Category Archives: thoughts

toot your own horn

Recently I was told by a principal in our district that I need to get better at tooting my own horn.  (It was a bit frustrating to hear this as I have colleagues across the district and in at least 4 other districts in the county that are aware of the work I do.)   But the comment reminded me of the first time I heard this phrase.

I was a junior in high school and my parents and I were meeting with my class advisor to review my plans for after graduation.  I told him about the colleges I wanted to apply to and he looked over my academic records and said, “You need to get involved in some extra curricular activities.”  My mom was flabbergasted.  Of course this was in the 70’s when most school personnel equated “extra curricular” with sports or being in the band or a cheer leader.  My parents told the advisor I was involved in outside activities: Girl Scouts, church youth group, the drama club  and the school literary journal.

The advisor quickly wrote these down and asked me more about my interests. I did get into the college I wanted to attend and I’m sure the application essay I had to write speaking to my passions and engagement helped as I was a capable, but not stellar, student.

It was discouraging to realize a teacher who was supposed to “know” me and advise me hadn’t a clue about who I was or what I cared about.  The exchange prompted my dad to tell me I needed to learn to “toot my own horn.”


The Amelia’s Cup Challenge

I feel like a skipper with a boat in two races.  In one race – my teacher race – I’ve become a timid skipper, my sails are reefed as though facing a hurricane and I’m working hard to keep my boat on an even keel and not take on water.

In the other race – vice moderator at church race – I am like a teenaged skipper fresh out of academy, running my boat close to the wind and hanging my butt way out over the water and getting very, very wet.

Both races involve relationships, being creative, attending to details and big picture goals, bringing every ounce of integrity I can muster to the table.  Same skipper – same boat – why is my sailing like night and day between the two?

I’ve got a good crew at church.  We aren’t exactly tested but we’re paying good attention to each other, and are learning as we go.

At school, well, the water is rough, very rough. The crew is great but I think my boat needs some work – maybe there are too many barnacles stuck to the bottom.  I’m going to need to take some chances, hang my butt out in the wind and remember everything I know about sailing.

It is a bit disconcerting to have these two types of experiences happening in tandem.  I flip from one race to the other on a daily basis.  But what I am learning and noticing about myself in each race helps me set my course and adjust my sails for the next go-round.  What can I say?  It’s the Amelia’s Cup challenge of 2013!

Navigating Landscapes

This past week has probably been one of the most challenging in my life.  My 23 year old niece died of a very stray bullet flying from a half mile away (high powered rifle, what were they thinking!), I had some parent classes to teach at school, an interview for a much coveted position and a reflection to give at church.  The one thing I couldn’t let slide off my plate was the interview – and while I had a really tough time focusing myself (and did fail the interview) the other obligations helped me maintain some sense of sanity and energy for life.

Now that my niece’s memorial is over and I can some how find a routine again, I want to respond to the request to re-share the reflection I gave at church so here it is – I read the essay part and my friend read the poems written by Jan L. Richardson:

June 23, 2013

Reflection – Navigating One’s Inner Landscape
Amelia Bacon

My theme for reflection today – Navigating One’s Inner Landscape – was inspired by my work with two sources: prompts and poetry compiled by Jan L. Richardson, an ordained United Methodist Minister and artist-in-resident in Florida, and a process I was introduced to three years ago called “one little word.”  I’ll begin by describing my one little word work.

This was a suggestion shared with me by a fellow blog writer: instead of choosing a New Year’s Resolution, the idea is to choose one little word.  This word could describe an action, way of thinking or being, or just a posture I want to live into in the coming year.  Three years ago I chose the word Notice.  I had begun to really explore photography more and was writing poetry regularly and thought it would be a great word to tag my year with.  One of the ways I used the one little word project was to create a monthly reflection including poetry and photos of how that word worked in my life.

It was such a rewarding experience that I was eager to choose a word for 2012 and resolutely decided on the word Delight.  In this case, I was choosing a word describing something I wanted more of.  My husband had lost his job, aspects of my own job were becoming increasingly frustrating and I just wanted to pay attention to something positive.

