A Lovely Young Woman

Green leaf on blue water

'Up the mountain'—the pool at the spring near the Upper Shrine*

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Digesting a Difficult Book

Beautiful redhead with freckles

Fanny at almost-13

Fanny, who will be 13 in August, is about to leave for Daylight, the almost-inaccessible mountaintop home of the Ancients, with her mentor, Sister Alma Rose, and Henry, the man she knows she will someday marry. Fanny has learned only recently that she is a reincarnation from the Ancients. She will live with them until she feels that she is ready to serve among the “Lowlanders,” doing the healing and peacemaking work that will become her mission.

coffeecup wingding

I am packed to go “up the mountain” — indefinitely, although Mama and Daddy will be allowed to visit because they’re “special,” and I can come home as often as I want, maybe via magic carpet, I’m not really sure. Sister Alma Rose and Henry will be taking me. Henry will stay as long as I do; Sister Alma Rose is keeping mum about her plans.

Saint John of the Cross, 1542-1591

Saint John of the Cross, 1542-1591

While we are waiting to leave, Sister Alma Rose has assigned me to read The Metaphysics of Mysticism, A Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross, by Geoffrey K. Mondello, a book of which “the goal… is unabashedly epistemological.” Whew! What if it had been gastronomical? Would I have been forced to eat the book? Would it have eaten me? And tidied up afterward?

It is heavy going; the author uses a lot of words such as solipsistic. And only occasionally can I infer the meaning of an unfamiliar word from the context, because the context is full of words such as refractory (not to be confused with refectory, which is where St. John and his fellow Carmelites went to eat dinner).

And so I slog along, reading indoors at the computer so that I can easily look up words every three or four sentences, until it is just irresistibly gorgeous outside, when I lug the unabridged dictionary out to the garden or go read on Sister Alma Rose’s porch. Sometimes I think she forgets I’m only 12.

Detail from Riding a Flying Carpet, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1880

Detail from Riding a Flying Carpet, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1880

Visiting Cousin George

Mama was an only child and so was her cousin George. (Everyone I know just calls him “George,” even my little brothers.) George and his parents— Mama’s mother’s brother and his wife (“Big George” and Jake, I don’t know her real name) farmed outside of Hilltop when Mama and George were kids, so they were like siblings.

Now George lives in Chicago, but he is hardly ever there because he makes huge amounts of money as a freelance photographer who specializes in going with linguistic anthropologists to remote places like Papua New Guinea (where more than 850 indigenous languages are spoken!) and the Amazon rainforest. So when he is in the U.S., which is hardly ever, he comes to see Mama or she goes to Chicago, and since he was at home last week, and I was going to be leaving soon, Mama, Henry, and I all flew to Chicago. Henry bought our tickets, and I still don’t know where he gets all his money, even though his parents are rich, but they don’t know where he is, and I don’t understand that either. I’m sure he’ll tell me when he’s ready to tell me (this is the new, patient, serene Me talking). 


The Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

The Amazon rainforest, Brazil

We didn’t tell George that I am going to Daylight, although if you could tell anyone and not be scoffed at, it would be George. We also didn’t exactly explain about Henry, but George takes everything in stride. His wife, Annette, used to go with him on long assignments, but she and their baby (Annette was five months’ pregnant) died on Borneo, not from some exotic jungle disease or snakebite or anything. She was standing at the edge of a four-foot embankment near a dry streambed when an insect flew into her eye, and she lost her footing and belly-flopped onto the hard ground, and she died of “multiple internal injuries” in a helicopter on the way to the hospital.

Being the observer

This tragedy happened while Mama was carrying me, so the baby, who was a girl, would be about my age. I used to wonder if I might be an unwelcome reminder of George’s unborn child— he always seemed to be scrutinizing me— but Sister Alma Rose has taught me to not be self-conscious but to observe rather than “feeling observed,” and when I started observing George I realized that he scrutinizes everybody, because he is actually interested. George is a person who lives in the moment. As Sister Alma Rose says, George remembers “where he is” (here) and “what time it is” (now). He’s kind and sensitive but not at all sentimental. He probably doesn’t know it, but he practices “mindfulness.”

