brings back great memories of our Maui trip in October, and inspires a mellow, beachy feeling.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Brand Jesus: Consumerism

A while back I mentioned I'd like to start doing some book reviews, and the first book I was going to tackle was "Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age" by Yale Divinity School grad Tyler Wigg Stevenson. The reason it interested me is that from the overview, it looked like the book would talk about two topics I love to take deeper looks at: Religion and Brand Identity / Advertising.

Boy, was I in for a good time with this book! Just as I'd hoped, Stevenson sets up a great premise; that present day Americans have found themselves living in a consumerist age, looking for something to define their lives. While in past cultures, individuals had often been defined by the situation in to which they were born (class, race, even profession), the American dream of "you can be anything you want to be" places us each in the dilemma of defining ourselves. Left without a clear vision as to our collective identity (a clean slate, even without a state religion), and without a unifying story as a society (Stevenson argues that after the end of two World Wars, our last great story as a nation was that of the Cold War), many people have taken to defining themselves by their possessions. In essence, what we buy is who we are.

Stevenson identifies the first of these possession defined generations as the yuppies of the 80s, and traces the roots of this group into today's consumers. He does an amazing job of recognizing the more recent trend, of consumers being able to customize mass-produced items (think shoes on the Nike iD site), as the furthering of this mind set. Now, not only are people able to purchase something with a brand name, but there is further clout assigned to the fact that someone has "designed" the item themselves. To tie it back to his theory of no longer having a unifying and defining story to relate to, he argues that Americans have reached the point that they are defining themselves through their purchasing ability, and the customized offerings of many companies is feeding our collective excitement over this self definition.

This is the premise for his work, long before we even get into the ideas of Brand Jesus. It's good stuff. It makes you think. How tied am I to what I buy? Do my possessions define me, and am I proud of what they say?

I know in the past, there have been times when I have had thoughts along the lines of "If I only had "that car," I would be cool. (Really, it was about 1991 and I was a Sophomore in college.) I really did think that if I had that one thing, both other people would think I was cooler, and I would feel cooler. I think I may have felt that same way about my first walkman, and some shorts and tank tops that I was sure made me look more like Madonna. But this stuff all dates way back into the late 80s and early 90s. I'd have to ask, was it yuppie influence, my own teenage sensibility, or likely the result of a perfect storm of both?

What Stevenson's first chapters bring screaming to the forefront of my mind is that this trend of consumerism is directly tied to our current financial and environmental problems. For so long, our nation has been very focused on our ability to purchase, to buy new things. It is not a trend we can continue because it is not sustainable. The consumerism that has become so deeply inter-twined in our daily behaviors is starting to ruin us, from financial, environmental, and spiritual perspectives.

It is my own opinion that we are racing, headlong, into our next "great story" as a nation, and that will be the one of our unifying enough to reverse the effects of our consumerism and fix the financial and environmental issues that we have caused. It is a growing story already, that of the "green" movement. Time will tell if this will be our next great story and amazing achievement.

For some reason, I found myself thinking of this song today, while I was at work:

Edited to add: After re-listening to this song, I find it very interesting that the Indigo Girls make reference to the great fear of the Cold War ("at least I know there'll be no nuclear annihilation In my lifetime"). The song was originally released in 1992, which would have been just after the Cold War ended. There's a lot more going on with the song itself, but I do love that there's mention of what Stevenson is claiming to be the last unifying American story. I think that is probably why it came to mind for me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to Plan a Retreat: The Beginning

So perhaps you've been assigned or delegated or volunteered to help plan and lead a retreat. First of all - Congratulations! You're going to have a great time, and learn a lot in the process. Someone at your church or youth group or organization saw something in you that made you the perfect choice for this role. Know that you have the ability and skills to do this job, and do it well.

how to plan a retreat

Now that our virtual pep talk is over, what's next? I've decided to do a little series on "How to Plan a Retreat" because I love leading them, and my jokester post about how to plan a retreat seems to get a fair number of hits, indicating that this is a topic people are looking for information about.

I would recommend pulling together a meeting of everyone that has signed up for the planning team. It's OK if there are just a couple of you, or just you, for now. Here are a few details that you should consider at your first gathering or brainstorming:

1. Who are you planning this retreat for?
possible answers: your Church, a book club, your youth group, a group of young adults, seniors, women, women with young children, men, single men, divorced people
There are definitely as many audiences for retreats as there are stars in the sky, and you'll do yourself a huge favor by identifying your intended audience early. There's nothing wrong about saying "its for everyone at Church" - this is also a great answer! You'll just need to know who you're trying to reach before you go about planning anything.

