Thistle Do Nicely

Do you remember March 2020? The world turned upside down.

My father had passed away near the end of 2019 — an event that had deeply affected me. The pandemic was a different upheaval, one that involved isolation, masks, shortages at the grocery store, and a lot of fear of the unknown.

As COVID settled in, I decided to make the best of it. I took a few online art classes. I zoomed with friends and family. I started learning Scottish Gaelic via DuoLingo.

Learning Gaelic led to trying to learn Scottish history and more about Scottish culture. I binge-watched Shetland. I searched for Scottish podcasts. I read a few books about Scotland. I traced my own family tree to Edinburgh.

The pandemic dragged on.

Cooperstown that summer was delightfully boring. No baseball swarms. Just restaurants trying to entice the locals to get takeout.

The pandemic dragged on some more.

I began driving to Syracuse to help with my grandchildren and found myself needing to fill the two hours of drive-time. I think it was late-August when I first listened to Thistle Do Nicely.

Can I just say here — publicly, out loud — that I cannot imagine getting through the pandemic without Rory, Chris, and Jonny?


These guys make me laugh out loud every single time I listen.

Then I would feel guilty about the whole thing.

I mean, their humor — especially early on — is roughly 5th grade boy. Episode #3 Fartin’ In Tartan, for example. Yes, I listened to it. It wasn’t all about flatulence. It was about The Highland Games.

F-bombs are sort of a fixture in the podcast. They’ve gotten more restrained, but in the early days, I remember thinking, If my kids knew how much I was loved this, they would be shocked. I’ve been known to turn off movies because I hate listening to bad language. I’d say, “Nobody talks like,” but it turns out that people do — and they come from Glasgow.

And f–ing doesn’t necessarily mean f–ing.

Listening to the show is like sitting in a pub and eavesdropping on three guys in the next booth. They laugh at themselves and laugh at the world — but never in a mean-spirited or condescending way. They have running jokes, like calling their listeners “readers.” They love puns and wordplay. They love a good story.

Some of the best stories were told by Rory. In their Macbeth episode, he found a fascinating bit of New York history about the Astor Place riots. As much as I love Scottish history, I love New York history even more. In their current episode, Rory tells a story about a failed hanging. When I was researching Cooperstown history, I found the story of a hanging-that-wasn’t, and this reminded me of that.

Rory is the main storyteller. I think he roped his friends into doing this podcast. He feels, to me, like the the steadying force behind the whole thing. He is earnest and sincere, occasionally befuddled, but always a good sport about his friends’ antics.

Jonny is both a musician and artist. He wrote a song to the tune of The Wellerman and sang it for the podcast. You can listen to it in the episode about Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I’m pretty sure Jonny also designed their logo.

Chris is the wit. He comes out with the pithy zingers. He teases. He creates the running joke and carries it through. James McElvoy. Belgium. Charles Darwin. Patents. Readers. You may have to listen to know what I’m talking about.

I’m embarrassed to say that I am a running joke on the show. I unsuspectingly wrote to them after about a month of listening just to tell them that I like the show. They read the email out loud. On the show.

When they ask for questions (and even when they don’t), I send them questions. I can’t help it. I have a thousand questions.

They’re taking a break starting August — and I’m already dreading it.

At the same time, I am so very thankful. In the dark world of a global pandemic and in the wake of the grief of my father’s passing, they brought me joy and laughter.

Well done, lads.


Several weeks ago Laurel walked in the kitchen and I was writing a message to a podcast that I listen to. “What are you doing?” she asked.

I told her.

She looked at my phone and said, “They write back?! You write back and forth?! That’s kind of creepy, Mom.”

I didn’t send the message that night. I wanted to tell them that they mispronounced Evelyn Waugh’s name. And that she’s a he. A bunch of other listeners did it for me, though.

But Laurel was right. I do have a running conversation with these guys. Sort of.

I asked Mary if that was creepy. She knows how much I enjoy this particular podcast.

