Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year from Antigua, Guatemala, one of the most beautiful small cities in the world. It sounds like there's going to be quite a celebration tonight, with dances and fireworks and who-knows-what (haven't yet figured out "toritos," featured in our program for the evening, but I have a feeling that everything will be noisy and happy).

May this new year, 2009, truly be a time of deep changes toward the greater health of our world, toward greater justice for all, toward peace among peoples. I wish this every year, this year with more hope than I've had for a long time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Among the flowers

Andrea, Beth and I just returned from two lovely days along the Ruta de los Flores - a string of five beautiful old towns high in the hills a couple of hours west of San Salvador Eleanor kindly let us use the PeaceHealth car for our journey, and Andrea drove expertly and threaded all the impossible streets with the grace of one who's lived here before.

We stayed at El Jardin de Celeste (Celeste's garden), a beautiful restaurant-hotel full of flowers and charm. We were in a little log cabin - one room with three beds and our own bathroom (very characteristic of Salvadorans not to want separate bedrooms, so those are only provided in very Norteamericano places). From there we ventured out to Apaneca, Juayua (great market and we got to the church just in time for Mass), Ataco (wonderful crafts stores and weaving sheds), and Nauhizalco (one of the few communities in El Salvador with strong indigenous roots). And we ate good food, told stories, found surprising places, and enjoyed the feeling of being on vacation! Didn't have a camera with us, though, so I can't share any of it with you.

I'm happy to say that the pain in my shoulder is gone, and that I'm gradually extending the range of motion, so by now would feel comfortable driving & doing almost all the daily tasks.

Now we head to Guatemala for a couple of days in Antigua and - we hope - a flying visit to Sheila McShane's health mission. More on that later, maybe even photos. It's great to be here, to be beginning this new life and new work. A lovely way to begin a new year!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In El Salvador

Just a quick note to say that I'm here in El Salvador - I came in last night, Beth and Andrea arrived this morning with more of my baggage. It's beautifully warm, beautifully sunny, and this new adventure will continue this afternoon as Andrea, Beth and I begin a few days of vacation on the Ruta de los Flores - Route of the Flowers - a string of beautiful villages in Sonsonate.

Friday, December 26, 2008

¡Ya me voy!

Ya me voy - I'm leaving now....I'm at an airport hotel, making sure I get on that plane tomorrow and don't get trapped by another snowstorm, ice floe, or slush pond. It took 6 people, many with shovels, to get Linda and her 4-wheel drive vehicle, which was kindly transporting me to the hotel, out of the parking lot today - but I just added a Salvador weather widget to my iGoogle, and it tells me that right now it's 73 in San Salvador, down from today's sunny high of 89. No wind, some clouds. Sounds like a delightful contrast!

I won't be blogging much in the next ten days - I'm going to be travelling and relaxing with Andrea and Beth, the two Sisters with whom I've shared Province leadership over these past six years.

One last note - I found out today that my sore shoulder is probably a frozen shoulder and a rotator cuff tear - will get an MRI in San Salvador to confirm this diagnosis from my chiropractor. Lots of unpleasant rehab lies ahead!

But for now: another world beckons. Ya me voy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas joy and anticipation

Christmas joy - going to Mass in the morning, having one big feast with the Sisters topped off by flaming plum pudding, then getting together with my family for another big feast, presents, and again the ritually flamed plum pudding (eaten by only a few of us, but enjoyed by all - my family's ritual requires that those who do not eat pudding may have ice cream but may not have any of the delectable hard sauce). This year for the first time we had our Christmas dinner at the home of my nephew John and his wife Pat: this year was different because Ken, my dear brother-in-law, died in April, and while his presence was everywhere around us today, we all knew it was time to move the feast away from the table where he and my sister Kathy had welcomed us so many, many times. Before that, when my father and mother were still alive, we met at their house for Christmas dinner - and that house on Magnolia Bluff now belongs to John and Pat, so going there felt warm and right.

For me the rituals and warm familiarity of Mass and singing and family and food were seasoned with sadness, with missing Ken, and with anticipation, because tomorrow I'm packing up and staying at a hotel near the airport, and Saturday I fly to El Salvador. And there also I will meet Jesus who came to be among us como hermano, como compañero - as brother and friend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Vigil 0f Christmas

Christmas eve - the vigil of Christmas - and we celebrated beautifully here at St. Mary's (go to the other Susan, CSJP for stories and photos). I remembered a poem I wrote on this night many years ago, and while it doesn't quite fit our current weather (snow moving into slush), it does, I hope, fit the mystery and splendor of this night.