Sexy blonde with cigarette, leather outfit, and fur stole

Daddy thinks Carla's a spy

George’s girlfriend, Carla, swears like a sailor and is physically the kind of woman who could have been called a “blond bombshell” in an earlier era. Carla might be a little on the flashy side for high society, and you might assume that she was no rocket scientist, but you’d be wrong because that’s exactly what she is, an aerospace engineer who was an associate professor at some university with initials like M.I.T. but not M.I.T., but now she’s a handsomely paid consultant with ultra-ultra security clearance, and she loves to talk but she doesn’t talk about her work. Carla lives in George’s apartment when he’s away and when he’s home. Daddy doesn’t approve, not that anybody asked him.

George is a self-professed Christian who says he has seen God’s grace “up close and personal” too many times to doubt its reality. It was grace, he says, that brought him and Carla together and that keeps their relationship strong though they both travel a lot and sometimes Carla can’t tell even George where she’s going.

Sultry beautiful blond woman

...Dagmar WAS a spy...

Daddy thinks Carla’s a spy. That’s because a long time ago, just before Mama and Daddy got married, there was a woman called Dagmar who was another “blond bombshell,” and she worked at the Diner and chewed gum and had this Bronx accent, and Daddy told Mama, “She’s a spy,” and Mama said, “What would a spy be doing in Hilltop?” and Daddy said, “Keeping a low profile,” and Mama laughed because Dagmar would have stood out anywhere, but it turned out that Daddy was right and Dagmar was a spy for the Russians or the Chinese or something. Daddy said she was less like a waitress than like somebody playing a waitress on television, and the gum-chewing and Bronx accent were “overkill.”

Loving is the main thing

Coffee in a light-blue mug

...a wonderful time drinking coffee...

Our day in Chicago ended too soon. We all had a wonderful time drinking coffee and eating George’s “culinary specialty,” fruit salad made with cream cheese and marshmallow cream and it is just to die for, if everyone had left the room I would have been compelled to eat it all.

As Sister Alma Rose has told me over and over until it finally sunk in, you cannot be loving when you are being an “observee” instead of an observer.  And loving is the main thing. So I got over myself; I relaxed and observed instead of being self-conscious and feeling as if all eyes were on me. It was fabulous, wonderful, liberating… liberating most of all. And when we left, George told Mama he thought I had “grown into a lovely young woman.” I didn’t need George’s approval any more, but it felt good. Validating. “The truth shall make you free.” **

 * Green leaf on blue water, vnwallpapers.com
** John 8:32

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Sister Alma Rose’s Thought for the Day: Breathing Is Enough


Author and meditation teacher Susan Piver, on her CD Freedom from Fear, leads a very simple, very effective breathing meditation that never fails to bring peace and gratitude.

At one point she invites the meditator to pause in the little space after the “out breath” and notice how the “in breath” spontaneously arises.

What she doesn’t say is how wonderful it feels to breathe.

I am about to say something that might sound preachy. If it does, please understand that I am preaching to myself as much as I am to anyone else who is experiencing discontent.

Breathing is enough.

That’s the beauty of a breathing meditation. When we are breathing consciously, then each breath is an affirmation, a choice to be alive. And it feels so good.

Whatever might be wrong with our lives, our relationships, our health – when the house is a mess or the spouse is messing around – when we should have had the promotion someone else was given, however unjustly – when (in the words of a song called The Merry Minuet, written by Sheldon Harnick and popularized by the Kingston Trio in the 1950s) “they’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain, there’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain” – as long as we can breathe, we have a place to start.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed – by the laundry, by global warming, by the millions of messages that bombard us every day, by our own unreasonable demands on ourselves.

When I am flinging fragments of myself throughout the cosmos, trying to solve my own and everybody else’s problems, Susan Piver, in her low, soft, reassuring voice, inevitably helps me reassemble myself in the process often called ”centering.” When life is unmanageable, sometimes all you can do is, as Anne Lamott advises, remember to breathe.

When you can be grateful for breathing, then everything else – sunlight, shelter, warmth, coffee, leftover pizza – feels like abundance.

Health, a light body, freedom from cravings, a glowing skin, sonorous voice, fragrance of body: these signs indicate progress in the practice of meditation. —The Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Photo © Luc Viatour, GFDL/CC. Text from the forthcoming book Unfamiliar Territory, Volume 2: Meditations.
Unfamiliar Territory, Volume 1: Poems, Prayers, Meditations, and Household Hints is available at www.LifeIsPoetry.net.


