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

This page has been moved to my new website. You can find it by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Talk About Migraines

This page has been moved to my new website. You can find it by clicking here.

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

This page has been moved to my new website. You can find it by clicking here.

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

This page has been moved to my new website. You can find it by clicking here.

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?