Vigil of Christmas

Thick clouds and rain.

When I come out of your house in the valley
the edges of the hills around are golden
a town of golden houses above us.
As we stand in the rain in the dark
three gulls beat into the sunlight, their wings
flashing white and gold,

a message from whom we cannot imagine,
a letter from a lover almost forgotten,
the whole earth glowing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Melting requested

I am, we are, really really really tired of the snow. It was gorgeous the first day, being isolated in a snow-bound island was fun for a few days thereafter. Now it's outstayed its welcome: we want to get out, get in a car, drive away, go to a store, visit family and friends, do Christmasy things. Instead, we counted up the 10 cars that have stuck in the snow at St. Mary-on-the-Lake. We regretted St. Mary's lack of a snow blade which could have been bought for a mere $400 when the current mowing machine was purchased. We tried to figure out how we could get where we wanted to be on Christmas Day in spite of our immovable cars.

I did get out today, walked down to the nearby arterial, Bellevue Way, to meet friends for breakfast. On the way, I slipped on the ice and came down flat on my back and the back of my head - such a comprehensive fall that I'm sure my head bounced a few times. No harm done, I didn't even get a headache, and my shoulder is finally beginning to feel better. Good thing, because I couldn't find any doctor's offices that were open. We had a great breakfast and a great conversation. And in only four days, catastrophes notwithstanding, I fly to El Salvador where it never snows. Thanks be to God!

Monday, December 22, 2008


As a result, I suspect, of that garage door falling on my shoulder last week my left shoulder has been increasingly painful, and - isolated in our winter wonderland - I've sought out treatment from some wonderful CSJP practitioners - a nurse practitioner who gave me a wonderful therapeutic massage the next day, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine who gave me an expert acupuncture treatment and Korean herbal medication, and a nurse who gave me healing touch and aromatherapy treatments. Each of these was wonderful and took away the pain. But it has kept coming back, and I've had to sleep sitting up in a chair the last three nights, which leads all of my experts to tell me I need to get an X-Ray to check for tears or damage before I head to El Salvador. And it's the 22nd of December, five days before I leave for El Salvador, and we're still snowbound. Check back, dear readers, for the rest of the story.

P.S. My car was towed today - back to the exact same place it started from, all systems humming, no damage visible. Our large property has now collected 4 or 5 more stuck cars. Bob keeps towing them patiently out, and then the next driver comes along and lands in the ditch. We are NOT good at snow in Seattle.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The weather outside is frightful

but we're managing to stay warm and dry at St. Mary's, an island of comfort and good cheer surrounded by snow which keeps falling and falling and falling. Sister Snow got a new look and a wider skirt last night. The lights went out today, but our generator kicked in immediately - and within an hour, the lights came back on.

You get to St. Mary's by driving down a steep hill from the street. It's something you wouldn't register on most days, but now it's treacherous. Witness my car, under the snow mound.

Because the priest who was saying Mass couldn't get to St. Mary's, I led a Word and Communion service - very strange for us not to have Mass on the 4th Sunday in Advent! - and gave a brief homily about the Annunciation, today's Gospel. God has a way of rearranging our plans, I said, and that message seemed to tie together Mary's surprise at Gabriel's announcement and our surprise at having all our plans for Christmas week so firmly upended. We're not in control.

This is an especially uncomfortable lesson for someone who hopes to flee to the tropics in six short days.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


We're having a true Advent experience here at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, isolated from the normal pre-Christmas world of shopping and parties by the snow that has already fallen, the ice that has already formed, watching fresh snow fall and waiting for the winds that have been forecast, the freezing rain that might happen tomorrow, hoping the lights and heat stay on. It's good to go through this with our cheerful sisters and the great staff people who've given up their ordinary lives to nurse and feed us (they are mostly staying the night in spare rooms here). It's good to be a community of lovers and believers, waiting for the light.

