Walking meditation

This year I celebrated my birthday with a three-day weekend dedicated to prayer, meditation and reflection. Only instead of sequestering myself indoors, I tried to stay outside as much as possible.

A highlight of the weekend was a trip to Jubilee Farm, where my husband Pete and I walked their labyrinth for the first time.

Jubilee Farm was established in 1999 by the Dominican Sisters as a center for ecology and spirituality, according to their web site (link HERE).

The labyrinth – one of the farm’s more amazing and popular features – allows us to follow a defined pathway to the center of the circle and back out again, praying and meditating as we go.

Many labyrinths are located in churches or other buildings, but the one at Jubilee Farm is outside.

For more than three millennia, millions of people have used labyrinths as an aid for prayer, according to the Jublilee Farm web site (link HERE for an article about the labyrinth itself).

One of the most famous labyrinths – and the one replicated at Jubilee Farm – is embedded in the stone floor of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, France. 

At the entrance to (or exit from) the Jubilee Farm labyrinth is a bench where we can sit for a moment to gather our thoughts.

The labyrinth is a single circular path which takes us to a center place and back out again,

At Jubilee Farm, the labyrinth path is mowed right into the pasture grass, as pictured above and below.

There are no wrong turns or dead ends in a labyrinth, the Dominican Sisters assure us. There is one way in and one way out. 

There is also no right or wrong way to pray while walking the labyrinth, a Sister who lives at the farm assured us the first time we visited Jubilee Farm in the spring.

We can pray for people or situations that are on our mind. We can ask a question and leave space for the Holy Spirit to respond. We can give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

Or we can walk in silence, observing the scenery around us and drinking in God’s presence.

All along the path at Jubilee Farm’s labyrinth, Pete and I encountered an abundance of milkweed, red clover and wildflowers.

We also encountered this little guy, who reminds us God wants us to pay attention! Is he magnificent or what?!

Finally we came to the center of the labyrinth, which had a couple of stumps where we could once again sit for rest or contemplation if we wished.

Walking to and from the labyrinth was an experience in itself. On the way back to our car, we walked past this pretty little pond.

Below is a close-up of the water lilies and lily pads in the middle of the pond.

Millions of people around the world use labyrinths as a spiritual practice.

At Jubilee Farm, walking their labyrinth turned out to be nature prayer at its finest! And a great way to start my personal new year.

God’s other book: A new peek at our amazing universe

My inner Nerd Girl got to experience some real excitement this week!

The James Webb Space Telescope has produced the deepest and sharpest images of the distant universe to date, according to a special web site created by NASA, who released the first of the images to the public earlier this week (link HERE).

These images of our amazing universe serve to remind me that religion and science need not be seen as opposed to each other. Who can look at these astonishing images and not see evidence of a Creator?

At any rate, I couldn’t resist sharing some of them in a blog post.

First, here is an artist’s rendition of the telescope. Launched in December 2021, the telescope is about the size of a tennis court, according to NASA, and will operate nearly a million miles beyond Earth’s orbit around the sun. (And I thought my little camera with the 40X zoom lens was fabulous.)

Webb will spend the next 20 years or so collecting data to help scientists study the farthest reaches of the known universe.

The image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, known as Webb’s First Deep Field, gives us a sense of the sheer vastness of the universe. Just think: Each speck of light in the image below is an entire galaxy, except for the brighter specks with spikes, which are stars in our own galaxy.

Each galaxy, in turn, may contain billions of stars, moons and planets. Compared to the universe as a whole, the slice of universe shown in this image is equivalent to the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground, according to NASA.

Sort of boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

When I look at this photo, I’m immediately reminded of Genesis 1:3: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”

The next image is the Carina Nebula, the largest nebula in our own Milky Way galaxy. The nebula is the part of the image which resembles a mountaintop.

It looks solid, but is actually a giant cloud of gas and dust where stars are born, according to NASA. The stars are formed from the dust in the nebula.

Read Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Then look at this image. Wow. God certainly is an artist!

What looks like a cosmic fireworks display in the image below is Stephan’s Quintet, a visual grouping of five galaxies. Some of the galaxies are so close they bump into each other, forming new stars, according to NASA.