Sister Alma Rose’s Morning Prayer: Send Bobby T

To HaRachaman, The Compassionate One


Y’all, I m just feeling pretty beat up today. I meditated on everything I’m grateful for, which is mainly, today, coffee, dark and strong, and the fruit cups and soup sainted Auntie Jan brought by, and the lima bean soup sainted Auntie Elaine brought by, and the Tong Ren she did, pounding on that rubber doll with that little hammer, and danged if I wasn’t ready to go out and paint the town Maraschino Red for a while after that, and, Y’all forgive me, the Pall Malls sainted Auntie Frov’s sainted son, Ryan, brought by–Y’all bless them special, y’hear?– but this morning everything hurts, and my eyes feel like dried-out scrambled eggs, and my throat feels like there’s a teeny-tiny tribe of native dancers in there poking teeny-tiny little surgical needles up, then down, then side to side….

About the smoking, Y’all don t start on me now. I surrendered that up into Thine Almighty Hands, don’t Y’all remember?

So I’m begging Y’all to send Bobby T, the angel of healing Y’all dispatched to me here when I was ailing back in oh-six, such a lovely young brown man with the big smile and the healing balm. I implore thee, HaRachaman, in thy mercy, not to send Tomasina, with the radiance of a fairy princess in the first soft pink ray of morning sun, and the kindness and compassion of Nurse Ratchett and Bertha the Bone-Cruncher rolled up into one sadistic Angel of Perpetual Pain.I know there’s folks out there much worse off’n me, and Y’all can send Bobby T to them soon as he gets done with me. Heal me quick, so I can get on about Y’alls work down here. Amen.

AARP Says ‘Drink More Coffee’

Great book! Available on Amazon.com or contact www.ironwoodpress.com.

AARP Says Drink More Coffee

(AARP, January-February 2007 issue, p. 40)

The steaming cup that wakes you up can also keep you healthy. Research shows that coffee protects against a variety of ailments from cavities to colon cancer. And some studies suggest that the more you drink, the better. The beverage lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes and can protect your liver from damage, too. Caffeine gets the credit for some of coffee s magic powers, including protection against Parkinson s disease and gallstones. But coffee s main benefit comes from its wealth of antioxidants. In fact, the coffee bean, which is technically a berry, has one of the highest antioxidant contents of all berries, says Tomas de Paulis, Ph.D., formerly of the Vanderbilt University Institute for Coffee Studies. That s why, drop for drop, coffee has more of these nutrients than even red wine. If you have osteoporosis, be sure to follow your doctor s advice for calcium supplementation, because in some studies, coffee drinking has raised the risk of bone fractures.

Wednesday January 3, 2007 – 03:49pm (PST) Edit | Delete | Comments: 1


Do You Have a Code? Sister Alma Rose Q & A


Q. Dear Sister Alma Rose–I am self-employed and work at home. Because I am a night owl, my workday begins at about 10 p.m., and I usually turn in between 8 and 10 a.m. The problem is, I don’t know what to wear. I mean, should I work in pajamas and then change into daytime clothes for… well, you know, for daytime? Or should I just wear sweats all the time, day and night? Here’s another thing: I don’t know when to eat breakfast. I mean, it’s not like anyone else would know, but it just feels funny having baked salmon and creamed spinach while the Today show is on. –Signed, Pale and Wan in Oregon

A. Dear PWO–Sister Alma Rose thinks you should get out more. It doesn’t matter what your dress code is, as long as you have one. Otherwise you’ll find yourself wearing the same set of sweats day after day, night after night… losing track of the hours, the weeks, the months… letting the mail and the newspapers pile up… neglecting your friends and family… slithering around in caves and lagoons looking for your ”Pretty”….

If you had any kind of social life, you wouldn’t need to ask Sister Alma Rose what to wear, or when to have baked salmon versus Malt-O-Meal. She suspects that once you have restored some balance to your life, these little matters will resolve themselves and you can apply your energy to things that matter, such as world hunger.


Sister Alma Rose does not recommend wearing Levi’s to bed, especially if you sleep on your stomach. You’ll end up with a permanent Levi’s-button indentation in your stomach. Nor should you don professional office attire, such as a natty little black suit and pumps with three-inch heels, when you’re working at home at 4 a.m. Your clients are unlikely to pop by and besides, Sister Alma Rose believes that pantyhose should never, ever be worn, including at gunpoint.