While it's hard to believe that I'll be in the tropics IN JUST ONE WEEK, I checked the weather report for San Salvador, and it's 79 to 86 as the high during the day, going down to 58-62 at night, sunny with occasional clouds. All week long, all month long. On December 21st, the shortest day in the year, the sun rises in San Salvador at 6:15 AM and sets at 5:35 PM; on June 21st, the longest day in the year, the sun rises at 5:31 AM and sets at 6:27 PM. It never snows. And I'm waiting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Car-tastrophe

Troubles and catastrophes, my friend Lindy reminded me, always come in threes: yes, I'm sorry to say that my car has made the acquaintance of a new set of laurel shrubs. Tried to drive up our icy and quite steep driveway today (I'm not entirely sure why) and almost got there, but backsliding occurred (literal, not ecclesiastical), and I found myself leaping out of the car as it slid gently into the embrace of the laurels on the side of the road. As far as I can tell, both side mirrors are still intact, and the car is going to stay where it is, safely off the side of the road, until Bob gets in on Monday with the truck and tows it out. Too many calls going out to AAA today, and I don't, in truth, really need to go anywhere, except into my files and suitcases, until Tuesday.

So I'm done now: no more catastrophes, please. We're supposed to get a whopper of a storm tomorrow on top of all the ice and snow already clogging our streets. Hope we come through it with the power still on!

Snow or no snow, I'm heading to the tropics in 8 days.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow Day!

I was supposed to spend most of today cooking for our annual Province staff Christmas lunch, but instead we had a snow day - great whirls and piles of snow starting about 5:30 with a great clap of thunder and lightning (snow lightning is a new experience). So I got to catch up with posting to our CSJP website (go here for more snow photos) while Sisters Amalia, Susan and Sukyi created Sister Snow in the courtyard. Something about snow, it just makes you feel like you're six again.... Even if you are heading to El Salvador in nine days! One of our Irish sisters asked me today if it ever snowed in El Salvador, and I was sorry to have to tell her that it never, ever did.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The O Antiphons

December 17th takes the church from Advent patience into heightened expectancy with the beginning of the O Antiphons. Each day, before the reading of the Gospel and before the Magnificat at Evening Prayer, a different antiphon is sung or said, and in this last week before Christmas, they are exalted: O Wisdom! O Key of David! O Root of Jesse! O Radiant Dawn! Today during our Word and Communion Service Sister Beth read the first O Antiphon: "O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation."

Heightened expectancy indeed! Today all the Seattle schools, public and private, were closed because of an expectation of snow, but no snow fell, and the temperature hovered comfortably at 38. Snow to the north of us in Everett; snow to the south of us in Tacoma; and dry streets in Seattle. My own sense of expectancy is ridiculously heightened by the near approach of December 27th, 10 days away, when I fly to El Salvador. O Wisdom, be my guide!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cold day, warm hearts

Seattle's going through a spate of record cold temperatures, going down to 19 degrees on Monday, and not a lot warmer today. Cold weather shelters opened last weekend, just in time. I spent the day getting my heart warmed - eggnog and conversation around the newly decorated tree at St. Mary-on-the-Lake and then dinner with my Tuesday night friends, a group of Sisters and Associates that gathers in our house on Seattle's Capitol Hill for conversation, food and prayer. It was the last Tuesday for Dorothy and me: Dorothy's headed back to the Novitiate in New Jersey and I'm headed south. So we were wonderfully celebrated and blessed for our journeys, and the cold air I met outside as I walked to the car just didn't seem to penetrate as far, my heart was so warm.

And in just eleven days, the rest of me will catch up in the tropical warmth of El Salvador.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tangling with doors

It's been the weekend for moving, not blogging, and tonight I'm in my small and cozy room in Cusack Hall - this will be my home base when I'm visiting Seattle/Bellevue from El Salvador. Getting here took most of the weekend and all of today: taking things out of cupboards and drawers and sorting them into five piles: trash, Goodwill, my room in Cusack, my downstairs closet, or El Salvador. Sometimes the piles spilled into each other or got tangled, but mostly I was very glad to be in the business of sorting. Glad because on Saturday I opened the overhead door of an unused garage, thrust my worm bin in so it wouldn't freeze, and then heard a loud crack - the ancient spring that makes the door open easily had parted from its mooring, and the very heavy, very inert door came down on my shoulder with a crash. I came too close to getting closed in the garage with the worm bin (I love having worms eat my garbage, but they are not great companions) on a very, very cold night. I just managed to wiggle my way out - er, worm my way out? - letting the door fall behind me. Hope someone will help me retrieve the worms again, as they're supposed to travel to their new garbage source next weekend. I'm not opening that door again!

