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BouckFamilyFB-45(1)Hi there friend, and welcome to my blog. I started writing on the internet more than ten years ago, first anonymously as “pilgrimgirl” and later under my own name.  I began as pilgrimgirl because at the time I was studying journey narratives and had a feeling as though I was starting on a new path with an unknown destination. Since I began writing online I’ve started and finished a PhD program, left the Mormon church and became a Quaker, got divorced, started a history podcast, found full-time work in academia, took up rock climbing and outrigger canoeing, and traveled across the globe (China! Belgium! Italy! Chicago! Montana! Portland! Gettysburg! and oh-so-many points in-between).  For my 38th birthday and 25th anniversary of my bone cancer diagnosis,  we (meaning me and you) bought legs for a young double-amputee from China.

You might have happened upon this blog because you’ve heard of my work in the digital humanities or because you are curious about living with a disability or because you are also in the midst of a faith transition.  Click on any of the links above to find my posts about those particular topics (or use the dropdown links in the nav bar on the blog header).  Or, feel free to read a little bit of anything and everything by using the archive links on the right sidebar.

This blog is eclectic and random–it has poetry and cooking and books.  And cats.  And flowers.  And the ocean (my ocean).  But in that sense it’s a good reflection of me and my wide-ranging, far-reaching, magpie curiosity.

31st anniversary

Today was the anniversary of the day that I was diagnosed with bone cancer, probably the single worst day of my life.  It’s generally a tough one for me, although some years are better than others.

Some small pleasures from today:

  • sharing my salmon dinner with Ellycat
  • lighting candles on the fireplace mantle of my new, but still empty, house.  Imagining what it will look like once I get the furniture all moved over
  • teaching a workshop on one of my favorite digital tools, Zotero (because I can wax rhapsodic about the beauty of my footnotes)
  • some of my students dropping by the house, to chat and munch on cookies
  • walking to and from work, with confidence.  Not taking even one single step for granted.  Feeling grateful for mobility and strength.

moving right along…*

grapevine

Photo taken of the grapevines on the front fence of our current home. I’m sad to know that we’ll be leaving these behind, but the new house has a huge avocado tree, orange tree, and a well-developed herb garden…

Last night my son and I were watering our vegetable/herb garden at dusk and the smell was so achingly familiar. Of lavender and tomatoes and sage and basil.  And dark wet soil. Grassy and fecund.  It was the smell of the community garden plot that I nurtured for a decade.  What rich and pleasant memories that scent evoked.

Oddly enough, our garden is not at the wee corner bungalow where we moved last fall.  Our garden is at a house down the street, where we will move at the end of this month.  After eight months of living on this busy corner we realized that it was time to seek somewhere a bit quieter, with a bit more space and no grass (because who wants grass when there are so many other lovely less-thirsty plants to enjoy?).  It also has a pergola-covered back patio for our late summer evening parties and a small back house for a robotics workshop/guest lodging.

So, a few weeks ago we moved our raised garden bed plantings over to the new place, a barrow-full at a time.  Everything survived the move and is thriving in its new raised-bed location.  We even picked our first tomatoes and peppers yesterday!

While I am over-the-moon excited about the new house, lately I’ve been wondering whether I simply move too much.  At last count, I’ve moved 14 (soon to be 15) times in the past two decades, which doesn’t even account for my sabbatical wanderings last summer. There’s no moss growing on this rolling stone, that’s for sure!  But…I am starting to think that it’s time to put down roots for awhile, rather than living lightly and moving on so readily.

Being mobile is exciting and freeing, but it also has its consequences–one never has to invest much when one knows that everything is only temporary.  In so many ways, my mobility has been a defense mechanism, to prevent me from caring too much about any one place or any specific community. It also simply doesn’t seem to fit me anymore.  After all these years of being able to pack up and move on a dime, I want to stay put for awhile and accumulate a bit too many things and let myself settle into a home and a community.  I want to know my neighbors.  And their kids and their dogs.  And whether they like red or white…so when I see them coming I can make sure that I have a bottle at the ready.

*this phrase always reminds me of Super-Sara.  I still miss her so much.

a small list of advice for getting through a divorce

A few friends have recently asked me for advice about getting through the tough few initial weeks of a divorce.  My advice to them, based on what I did well during my first few weeks separated from my then-spouse:

  • I exercised every single day. This was my obligation to myself because I knew I would have imploded otherwise. I lifted weights/swam/yoga’d/paddled/rock-climbed/etc.
  • I surrounded myself with a tribe of supporters that I could call or text at any time of day or night. Most of these friends had been through a divorce themselves, so they “got it.”
  • I threw myself into meeting new people that had no idea about my divorce. I met them online or in cafes or at the gym or at the Huntington (where I was on fellowship at the time).
  • I re-made my home into a place that I loved, room by room excavating every bit of my ex’s junk out if my life. I started with the bedroom–new linens & rearranged the furniture. If something brought bad memories of my marriage, it went into the trash. I only kept the things that I loved and that made me feel good.  If there were “important” documents that I couldn’t face in the moment but I also couldn’t throw away, I put them into a box to deal with later (FWIW, I just barely went through that box and I’m glad that I waited a few years so I was clear-headed as I made choices about what to keep).
  • But perhaps most importantly, I kept working.  I didn’t miss a day of being at my desk and in the off-hours I was pounding away at my dissertation.  Despite the turmoil in so many aspects of my life, work was a bedrock-constant dependable thing and that kept me well-centered to face everything else.

off-season

Some of the off-season crew on a Saturday morning paddle.