If we think our Fourth of July fireworks are spectacular, just look at God’s fireworks …

The galaxy group is visible from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Stephan’s Quintet is perhaps best known for being prominently featured in the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The next image, of the Southern Ring Nebula, shows how a star similar to our sun looks as it is dying. The star has been sending out rings of gas and dust for thousands of years, according to NASA.

Does this image look like a giant cosmic eye, or what? It brings to mind Job 28:24: “For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.”

NASA has made its entire collection of images, sounds and video available and publicly searchable online, including more than 140,000 photos and other resources we can download and use any way we like.

The images are available to everyone free of charge and free of copyright restrictions – NASA simply asks to be acknowledged as the source of the material. Their entire collection can be accessed via NASA’s Image and Video Library (link HERE).

And I’m not the only one who thinks our amazing universe points to the existence of a Creator. Turns out many of the the astronauts and other scientists who work at NASA share a strong faith as well.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle (link HERE), Webster Presbyterian, just down the road from NASA’s mission control center in Houston. is spiritual home to dozens of NASA scientists, engineers, astronauts, lunar mission contractors and their families.

The church, now known as the Church of the Astronauts, has stained glass windows featuring images of the moon, the stars and distant nebulae. How cool is that?

Recipe: Loaded Brussels sprouts

When it comes to my daily quota of vegetable servings, a couple of my favorite restaurants have definitely succeeded in getting Brussels sprouts onto my plate.

Since I’m ALWAYS looking for ways to make veggies more enticing, I have of course sought to duplicate these delicious gussied-up sprouts at home.

As I’ve experimented, I’ve discovered a couple of secrets to making the Brussels spouts turn out crisp and caramelized rather then soggy.

First, bake at a high-enough temperature (I set my oven at 450 degrees). Second, add a small amount of cornstarch to the mixture I use to coat the sprouts.

After much tinkering with possible ingredients, I’ve finally succeeded in creating a reasonable facsimile of the delicious entree served at my favorite eateries.

Even better, the recipe is fairly easy, at least the way I make it.

Unfortunately, the “loaded” version of this recipe is not exactly calorie-free. Sorry!

But even if I leave off the bacon, french fried onion rings and sriracha mayo (or include only one of these as a garnish), the basic sprouts baked with the coating mixture are still pretty yummy.

In the plain version, most of the fat and calories come from the olive oil, which is a “good” fat, so I don’t worry about the calorie and fat content as much.

This recipe makes about 4 servings.


  • 1-pound package frozen halved Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 slices crisp bacon, crumbled (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons french fried onion rings (optional)
  • Sriracha mayo to taste (optional)


Cook the bacon until crisp. Crumble and set aside.

Rinse frozen Brussels sprouts in warm water to thaw slightly and remove ice crystals. Drain and place in plastic container with a lid.

Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, honey and cornstarch and blend well. Drizzle the mixture over the Brussels Sprouts, place the lid on the container and shake gently to thoroughly coat the Brussels Spouts.

Spread Brussels sprouts in a single layer on large cookie sheet

Bake at 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp, flipping sprouts with a metal spatula every 10 minutes or so.

When Brussels sprouts are nearly browned, top with french fried onion rings and bake about 5 more minutes until onion rings are browned and crisp.

Sprinkle bacon bits evenly over Brussels sprouts and drizzle sriracha mayo over the top of everything.

If you want to reduce the fat and calorie content, use only one of the last three ingredients. Still totally yummy!

Nutrition information

Loaded version

Serving size: 3/4 cup | Calories: 240 | Carbohydrates: 11 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 18 g | Saturated Fat: 3.5 g | Cholesterol: 7 mg | Sodium: 256 mg | Potassium: 280 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 3.5 g | Vitamin A: 0% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 22% | Iron: .5%

Plain version (without last three ingredients)

Serving size: 3/4 cup | Calories: 135 | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Protein: 3 g | Fat: 9 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 44 mg | Potassium: 280 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 3.5 g | Vitamin A: 0% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 22% | Iron: .5%

Meal kit ideas

In a previous post, I wrote about the micro food pantries that are popping up outside churches, schools and businesses in communities around the country (link HERE).