I hope that's the last catastrophe before I leave for El Salvador in 12 days!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cinco Colones

Andrea Nenzel, the Sister who asked me if I'd be interested in ministering in El Salvador, gave me a little bag with a 5 colones bill in it, and a 5 centavo coin. This is not going to get me many cups of coffee in El Salvador! When I first visited in 2001, colones were still in use, and they were pegged to the value of the dollar. One colón was worth 17 cents. Now they're not in use at all, and the U.S. Dollar is the currency of El Salvador. It seems sad to me, for a country not to have its own proper currency, though I understand that turning to the dollar means some fiscal stability. I think I'll keep that bill for memory.

I'll be travelling in 15 days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tangling with trees

Last night I went to a wonderful holiday party for Intercommunity Mercy Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer. I've been on the IMH Board for six years, and they were bidding me farewell. I had all kinds of praises heaped on my head, and then I went out, took a wrong turn onto a dead-end dark lane on Mercer Island, tried to back out, and backed instead into a laurel shrub. I was rescued by Jennifer, the hostess of the party, and eventually by Brian with AAA.

This reminded Jennifer of the time she had been tending her young children with her right hand and had driven into a tree (slowly) with her left hand. It reminded me of the time I went on a Capital Campaign call for Jubilee Women's Center and found a large alder had fallen into the middle of my car when I returned. And it reminded me of a short story by Ursula LeGuin about the inner life of trees as they try to avoid drivers. My apologies to the laurel, which now owns a nice hubcap and fine mirror. My thanks to the laurel for keeping me from backing off the edge of a steep hill, which I might otherwise have done. And thanks to Len's Automotive, the best car repair shop in Bellevue, which is restoring the Toyota to her former state.

I fly to El Salvador in 16 days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Letting Go

This morning I put my sterling silver christening cup, with my name inscribed on it in flowing script and a few baby tooth dents, into my pile of Goodwill donations. I've been carting it around for all the many years of my life, and I've never been able to figure out a good use for it. At long last, I polished it, admired it, said goodbye, and put it in the donation bag. Someone at least can have some good out of it, if only by melting down the silver!

I'm pretty sure I'll never miss my cup or the other things I'm letting go. All that stuff, yes even stuff disguised as a sterling silver christening cup, is just a tether, a binding. Feels good to let it go.

But then, my real challenge is the books - while I've given up tons (literally, I'm afraid) of books in my lifetime, I still find it hard to part with a book and the possibilities it represents. I've cut my book collection by about 2/3rds and still have more than I can easily fit into my room here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

One Special Rosary

At the missioning/blessing party Saturday I received a special present from my friend Patti Moore. Patti and I have been exchanging long e-mail letters, and in one of hers she talked about her special glow-in-the-dark rosary, which was a great source of comfort on nights when she'd wake up from a bad dream. Patti, who is an amazing writer and photographer (as witness, see the photo here, though the web does not do it justice), came to the party with her camera, and came up to me at the end. "Here," she said, "hold out your hand." I did, and she gave me her glow-in-the-dark rosary, for comfort in those nights in El Salvador when my community and friends seem too far away. Thank you, Patti, I will take it with me for comfort and for courage.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What a lovely party!

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of a very beautiful Advent Reflection Day, my Sisters and friends blessed and missioned me for my new work in El Salvador, and thanked me for my past six years on the Province leadership team. It was great fun, including a song to the tune of "Deck the Halls" that included such lines as "We'll miss you Susan, that's for certain / Your absent space will leave us hurtin' Falalalalalalalala." I was touched by a book of photos and wishes or prayers from the community - and Sister Susan Francois (the other Sister Susan) video-taped the song and the comments so I can revisit this party whenever my absent space leaves me hurtin'.

All in all, it was a little like getting to hear the eulogies at my own funeral, without the messy business of having to die first. Embarrassing, but heart-warming! I was especially moved by this poem, which Sister Eileen Keane read:

Go to the people,
Live among them,
Learn from them,
Love them,
Start with what they know,
Build on what they have.
But of the best leaders,
When their task is accomplished
Their work is done,
The people will all remark
"We have done it ourselves."

Tao To Loa Tzuching in 700 B.C.

Twenty days to El Salvador!

