Friday, December 28, 2018

Some Studio Time

It is Christmas break and I am spending a few days at the studio. I have begun an extensive project to paint a sailboat using pointillism as a method. It will be a series of pixillated dots to create an image and it will take a great deal of time. It is relaxing and it will be exciting (and anxiety-producing) to see if the image comes to life.

This is my third consecutive day in the studio and I was excited to get started today. I sat with another artist and we each drank a cup of coffee and then I returned to work. I started to think about putting dots on the canvas and for some reason I painted a square image of white blossoms against a blue background. I was stymied as to the reason I did not put those dots on the canvas but I became excited about painting a summer time image. The model for my painting was an image I took of a tree with white blossoms in Chatham, Cape Cod this summer. I liked the stark contrast of the white against the vibrant blue. Anyways, I went back to stippling after a while but it was with a slightly darker blue tone so the average person would not see that the color I applied was any different.

I have been using this week as prayer time. Typically, the week after Christmas I pray for those people who sent me Christmas cards and then I follow it up on Epiphany to end the season. Christmas cards are among my favorite part of Christmas, and this years I received a surprise card on Christmas Eve that was very special. I was taken aback and it was as if the whole significance of Christmas descending upon my prayer and I just gave thanks.

This week has been restful. The artists that I am meeting are quite friendly and attentive. They like that there is a priest among them and they like that I am among them. They are kind people and I like kind, happy people. They like me too. Even for those who say faith has nothing to offer them, they still like something I offer them and they hav many questions about God and the meaning of life. Something is working.

I am amazed at the range of people who pass through the SoWa (South of Washington) studios. Yesterday, my first two guests were from Norway and Orange County, respectively. Many of those who are visiting this week are from out-of-town. It is astonishing that people from the hotels and from across the country know about this place better than many Bostonians. I enjoy these interactions.

One guy yesterday asked of large portrait that I painted years ago, “Is that you? The nose is different but the eyes and the smile are warm, just like you.”

I had a nice Christmas. The parish is a lot of fun and I met some nice people. It is fun to see a packed church. My sister hosted dinner for Christmas Day and it was quite fun with tasty food and a relaxed atmosphere. My niece visited with her family as well. I enjoyed the day.

As I was returning home, I passed through the center of Worcester to see their Christmas lights. I saw about 16 young adults on the Common and we started chatting. They were Iraqi students who were studying at college in Worcester. We sang some Arabic songs and they were delighted. They could not believe an American would know those songs.

I still have a lot to do with the studio. I have to set up a website and get some business cards and posters. Simple stuff, but time consuming. I’m just enjoying painting and all these dots are giving me an opportunity to speak on the phone with friends and family and to call to mind all those people who are suffering in some way. 

Well, all these dots are keeping me focused. I’ve done about 5,000 and I probably have another 295,000 to go. I hope the person who gets this painting realizes the amount of time and attention that it took to create this. I think the person will very much appreciate it.

Anyways, back to those dots.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Nourishing Words

I often tell people, when they are returning from a retreat, to tell a few lies when they return home. I invite them to say, "I miss you. It is good to see you again." The person speaking these words feels good; so does the person hearing them. And, it really isn't a lie at all. You do mean it, but there's always other relationship junk that gets in the way. The person who hears these words no longer have to wonder if he or she has space in your life; you've communicated to them that they do. They are welcome in your life.

These are good words to speak at Christmas and over the holidays because it sets a culture of hospitality. Perhaps, not all behaviors are welcomed and they may have to be negotiated, but fundamentally the person is welcomed into your home.

It is important to use nourishing words when we gather as family or loved ones. Everything we consume heals us or poisons us. The conversations that go on around us are also food. When we say something that nourishes us and uplifts people around us, we are feeding love and compassion. When we speak in a way that causes tension and anger, we nourish violence and suffering.

We ingest toxic communication from those around us. We also ingest healthy ones. Do those help us grow in compassion and understanding? Mindful communication is the way forward.

Relationships do not survive without the right food

We suffer because of difficult conversations. We feel misunderstood. We have to select the kind of food we offer the other person to help the relationship thrive. (Love, hate, suffering needs food to continue.)
With mindful awareness, we can look into the nature of our suffering and find what kind of food we have been supplying to keep it alive. We can cut off the supply to let the suffering fade.

Communication can bring love and relationship back to life. Thoughts nourish. (suspicious, anger, fear, irritation strains the relationship.) In strained relationships, we need to nourish compassion.

One cruel utterance can set a person back for years. When a loved one suffers, we suffer too.

Love, respect, and friendship all need food to survive. We can produce thoughts, speech, and actions that will feed our relationships and help them grow and thrive.

