Rejoice Anyway

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

I've heard that quote attributed to Plato, to Marion Parker, and to Pliny the somebody. I wonder if anyone really knows who said it.

But I'll bet they all thought it. Daily I become more convinced that everyone fights for their lives, one way or another, every day. It's why Jesus had a soft spot for sinners and failures, why he preferred them to the arrogant and self-righteous. The failures had at least some grasp on reality.

It's why he commanded us to love, why he told Paul, "My strength is made perfect in weakness."

Oh how far our faith is called to stretch. Who would have thought we'd be asked to accept ourselves, to hope despite our defects? To rejoice anyway.

Where I live, the sun is shining. If you're just a little brave, you can go outside without your coat.

Today I wish for you a tiny, if subtle bit of springtime. Enjoy the film.

Mortgage: $0; Utilities: $5

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oh - and 100 or so square feet of living space.

Could you do it?

Lets consider this an exercise in values clarification. What if, like the main character in my novel, The Feast of Saint Bertie, you decided to live small?

Imagine the decision is made. Your house is sold or your landlord notified. Your tiny house is built. It's time to move.

It's a cute little place. You can't tell by the picture, but it has wheels and a trailer hitch. You can set up housekeeping anywhere you want. (Hmmm... where would you put yours?)

Just two things left on your to do list:

1. Pack
2. Hold a yard sale

With so little space, packing should be easy, right? Bertie took a sleeping bag, a Bible plus a few other books, some basic items of clothing, a cup, a bowl, a plate, a knife, a fork, a spoon, a can opener, and some canned goods.

But your house will be nicer than Bertie's old gardener's shed. You'll have amenities like furniture, a kitchen and a bathroom.

You will, however, have to ask yourself what really matters to you. You're moving into a non-conformist living space, so I really mean, what matters to you? You don't have room to own things only because they are expected.

This actually wasn't so hard for me, at least not up to a point. I am a writer, and a reader. To be happy, I need:

My laptop. I know, you can write with pencil and paper, but... sigh! No. A laptop.

A comfortable chair.

A coffee maker and a mug.

My cat.

Books. This presents a problem, because I have too many books to fit in a tiny home. But perhaps I could get around this by donating most of them to the library. I could still check them out, right? I just hope my late fees wouldn't end up equaling the cost of a mortgage...

A uniform. With perhaps two feet of closet space, I'd have to decide what I'd be comfortable wearing, if I had to wear pretty much the same thing all the time. Jeans come to mind. A black pair and a blue pair (for variety). Two cotton shirts. A sweater. A pair of sneakers and a pair of sandals. A dress for church.

My friends and family. This presents another problem, because, for instance, twice a month I host a Ladies' Tea and Bible Study in my home. But if I didn't have a mortgage I could probably afford some creative solutions. Ms. Lynn's Tea is just down the road, and Ms. Lynn is a better cook than I am.

My husband. This is why I said "up to a point." Because he restores vintage race cars and builds flying model airplanes. So what does he need to be happy? A garage. A big garage. What a surprise to realize he needs more space than I do.

I do plan to keep my husband.

What would you keep? What do you need to be happy? What could you do without? What would be your uniform? Oh, and where would you put your house?

Photo by Jack Journey. Copyright Tumbleweed Tiny House Company 2008.

Your Pilgrim Souls

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When You are Old
by William Butler Yeats

WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Happy Saint Patricks Day, my friends. I love your pilgrim souls.

Tea With Me, And Other Updates

Monday, March 16, 2009

A few updates on my authorish doings:

If you live anywhere near Siskiyou County, California, I hope you'll join me for tea at Ms. Lynn's Tea on Friday, April 17, at 1:00. Ms. Lynn's was kind enough to host me for their Tea With The Author event after the publication of To Dance in the Desert. We all had a wonderful time, in the graciously appointed tea room. Now they're hosting me again, to celebrate the publication of The Feast of Saint Bertie. The cost will be $10. You can contact Ms. Lynn's Tea at:

Telephone: (530) 459-3439
Postal address: P.O. Box 567, Montague, CA 96064
Street address: 120 N. Eleventh Street, Montague, CA 96064
Electronic mail:

This month I was honored to be interviewed by Angela Wilson of Pop Syndicate. You can read the resulting article here.

I hope you've become a regular at Novel Matters, my group blog about the reading and writing of sumptuous fiction. Why?
  1. The ladies I have teamed up with are brilliant: funny, interesting, smart, and full of great information for both readers and writers.
  2. We have initiated a tradition of monthly promotions for wonderful prizes. This month, you get a chance at a whole library of Patti Hill novels. All you have to do is comment on one of our posts. We love comments, and you will love the conversations that take place at Novel Matters.
  3. Next month we plan to announce a huge contest with an amazing prize, of special interest to writers.

If you'd like to be updated on these sorts of things via email, I hope you'll sign up for my newsletter.

Pay more. Buy less.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do you ever wonder if the world would be a better place, if we paid higher prices for the things we buy?

No, I never did either. Not the way I grew up. A mother who raised two kids by herself. Grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. In my family, it's always been a matter of moral obligation to get the best price for everything we buy.

