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river cabin

‘The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable.’

— Paul Tillich

Up at the Russian River, in the town of Guerneville, a lot of the cabins have names. My father remembers a few, one was named “Rushin’ Rest,” and the Powers’ cabin was named “Powerhouse;” a St. Mary’s alum’s cabin was “Moraga Manor” and my favorite, our friends’ house, was the “ITLDO”.

We’d be parked in front of their garage where the sign hung. It took me awhile to figure out what “ITLDO” meant. As I studied it, I thought, maybe it some kind of acronym….I like the door open…nah, that didn’t make sense. I kept saying the word in my head and then said it out loud – bingo…”IT WILL DO.” The story is, it is assumed, that after construction, though not perfect, though not exactly according to specifications, the owner or someone said… “ITLDO!”

Of course, that “ITLDO” attitude applies to other areas of life. I remember feverishly (literally, it was hot in Moraga that day) finishing my last college paper on, of course, the day it was due. After it was done, though not perfect, I printed it out and muttered “ITLDO”. I got a C on it, I think. When I graduated two days later, though I was not an honors student or had a report card with straight A’s, I did have a St. Mary’s College diploma. “ITLDO.”

I have a confession to make, a little secret that I am quite ashamed of. I’m messy. Growing up, my side of the room was always messy, just ask my sister. When the kids came along, the house was, of course, messier. Once I passed the 5 kid mark, most folks (there was an exception or two…grrrr) understood with so many kids the house, it would naturally be messy. But, I confess, I have always been messy, messy room, messy desk, messy life. So I can’t let the kids take the rap anymore – it is mea culpa.

To overcome this unclean habit, I spent the last two decades trying to conquer it. I made lists, I followed programs, I even prayed a lot. Sometimes I would get it together, but, alas, I couldn’t keep it together. Lately, though, I have even applied the “ITLDO” mentality to my housework. I follow a little of Flylady’s advice, and do 15 minute increments. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as I get something done. “ITLDO.”

I suppose the “ITLDO” mentality is being content, being content with what you have, what you have done and with who you are. When I look in the mirror and see the face I’ve looked at for fif…a long time, instead of stressing out that I don’t look as young as I used to, I smile and say, “ITLDO”. When I get discouraged about my weight, I remember how good my body has been to me, how healthy I have been, and gratefully say, “ITLDO” When I get to the end of this column and after I review each paragraph, I will come to a point when I hit SUBMIT because “ITLDO”.

Sixth Grade


January 2013

In the fall of 1970, I started sixth grade at Brook Hill Elementary School in Santa Rosa. The few years we lived in Santa Rosa will forever remain with me as an idyllicism (made up word) of the highest form. Block parties on 4th of July, warm weather, our school across the street and sixth grade.

Sixth grade is where and when I came alive. Everything that excites and moves me was born in the last classroom in that plain school building. Although I was writing at an earlier age, the subjects that would activate that skill were taught to me in sixth grade.

I have learned that school is like a buffet feast. There are so many foods to choose from. In order to appreciate everything, you take a bite from each plate. But the ones you really like, those become your favorites, your comfort foods. So as with education, you taste as many subjects as you can, but the ones you love, the ones that make you come alive, those are the ones you return to, the ones you pursue.

Mr. Caudill, my sixth grade teacher, set a grand table. Of the many things he taught us, these are the subjects I have returned to, the ones I have pursued.

First was poetry. Each week, I believe, we got a new poem. I remember smelling the newly mimeographed paper anticipating a new tale. “Gunga Din” and “The Kid’s Last Fight” were two of my favorites. “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer, when you’re quartered safe out ‘ere…” I would bellow in a bravado-ish brough that would send my sister under the covers. Sadly, all my papers from sixth grade were lost in the move to Daly City. But the spark had been lighted, and still burns.