What can we say?

The less we say the better off we are. If we are practicing deep listening, then we notice that we are not speaking. The person in front of us wants and needs to be heard. Use questions as your allies in promoting positive conversations. Ask something like, "Can you say more about that? or say something like, "Help me to understand."

If you are asking questions, you want to help the person articulate what she or he is feeling. Probe for clarity and rephrase what the person is saying that they know you are understanding their message. Connections will happen when the person feels understood.

Recognize that each person is suffering in some ways. It might be right on the surface and buried deep beneath, but it affects everything. We alleviate one's suffering when we listen deeply and try to understand what they are feeling. We are communicating that we know they suffer and we are not leaving. In fact, we are staying and trying to learn more about their suffering. In this moment, there is happiness.

Refrain from asking questions that lead to a definitive 'yes' or 'no' unless you are willing to go deeper. For a person who wants to avoid his or her own suffering, the person will have already answered the question, so you must probe very gently.

How can I use Loving Speech?

When we have to tell a person bad news, we can train ourselves to speak the truth in a way that the other person can accept. When you speak, try to tell others about your suffering and their suffering. This is loving speech. We can use words that helps the person not be caught in misperceptions. Both hearer and speaker need mindfulness and skillfulness.

What you say can carry with it insight and understanding. With more understanding, you help the person suffer less and communication is more effective. You speak gently because you are willing to help.

We can use words the nourish ourselves and the other person. Your words convey only compassion and understanding. Your words inspire confidence and openness. This is generosity. This is Right Speech.

I'll write more on this later, but it might be a good primer for the holidays. We can shape many of our conversations by putting into practice Loving Speech. You will give another person hope, love, and faith because of your carefully chosen way of proceeding.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Pet Etiquette

Here are some thoughts we had about pets, more specifically, dogs, around the holidays.

Be strict that dogs should not eat food that humans eat. If your dog is on a particular regimen, make certain that you keep the dog on that diet.

Only the dog’s owner needs to feed the dog. Consider putting the dog in another room where the dog will not have the temptation to eat the scraps that fall on the floor, or that someone who wants to be kind to the dog will give them a slab of ham or a piece of roast beef. The person is not being kind, but actually is disrespecting your boundaries. The best solution is to keep the dog away from people who are going to discreetly feed the dog.

It is always kind to ask the owner, “May I pet the dog?” or “May I feed the dog?” If the owner says, “no,” don’t do it otherwise.

Some dogs will be persistent in begging for food. You are free to ask your host if they can clear the dog away, so you can attend to the meal and conversation at hand. The dog can be a distraction. Ask your host to take care of your needs.

Try to send a standard of having no dogs or cats at the table when you are eating.

If a person is bringing a pet to the house, suggest that they should ask you for permission. Someone might be allergic to dog hair, or you simply might not want to clean dog hair from your house afterwards. You do not have to solve the dilemma for them about what they should do with their pet if they can’t bring it to your house. It is something that person has to consider.

Likewise, if you are bringing a dog to someone’s house, have a conversation about pet etiquette. Discuss the rules and expectations and be clear to mention those areas that might seem problematic to the host or to other guests. Sometimes it is helpful to bring a pet cage where the pet feels safe. Dogs are highly sensate animals and the many distractions may confuse them.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Winter Festival

This has been a fascinating week. With an earlier trip to Tower Hill Botanical Gardens with a small group of alumni, we were able to see some beautiful Christmas light displays inside the building and in the exterior gardens.

I also spent time with the Ignatian Volunteer Corp, which is a group of aged 55+ volunteers who work in apostolate for disenfranchised people. We meet in Providence, Rhode Island and we were the largest group assembled yet. We finished the book “God Isn’t Finished with me Yet,” which is about Ignatian Spirituality for the mature years. The conversations were fascinating and the reflection of people’s experiences of looking toward a time of diminishment, death, and legacy were quite insightful.

Earlier today we had a luncheon for the Retired Teachers and Staff, which was quite festive. The mass was quite meaningful as well. Nearly every Advent mass is special.

So, I’m down of SoWa, which means South of Washington Street. The art studios are right next to the old Boston College and Boston College High School, not far from the Cathedral. It is the second weekend of the Winter Festival. Last year, the festival was one night and this year it is spread over two weekends. The cold weather is forcing everyone inside.

I am meeting the nicest people. Some see the SJ on my paintings and ask if I am a Jesuit. Some say, “I went to BC or BC High.” Tonight I met people from Jesuit schools across the country, including Loyola Chicago and Creighton University.