But now I'm starting to wonder whether, in the context of a global marketplace, my quest for the lowest price hasn't turned shamefully immoral when I wasn't looking.

Are you way ahead of me on this, or do you wonder what I'm talking about? It took a long time for my head to turn this direction, so just in case, I'll back up a bit and fill you in on where this started for me.

Last month, offered the audio download of Not For Sale, David Batstone's book on human trafficking, for free. I'd thought of buying the book before, and now - best price, remember? - I had to take ChristianAudio up on their offer.

It's a dangerous book. It presented me with moral choices in places where I'd never seen them before. It made me want to know more, to understand better how I contributed to the problem of - lets not call it trafficking. Human beings - often children - are being stolen from their homes or lured by deception, forced to work for no pay, intimidated by apalling abuse, unable to go home, unable to escape. It's slavery, and I wanted to know where I stood in the chain of cause and effect.

I read articles and watched videos. I learned the term "fair trade" which translates, "slave-free." I found out how the problem presents itself, for instance, in the chocolate trade.

I know. Chocolate hits way too close to home. But the fact is that around 70 percent of the world’s cacao is harvested using slave labor. Even farmers who don't use slaves are forced to take their children out of school and put them to work. It's hard, dangerous work, for which they are paid very little. Most farm families live on less than $100 a year. In one video I saw,Tim Costello of World Vision held up a candy bar, and said most chocolate companies would pay less for a large bag of cocoa than we would pay for that bar of milk chocolate.

So there's where I stand in the chain of events: I get the best price for chocolate, while the farmer suffers in ways I can't even imagine. Or else he uses slaves.

In a world where price is all that matters, the slave-holder wins every time.

So I look for the words "fair trade" on the package when I buy chocolate. I pay more money. As a consequence, I buy less. But why shouldn't chocolate be an occasional luxury? Doesn't it taste like one?

I wonder what the world would look like, if all were set right. If slavery did not exist (and it does; there are more slaves in the world today than there were back before we "abolished" slavery), if all farmers and workers were paid enough to support their families in dignity, wouldn't we pay more for the things we buy? Wouldn't we then buy less?

Would that be okay?

PS: Here's an excellent post by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, that I think is related, titled Steps Towards a More Sustainable Life of Less.

PSS: Welcome to my new follower, Tanja! I hope you will drop in often, and speak up in the comments!

(Thanks to H. Koppdelaney for the image.)

Keep Calm and Carry On

Friday, March 6, 2009

When I started this blog, I saw it, loosely, as a way of recording my thoughts about anything and everything except reading and writing, since that was the topic of my group blog, Novel Matters. I titled this one Ever Mindful, because, while it makes me sound more serene than I actually am, it does represent a way of thinking and seeing things that I try for in my approach to living. I want to pay attention. I want to see beyond and beneath the obvious. I never, ever want to get to the end of my life and realize that I let the whole thing pass by without notice.

I started Ever Mindful before the economic troubles began in earnest. Just before.

Now I think I have found the focus for what I am doing here. My family and I have been affected by the recent turn of events. Not as badly as some, but affected, nonetheless, and I am going to have to work through, over the coming years, what we will do about it. I'll look for practical steps to make things better, and if I find any that aren't obvious, and that might help others, I'll share them here. More than that, though, I will use this space to think through how to live the life I have today with faith, with wisdom and grace.

A few things I have seen and read and thought about lately that all tie together. I think. I'm sure they tie together.

1. Last night I read this in Andy Crouch's book, Culture Making:Recovering the Creative Calling: "'Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.' (Gen. 2:9) - notice the emphasis, as in a well-tended garden, on the combination of the beautiful and the useful."

I've always found it inspiring that when Franklin D. Roosevelt set about lifting our country out of The Great Depression, he put people to work creating not only roads and
bridges but also wall murals and music (ever hear of Woodie Guthrie?). Take a tour of Hoover Dam sometime, and you'll see how even a utilitarian project became a magnificent work of architectural art. My point is, we can find ways to be creative in the way we live through this time of our history.

2. This morning I watched a TedTalk by ceramics designer Eva Zeisel, a woman who has lived a long, creative life through the worst of times. I looked from this woman to the things her hands have made, and marveled at the beauty. Listen especially to what she says at the end: "I actually did survive."

3. The poster at the top of my sidebar was put out in 1939 by the United Kingdom Ministry of Information. Picture the Londoners during the blitzkrieg, dodging bombs, brushing rubble from their shoulders, turning to the poster for a little boost while they straightened their tweed coats and neatened their hair. I once found it oh, so charmingly British. Now I just find it ennobling. (This one comes compliments of A.J. Cann.)

Happy Friday, dear readers. Keep Calm. Carry On.

March Forth

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Fourth. Get it?

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I was tired, you see, walking home after a day that turned out very different from the one I had planned. Trudging through the snow, I remembered that one of the items on my to-do list was to write a blog post for Every Mindful.

