Sunday, November 27, 2011


In no hurry for Thanksgiving 2011 to end so I'll just curl up with a cup of wild orange tea and nibble on some thoughts. Intention was the magic ingredient that made everything savory and sweet. Starting with an early morning road race in the cold sunshine. Festive and invigorating, the Turkey Trot was just the thing to work up an appetite for a simple yet elegant midday feast. But before that was Wednesday and dry brining a fresh, organic turkey with a rub of salt, sage, sugar and orange zest. Then making a centerpiece of pears and pomegranates and arranging deep pink roses, silvery lambs ear, sprigs of boxwood and rosemary in a vase. Finding a beautiful, interactive prayer to share made the meal extra special. Not joining the madding crowds out shopping on Black Friday kept things calm and bright. Pajama mornings, leftovers for lunch, long walks with the puppy. It's all good, the kids like to say. And it was.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

glory days

When the ginkgo loses its leaves, it does so in practically one fell swoop. Today this beautiful tree on Providence Road is only bare branches, but I took the picture a few Saturdays ago during a retreat break. While maybe not everyone's idea of a dream getaway, I got to spend two incredible days, head firmly in clouds, discussing ancient archetypes, the mysteries of faith and how to seek wholeness in a culture that beckons toward the superficial and unbalanced. Suffice to say it was a ginkgo-tree experience as everything unimportant fell away, providing a glimpse of heaven.

Friday, November 25, 2011

lingering in Thanksgiving

The other day I heard the mind referred to as a sensorium. At first, I truly thought it was just a clever, made-up word conjuring some kind of fabulous arcade of the senses. I imagined a sensorium to be a Willy Wonka-like fantasy place where a person could pay admission and then wallow at will in stupendous, supersized experiences of hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste. But to be sure, I looked up sensorium and was surprised to find it defined by Merriam-Webster as 'the parts of the brain concerned with the reception and interpretation of sensory stimuli.' Which led me to the conclusion that we are all actually our very own sensorium. Sure, you can regard this purely in medical, psychological, physiological terms. Or . . . as an emporium requiring not one penny of admission, in which you are given the endless opportunity to revel, every blessed day of your life.

I'll take the latter. On a Thanksgiving platter.

The feast on any table pales in comparison to the feast of senses that is Thanksgiving. This is likely why we have such a collective affection for the homegrown holiday that happens on the fourth Thursday of November. Even though it is so rapidly railroaded by the Polar Express that I sometimes jokingly refer to it as Thanksmas. But that does such a disservice. To the sound of a loved one's voice. To the sight of a loved one coming through the door. To the softness of the dog's fur, the pungence of wet leaves, the hint of cinnamon and cloves in the pie.

This year Thanksgiving came on the heels of another daunting surgery for a best friend who has relinquished so much to cancer. He will never again run to catch a perfect spiral on the football field or labor years on end to build a perfect stadium. He can no longer lift the familiar weights at the Y, bales of pine straw for his vegetable garden or even the suitcases his youngest child will pack for college next fall. Each month seems to bring with it some fresh loss to which he simply responds with grace for the gift of another day. Another breath.

Some nights I lie awake so sad about it, trying to ward off that sleep robber, despair. And the only thing that brings me back to my senses is this idea of a sensorium. That even though everything may feel like loss, the senses have a mind of their own. To hear a friend's funny story. To see the full moon, touch a loved one's cheek, smell wood smoke and coffee brewing. To taste life. To these five, I would add a sixth, transformational sense. One which, if we are aware of it, has the power to elevate the other five to joy.

I'm talking about a sense of gratitude. That, when cultivated, makes every day Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

bogged down, but in a good way

Even though there's still a day or two of school, and several of work, Thanksgiving is upon us. If you need convincing, there's a cranberry 'bog' in the middle of the Fresh Market. It's one of my favorite sensory treats of this annual feast of the senses. Right about now I need to make a list and check it twice (so that dinner will be extra nice), but the rest is gravy. Just show up and show some gratitude. I can do that. If not for a cure for Type 1 Diabetes (yet!), then for the precious Target pharmacist who fills the insulin prescription. And especially for that lifesaver, insulin! If not for Cocoa curled contentedly at our feet, then for the unfettered exuberance of the lost puppy we took in last summer. If not for the fiscal downturn at work, then for the unstructured time that's opened up for me to think, write, pray. Are you with me here? There's really not a whole lot to Thanksgiving, except everything: a fairly simple yet delicious meal with loved ones, enough leftovers for a good Dagwood sandwich and a wholehearted appreciation for the crazy, colorful cornucopia of life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