“Do you like it or do you find it creepy when people contact you about your blog?” she asked.

Hmmm…. Mostly, it’s very encouraging.

Of course there was that one person who was downright nasty.

Early on I also had a heated exchange with another blogger when I referred to my mother’s Alzheimer’s as a gift. I still stand by that one — because in the humble obscurity of taking care of the most basic bodily needs of a person, love can wash away old conflicts. That is a gift.

I’ve also had a lot of encouraging words — some on the blog itself, some in cards sent to my home, some sent directly to my email. If someone really wanted to track me down, it’s not hard, I’ve learned. People have sent me gifts: poems, CDs, books, bookmarks. I’ve met some people face to face. I’ve corresponded with others via email and snail mail. I count many as friends. I hope that’s not creepy.

The thing with this particular podcast is that I have become one of their running “jokes.” Every time they read off comments, there I am. “And where would we be without a comment from Sally,” they’ll say — and I cringe just a little while at the same time feeling happy. It’s weird.

In Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), Mr. Bennet said, ” For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

There’s also a scene in Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry) where he arrives at a get-together of some sort in Port WIlliam and the other men tease him about something. Jayber realized that the ribbing was a sign of acceptance.

At this point, some of you may be wondering what podcast I’m referring to.

And I’ll tell you.

In my next post.


On Mother’s Day, one of my children asked, “What’s something you like, Mom?”

“Ummm… I don’t know. I like you, ” I said. “I like my family.”

I kept thinking and started rattling things off. “I like pens. And I like paper. I like books. I like words.”

I definitely like words. So when I struggle to find words, I know that I am, in general, struggling.

When I first started blogging, words helped me to make sense of my mother’s slide into dementia. She was losing words. I was finding them and using them. A few years later, when my father followed my mother down the same road, the words didn’t come as easily. After he passed away, words slowed to a trickle. Occasionally I have enough to fill a post, but, obviously, not often, or at least not often enough to complete a blogging challenge.

But this is a post about words — specifically, liturgical words.

I wish I could say that Hutchmoot started me on my journey into liturgy as a spiritual practice, but I think it’s more like I met a bunch of companions who were traveling down the same road, and we’ve now traveled that way together for many years.

When I’m refer to liturgy, I’m talking about ritual, about scripted words, about reciting ancient prayers in unison — practices that we seem to have abandoned in many modern churches.

In 2013, my friend Alyssa — the one I met at Hutchmoot — gave me a “hijacked journal” for Christmas. It was a lovely journal with a rabbit on the front, and she had hijacked it by writing quotes from some of my favorite authors on many of the pages. I spent 2014 and 2015 filling those pages with prayers – a new one each week.

Most of the prayers in 2015 were ones I wrote myself. I wrote them and then I prayed them over and over. The pages are full of revisions as the praying helped me edit. Or, was it God?

At Hutchmoot 2015, on Sunday afternoon as part of our closing session, we joined together for “The Liturgy of Lost Rhyme,” written by Douglas McKelvey. When we walked into the sanctuary, we were handed a script and a slip of paper that told us the part we were to read.

We joined together reading old/new words, interspersed with songs, that told the story of our brokenness and our redemption.

In retrospect, I see how this was a prelude for one of the most important books to come out of the Rabbit Room — Every Moment Holy. (Rabbit Room is the “host” of Hutchmoot.)

Every Moment Holy, published in 2017, is a collection of liturgies written by Douglas McKelvey. It contains everything from table blessings that can be read by a group at a special dinner to a couple of prayers for before or after changing a diaper. He gives words of thanksgiving to God for the wonder of the first snow or arriving at the ocean, and prayers to offer when we hear sirens or find ourselves randomly thinking of another. Every moment truly is holy — and these are liturgies to remind us of that. They gives us words for moments when we don’t have words.

If I were to tell you to go to the Rabbit Room store and buy one book, it would be this book.