Then I added a couple of posts about stocking your local micro pantries or food pantries with the same kind of meal kits or recipe kits offered by meal delivery services such as Sunbasket, HelloFresh and Blue Apron (links HERE and HERE).

Meal kits or recipe kits are great for micro pantries and food pantries because it is often hard for people using the pantries to find all the ingredients they need to make a particular recipe. So from time to time, as I think of ideas for meal kits or recipe kits, I will continue to share them.

One of the challenges in creating the kits is the need for the recipe kits or meal kits to use only nonperishable ingredients. Here are some ideas for complete meal kits that meet this requirement – one for chicken a la king, one for tamales with rice and beans, one for chicken alfredo and one for a sack lunch.

These kits can usually fit nicely into a gallon-size zip-lock bag.

For the chicken a la king meal, I include a biscuit mix that only requires adding water. For a family-size meal kit, you might want to consider including two cans of the Chicken a la King for more generous servings. You can also add a can of vegetables such as peas or green beans to complete the meal.

One of the popular Tuna Helper offerings is Tuna Fettuccini Alfredo. I find this boxed recipe works very well with chicken as well as tuna. To complete the meal, add a can of veggies such as zucchini in tomato sauce.

For the tamales with rice and beans, the heat & eat Spanish rice works nicely because one can simply heat it in the microwave rather than needing the additional ingredients often required for the boxed mixes. A plastic container of salsa or taco sauce can also be included in this meal kit.

Sack lunches are also a popular item in either micro pantries or food pantries. Include a protein item such as jerky, a protein granola bar, trail mix, or crackers with peanut butter or cheese, a fruit cup and a container of vegetable juice for a complete and balanced meal. Including a plastic silverware and napkin packet is a nice touch.

Question for readers: Do you have any great ideas for recipe kits for food pantries or micro pantries? Please share your suggestions in the comments section below.

God’s other book: Dandelions

Just my humble opinion, but what’s not to love about dandelions?

They are among the first signs of spring, popping up in our yard even before the grass starts greening.

One can’t help but admire their irrepressible resiliency. These masters of survival can grow up through cracks in a sidewalk and thrive.

Many pollinators rely on dandelions, violets and other early-spring wildflowers to provide nectar before other flowers begin to bloom.

Sadly, people use millions of gallons of herbicides each year to kill these delightful flowers, thus taking a terrible toll on the environment.

We’ve made the decision to keep our lawn chemical-free. Don’t worry, we do mow (though we put off the first mowing for as long as possible).

By about mid-spring, our entire yard has become a colorful dandelion-and-violet patch, which keeps the butterflies and bees very happy.

Even our resident chipmunks like the wildflowers.

And then there are the seed puffs. When I was a child, I loved plucking dandelions and blowing the seeds into the air.

I also loved hooking their long hollow stems together to make a necklace or bracelet.

If we must pull them up, the greens can be added to a salad. Some people also use them to make tea or wine.

I saw the paperweight and necklace below on Etsy. What will folks think of next?

So when others talk about getting rid of dandelions, I always want to ask this one-word question: “Why?”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I love my dandelions! And I’m letting them stay exactly where they are.

Book excerpt: Memes worth sharing

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my previous excerpts, link HERE.

As I search for an appropriate Christian response to the polarization ripping apart our society, one question in particular confronts me: What can I do personally to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem?

I’ve decided one small step I can take is to examine my relationship with social media. As I’ve done so, I’ve come to an inescapable conclusion: I need to pay more conscious attention to what I post, share and “like” on sites such as Facebook. 

My research suggests that several culprits contribute to social media’s role in dividing us. Algorithms that create “echo chamber” bubbles of one-sided information and opinions. Viral spread of false or misleading information in “fake news” stories with click-bait headlines. Political “discussions” that amount to little more than judgmental blaming and shaming, name-calling, insults, character assassination and demonization of opponents.

But one of the biggest culprits? Endless memes promoting hateful and inflammatory messages.

On any given day when I go on Facebook, I can count on seeing at least a dozen memes from progressives and conservatives hurling insults and accusations at each other. The typical fare has become as predictable as rain in April.

Republicans are people too: Mean, selfish, greedy people.

It was so cold this morning I actually saw a Democrat with his hands in his own pockets.