early Thanksgiving

We made Thanksgiving Gratitude Journals today during Bookendipity Book Club and were well into the cutting and hole-punching when I realized that maybe it was presumptuous and even callous to do this craft at an elementary school where more than 80% of the families live in poverty. But the children must not have gotten the memo saying that life was barren and bust because they bubbled on and on about their blessings: an amazing-sounding grandma named Donna and a cool cousin who hands down her clothes, the teacher who 'reads all the time.' God and Jesus were on their lists, as were mamas, daddies, brothers, sisters and all manner of pets. As we packed up to leave, one little boy blurted out that he was thankful for his new foster family. His buddy said "Hey, I didn't know you were in foster care!" I don't like to talk about it, came the quiet answer and we all hugged goodbye.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

worth noting

Artist Laurie Richardson and I are giving a letter writing workshop for children on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. She's the kind of friend - a forever friend - who sends the sweetest things through the mail, even though we only live about a mile from each other. And drops off warm scones after she's tried a new recipe. She paints, she teaches art, she designs, she mothers. We met at a calligraphy class back when I was working in marketing at a bank, wanting desperately to get into writing full-time. She was an art director at a small agency where the writer had just given notice. She thought I would be perfect for the job and told her boss so, which was the beginning of my advertising career. That was five children ago (mine and hers!), one picture book collaboration and a gazillion happy memories. Laurie makes the best soup, too, which we'll sit and eat in her colorful, art-filled kitchen while dreaming up ideas like this workshop:

Take Note!

The Art of Letter Writing:

A workshop for children

Grades 1-6

In the age of email, a handwritten letter is more dear than ever. It's an envelope filled with love and creativity that can open up a world of happy for both writer and recipient. Put your personal stamp on life by becoming a letter writer! Artist Laurie Richardson and writer Julie Marr are longtime pen pals who will share wonderful examples and discuss what makes a letter fun to write and a pleasure to read. They'll show the supplies a letter writer needs to have on hand for convenience and inspiration. Participants will put pen to page and jot a note or two, then even create personalized stationery! To register, please email Laurie at or

Sunday, November 20th

3 - 5 pm

Cost: $30

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

mind space

Sometimes it's hard to tear myself away from my desk at home in order to go to the desk at work. Or anywhere for that matter. It's cheerful and inviting, especially when the stack of bills is mailed on its merry way and assorted papers have been filed or otherwise dealt with. Inspiration waits for me here, amid the paper clips and post-it notes. There's always a project or two that I want to delve into, a letter I want to write, an idea fluttering around to be captured in the butterfly net of imagination.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

swing time

Falling Back

Imagine Ginger, swirling away from Fred's outstretched
hands, then in again before an extravagant backward dip.
Outside, leaves are the color of her hair and today it is
we who fall back. A gift has been left anonymously
on the nightstand next to a cup of coffee with steam
swirling above the caramel surface. It is a
gently ticking clock, pewter with generous black
numerals on a white face, outstretched hands
beckoning to a place out of time.

Back to the carpet of camellia petals strewn across
the yard, to the startling yellow ginkgo tree on the
Episcopal church grounds, to the perfume of nutmeg,
clove and cardamon in a dense loaf of tea bread.
Back to mist shrouded mornings giving way to
golden afternoons, October disappearing into
brocaded, bejeweled November in a flurry of
sweet ghosts and remembered saints.

If this is a treatise on joy, it is also one of sorrow.
Of daylight and darkness, of the empty place at
the table, the toys boxed and placed in the attic,
the bulbs planted yesterday that will not break
ground until spring. At the very same time, it is
the sweet serendipity of a few more pages read
while curled up in the old wingback chair, of the
scarf finally knitted to fruition, of curried
carrot soup simmering on the stove.

©julie degni marr 2005

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pump up the Vitamin C

In order to make this crazy world work for you and not against you, you must decide what matters to you most and focus your attention on that. - from Crazy Busy by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D.

I had the great fortune to hear Harvard-educated psychiatrist Ned Hallowell speak this past Sunday. He's brilliant and eloquent, kind-hearted and totally down-to-earth. While he's written several excellent books, probably the best-known is Crazy Busy. Here are just a few nuggets of insight from his talk:

1. We are conditioned not to linger, ponder, reflect, go deeper.

2. If we are not careful, our lives will become superficialized.

3. Nothing can match the human moment. It is 1000x more powerful than an electronic moment. Make judicious use of it. Commit to connecting to one another.

4. We need daily megadoses of Vitamin C (connect!) which is free and infinite. It helps us feel better, live longer, sleep better and do better at work, school, etc.

5. Getting rid of anger and resentment frees you for other things.

6. Saying 'no' allows for 'yes' to things that matter most to you. Just one cancellation can offer rejuvenation.

7. The biggest change in our world today is the obliteration of boundaries.

8. Your pain can be your biggest source of learning. Befriend it.

9. Create time. If you don't take control of your time, it will be taken from you.