Second was music. Mr. Caudill handed out sheets with contemporary music lyrics. “Blowing in the Wind”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” were a few of the many songs we learned about. I still know these lyrics by heart. I have written a few songs myself that remain in the confines of my journals; but because I learned to appreciate the music and lyrics, I can discuss any song with my kids. I help them highlight what their favorite musicians are trying to say. And as a by-product, I have come to love their music as much as my own.

Third was geography. I learned to love maps. I’ve always had a map on the wall. Even now, living in my parents’ house, I have an old ‘80’s Hapag Lloyd map up. I need a new one though; there are so many new countries since the fall of the Wall. In sixth grade, we studied South American geography and cultures. We used to have map contests to see who could find a nation’s capital the quickest. I was good at that game. I loved it. I learned that there were other people around the world with different customs, beliefs and ways of living. I did a report on the Incas in Peru. We sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in Spanish. Here was my first taste of that beautiful language. I am working my way to fluency even now.

I was eleven when I was in Mr. Caudill’s sixth grade class. I was eleven when I learned these subjects. But I didn’t just learn them, I ingested them, they became a part of who I was. They came to fruition in my English degree, my many Spanish classes, my missionary interests and my feeble attempts at creativity. I watched “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” last year. There is a scene where Control and Smiley were leaving Circus Headquarters, and in the background, there were maps all over the walls. I had an “a-ha” moment. I should have been a spy!



I am a word nerd. I love words. When I had a boring job in Half Moon Bay back in the 1970’s, I entertained myself by reading the dictionary. I still have the lists of words I learned. Words are great, wonderfully great and terribly great. Words can harm, cut down and poison; but on the other hand, words can build up, inspire and heal. Just like I have comfort foods such as creamed tuna and pumpkin pie, I have comfort words, “Providence,” “hope” and “sublime” to name a few. I am always excited when I learn a new word.

Sometime in the 1990’s, my family was watching “Home Improvement.” Jill was having one of her talks with the fenced-obscured neighbor, Wilson. She was having trouble with her older son, Randy, and mentioned to Wilson that she believed that Randy was probably trying to “individuate” from her and Tim. That word caught my ear. I had never heard it used that way, and I took a psychology class in college (my worst graded class, by the way — that may explain a lot).

Individuate! Not only did I love the word and the way it gave my tongue a mini workout, I also understood immediately what Jill was talking about. As my children have grown, I have witnessed them “individuating” away from me. For some of them this came early, one at about a year and a half and one at three years old when she declared in front of many witnesses, “It’s my life” (this one was going to move out when she was 8), but the others were in the typical age range of 12-15 years. This is a hard stage of parenting; but I am in it for the long haul. I think I can, I think I can …

As I do with words and other things, I like to add my own spin. I think it is time for me to “individuate” away from my kids.  It was natural and exciting to pour myself into these little lives….but eventually, their personalities began to take over. Early on I should have known things were bad when after we got a set of Laurel and Hardy movies, I called my sister bemoaning, “Linda, I need to get out, I think Stan Laurel is hot!” Symptoms continued, singing the Rescue Rangers theme song while doing dishes, penciling in the “Good Luck Charlie” Christmas movie on the calendar and being more conversant with people under the age of 20 than my peers.

Those are the harmless aspects to full immersion parenting; however, things can get ugly. They are nice for awhile and then they turn on you. If you are not prepared, it can be brutal. “It’s not fair.” “You never do anything for me” “You like everyone else more than me” and, the topper, “I hate you” can certainly wear down one’s defenses. At first, I would indignantly defend myself as being a perfect and fair parent (LOL) and try to hide my hurt feelings. As they individuated away from me, I also had to individuate away from them.

My first step toward individuation was to build some strong battlements. I couldn’t be so sensitive. I had to garner some courage and fortitude to handle their time of individuation. In the process, I was delighted to find myself again. I didn’t need to spend every minute with them. I didn’t need to hover over them; I could pursue some interests of my own. I could listen to Barry Manilow instead of Tupac and Two Chains.

I still have young ones at home, and am appreciating the things that I used to love. Funny, I caught the 13-year-old listening to Barry Manilow awhile ago. That’s the best of both worlds.