Friday, December 5, 2008

In Three Weeks

In three weeks I'll be in the tropics, looking at fruit stands filled with bananas and mangoes, wearing summer clothes. I have to remind myself, because at this moment at the end of a long chilly gray day the tropics seem unlikely.

I was in a meeting today where I kept opening the windows because I was hot, and one of the men at the meeting asked me how I was going to manage the heat of El Salvador if I was being stifled by a warm room in Bellevue.

Good question. I'll take lots of naps, I said. Ah, the siesta! Not, in truth, a custom in El Salvador, but then, I won't be working in an office, and if I get my day's tasks done in the morning, who's to say no to a pleasant siesta in the heat of the afternoon?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Catching happiness like the flu

"Happiness is contagious, spreading among friends, neighbors, siblings and spouses like the flu, according to a large study that for the first time shows how emotion can ripple through clusters of people who may not even know each other."

For the rest of this story by Rob Stein, go to the Washington Post. But what a joy to think that your joy can spill over and get me smiling, that my grin could spark your grin, and so on and on.

And even better: the same study, rigorous and scientific, found that misery, while it's catchable, is much less catchable than happiness.

Maybe we're built for joy.

23 days to El Salvador!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Strange company

Sorting through a lifetime of papers, I came across a yellowed copy of the Seattle P.I. from February 4th, 1959, something I'd kept because I was featured - on page 3 at that - as one of the winners of an English Achievement Award . Never noticed before today, but the column next to the one that features the seven of us, high school kids looking unimaginably young, is headlined "3 Rock 'N' Roll Stars Die in Plane Crash." And, of course, it reports the deaths of Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and J. P. Richardson, aka The Big Bopper. Those deaths, of three young and rising rock stars, have become the stuff of film and legend. Strange company, those singers early dead and we hopeful writers setting out into the world.

One of the other winners featured in that 1959 photo is my lifelong friend, the Hawaiian artist Roger Whitlock, who painted this watercolor of a building in Honolulu's Chinatown. Roger taught creative writing at the University of Hawaii for many years before discovering his great talent as a watercolorist, and I taught English for a few years at the University of New Mexico before setting out on the long and winding path that led me to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Good thing for us both that - unlike those lost stars - we've had plenty of lifetime to unfold our callings!

24 days to El Salvador!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cleaner chaos

Today I finished a big filing/organizing chore - getting all the docs I have filed in my Jubilee Women's Center file for the past six years in order so I could pass them on. Jubilee Women's Center, which has been offering housing and hope to homeless women for the past 25 years, is close to my heart. I was on staff there for four years in the late 1990s, and the women of Jubilee taught me most of what I know about leadership and presence to others. They were not all gentle teachers, but they were good! For the past six years, I've been on the Board, as the designated Sister of St. Joseph of Peace member (we were the founders of Jubilee and continue to be sponsors), but now Sister Margaret Parry has taken my place (she'll be great). I've delighted over those years in watching as Jubilee Exec. Director Susan Fox led the way in raising funds to rehabilitate Jubilee's old convent building (no longer recognizable as a convent!) and to purchase the beautiful old house next door. And today I've organized, pruned and passed on the files of the Board Development and Operations Committee, which feels glorious.

These were almost entirely electronic files that I was organizing and pruning, and they were no neater than any set of paper files I've ever kept. But at least the Jubilee files were all in the Jubilee folder on our system, and the pruning created only electronic trash. Still chaos, but it's cleaner chaos.

Twenty-five days to go!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Can it really be December?

I've hit the slow and slogging part of preparing to move... dealing with a 6-year backlog of digital and physical files from my work as our Province Secretary, Treasurer, Communications Director and Associate Co-Director. The files feel, at this point, endless, and there's a considerable temptation to do A LOT of deleting.

In the midst of all that slogging, we had the unexpected joy of a sunny and fairly warm winter day in Seattle and Bellevue, and the sun called me out for a walk. Most of the leaves are gone, and the ground's saturated with rainwater, but I found a clump of herb robert (see the photo - herb robert gets treated like a weed, and like any good weed it will take every opportunity to bloom and spread itself) blooming happily, a wonderful sight in December, and the towers of downtown Seattle were misty in the distance, with the Olympic Mountains just showing further to the west.

Eleanor e-mailed to tell me that it's very pleasant right now in San Salvador. I'll find out for myself in only 26 days.