2. Do you have a place to hold the retreat?
you could hold it at: your Church, someone's home or vacation home, a retreat center, a school gym, sorority house, senior center, recreation center, hotel or spa, you may also consider a summer camp in the off season
You can hold retreats anywhere, but the location starts to come into play when you begin to decide on activities. Since you've defined your audience, that may have already helped with the "where" of your retreat planning. A mens "get back to nature" retreat and a womens "scrap booking weekend" would likely require two different locations.
  • If you have choices, and you or your team have the luxury of picking or suggesting a place,Near the Labyrinth its great if the location has access to the outdoors or involves actually "getting away" from where the group usually gathers. This could be done by going just 25 miles away, but it can be nice to have a physical journey on the way to a retreat to help with distancing people from the every day.
  • If you intend to have a spiritual bent to your retreat, it would be good to find a location that either has a place to worship or will allow you to set up a place to hold services or ceremonies.
  • If its a weekend or overnight retreat, make sure you have a location that can accomodate overnight guests.
  • Depending on the nature of your retreat, consider a location that provides food (hotel, retreat center, etc) or a place that will allow you or members of your team to cook. Consider catering is an option, if you've found a location that does not provide food.

3. Who is helping plan and lead this retreat?
maybe its: Church elders, members of your Church, a team that has all been nominated, other volunteers
If someone has already been named a leader, or there is a built in leader (the Priest), you have a different role than a group that has been woven together from volunteers.
  • Choosing a leader can be awkward, but I would strongly suggest that one is named or selected in your first gathering.
  • If you are just first brainstorming on your own, start to think about other people you might want to pull in to the process. While you can certainly plan and lead a retreat on your own, it will be easier if you can pull in some support volunteers.
  • If it makes more sense for your group, you may want to consider the various skills that will eventually be required, and name the following roles from your roster of enthusiastic volunteers:
Administrative Lead - this person would head up finding location, getting pricing, figuring out meals and accomodations, and running the budgets. They'd also be in charge of thChurch on the Road to Hanae meetings themselves, organizing times for people to meet, taking notes, and keeping the larger team running smoothly.
Worship Lead - this role will oversee the worship services or service for your retreat. They may need to find a clergy member to assist with the service, arrange for music, research the lectionary for the day, get readers, and get the worship space ready the day of.
Activities Lead - this person will help run as point person for the other activities for the day or weekend, identifying the resources and supplies that may be required for the activites the group plans.
Marketing Lead - we eventually formed a marketing sub committee as part of our planning team. They help email, call, and post our flyers to get the word out about the retreat.
  • Everyone should work together to help plan the retreat and attend all meetings. I suggest that the Leads be named so that they are accountable for getting footwork done in between team meetings.
4. Do you have an idea of a theme for your retreat?
At your first meeting, I'd throw around some larger ideas, but not settle on anything right away. A theme needs to be well defined and well thought out, so the group (or you) should come back to the next meeting prepared with big ideas for group discussion.

5. Schedule your first planning meeting.
We like to use Doodle to schedule meetings because it allows everyone to show the days they are available. If your team is comfortable with the interwebs, I'd recommend keeping everything electronic. We also use a google group to stay in touch, and it allows us to communicate in between meetings.

Coming up next: coming up with ideas for themes, creating a flyer, and how to start thinking of pacing for a day versus weekend event.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Favorite iPhone Apps

I have one of the original iPhones, it's an 8gig sweetheart that runs on the good old Edge Network. In owning it just over a year, I have to say that I probably use 80% of the "stuff" on it. When applications came out, I was excited and I figured its good to share thoughts on some of them.

So, my top three favorite iPhone Apps:
1. Astro Tilt by Jirbo - this one started as a free download with just 9 levels to complete. The game play is similar to the old "break out" idea, there is a ball that you bounce upwards to clear game pieces. You bounce the ball by using a small paddle that you control with your finger on the screen itself. Once you've cleared the game pieces, you move on to the next level. There are also static/permanent pieces that can't be cleared that make the game harder.

The new version has 23 levels, which I still have yet to complete, and its still a free download. This is a great game to play when you have a few moments to kill or you would love some mindless entertainment. I love it!

2. Camerabag by Nevercenter - This little app costs $2.99 and takes the camera part of your PiciPhone to a new level. You can modify any photo (new or ones you've already taken) to have several different looks - including Helga, Mono (black and white), Fisheye, Lolo, 1974, Instant (like a Polaroid), 1962, Infrared, and Cinema. You can also crop photos, and choose what resolution to save them at. When you combine Camerabag with Flickr you can autopost pictures on the go by emailing them to your Flickr account.
Check out this Mono version of a picture I took when cruising the bay this summer on the right!