But as 2012 was coming to an end, I was struggling to name a new word for myself.  It might seem silly to be in such a dilemma but this experience had proven to be provocative enough spiritually and creatively that I really wanted to figure out a way to move forward with it.

And now the intersection with Jan Richardson’s work.  Cindy Bauleke was the first person to introduce me to Jan’s work and since then I’ve used her books for book studies with women and have found my own art and writing to have been profoundly influenced by this exposure.  Last Advent season, Sharry shared a web link to a collection of writing, prompts and prayers Jan compiled as a way to take a personal retreat.  Tara used some of it at a Wednesday worship and my One Little Word for 2013 jumped out at me.  The word is Pilgrim – listen for it in Jan’s poem,  “For Those Who Have Far to Travel.”

If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road;
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by
single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:

to be faithful to
the next step;
to relay on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;

to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions
beyond fatigue
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

These are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;

each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
most needed –
the gift that only you
can give –
before turning to go
home by
another way.

Jan’s theme for her retreat was “The Map You Make Yourself” and for me that is the essence of being a pilgrim – paying attention to more than just the journey.  We speak of journeying all the time in this church but I haven’t spent much time visualizing or writing about my mapmaking on this journey.

I love maps; the side pockets of my car are stuffed with them despite the ease of Google Maps on my phone.  I love the big picture, wide lens, aerial nature of maps.  They tell me what is beyond my horizon.  But often what becomes essential on a journey isn’t on the map.

As I was preparing this reflection, I recalled the trips our family took up and down the east coast.  My dad always tried to travel as close to the water as possible.  He cherished the views of water and watercraft and we’d often stop at little beaches, stunning overlooks or little quays along the way.  My mom seemed to have an inner app for every yearn store along the way.  Usually we’d end up picnicking next to the car while she trolled bins of wool and fiber.  Often the side trips became the real content of our trips together rather than the original “points of interest” we had set out to get to by night fall.  This way of mapping our camping trips may seem an odd detour to reference but they were core to who my parents were and are and helped me learn what they value and how they make decisions.  My parents made it clear it was important to pay as much attention to sights along the way as to the main events in life.  This became part of my personal core and lore.

And isn’t that the way of real life?  We have guide books presented to us early on with designated destination points but it is the mapping along the way that is the real essence of life and journey taking.  With my children and majority of nieces and nephew between the ages of 21 and 31, I am acutely aware of such designated destination points being named by them: graduations, jobs, apartments, marriages, grad school, babies.  We fall into this trap of thinking the mapmaking is about getting from point A to point B, and categorizing the route with statements such as “fork in the road,” “serendipitous event,” “derailment,” but we don’t explore more deeply the internal mapmaking taking place.  (reading By Another Way, Jan Richardson)

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.

For today,
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center of your life.

No map
but the one
you make yourself.

No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.

Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need.


Offer gladness
for the gifts that come
and then
let them go.

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome

Again, I come back to the work of a pilgrim describe in this way by Mark Nepo:  “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad.   To change without journeying is to be a chameleon.  To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.” But how do I pay attention to the transformation?

My parents taught me early on that in order to really get something out of an experience,  I would have to put more of myself into it.  I couldn’t just access the fun stuff in Girl Scouts like the crafts and campouts, I had to pick up litter on the high way, gather food for the food bank, sell cookies and visit nursing homes.  When I returned to this church after college because of a desire to reconnect with my community, I knew I was going to have to jump in with both feet.  I volunteered with the youth group, I became a board member as well as the fun stuff like book studies, faith formation experiences and getting a little break from my children during worship. (sorry kids) And then I was called to do something harder – something transformational.  I became one of the first Stephen Ministers.

Yes it was difficult.  My husband worked shift work so I had to find childcare.  But my children will tell you this is part of their core and lore – my participation showed them my inner mapmaking and in turn influenced their inner mapmaking.

I think navigating one’s inner landscape is about identifying more than my life’s points of interest or points of significance.  I believe it’s about understanding how and why I put the tripod down and look through the scope to record where I have been and where I am going.  For me a core piece of understanding how to even set up my tripod and use the scope comes from my spiritual work done in this community. Beside noting the high peaks, low valleys, rough terrain and smooth, my relationship with God has helped when I’ve come to the edge of my known world – where roiling sea serpents frolic and storms rage.  What are some of the map edges I’ve come to:  having a child born with a disability, having my husband lose his job, having my niece die of gunshot wound, all edges of the world I was prepared for with my current guide book.  Every time I’ve come to those edges of my map, I’ve had help figuring out how to set up my tripod, look out and in, and navigate forward.  (Walking Blessing)

 I pray….