Steering some of the off-season crew on a Saturday morning paddle.

Winter is “off-season” for outrigger canoeing, so my team doesn’t practice regularly.  It is a  much less-desirable time of year for being on the water–it’s cold, stormy, and the days are short.

But it’s precisely all of those undesirable reasons that make off-season paddling so fun to me.  There’s a small hardy band of half-a-dozen paddlers that comes together every Wednesday for a nighttime jaunt–an easy 8 miles or so of canoeing from the Back Bay to the Harbor mouth (and when we’re lucky, all the way out to the bell buoy).  There’s an irreverence to the off-season that is potty humor and in-jokes, plenty of near-misses with docks and channel markers and whatever mysterious dark detritus floating alongside our boat (a dead sea lion? a dead bird? a bag of beach trash?).  But it is also the beauty of bioluminescent plankton and a sky full of stars.  It is a Jerry moonlight serenade after we cross the PCH bridge and it is Lynn’s unmistakable and infectious laugh. It is pirates at Halloween and twinkling lights for the holiday parade.  It is cold toes and noses and ears and fingers, and that occasional balmy Santa Ana breeze that greets us as we round the bend of the Back Bay. It is paddling for the for the sheer joy of being on the water and in the water, with friends.

But tonight regular Team Imua season practice begins.  It is time to prepare for races, to polish our form and build our strength.  Of course that’s all good (especially the strengthening part), but I’ll still be missing the off-season, more than a bit.

Like the sea itself…

Photo taken that time that I walked out into the ocean wearing my wedding dress and returned wearing rags...

Photo taken that time I walked out into the ocean wearing my old wedding dress…

I’ve been reading a lot of Rachel Carson lately, for a project that I’m working on.  Her writing is beautiful to me, as someone who comes more alive when I am on the ocean, feeling the wind in my hair.  I get the sense that Rachel is also of a like mind when it comes to the spiritual power of being close to the ocean and its “surge of beating life.”  An excerpt from The Rocky Coast:

Like the sea itself, the shore fascinates us when we return to it, the place of our dim ancestral beginnings.  In the recurrent rhythms of tides and surf and in the varied life of tide lines there is the obvious attraction of movement and change and beauty.  There is also, I am convinced, a deeper fascination born of inner meaning and significance.

When we go down to the low tide line, we enter a world that is as old as the earth itself–the primeval meeting place of the elements of earth and water, a place of compromise and conflict and eternal change.  For us as living creatures it has special meaning as an area in or near which some entity that could be distinguished as Life first drifted in shallow waters–reproducing, evolving, yielding that endlessly varied stream of living things that has surged through time and space to occupy the earth.

To understand the shore, it is not enough to catalog its life.  Understanding comes only when, standing on a beach, we can sense the long rhythms of earth and sea that sculptured its land forms and produced the rock and sand of which it is composed; when we can sense with the eye and ear of the mind the surge of life beating always at its shores…

Today’s Most Important Thing

Because some days, the most important thing is taking some time for coffee with Stijn.

Because some days, the most important thing is taking some time for a spiced latte with Stijn.

I often feel a bit at odds with “productivity” articles.  Perhaps this resistance began last year when I realized that most of my goals were actually about slowing down and reducing the frantic, seemingly “productive,” pace that I’d been maintaining and that probably led to some of the significant health problems that I was grappling with.

So lately, to combat the tendency to fritter away much of my time at time-consuming tasks that aren’t actually all that productive, I’ve started each day with a question for myself:

What’s the most important thing that I could accomplish today?

Leading with that question, rather than beginning with whatever is screaming on my To-Do list, is not only giving me more peace of mind, but is also helping me to better-prioritize my daily work schedule.

Note: This excellent article at ProfHacker is what inspired my thoughts about productivity this morning…

it’s all about the cheese

a cheese plate, my typical way to finish a meal

a cheese plate, my typical way to finish a meal

About four months ago, after trying to make sense of various mysterious health symptoms, my physician suggested that I go on an elimination diet for awhile, specifically to eliminate dairy at first, but she also suggested that eliminating eggs or gluten might be in order if my symptoms weren’t alleviated.  At the time my primary symptom was nausea, but I also often felt a sort of unspecified abdominal ache in the evenings, too.

Within a few weeks of the no-dairy, the symptoms became minimal.  Because I noticed them when I ate eggs, I also eliminated those.  And since then I’ve felt remarkably nausea and gut-pain free.  A few times since I started the elimination I’ve tried a bit of cheese and I still cook with butter and I seem to be fine with that, as long as dairy is not a major category in my diet.

And somehow I made it through the holidays while sticking to a mostly dairy-free and egg-free diet, with very few temptations or frustrations (it helps, I suppose, that I love veggies and that I bought a Vitamix blender).  It seems that as long as I don’t think too much about lasagna and souffles and rigatoni gorgonzola, well, I am pretty okay with my various eating options.

But then there are those days (today is one of them), when I am longing for a bit of comfort and it seems that that comfort has very creamy contours…