Many will have conversations about the priesthood and art, which they find fascinating. They have read my bio outside of the room and then it gives them something to ask me when they come inside the studio. I want to paint or draw tonight, but a number of people are stopping by for conversations or viewing. This is also the First Friday, which Bostonians know to be the night to attend SoWa.

The winter festival has a thousand crafters in the Makerspace exhibit and there is an large heated tent with food and alcohol stations, plus other pop up events. People seem happy, and I like happy people.

The artist community is quite supportive. I have some good friends who were very excited to show me their new pieces of work and they came by to wish me luck during the event.

All in all, it is a good start.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Gift Giving

During a recent discussion with parents, we discussed how to communicate our expectations to family and guests over the holidays. The conversation turned to the expectations around gift giving.

Here are some examples that we discussed.

We attach unspoken expectations to our gift giving. We want to please others and sometimes we expect a person to act a particular way when receiving the gift.

Discussing what we want and need is important and if we think we are doing well with it, we need to do better.

Ask a person if there will be a gift exchange or if there is some way you can spend time together. It eliminates the awkwardness when one person gives a gift and the other does not. If that happens, fall back on the agreement you made to one another and discuss how it is awkward for you.

Gift giving can be unequal. If you give a $20.00 gift to someone and they give you a $60.00 gift, there is an imbalance that can be awkward. Money often determines the value we place of the relationship.

If there is gift-exchange, ask a person what he or she wants and ask the person to be precise. It helps you get them what they expect. There is still variation that can be given in the gift, but you want to be able to hit the mark.

Check out the expectations after your agreement. Those uncommunicated expectations can be hurtful. One man asked his wife what she wanted for her 50th birthday. His wife was adamant that there be no party, no surprise, and no gift. That is what he gave her, but she was devastated that he did not honor her on her 50th birthday. These are sensitive areas.

Everybody wants the holidays to be enjoyable, but we have different ideas about what is fun. Talk and plan with the family about those things that each person would like to do. Negotiate. Compromise. Discuss. Often, most families want to spend time with each other. Decide how and when you will do that and discuss it early so that children and others do not make alternate plans because they do not know your intended schedule or expectations.

If children are returning from school or or a limited visit, decided early when and how you will spend time together. Ask them to reserve time for the family. Then they can schedule time with their friends. People want to know the ritual expectations.

Examine your traditions. Why are you doing them? Are there new ones you want to begin? Talk about what would be meaningful and enjoyable for each person. Christmas is about spending time with each other. Be mindful that this is the reason people are visiting. They want to spend time with you. Give them family time and private time. Arrange a brunch with each child separately so you can maximize the opportunities to be with family.

A suggestion is to try gift-giving a little differently. We think of Christmas as being for the children, but the children need to see the primary relationship in the household, which is the parent-to-parent relationship. Because the parents love one another and chose each other as lifelong friend, this is the primary relationship. Because of their love, they have children, but the adult-to-adult relationship is the most important one. Try this out. Let the children see how the husband and wife exchange gifts first. Then the children can open their gifts.

Also, we can manage the gift-opening well. When a person receives a gift, perhaps the one who gives it to them, even if it is from Santa (parent), hand the gift to the person so that they know another person is involved in the exchange. Perhaps, even a little explanation can be given so the person understands the reason he or she received the gift. The person then has to acknowledge the gift-giver and convey thanks.

Parents need to talk about an estimated budget for the gifts merely as a guideline. When a person knows the expectations, they can purchase mindfully.

Parents can purchase a limited number of gifts: one for a need, another for a want, a third for something fun, and a fourth for a surprise. Additional gifts are not needed.

Give time as a gift. Instead of a physical gift, invite family to a concert or theater, schedule breakfast with a person, go to an art museum, a light display, a Holiday Open House,  or take part in some fun activity. People will value that you are giving them your time. Your presence to them will let them know they are secure with you and that you care for them. It is more precious than a funny decoration that you think is appropriate for them. The incarnation is about choosing to be with those whom you love.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Holiday Meal Planning

This is a summary of this morning's meetings about how to prepare for the holidays.

At this morning's meetings, we discussed how the Thanksgiving meals went for everyone. While they were certainly happy occasions, there were moments of stress for the households. There is much to discuss about how to have polite and meaningful conversations, but today we focused on how we might need to prepare guests to our houses for timing and food gifts. Proper boundaries help others know your rules and expectations.

These are notes from our meeting today and they are inarticulately expressed.

When you are inviting people over to your homes, even if they are family, remind them that it is your house, your rules, and your schedule. You don't want to be very rigid in laying down the law, but you do want to communicate your expectations. After all, you are the ones who are preparing, cooking, planning, organizing, and you are not getting any rest. You will want to find a way to politely say that so they can honor your request.