Eviction Notices

evictionIt’s a New Year. Resolutions abound. Lose weight, quit smoking, be nicer and manage money better are many common ones. I have one so far and that is to hang laundry on a warm, breezy summer morning. Unless I move, that’s not gonna happen in Pacifica. For some reason that simple act of housekeeping provides a gentle comfort. Funny how things are.

Seriously, I decided that my resolution this year was to give notice to some things in my life, particularly things in my mind. In Pink’s song, Perfect, she sings, “Change the voices, in your head, make them like you instead.”  I’ve met some voices that like me, but I have to write some eviction notices first.

Despair – You are hereby given immediate notice to vacate said premises (my head). You have caused unnecessary distress blubbering about how things will only get worse and never change. Well, that is gonna change, today. I understand that you may visit from time to time on future occasions; but know this now- you will be asked to leave when Hope says so. Hope has been waiting to reoccupy her residence; therefore, without further ado, adieu.

Worry – You are also hereby given immediate notice to vacate said premises with your cousin, Despair. I thought inadvertently that there might be a good purpose to your visit, worrying about this and that; but, alas, those things never came to pass and I was needlessly upset. I don’t know much about Trust, but Trust is so willing to move in and is excited about our new relationship.

And last of all, the longest resident in my mind that needs the boot – Fear. You are hereby given immediate notice to vacate said premises. I know you think this is your turf, and you even balk at my order to leave and threaten grave things if I force you out, but like your cousin, Worry, much ado about nothing. You have been here far too long.  A couple of years ago, I met Courage and he said he could help kick you out. So I have invited him to come and live with me. I do not know him very well, but am anxious (oops, that little kid’s been kicked out too); I mean I am eager to get to know him and have him help me with the many things I do.

Solomon wrote: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Far be it from me to argue with a Hebrew King, but there is something new. Today is new, this moment is new. Each new day breathes new hope, trust and courage. Last year was a tough year in many respects, but for our kids’ sakes…..for our own sakes, we can embrace and cultivate more hope, trust and courage. Happy New Year!


Be Ye Not Troubled


Christmas 2012

“Once in our world, a Stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” wrote C.S. Lewis.  In that Stable, a Child lay in a feeding trough. It is His birth that we celebrate today. For Christians around the world, we manage to put down our theological clubs and grab hands and bow before Whom we call King, Lord and Savior.

The Man who gave us “blessed are the peacemakers”, “I have come that they might have life” and “I am the living water” also gave us “be ye not troubled.” Someone who has a greater perspective of things temporal as well as things eternal gently urges us to “be ye not troubled.” Certainly words we can always embrace.

Times are tough. Fiscal cliffs, budget cuts and politics at its worst dominate the newscasts. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is utterly frustrated with the ineptitude of our elected officials. My sister who lived frugally for many years would be better equipped to deal with the mess that is in the nation’s capital. I cannot even watch the news anymore without disgust. My words to Washington: Do your job. But in the angst of this frustration and disappointment, I gently hear, “be ye not troubled.”

Times are tumultuous. I have a lot of kids. Just some low level sibling rivalry can stir up a hornet’s nest. Most of the time I can handle it, but there are days when I just hang my head. There are other family members who will never be happy, people who run to trouble and seem to revel in discord. Family stress can be very tiring. Yet, still His words beckon, “be ye not troubled.”

And, finally, times are tragic. It has been a year of loss. Expected losses when death was seen coming, maybe even a relief; unexpected losses when death snatched a beloved before our eyes and unimaginable losses when death went on a rampage. There are no answers, no words, nothing to assuage the piercing and painful grief.  “Be ye not troubled” seems so far away.

Jesus Christ did not promise rose gardens, American dreams or healthy families. Of His many gifts He did promise, some are provision for the present, patience for the perplexing and the peace that surpasses understanding. That peace, His peace, enables us to “be ye not troubled” when times are tough, tumultuous and inevitably tragic.