Every Moment Holy, Volume II: Death, Grief & Hope came out a month ago. It contains liturgies for when a person receives bad news, for caregivers in need of rest, for those who enduring lasting pain, for final hours. Having sat at both my parents’ bedsides when they passed away, I can tell you that words don’t come easily in those moments.

Back to struggling for words… This post has been in my draft folder for a full month. Hey, Doug — how about a liturgy for finishing an unfinished blog post?

Kind (as in “It takes all kinds”)

I’ve been touring colleges during April with my two youngest daughters — one at a time, of course. One daughter at a time, one college at a time.

Looking at colleges in the time of COVID is particularly challenging. Many colleges weren’t offering on-campus in-person tours until recently. Some colleges still aren’t. Some — like the college Laurel and I toured on Wednesday night — offer group events, but then break down the attendees into tiny groups of no more than four people per tour guide.

So we toured a college on Wednesday and were paired with the only people of color who attended the event. Their presence in our little pod made me painfully aware of the lack of people of color on that campus. I found myself looking with new eyes — and hurting a little for them.

I looked back over the few photographs I have from Hutchmoot’s past and my group of people there is decidedly homogenous.

Hutchmoot 2016

However, an unforgettable Hutchmoot moment came in 2016 when a gospel choir filled the sanctuary of the Church of the Redeemer with the most beautiful music.

photo credit: Mark Geil

In addition, one of the singers called us her jelly biscuits, and then had to educate us on the meaning of that compliment.

I grew up in a decidedly white town. I am slowly growing in my understanding of how other people’s experiences have been different from my own — and I am SO grateful for that.

In 2017, Hutchmoot changed location and more than doubled in size. It also grew in diversity.

Last year, Hutchmoot, like the rest of the world, went virtual and called itself Hutchmoot Homebound. That allowed an unlimited number of attendees so it grew exponentially. I forget the exact number, but it was in the thousands.

Again, it was more diverse. I was exposed to the rapper-spokenwordartist-poet Propaganda. Every time I watched it – and I watched it multiple times – “winsome” was the word that came to my mind to describe him. If someone had told me in 2011 that one of my all-time favorite sessions from Hutchmoot would be given by a black rapper, I wouldn’t have believed them.

It takes all kinds to make a Hutchmoot. I’ve met musicians, visual artists, sculptors, doctors, nurses, computer programmers, someone who works for the FBI, a US marshall, chefs, teachers, stay-at-home moms, writers, poets, photographers, a seamstress, quilters, office workers, pastors, people in transition from one career to another, people who have been at the same position for 40 years, married, unmarried, divorced.

Hutchmoot has no green room. At Hutchmoot, the speakers and performers sit on the same metal folding chairs and eat at the same tables in the same dining area as the rest of us – at the same time as us – sometimes across the table from us.

The playing field is as level as they can make it. This is a great kindness to those of us who feel clumsy, small, and insignificant.

They are working all the time to make that playing field even more level.

Because Hutchmoot is put on by the kindest kind of people. They are seeking to live in ways that honor Christ.

If you were looking for a continuation of my Jonathan story, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. It’s still there, lurking in some murky area of my brain. I’m thinking “T” if I can get there. I’m 10 days late on “K” though, so who knows.


Before my first Hutchmoot in 2011, I received a recommended reading list that I took pretty seriously.

I read Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott

I read Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris

I read some other writing book that talked about writing and used the word “moodling.” I don’t remember the name of the book, but I do remember moodling.

And then there was Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge. I had seen it on Audible and downloaded an audio version of the book. In the weeks before Hutchmoot, I was unexpectedly away from home with a family emergency. I listened to the audio book while I was driving.

The book was odd, to say the least. I had never read Flannery before, so I had no context and no pre-formed ideas about her work. In fact, I knew literally nothing. When the second “chapter” began, I met a whole new cast of characters. The third one, even more. The chapters were unsettling and everything felt unresolved.

I found a library and was fortunate to find the book on the shelf there. As it turned out, Everything That Rises is a collection of short stories. I ditched the audiobook and leafed through the hard copy, reading a couple more stories.