Folks on both sides of the divide seem to relish in-your-face rudeness.

Excu-u-u-use me if my posts offend you, but the future of my country is more important than your precious feelings.

Misanthropes of all stripes show off their generalized contempt for anyone anywhere who disagrees with them about anything.

I lose track of how many times per day I want to say, “You can’t seriously be that stupid.”

The worst part? I have to admit I’ve been part of the problem from time to time. 

Until recently, I often found myself getting sucked into social media fights – even with people I ordinarily liked – over politics and contentious “hot-button” ideological issues.

Whenever a Facebook skirmish erupted – whether the trigger was a Supreme Court decision, debates about a political candidate’s suitability for office, or a crisis playing out in the news – my first instinct was to try and stay out of the fray. 

Alas, I tend to have strong opinions about a lot of issues (imagine that!) and sooner or later, someone would post a meme I couldn’t seem to resist sharing against my better judgment. Okay, I knew it was snarky. Maybe a bit judgmental or even mean. But it was SO clever.

Then, of course, someone on “the other side” would beg to differ with my assessment of the meme’s cleverness, and before I knew it, I was bogged down in another argument.

Finally, I made a decision: I would no longer post memes that “called out” or in any way disparaged other individuals or groups of people – even public figures considered to be fair game. I’ve been pretty disciplined about sticking with that resolution for the past couple of years.

I’ve also started to ask myself this question: What am I encouraging others to post by hitting the “like” button? Am I inadvertently enabling and rewarding name-calling, character assassination or polarizing comments? With that in mind, I no longer react to others’ memes that do any of these things.

On the other hand, I’m not totally against memes in and of themselves. Some make me laugh out loud, and we can all use a bit of humor after a stressful day – especially if we can have a good laugh without it being at someone else’s expense.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites.

So, in addition to avoiding negativity, I’ve decided to take a proactive approach to the meme-war issue. I’ve begun collecting positive memes and posting them on my own Facebook page’s newsfeed when the feuding gets especially fierce or obnoxious.

If I feel I must respond to a political meme (for example, one that I believe promotes dangerous misinformation), I make a conscientious effort not to insult the person who posted it.

For example, I love this meme. Unlike those that try to shame people who resist COVID safety measures, it uses humor to get the point across about the importance of masking without calling anyone names or assaulting their character.

When the meme wars on Facebook get particularly heated or nasty, I occasionally like to drop this favorite into my news feed, with some words of wisdom “attributed” to our 16th president.

However, I’ve come to believe that part of the problem fueling our culture wars is our modern emphasis on brevity.

It is hard to give a complex issue the depth it deserves when our communication is limited to 15-second sound bites, 280-character tweets, bumper stickers and t-shirt slogans. Or memes. And most hot-button issues are complex or they wouldn’t be “hot button.”

With that in mind, I usually prefer to post memes that have nothing whatsoever to do with political/ideological hot-button issues.

Cute animals are one of my favorite go-to subjects when I’m looking for something innocuously funny to share. I mean, who can resist this adorable kitten?

I can also change the subject to the weather. When I post this meme, Facebook friends like to dicker with me over whether the caption should read “Weather in Kansas” or “Weather in Colorado” rather than “Weather in Illinois.” But at least it’s a friendly argument.

I’ve found that Bible-verse memes can be a bit tricky – such a meme in direct response to someone else’s post can come across as hitting people with a “clobber verse.” (And we certainly wouldn’t want to do that, would we??)

But an occasional meme posted to my personal newsfeed – on its own rather than in response to anyone else’s post – can be a subtle, unobtrusive way to share Biblical wisdom in a society that needs to hear it.

Or I can demonstrate love of neighbor by posting a cheery feel-good message.

Religious memes can also be seriously funny. (Who says Christians don’t have a sense of humor?)

If I want to avoid Facebook nastiness, I’ve found I can’t go wrong with a bad pun – especially with some of my friends and relatives of all political stripes (they know who they are).

For a twofer, how about a bad pun that doubles as religious humor – with a cute animal tossed in for good measure?

I’ve found memes that help us laugh at our own foibles are great for sharing – like this one that gently ribs my urge to correct other peoples’ grammar.