Have a blessed Christmas Day. Be Ye Not Troubled.

Be Strong and of a Good Courage…


Things have been a little stressful lately. Christmas is coming, and the gander is getting mean. Once the Christmas music started playing, I was enamored with the season; however, when the rubber met the road (shopping for many), that blissful state went out the window.

This past weekend was tough, trying to clean things up so we could decorate and get the tree. Well, some work got done, but amidst a lot of bickering and sibling squabbling. After one such altercation, one of the kids took off for a bike ride. Normally, that would be fine, but he didn’t take his phone, and he was mad and hungry.

For a helicopter mom, this is a recipe for distress. After I got the other ones occupied, I took a ride down to Linda Mar where I thought my son would’ve gone. While I was driving, all those fear-generated thoughts began to surface. Bike accident, won’t come home, or worse; my mind can go to town. Stress levels were rising.

And then….I remembered Éowyn and Joshua 1:9. I have been combating fear for decades. Having children only exacerbated this very weak weakness. But as I was driving, I remember Éowyn and how she stood up to the Nazgûl, fearless, ready to die, pulling off her headgear and exclaiming, “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”

Equipped with this image and the powerful and en-couraging words of Joshua 1:9:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

I pulled out my mental sword and began slaying those fear-mongering thoughts. I entrusted my son to the Lord, went to Taco Bell and had a burrito with Ellie, and then went home. He showed up soon after. He was fine. And I had won a small battle.

We are commanded to be strong and courageous. For folks like myself, that is fearsome in itself, I am such a wimp, I will never be brave. I am a runner, I run from fear, from discord, from difficulty. Sometimes you gotta turn around and fight. I have been en-couraged by this verse many times, and by the grace of God, I will become fearless and noble like Éowyn.

A Movie, a CD, and a Feather from a Turkey

Eloisa's Turkey

I have had a few awesome epiphanies in the semi-century I’ve lived. One day, I will write about them.  I have had many epiphanettes, too. In sweet serendipitous simplicity, my most recent occurred not too long ago.

Early in November, I had lunch in the City with an old friend. We talked about movies. I had told him before of how the French film “Of Gods and Men” had changed my life and urged him to get it. He told me about “The Mission”. I knew about it, but had yet to see it. After lunch, we headed over to the Green Apple Bookstore, the place where I would like to be buried unless I die in the fall, and then I’d like to be buried in the holiday section of Joann’s. Anyway, since John generously picked up the lunch tab, I had book money….yay!! Well, to get to the point, “The Mission” was there and I got it.

Days later, I got around to watching it. It is a good movie, not as good as my aforementioned French film, but there was a scene that moved me and became a part of this three pronged epiphanette.

Robert DeNiro plays a slave hunter who captures natives in the south of Brazil and sells them to a slave trader. He eventually becomes a priest, and in an act of penance climbs the mountains to the Mission above the Falls with a load of his former wares: swords, guns, shields, etc. It is a treacherous hike, and his burden is very heavy. He allows no one to help him. Once he reaches the summit, he collapses under his load. His fellow priests attempt to cut the load from his back, but he refuses. He only allows the Natives to cut it loose. One Native cuts it off (in what seems to be an act of forgiveness) and hurls the load over the falls. DeNiro’s character weeps, the Natives applaud.

This scene immediately spoke to me since I feel like I have hauled a great deal of my past around like DeNiro’s burden. Inside my load were most of my regrets, all of the guilt and shame from my mistakes and some from other people’s mistakes, as well as the should’ves, could’ves and would’ves. I have been groaning over this load for a long time. My joy and gladness has been asphyxiated, and now it was time to cut it off.

The second prong in my epiphanette came when I purchased a CD at Target. I was looking for Engelbert Humperdinck’s Christmas CD, but instead purchased a Carpenters Greatest Hits CD (for $5.00). I listened to the Carpenters all through the ‘70’s. Karen Carpenter’s was the only voice I could sing along with and stay in tune. So in no time me and the girlies were singing “Top of the World” and “Only Yesterday” together in the car. That happy girl I was from the ‘70’s seemed to perk up and reappear. And I wasn’t ashamed of her and her nerdy music. Joy and gladness began to breathe anew.