In some ways, planning for a large meal is like being an event manager. Rather than leaving everything by chance and goodwill, organize and manage the outcomes directly. It will help your guests if they know the rules.


It is quite appropriate to ask people to come for appetizers by a certain time. If they are the ones to bring appetizers, make certain they can arrive before the other guests do. For instance, you do not want your brother, who always brings appetizers, to show up at 3:00 p.m. when the other guests are arriving at 1:00 p.m. The unintended consequence is that people will eat his appetizers and will then not have room for the served meal. This makes the cooks, who spent a lot of time preparing the meal, feel annoyed or "fill in the blanks."

It is helpful to set a schedule for the day and to communicate it. Find out when people can arrive and adjust what they can bring according to their visit times. For instance, you might want to tell people to come at 1:00 p.m. and that appetizers will be served at 1:30 p.m., there'll be time for watching a game, and then dinner will be served at 4:00 p.m.

Also, please note that desserts and coffee will be served at 5:00 p.m. with departures at 6:00 p.m. Of course, you want to keep this fluid, but if you give people a clue about what to expect, they know when it is time to leave. You can even pace the meal so that everyone's contributions will respected.

Meal Planning

Plan your meal a month in advance. Start planning your Thanksgiving meal by November 1st and the Christmas meal by December 1st. Assign people parts of the meal that can be helpful to you. Guide them into the ways that they can be helpful to you. After all, you are making the main portion of the dinner.

If you are cooking the turkey, let people know you will make stuffing and gravy.

Ask others to make the mashed potatoes, the squash, a cranberry plate, broccoli or brussel sprouts, green bean casserole. Their contribution does not have to be sexy; it just has to contribute to your having an easier day. Your guests want to make you happy. Ask them to contribute what you need from them. They can still add their culinary expertise to their dish. You do not have to do it all.

Your guests won't have to guess what you might want. They might not have to spend time thinking about what to get you if you simply tell them what to bring and at what time. You want to avoid have four people bring cakes when you have made three pies. You don't want two cheese platters when one will suffice. It takes some organization.

Remember that food is a gift, and gift-giving is tricky. There are always invisible strings attached.

It may feel awkward or corporate to assign parts of the meal to others, but it will become easier with practice. It helps them to know the boundaries, and good boundaries make for happy gatherings. Just think if your only cooking job was turkey, stuffing, and gravy. That means you too can spend time with family and friends or to watch the game.

Make sure you have food that is gluten-free, for diabetics, for people with allergies so that everyone can join in on the feast.

After-dinner activities

If there are particular traditions and customs you want to uphold, let your guests know about when they will be done. Gift-giving will be done at this time; caroling will precede it; eggnog and hot chocolate will be served at another time; games will be played at a particular time. We will attend mass at a particular time.


Let people know when they are expected to leave. You are tired, perhaps. Let them know you need rest. You also have to clean up, put food away, and say goodnight to the guests.

Depending upon what you want. Let people know a month in advance that they need to bring containers to take food home. It might seem generous to them that they leave their cake with you, but when you have four cakes and three pies in the house, you are going to throw much of it away. It is not your job to make sure the food gets to a food pantry. You can ask people to bring food home or not to bring as much as they do in the first place.

Enlist them in sweeping and mopping the floor, doing the dishes, tidying up the parlor and living rooms, and helping with the off-hand tasks. Ask someone to take and retrieve the coats from guests.

Let them know you need rest and you will get that rest when people leave by 6:00 p.m. Everyone will try to test boundaries because we are all exceptions, but you need to know what you want beforehand and then communicate it.

This might sound peculiar to you, but the more planning and preparation that you do, the happier you will be. The same goes for your guests. Although these are short-hand notes, remember that you are to deliver these messages in your unique style, which will make you be heard and honored.

Know what you want. Ask for it. Choose well.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Contest, of sorts

As many of you know, I opened an art studio recently and I'm in the process of setting up a new website, printing business cards, and getting appropriate signage.

I paint in oils and watercolor and I take photographs. I sometimes paint scenes from my photographs, and I paint representational landscapes and portraits. In fact, I paint anything that strikes my fancy and I tend towards brighter colors. I try to set moods that help people contemplate and meditate so they are drawn into a deeper reality.

I try to "celebrate what is right with the world," and to find joy in the simple, minimalistic aspects of life. Our heightened senses draw us to an opportunity of meeting the divine, therefore, we must pay attention to the details in our senses and notice how we feel.

With this new endeavor in mind, let me know your ideas and suggestions for a website name, a studio name, or a short tag that describes my studio.

Either post here or send a message to

Many thanks.