Or my “old-timer” frustration with technology.

Finally, there’s always this piece of sage advice, which I may preface with the words “Note to Self.”

Just to clarify: When I say I no longer plan to “like” or share memes that keep the culture wars going, this doesn’t mean I plan to retreat from the political arena altogether.

I don’t plan to stop discussing hot-button issues in appropriate settings such as personal conversations, Bible study sessions or religious education classes. And I certainly don’t plan to look the other way in the face of injustice or forsake my favorite causes.

However, I do plan to stop enabling the trolling, the name-calling, the insults, the character assassination, the demonizing and scapegoating, and the gratuitous rudeness that have become a mind-numbingly routine part of our social media interactions. 

Fear-mongering, blame-gaming, and self-righteous outrage may be the norm on social media these days, but I have a choice whether to participate. Increasingly, I’m choosing not to.

The good news: If I want to share something on Facebook, I’m finding there are all kinds of memes that can make us laugh – or brighten our day or provide a bit of inspiration – without ridiculing or insulting or otherwise bashing anyone.

More good news: I now waste a lot less time arguing about politics with total strangers on Facebook.

Question for readers: What are some positive steps you’ve taken to avoid being part of the culture wars problem? I’d love to hear your response to this question, as well as your comments on the article. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

A new commitment

Retirement had already represented a major transition. Now that my husband and I no longer punched a time clock, we had entered a new chapter of our lives and – as part of my spiritual direction journey – I had started asking myself a serious question: “What should this next chapter look like?”

Then COVID-19 upended our lives even more. After a year and a half of pandemic restrictions, Pete and I were beginning to feel like characters in the movie Groundhog Day – living the same day again and again … and again. Last fall, a scary hospital experience convinced both of us: “Groundhog Day is over!” Time to turn the calendar to a new day, we decided.

So, we embarked on something quite new and different: We began the formation process to join the Associates Program for the Dominican Sisters in our community.

Dominican Associates are people who embrace the Dominican traditions of prayer, study, community and ministry. Associates undertake individual volunteer ministries in their own churches/parishes and communities. They may also join the Sisters on committees and boards, work side-by-side with the Sisters in their ministries, or provide logistical support for the Sisters’ public events. 

As the Dominican Sisters’ website (link HERE) says – and I just love this: Associates “respond to God’s call to share the Gospel by preaching it through the witness of their lives.”

Pete and I had long admired the Dominican Sisters. During our 20-plus years of working for human service agencies (for me) and teaching at the local Catholic university (for Pete), we saw up close the many valuable contributions the Sisters made to our community (mentoring and helping not-for-profit organizations by serving as board members or in other volunteer capacities) and in other parts of the world (working with the Christian community in Iraq and Kurdistan).

Over the years, we also got to know some of the Sisters very well personally. One Sister in particular was a wonderful mentor to me professionally during my career in human services, coaching me on everything from how to manage a staff to locating possible funding sources for the agencies where I worked. We did lunch together often and she remains a personal friend. Two other Sisters have provided spiritual direction for Pete and me.  

When we learned that the Dominican Sisters were seeking applicants for their Associates Program, and that this opportunity was open to all baptized Christians, Pete and I very quickly decided we would be honored to partner with them in some way.

We completed a several-months-long formation process in which we learned about the dimensions of Dominican life as they are interwoven in study, prayer, community and ministry. The formation process concluded with a one-day retreat during which we were asked to discern the next step of commitment. Pete and I appreciated that the formation sessions were offered via Zoom so we could participate despite our pandemic restrictions.

One of the things we focused on as part of our formation process was discerning where God wants to use us next. We were asked to come up with “commitment statements” in which we agreed to join the Sisters in preaching the Word and witnessing Gospel values through various activities. These activities could include a renewed commitment to things we were already doing, or something entirely new.

Among other things, we learned that Associates in our community assist with the local Sisters’ social justice activities. A couple of these proved particularly attractive to Pete and me – the Sisters’ anti-racism efforts and their coordinating committee working on environmental issues. We decided we will join their efforts in these areas.