The final part of the epiphanette prong is the feather of the turkey my daughter made at school. On each of the feathers of this art project she wrote something she was thankful for. One feather read “I am thankful for having a great life.” This little girl shares a room with her three sisters and her mom (it is a big room). She is joyful, she is happy and she abounds with love for Jesus and her mom. I don’t take any credit for this, this is her personality. Her expression of “having a great life” convicted me and reminded me of an excerpt from my devotional. Mrs. Cowman quotes George Matheson in her Streams of the Desert:

You may be very discontented with yourself. You are no genius, have no brilliant gifts, and are inconspicuous for any special faculty. Mediocrity is the law of your existence. Your days are remarkable for nothing but sameness and insipidity. Yet you may live a great life. (emphasis mine)

John did no miracle, but Jesus said that among those born of women there had not appeared a greater than he.

John’s main business was to bear witness to the Light, and this may be yours and mine. John was content to be only a voice, if men would think of Christ. (Feb. 24)

I have a great life too. I have had many difficulties, great difficulties at times. But I also have a great God. And He has been faithful to me through these difficulties. Eloisa’s feather reminded me of that, and her contagious joy and gladness also breathed new life into mine. While I carried around my bag of burdens, joy and gladness were anemic at best. I am cutting off  the load… apologies only for my mistakes (not for anyone else’s) and then moving on, no more regrets, no more time given to hand-wringing and worry. Matthew 6:33-34 is my mantra. It is time for joy and gladness. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah!


The Queen’s Speech

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here together to celebrate this great day of Thanksgiving and partake in this great meal before us. I am taking advantage of this occasion to address all of you children since I seldom have you all together in one place.

Today is indeed a day to be thankful. Thankful we have so much food to enjoy and to nourish our bodies, thankful for the abundance of life that we have been given, and thankful for our family members who surround us.

I have some things that I have wanted to say to all of you for some time. I know most of you will understand what I have to say, and the little ones will not. However, I think it is appropriate at this time of my life to express them.

I want to thank you kids for the 11 greatest days of my life. The days of each of your births and the day of Elizabeth and James’ wedding equally occupy that honored position in my life.

I remember each of your births so clearly, even when I was medicated. I remember the thrill of holding you for the first time, the few days we had alone (except for the oldest, of course) until we went home, the quiet night in the hospital where I just stared at you. My heart even now fills with such joy and love that I don’t think it can contain it all. I thank you for all your smiles, all the funny things you say, all your questions (even though they drove me crazy), all your hugs and kisses. (I still get them.)

I thank you for all your love letters, your encouraging texts, your faithfulness and your very distinct personalities. I even thank you for your reproofs, your criticisms and your honesty. I thank God for your lives, your gifts and for the unique illumination that you give the world. I am amazed at the depth of character you have all acquired despite the difficulties we have all been through. As you take the reins of your own lives, I hope that you continue to contribute to that depth. You all have blessed me beyond measure.

I also want to take this time to apologize, but I am going to do this once and for all, at least for the past. I have spent too much time apologizing for things I have been responsible for and for things others have done. But I feel I owe you all one.

I look back at the past 25 years of parenting and realize how far I have fallen short. God sent you to a mom who is insecure, fearful, undisciplined, scatterbrained, and too often short sighted. I apologize for my shortcomings. But I hope my strengths have somehow balanced things out. I hope my lackadaisical attitude has given you room to grow into the people you were meant to be. I hope my “ADD” has given you all a variety of opportunities that has become a mosaic of understanding of the world around you.

I want to emphatically say, and have you understand, that all of you are the best things that have happened to me. I wanted five, he wanted 10. I have been doubly blessed. I know I have expressed certain regrets when I’ve been overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness; but, for the record, I want you to know that though many of your births were unplanned by me and your dad, they were not unplanned by Him who brought you to me. Your lives have meaning and purpose.