A few weeks later, I was sitting at Hutchmoot in a session given by Andrew Peterson and Jonathan Rogers called “Tales of the New Creation.” Jonathan started talking about Flannery O’Connor.

He mentioned a specific short story — I think it was the one where the woman gets gored by a bull. As he talked, I nodded my head. Yes, I had read that story.

Afterwards, he approached me. “Are you a Flannery O’Connor fan, too?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

He stared at me in stunned silence.

It turns out that Jonathan Rogers is something of an expert on Flannery O’Connor. He wrote a book about her. He teaches classes about her. He references her frequently.

I felt awful.

Later that weekend, I tried to apologize, but I think I just put my foot in my mouth further.

This Flannery O’Connor discussion extended over years. I don’t know why I couldn’t follow the advice given to Thumper — “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Every interaction with Jonathan just dug the hole deeper.

It hit rock bottom at Laity Lodge, a retreat center in Texas, where I had gone to the first Rabbit Room retreat in 2014. Jonathan surprised me at the coffee urn the first morning there.

We made some small talk and he said something about Georgia. It turns out that he’s from Georgia.

I said, “I’ve never really spent any time in Georgia. When we drive through going to or from Florida, my kids always think it smells bad.” This is true. There is a stinky stretch on the interstate that goes through Georgia.

Jonathan looked at me in silence and finally said, “Do you lie awake at night trying to think of ways to insult me?”

Honestly, Jonathan, it just comes naturally.

I’m really sorry.

There’s more to this story, but I’ll have to continue it in my next post — Kindness. Because, despite my interactions with him, Jonathan Rogers is one of the kindest people anyone could ever meet.

Especially to people who don’t deserve it.


For the first six years that I attended Hutchmoot it was held at the Church of the Redeemer in Nashville.

The Church of the Redeemer has a lovely building, the kind that has been added onto in stages, with ramps and hidden bathrooms, a living room with leather furniture, and two kitchens. Two separate sets of stairs lead to the dining room. Little off-shoot loops hold classrooms and nursery rooms. A playground, complete with a swing set, is ready and waiting outside.

As an introvert, I loved this building. It had havens of quiet both inside and out. It also felt like it held secrets that I could discover.

In 2017, when Hutchmoot was moved to Christ Community Church in Franklin and more than doubled in size, I was quite leery. The first day of Hutchmoot 2017, I sat in my car in the parking lot looking at the door I needed to go through. Signs clearly pointed the way in, but the long sidewalk looked intimidatingly like a gauntlet.

Honestly, I’ve never done well with change — and this was a big change in something I had come to look forward to each year. Where would I go when I needed space, and quiet, and a social respite?

My car was stuffy in the Tennessee heat. I did NOT want to sit in my car, yet there I was.

Finally, after a long mental pep talk, I got out and made my way up that gauntlet sidewalk and into the church.

It was crowded. Strike one.

I didn’t recognize the people at the registration table. Strike two.

I was beginning to mentally walk right back out that door.

I looked in the folder they handed me and found this map:

Mooter’s Map

It made me smile. I immediately recognized the artist — Jennifer Trafton — even though she hadn’t signed it anywhere.

Spying the literary references and the names of beloved authors helped me breathe. This was familiar. This was homey.

Then, I saw it — the Introvert hiding place. Yes, they had thought of everything.

It was still bigger. It was still a little intimidating. But Hutchmoot is a place that embraces the Introvert and thinks about their comfort even when making big changes.


Mary and I have been traveling this past week. We drove past a business last night called Auto Spa.

“Do you think they give your car a massage?” I asked.

“I know a massage is supposed to be nice,” she replied, “but the thought of a stranger touching me bothers me.”

I’m with her. I had a pedicure once and even that bothered me. It was actually the whole experience. This foreign woman kneeling at my feet subserviently just felt wrong. I know that she was trying to make the ugly beautiful, and that in itself is a beautiful thing, but for me — no.

I digress.

Kind of.