We will continue to be involved in our own church congregation as well, but in some rather new ways. When COVID broke out and many of our own church activities moved online, we found new ways to contribute our time and talents. I have been serving on our church’s community service committee (via Zoom) and helping keep our church’s micro pantry stocked. Since the beginning of the year, Pete and I have been leading an adult faith formation group on Zoom.

Our formation process as Dominican Associates was formalized and celebrated this past weekend through a commitment ceremony held in the convent’s beautiful chapel. In the photo below, I’m reading my commitment statements while my sponsor stands by my side.

Here are my commitments as I join the Sisters in preaching the Word and witnessing Gospel values:

  • Continuing with spiritual direction, in which I examine my relationship with God, prayer, my personal values, my investment decisions and various lifestyle choices.
  • Continuing to be an active member of my own church congregation by teaching (with Pete) a “Sundays @ 6” faith formation class offered via Zoom, serving on the congregation’s community service committee and helping with food pantry efforts.
  • Serving as a bridge-builder for peace and reconciliation through my writing, my interpersonal relationships and my involvement in social justice work. This will include participation in the Dominican Sisters’ anti-racism efforts.
  • Doing my part to preserve and protect the environment through my own habits, such as better recycling, environmentally-friendly gardening and lawn care, creating flower beds for pollinators and reducing our household’s use of fossil fuels. I will also be joining the Dominican Sisters in their Laudato Si’ Action Platform efforts.

Pete and I are definitely looking forward to this new chapter in our spiritual journey.

Another prayer of thanksgiving

Dear God,

I recently wrote a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of having my beautiful Olaf DaVinci in my life for 15 years (link HERE). Today, I’d like to offer another prayer of thanksgiving.

My little Champaign Le Chat has been such a source of comfort to me while I grieve the loss of his brother. And he’s definitely been a blessing to me in his own right.

Oley and Champaign were adopted together from an Animal Protective League shelter 15 years ago, and they were inseparable right up until Oley’s passing. So I’ve had I to remind myself that he is grieving as much as we are.

Champaign has his own story, which is pretty remarkable, actually. We have reason to believe he was abused in a previous home and it took time and lots of love to heal his fear of people.

But, as we would discover, love wins. Every time.

When we first encountered him at the shelter, the poor little guy was hiding under a chair. He trembled as I reached under the chair to pet him, but when I stroked his fur, he leaned into my hand, as if drinking in the affection. There was no way, however, that he planned to come out from his hiding place.

Once we got Champie home from the shelter, he took a long time to warm up to us. For the first two weeks, he hid in the basement, only coming up to eat when Pete and I were gone.

Fortunately, Oley cheerfully served as his guardian angel. The two liked to hang out together, and they loved to chase each other around the house while yowling loudly – especially at 3 a.m.

Slowly but surely, Champie finally came out of his shell. And when he did, he became quite the little character.

There’s nothing like being ignored by a cat, but he lets me know I’d better not ignore him! This little guy will actually hiss at me to let me know I need to pet him.

Sometimes in the morning when I’m getting dressed, he walks up to me, hisses at me, and then immediately hops up on the bed and rubs up against me, clamoring for attention. Too funny!

Here he sits, on his throne, the king of all he surveys.

He has a talent for finding the sunniest spots in the house. Here he is, rolling over and playing cute, as he basks in a shaft of light in the sunroom.

The Champ has made it known that a cat bed is whatever he decides it should be. (Cat beds purchased specifically for that purpose from Chewy? Boring!)

He loves to turn pillows into cat beds. This is one of my favorite photos – I like to call it “the Prince and the Pea.”

Speaking of cat beds, people clothes are the absolute best. He may have the whole bed to snooze on here, but Pete’s clothes prove too irresistible.

He often likes to station himself in my office as well, and does a superb job of monitoring me while I’m at my computer.

He can be such a sweet, silly boy! Sometimes he just sits in the litter box. Yep, just sits there, as if daring anyone to come into his territory.

Not to worry, the litter box was clean when this photo was taken. But still …

Champaign has never been a “lap cat,” even after deciding that Pete and I were safe. The few times I’ve tried putting him on my lap, he scrambles back off as quickly as he can.

But he does enjoy snuggling next to Pete and me in the evenings, and we get to take turns cuddling him. The former little scaredy-cat loves the attention. It’s like he’s making up for lost time.