The little excuse-maker gremlin in my head set right to work. Too late, it said. You should post in the morning or at the latest in the early afternoon. (Don't ask me where it got that rule; the gremlin speaks with such a tone of authority, you seldom think to argue.)

My day veered off course when I called my mother this morning, to ask if she felt like taking our daily walk, since it had begun to snow and was very cold.

"I've started a little project," she said.

Oh? What's that?

Turned out she was lifting the area rug from the living room, because she hates the way it looks there, and moving it into her office. It's a large rug, and in her office, it becomes no longer an area rug, but wall-to-wall carpeting.

My mother has not one, but two large desks in the little room, one of them oak and massive, the other one mahogany and merely large. She also has several bookcases, a bullet-proof filing cabinet, and lots and lots of books, baskets, boxes, stuff and stuff.

Let me go back to the oak desk. It's larger than the doorway. It's larger than the window. I don't know how she got it in there in the first place. My son says it was always there. It was an oak tree, and they carved it into a desk and built the house around it.

This was most certainly not a little project. All the small things had to come out (they filled the whole house!), and all of the big things had to be lifted while someone scroonched the carpet under.

I should mention, she was not alone. My great nephew was there, fourteen years old, and strong. But I love him, and my mother, and a little mercy seemed in order.

Before the day was out, two other men, my son and my nephew (great nephew's dad) were crowded into the office, figuring out logistics, lifting, grunting, making jokes about the "little project." There was also another nephew, three years old, who behaved very well. For a three-year-old.

We had fun. Really.

I felt pretty pleased about it, walking home in the snow, listening to the excuse-gremlin in my head.

Then it came to me that today was March Fourth, surely the bravest, the chirpiest sounding date on the calendar. It seemed to call for an acknowledgment, one which would fall flat if posted on March fifth.

So here I am, looking back on my day, on the way my family marched forth to get the job done, the way we enjoyed each other's company, and the challenge of a new, unexpected, and slightly ridiculous project.

Tomorrow perhaps I will march forth on that walk, snow or no snow.

Tonight I will figuratively march forth and post this entry. While it is still, just barely, March fourth.

Live in the Moment

Monday, March 2, 2009

Introduction: I'm proud to introduce my dear friend and fellow Novel Matters author, Sharon K. Souza as my first guest blogger here on Ever Mindful. Sharon has faced shattering tragedy with courage and faith, and today she will share some of that with you.

I was blessed to be witness to the gestation and birth of her two novels. She is a luminous author, who writes stories full of humor, wisdom and grace. I know you'll want to read them, so I've provided links at the end of this post.

I recently spoke at a MOPS (Mothers of Pre-schoolers) gathering. After introducing myself and sharing a bit about my novels, I got to the heart of the matter, Finding Contentment.

My daughter and son-in-law found contentment on Valentine’s Day, when they left their 2-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter with Grandpa and Grandma – namely my husband and me – while they went to Sacramento for shopping and dinner. Rick and I found contentment when they finally picked up the kids 7 hours later! The baby was a breeze, but I’d forgotten what it was like to keep up with a two-year-old. I fell into bed exhausted that night.

But to get serious . . . I’m sure most of us are familiar with the passage from Philippians 4:12, where Paul writes, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." Wow. I confess, there are some verses in the Bible I wish weren’t there, and that’s one of them. Because I haven’t accomplished that one yet. Not even close. I try. I want to be able to say along with Paul, "content . . . in any situation." But there have been plenty of times in my life when I was far from content.

In my writing, for example. It took 20 years for my first novel to be published. Believe me, there were plenty of times in those TWO DECADES I wasn’t content; when I wondered what on earth God was doing with me; wondered why he’d given me a passion to do something for him, only to be hemmed in by a brick wall I couldn’t get over or around, with no door in sight.

And I have to admit, I was that way in my parenting too. Impatient. Not content. I found myself always thinking, I can’t wait until . . . my babies, are walking, or talking, or going to school. Always eager for that next stage, rather than enjoying every single minute of every single day. Of just living in the moment. Because we’re not guaranteed that there will be a next moment.

On March 11, we will arrive at the second anniversary of the death of our son Brian, who died at 34. I could fill the universe with all the things I’d give up for one more moment with him, to see that dimpled smile one more time. I’m thankful for the promise that I’ll see him again, but that doesn’t dry my tears today.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Joni Mitchell’s "Circle Game," a song about a boy who grows from childhood to adulthood. The chorus says, "And the seasons, they go round and round; and the painted ponies go up and down; we’re captive on a carousel of time. We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game."

The verse that means the most to me says, "Sixteen springs and 16 summers gone now; cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town; and they tell him, take your time, it won’t be long now, till you drag your feet to slow the circle down."

How true is that. I find myself dragging my foot more and more, wanting to make the most of my time here. I wish I’d been content with every day when my children were young. Wish I’d listened with both ears, instead of just one so much of the time. Wish I’d played more and worried less about a tidy house. Wish I’d lived in the moment, for every one is precious; not one can be gotten back. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

And yet, God redeems all things, our regrets and mistakes most of all. It's never too late to ride that pony, so ride it for all you're worth.