You all are a part of a bigger plan, a bigger story, in which I play only a supporting role. May you be blessed in your stories, in your lives and continue to be a blessing to the world.


‘In Flanders Fields’

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— Canadian Lt. Colonel John McCrae

Ninety-four years ago, the Armistice was signed to end World War I, “the war to end all wars.” Hostilities ended in most of Europe and a fragile peace was achieved in the following June when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in France. For Americans, November 11th is Veterans Day. In other parts of the world, it is Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. This short poem by Canadian physician and Lt. Colonel John McCrae was written in 1915 in the wake of his friend’s funeral; and it is read in memory of those who died in this very bloody conflict.

“The War to End All Wars” was the maiden conflict of a century of warfare. Untold millions died untimely and unnatural deaths since the end of this heralded conflict. Civilians and soldiers side by side spilled their blood. From the fields of Flanders to the diplomatic base in Benghazi, blood continues to be spilled, war has not ended.

Politics aside, men and women throughout our country’s history have been willing to give their lives, their blood for this country, for us. They may have felt their lives were wasted; but they were not. They may have felt alone and abandoned on some parallel in Korea, or some jungle in Vietnam; but they were not, not by their families. Some gave their lives under compulsion, some volunteered; regardless, their sacrifice is sacred. And it behooves us as a citizenry to press for changes in our government to minimize this kind of sacrifice. There must be a way.

We have entered the 21st Century still bleeding. “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” So as is the nature of man, the bleeding will continue. And we will continue to remember.

On the third Thursday of this month, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is fitting that this month begins with All Souls Day, the day we remember all who have passed, and continues to this day when we remember all who have served and sacrificed, and finally, Thanksgiving, when we remember all we have. Thanksgiving is indeed a balm of Gilead, a comfort to those who mourn. Thank you, Veterans, for your sacrifice and service; and to the heavens, thank You for their lives.

Land of Misfit Toys

The holidays are coming, all the stores have Christmas decorations already. The shows will be on soon too. You have no doubt seen the poignant “Island of Misfit Toys” scene from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rudolph, the protagonist misfit, finds himself with his misfit elf friend on an island with toys that are broken and useless, and because of their condition: unwanted. Rudolph understands how they feel. His glaring red nose caused him to be shunned by his peers and overlooked by Santa.

This classic stands the test of time because we all at one time or another have felt like a misfit, an outcast, unwanted, if you will. It appears to be almost a rite of passage. Dr. Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection writes: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need in all women, men and children.” During the holiday season, these feelings of belonging and love are what make the time special; conversely, if conditions are not so healthy, the season can be lonely at best, tortuous at worse.

Our sense of what is worthy to love and want is somewhat skewered. Not many of us are endowed with the beauty that graces the magazine racks at Safeway. Fewer of us have the soaring intellect and amazing persistence that garners PhD.’s like a Hot Wheels collection. And even fewer are born into homes that can provide advantages that only the wealthy can afford.

The message of Christmas, happily, as heralded from the angels is “for all people”. Not to the beautiful or the wise or even the rich. Not the 1%, the 99%, or even that infamous 47%, but the 100%. The Man who was born in a barn brought a message; His irreducible message was and continues to be: You are Loved. A love that transcends deservedness, a love that for most of us is incomprehensible and a love that does not judge. A love for all seasons, for all misfits. A love that meets that need in everyone of us. A love that cost Him His life, so we may have eternal life. True Love.

So instead of pining for perfection and whining for “winning”, we can embrace our misfitness (I made up that word), love it and maybe wrench some good from it. After all, this whole world is really a great big archipelago of islands of misfit toys. There is no place that imperfection does not exist. In the end, Rudolph saves the day, not in spite of his imperfection, but because of it. Our imperfections, which to us seem to alienate us from an ill-perceived perfection, are what really unites and connects us anyway.

I hope you all have a WONDER-ful holiday season.