One of his favorite snuggle-time activities is “helping” me read. He cuddles up next to me most nights while I’m reading myself to sleep, and sometimes in the afternoon during nap time.

To help our little Champie through the process of grieving for his brother, the vet has recommended we give him lots of hugs and snuggling, and we’ve been happily complying with doctor’s orders.

I think the love is helping both him and us. I know for sure it’s helping us, anyway!

With love and gratitude,

God’s other book: Jubilee Farm

What better way to spend a lovely spring day than walking around a little piece of Eden?

Jubilee Farm was established in 1999 by the Dominican Sisters in our community as a center for ecology and spirituality.

According to their web site (link HERE), the farm is designed to be “a peaceful destination, a place of integrity, a home to farm animals and wildlife, an educational resource, a demonstration of living in an ecologically responsible way, an oasis for spirituality, a special gift to those who seek solace and spiritual enrichment in nature.”

For Pete and I last weekend, the farm was also a just-plain-magical place to spend a warm sunny Sunday afternoon and snap lots of photos.

While we didn’t even begin to explore all 164 acres of this mini-paradise, we did get to meet some lovely farm animals. The llama and alpaca, below, provide fiber for the Sisters’ weaving and craft classes as well as plenty of friendly hospitality to guests who visit the farm.

In the photo below, we see more than a pretty little pond. Working together with the local university, the Sisters at Jubilee Farm are engaged in a long-term plan to revitalize the farm’s prairie areas, small wetlands and remnant oak savannas.

In the summer and fall, we’ll be able to see several species of native wildflowers in bloom.

Next to the farm’s entrance, we encountered about a dozen chickens, which the Sisters raise for eggs.

These hens came in a variety of beautiful colors and were very friendly, some of them coming up to greet us as we stood at the edge of the fence looking in.

Peering into a greenhouse, below, we could see tables full of herb, vegetable and flower seedlings grown from organic seeds with no chemicals.

The Sisters sell herbs and pollinator-friendly seedlings and engage in study to learn about sustainable agriculture and healthy foods. They also conduct vegetarian cooking classes.

Amiga, a gorgeous and very friendly tortoiseshell cat adopted from a local shelter, introduced herself to us early on.

She followed us everywhere and managed to appear in several of my photos. Of course, a creature as adorable as Amiga can “photobomb” all she wants to! Right?

One of the farm’s more amazing and popular features is an outdoor labyrinth. A labyrinth allows people (and certain creatures) to follow a defined pathway to the center of the circle and back out again, praying and meditating as we go.

For more than three millennia, millions of people have used labyrinths as an aid for prayer. The one at Jubilee Farm is mowed right into the grass, as pictured below.

All along one of the walking trails, we could see raptors silhouetted against the sky. We also found this “Peace Pole,” pictured below, which proclaims its message in six different languages.

Jubilee Farm has three major walking trails, the longest a half mile, and all trails have benches along the route where we can stop, rest and engage in spiritual reflection.

Nature prayer is one of my favorite kinds of prayer, and Jubilee Farm certainly lends itself to the practice. We already know that we will be visiting again and again.

A prayer of thanksgiving for a truly magnificent cat

Dear God,

My heart is broken!! Two weeks ago we said goodbye to our sweet Olaf DaVinci. I’m just now able to write about it.

I firmly believe animals are one of your great gifts to us, God, and I thank you for every day of the 15 years that this furry little friend and constant companion graced my life.

Oley was a big, beautiful, majestic and totally lovable Maine Coon cat with a flamboyantly irrepressible personality. He had a studious little face, thick luxurious fur and a magnificent plume of a tail. Here he is on the table in our sunroom, the king of all he surveys.

You first brought him into our lives at an Animal Protective League shelter when he was a year and a half old. He insisted on coming home with us. And I do mean insisted.

We had gone to the shelter looking for a cat to adopt and had spent at least a half hour petting a variety of cute kitties to see if one of them might choose us. When Pete sat down on the floor, Oley immediately hopped into his lap and began giving him repeated head butts, as if to say, “Me! Me! Me! Look no further!”