Friday November 24, 2006 – 11:42am (PST) Edit | Delete | Comments: 0


Sister Alma Rose Q & A: Gotta Dance!


Q. Dear Sister Alma Rose I take tap-dancing lessons once a week. I have now missed three lessons in a row. Even when I plan my entire week around this one lesson, I just don’t get there. Not only do I feel that this is rude and disrespectful to my instructor, and that I am missing out on something I really enjoy, I also know that my instructor feels that I am a very promising dancer. She has told me that my dancing puts her in mind of Savion Glover had he been born “stiff, uncoordinated, and a different species, e.g., tortoise or bison.” I hope you can help! Sincerely, Uncoordinated in Utah

A. Dear UIU Did she really say “e.g.”?

Q. Of course not! Nobody has said “e.g.” since Tiberius! “E.g.” is Latin!

A. Sister Alma Rose is sorry to hear that you are having difficulty meeting your goals. She assumes that you have ruled out the more obvious explanations for your lethargy, e.g.

  • Anemia due to blood loss as a result of having been run through with a bayonet
  • Coma as a result of, in spite of the WARNING on the bottles, mixing chlorine bleach, ammonia, and other cleaning products “just to see what happens”

If you have eliminated these possibilities and you get plenty of sleep; eat seven servings of terrible-tasting vegetables per day such as brussels sprouts; ingest no lactose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, or anything else ending in “-ose” (e.g., mangose); go for a brisk 45-minute walk twice a day; are “regular” in your “hygiene”; meditate often and practice yoga, imaging, receptiveness, gratitude, and breathing; and are experiencing absolutely no stress Sister Alma Rose would say you are just lazy.


Please do not think Sister Alma Rose is unsympathetic. She understands that one’s self-esteem is inversely proportional to the gap between one’s intentions and one’s success at fulfilling them, although in her case this “gap” is purely hypothetical. This is especially true if these “intentions” involve commitments to others.

Sister Alma Rose’s advice, for the moment, is that you reexamine your general health, double-checking for, e.g., bayonets and coma under the supervision of a board-certified physician. Meanwhile, avoid making commitments. If you are invited to a party or asked to take on a task, reply by saying, “Perhaps,” or, “We’ll just have to see.” You could smile in a dreamy, mysterious way, as if it is not you but the Demigods of the Sky and the River that will determine where you will be at any given point in time. (Practice doing this in a mirror until you can do it with assurance or you might alarm your children, who will teach you a new definition of the word commitment.)

Friday November 10, 2006 – 12:23pm (PST) Edit | Delete | Comments: 0



Birthday Berry Protocol

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Q. Dear Sister Alma Rose–I know you have answered this question many times before. I apologize for bothering you with it again, especially since it is the type of thing that is never likely to happen to me or anyone I know… but just in case, and purely hypothetically:

If someone who is lovely, delightful, and charming–your daughter, for example–comes to visit you on your birthday along with, oh, say, her husband and four children, your brother, and a close friend… and she brings you a large, luscious birthday cake laden with cream cheese and raspberries… and she serves you a massive piece of this cake and leaves three huge pieces in your refrigerator… and everyone sings “Happy Birthday,” and you blow out imaginary candles because the relevant number of real candles would require six cakes of comparable size plus the entire surface of a grand piano… and after a lovely birthday celebration everyone leaves and you promptly eat the three “extra” pieces of cake, which, inasmuch as you have never experienced anything as tasty and delectable as this cake, merely serve as an appetizer…

If, in the unlikely event something like this should happen to you, wouldn’t you disown your daughter and cut her out of your will and spread malicious gossip about her and go to her house at midnight and run the garden hose into the basement window and turn it on full blast (for starters), and put up a sign by the window announcing “Spider Jubilee Tonight”– in retribution for her not having left you the entire cake and possibly a second backup cake, inasmuch as it was, after all, your birthday, even if she had given you as a birthday present two tickets to “An Evening with David Sedaris,” which you went to, even though you were very put out with your (hypothetical) daughter, because “An Evening with David Sedaris” is at least ten thousand times more enjoyable than “An Evening of Flying to Paris on Your Own Personal Jet with Richard Gere and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and a Ten-Thousand-Dollar Gift Certificate Redeemable at Any Parisian Retail Establishment”?

A. Yes