That each step
may be shedding.
That you will let yourself
become lost.
That when it looks
like you’re going backwards,
you may be making progress.
That progress is not the goal anyway,
but presence
to the feel of the path on your skin,
to the way it reshapes you
in each place it makes contact,
to the way you cannot see it
until the moment you have stepped out.

All of what has come before and what will come to be is a part of my personal journey – a transformational journey of being a pilgrim – in little community circles, and big community circles.  This is not a pilgrimage – I am not on a journey born of religious devotion – I am on a journey as a pilgrim “embarking on a quest for something conceived as sacred.”  What could be more sacred than mapping one’s relationship with God?  My desire for everyone I love – my family, my friends, my community – is that we learn the best ways to help each other when we come to the edges of our known worlds.

There will be inner and outer mapping happening over the coming year.  Listen again to Isaiah: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Thank you all and may I extend this modified blessing: (Jan Richardson)

“God beyond borders, may we wander with wanting enough to unlearn our paths, with wonder enough to receive the secrets of each place, with wisdom enough to allow them to whisper us home a different way.”

skin in the game

Yes, I am busy.  When I catalog for my husband and my sister and my mother and my daughter all the little things I’m trying to stay on top of in a week, it is a bit much.  For some it would be too much.  But I’ve always been able to sort my life into two boxes – those activities that keep me busy and those that keep me grounded.

Activities that keep me busy are those of housewife and parent, pet owner, teacher, committee member.  Activities that keep me grounded are wife, mother, friend, professional, community member.

They sort of sound the same, but they’re not.  It’s all about having skin in the game.

If dishes don’t get done and the cat box gets stinky, and my lesson plans aren’t quite what they should be and minutes don’t get typed up in a timely manner, well……it might be a bit frustrating for those I live and work with. However, I can honestly say, “better luck tomorrow.”

But if I don’t maintain touchstones with those I love, and don’t maintain a creative and compassionate edge in the way I work and live, well…..I’m not really living for all the tomorrows to come.

It would be easier to just be busy.  I describe it as being “grounded” because I have both the sense of being at rest and in flight at the same time, something I wouldn’t know if I didn’t have a true sense of terrain.  Having skin in the game means there is a sense of fulfillment – from getting hurt, taking risks, feeling loss and/or joy with change.

writers conference

So tell me, how is it going? 

Well I have some ideas but they are the really dense kind.

What do you mean by that?

The ideas that have come to me in the past few days have a lot of emotions attached to them and while I know what sparked them is significant and I want to pay attention by writing, I haven’t been able to sift and sort through all that has been caught up with the initial thought. “Trolling” through life over the past week has snagged a bunch of good stuff, I just need to haul it on board and figure out what to throw and what to keep.

Tell me about something you’ve caught in your net.

Well I went to a meeting on Sunday with a group of artists in our church.  Some of them are professional artists, some are like me – dabblers.  Both kinds of artists have produced work for our church and we ended up having an interesting discussion that I would like to process by writing about it.

Why is that important to you?

Because there were interesting perspectives shared.  Because I had an emotional response.  Because I want to figure out more about what I think and feel about the topic.

So start there, start with an outline with each of those statements and tease them out. 

Good idea, maybe I’ll find out what to keep and throw from my net.

rubbing my nose

The metaphor hit home for me.  Snakes rub their noses against rocks and hard places to make a tear in their old skins in the process of shedding them for new ones.

Rocks and hard places

shedding old skin

claiming a new one

my Easter best?

One Pilgrim’s Process – March SOL #30

sols_6I usually have the radio on in the car when I drive.  I’m not one to play CD’s but I love listening to NPR and CBC radio 2.  This week I have been driving my son-in-law’s 1999 Honda Civic. He inherited it from his grandmother and it has low miles and gets amazing gas mileage.  But there is no radio, no CD player, nothing.