3. Phone Sabre by Macbox What you may not know is that I am a huge Star Wars fan. So, I downloaded the free Phone Sabre early in the game and have used it many many times. One coworker and I had a Sabre fight in the hallway at work, which was both intense and hilarious. The latest version (Lightsabre Unleashed")of the app has music, better graphics and a space to add a picture of yourself. Super cool.

Missed the Mark:
1. Facebook - I installed the Facebook app and used it for about one day. I found the functionality limited, and it made me feel "too" connected, if that's possible. Then again, I'm trying to pull away from the Facebook cult. It seems like people are just re-organizing themselves into the same groups they've always been a part of, except this time, its online. Remind me of the point? It's like The Sims ... fun, but why would I want to sit around and play a game that mimics what I do all day? OK, sorry, that got a little ranty.

2. Yelp - Also, very limited functionality. I find the "send a text message to my phone" function from within Yelp to be more helpful, as it sends you a link to the business. From there you can map your location and find a route to the business with the maps and Safari programs in the iPhone. I don't find that I need the Yelp app, though.

So, what Apps have you downloaded and do you love? What's helpful for you to have on your mobile device?

Helga from Window
The Helga setting from Camerabag

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Dining Room Do-Over

My dining room consists of a bunch of furniture that is all 8-10 years old, with the majority of the pieces having been purchased at Goodwill. At $40-$50, the table has definitely served me well, has hosted many family dinners, and I feel like it was money well spent. The chairs were also picked up on the cheap (including one rescued from near the dumpster and repainted), but recently I've started to feel like it's time for "grown up furniture."

Here's a before shot... just to give you an idea of the space and what I have in it right now. If you click on the picture, you can see more notes, too, over on Flickr.

Dining Room as of 2/1/9

If you've been reading some of my recent posts, you'll know that I've been enjoying blogs like Making it Lovely, and This Young House. Well, after the awesome inspiration of those blogs, the dining room didn't stand a chance. I pretty much knew there were some updates on the way.

Based on some footwork, surfing, and checking out a lot of blogs, here's what I'd love for the room to look like:
diningroom - by welcomingspirit on

The table and chairs are from Ikea, and we actually already picked them up this weekend. The bench is from a local shop, and I'm going to wait to get the table together before making up my mind on the bench. I like the idea of having just four chairs, and then keeping the bench under the table to use for when we have company. It frees up some space.

The rug and book case (book case will go on a wall to the left of where the picture was taken) are from Pottery Barn, and both are on sale. I actually tagged the rug in my Wists list about six months ago, I've been admiring it that long!

The art is from Mibo, and is actually a calendar that I am planning on printing, cutting up, and hanging in black Ikea frames. That makes it fairly cheap. And, I'm thinking those will be hung, in a grid, over the low book case.

The desk in the picture (top pic) will get painted a dark brown or neutral color. It needs to stay in the room because we have a one bedroom apartment, and we don't have a lot of options for my guy's computer. I'd like to get a lamp for the desk that helps to tie it to the rest of the room.

Finally, the small pictures on the upper right of the top photo will remain, also in repainted frames. As long as I don't feel like it clashes with the other art.

The main idea is that while its just us at home, we can push the table against the wall and leave the leafs in on the table. When we have company, we move the desk (its light) and center the table in the room to allow for full seating.

So, what do you think?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What This Blog is About and How That's Changed

It's interesting how things evolve. My initial goal in starting to blog was to find an outlet and a community to discuss my involvement with retreats. I very much want to push that part of my life further along. While I didn't make any official resolutions for 2009, I did start one of the 101 in 1001 lists (not published, but that links to an example of one), and on it was a line item about finding new places to lead retreats. This is definitely part of my plan this year, and its exciting, confusing, and daunting.

At the same time, as I near my 100th post, and look back on the past 5-6 months, I see that my posts seem to be able to be bucketed into several themes. Many go far beyond my retreat world, and what it makes me realize is that it would be nearly impossible for me to have a blog just about retreats. There's so much more that I'm interested in, so many things that I love, that I would have a hard time sticking to one subject.

So here's what I'm seeing are my major topics and/or interests. I'm thinking of perhaps narrowing down my "labels" so that they fit into these larger categories, since I do feel like I have waaaaaay too many labels at the moment.

I see my main posting topics to be around:

1. Spirituality and retreats
2. Work and Advertising / Marketing
3. Crafts and fun projects
4. Home projects
5. Health
6. Learning to do new things like Yoga, Improv, etc
7. Travel

How have your ideas on blogging changed since you started? Have you found that things changed once you got into it?