When we told the shelter staff we wanted Oley, they told us, “He has a friend.” They then introduced us to Champaign, a very frightened kitty who had been abused in his previous home and spent most of his time hiding under a chair to avoid being bullied by other cats.

Champie and Oley had formed a tight bond at the shelter and the staff said it would be really nice if they could be adopted together. So home we went, with two long-haired tomcats. We’ve never regretted that decision, despite a lot of shedding.

Champaign spent the first two weeks hiding in the basement, only coming upstairs to eat when Pete and I left the house, and it took quite a while for him to truly warm up to us. But Oley kept him company and Champie eventually came around. Now he’s a regular cuddle bear, thanks to some socialization from Oley as well as from us.

Oley and Champaign liked to hang out together when they weren’t negotiating territory. (They had the house, and us, neatly divided between them.) One of their favorite places was a chair in the sunroom.

A cat with a personality such as Oley’s naturally managed to acquire a number of nicknames. At the vet’s office, he was Mr. DaVinci. To us, he was Fluff Budget, Little Bud and Baby. Oley could do the “hang dog” look so well, another of his nicknames was Puppy Cat.

No matter what we were doing, Oley always wanted to be in the middle of it. If I was making the bed, he and Champie would both jump up and “help.” If I was sitting at my desk, Oley would literally tap my arm to let me know he wanted onto my lap. If I was sorting laundry, into the basket he’d hop. “Oley, do you need to be washed?” I would ask him.

God, this little cat you created didn’t just have a distinct, unique personality. He was a real character, in the best sense of the word. He was the most irrepressible kitty I ever met, bar none.

Here he is, hoping to persuade Pete to give him a bite of people food. (Cat food? Boring!) When friends came to the house, he would make the rounds, getting each guest to pet him and share tidbits of smoked salmon or cheese.

The camera couldn’t capture the way his cute little nose would work while he brazenly wheedled us for people food. But the photo below captures a little bit of his flamboyant boldness.

Usually during meals, he would start out sitting in the middle of the table, then inch closer to one of our plates very slowly, as if he thought we might not notice.

He loved his water straight from the tap. As he got older and a little arthritic, he had Pete trained to lift him up to the sink so he could have his sip.

According to Oley, one needed appropriate supervision in order to practice one’s instrument. Oley gladly provided this service.

Even the most onerous task can be made more endurable with the right assistance. Oley often helped Pete grade student papers.

He had a way of making sure I kept my priorities straight as well. Anytime I sat down at my desk or in my recliner, there he was. He loved sitting on my lap.

He could be really patient when he needed to indulge his humans a little. Pete and I have a habit of kissing our kitties on the head to show them how much we love them, and just because they’re so darn cute. The oh-so-patient look on Oley’s little face when we did this to him was priceless.

Our cats have always seemed to know when one of us is sick or sad and needs company or comforting. Here, both Oley and Champaign joined me the day I got home from gallbladder surgery.

Oley sat in my lap for hours and let me stroke his soft fur as I mourned the loss of both my parents, followed by at least a dozen family members and close friends during this ghastly pandemic.

One of best things our sweet Oley did was join me for morning meditation. I had already developed a meditation ritual when he came to us – sitting in my recliner with a cup of coffee by my side while I journaled about my priorities for the coming day. And Oley, being Oley, wanted to be right in the middle of it.

For 15 years, my little cat burrowed his way into my morning ritual, sitting in my lap while I journaled and prayed. Sometimes Pete would join us as well, serenading us with his dulcimer. (I wish I had a picture of this.)

Champie always looked up to Oley, and frankly, so did we. In the end, when Oley’s health began to deteriorate, he would prove to be such a brave little trouper as I tried medical interventions that would help him for a while. He certainly taught me some things about life.

The Bible in several places talks about animals on the other side of eternity – lions lying down with lambs, cows and bears grazing together and children safely playing with all of them. I just know Oley is there right now.

I love to imagine that the first thing Oley did when he met Jesus was to jump into his lap and greet him with some serious head butts.

God, I will always be grateful for the wonderful gift you gave us when you blessed us with our beautiful Olaf DaVinci. Today, as I try through my tears to count my blessings, I certainly count this magnificent little creature to be one of those blessings.

With love and gratitude,