Don’t get me wrong – it isn’t that I have to have something “on,” or that I have to have something to pay attention to.  I’m the one at home most happy with a silent house.  However, my few days of driving to and from work, and back and forth to Seattle twice without anything to listen to have made me more fully aware of voices in my head.

Some of what that voice is saying is great: I’ve been writing blog entries in my head, experimenting with poetry phrasing, and sorting out my day at work.  But my creative voice is also being challenged by a “doubting-Thomas voice,” one I am realizing i usually try to muffle or interrupt with great driveway moments on the radio or the music of new Canadian musicians.  This voice is only too ready to question my ability to compete for job possibilities, conquer new challenges, or accomplish all the tasks I have set before me.  And wouldn’t you know, this voice plays in stereo and there is absolutely no static.

So I’ve been practicing channel surfing between my good and bad voices these past few days and I’m getting more successful at it.  I’m going to get my car back on Wednesday and I will be glad to turn on my radio but it has been interesting to pay a bit more attention to my thoughts and try to figure out how to sort them out.

One Pilgrim’s Process – March SOL #25

sols_6My braces have me on a diet – and it is not a see-food diet.  It’s a not-now diet.  I couldn’t even bite into a pickle the other day at lunch.  I cut it up with a knife and then couldn’t chew it after all.  I tend to throw food around my mouth until I think I can swallow it.  My go-to-back-up meal of a sandwich is out of the question – just think Florida reef and you’ll know what I mean.

It would be great if these limited choices had me losing weight but (!) the one thing I can eat and it feels good in my mouth: ice cream.

One Pilgrim’s Process – March SOL #11

sols_6Across the top of the graph was a list of fourteen statements describing facets of our Head Start program deemed valuable to maintain – such as the number of children served, coverage throughout the county, quality program and teacher to student ratios, access to families, etc.  Just imagine 14 positive aspects of a program serving young children and their families and I’m sure you could name them all.

On the left side were boxes to list ideas we had for reducing costs – think sequestration. We were asked to work in a group to brainstorm cost reduction strategies and then to analyze their impact on the values held by our program.  An “X”meant it upheld those values, a “O” meant it didn’t and we were to write a “?” if we didn’t know.  At the end of the hour session we tallied our suggestions.

Of course we all avoided to list the obvious suggestions of furlough days and a shortened school year.  There were some creative suggestions such as cooking our own meals – even planting and harvesting our own gardens.  But for the most part, the suggestions really don’t add up to much and if they put them all together, school will be a sorry place to work and bring your children to.

One Pilgrim’s Process – March SOL#7

sols_6An Appreciation of the Value of “Otherness”

The evening began with a soup and salad supper. I sat across from my dear friend, Margie, a retired high school teacher and listened to her speak passionately about the journey she began with the concept of “other” on a Courage to Teach retreat series some 10 years ago.  On this night, she was to facilitate our church community exploring Parker Palmer’s second habit of the heart as described in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.

I had the glorious responsibility of doing the same with the children of parents in attendance. We began by lighting 5 candles and saying these words – the five habits of the heart put in prayer form:
Help us to remember that we’re all in this together.
Help us to celebrate that we’re not the same.
Help us to turn to wonder and curiosity when the going gets rough.
Help us to find our voice.
Help us to create community.

This was the second week of our Lenten supper series and the focus was on the second line in the prayer so we talked about our similarities and differences, about having friends who sometimes like the same things we do and sometimes don’t, and what we do in situations when we disagree.   I read the book, C.R. Mudgeon, and we went a bit deeper trying to identify traits of people very different from ourselves and how we practice hospitality with “others.”  One of the girls noted, “C.R. Mudgeon would live a boring life without Paprica and Paprica would miss a good friend.”  Yup, that about sums it up. Then the children dived into the project for the evening:  tracing themselves on poster paper but making their outline look like someone else.

The group of children was small, there were six of them ranging in age from 6 to 13 years old, two boys, one child with special needs.  Working with preschoolers as I do each day, I miss discussions with young people like I enjoyed last night.  I’m looking forward to next week.

I’ve written more about this on my other blog, Crumpled Notes.