Hutchmoot is about creating beauty. In song. In written word. In visual art. In community.

And beauty is healing.

Being in the midst of beauty for a whole weekend is not unlike someone pumicing away some of the callouses that have built up — not on the feet, but on the heart.

It’s like relaxing into a warm bath with the most luxuriously scented bath salts — and feeling the whole experience take away the knots — not in weary muscles, but in a weary soul.

To go once a year and immerse myself in that has been a lifeline for me.

In 2013, we created something beautiful as a group.

Each person got a random square with some pre-drawn lines on it and a color palette for those lines. Some squares also asked the artist to write a word that had been meaningful to them that weekend. People creatively filled the square. Then, while we were in our last session, sharing and finally singing the Doxology, little elves were assembling those squares into a great picture.

Oh! The oohs and aahs when we walked out and saw it! We all signed the rabbit.

I had to scour Facebook to find a picture of the whole thing. I hope Jeremiah Lange doesn’t mind that I’m using this one that he posted.

Hutchmoot 2013 (Photo by Jeremiah Lange)

And that, my friends, is about the best representation of Hutchmoot that I can think of.

It is visually beautiful.

It was created by a community.

The act of creating it was healing.


At Hutchmoot 2013, I took pages and pages of notes for the talks I attended.The notes have arrows pointing to other sections, and words written in the margins on the vertical axis, scribbles, and single word entries — like just a name with no further explanation, e.g. Poinc├áre.

Honestly, most of my notes are crap. Half the time, I have no idea what I was trying to say. I know why my notes look like that though. So much good stuff was being said that I was trying to write it all down, and, as a result, got very little written coherently.

One thing that was said, though, that has stuck with me for years in a talk by Nate Wilson. N.D. Wilson has written a bunch of books: The 100 Cupboard series, Ashtown Burial series, Outlaws of Time series, as well as Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl and Hello, Ninja. He gave a talk called “The Case for Craft,” and I actually took notes I could read.

The first section of that talk was about technical value. Are we competent at what we’re doing? This part was life-changing for me:

It’s okay to be a widow and to give a widow’s mite.

It’s okay to be bad at something on the way to being good at it.

God gives everyone grace to create beauty with their life.

N. D. Wilson

Honestly, I wish I could write like John Steinbeck, but I never will because I’m not John Steinbeck.

I’d like to write like Annie Dillard and once even had a professor compare my writing to hers. But I’m not Annie Dillard.

I love Thomas Merton’s contemplative writing — but I’m not Thomas Merton either.

I can only write like me.

And that’s okay — as long as I continue to work at making my writing the best it can be.

It’s okay to be bad on the way to being good. I hope I’m on that path.


What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.

C. S. Lewis

I daresay this is quoted every year at Hutchmoot.

Muppets from Space is also oft-referenced. That’s the movie where Gonzo (in a dream) is denied entrance to Noah’s Ark because he doesn’t have a partner of the same species but where he eventually (in real life) finds others just like him.

Some of my closest friends are people I met at Hutchmoot.

At my very first Hutchmoot, they had a storytelling evening. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things ever that they have done. Great stories told by great storytellers. I’ve asked if we could do it again and the answer was something like, “I don’t think we could ever top that one.”

I think they would be surprised. It was amazing, but the world is full of amazing people who experience amazing things. The folks who attend Hutchmoot tend to be attuned to the amazing that’s all around them.

Apparently, before Hutchmoot 2011, they had run some sort of contest where people could submit stories and then they chose two to read that night. I still remember one — a tender story about two trees and about the writer’s grandmother. (“Two Trees” can be read here.)

The woman who wrote it stood up shyly afterwards to receive applause. I watched her and felt her discomfort right along with her. Also, I was in awe at the beauty of her words. Oh, I wished I could write like that!

The next year, she was there again, and she spoke to me. I’m 99% sure that I said something stupid.

I thought that was the end of that until, a few weeks after Hutchmoot, she reached out to me via Facebook. I’m 99.9% sure that I rebuffed her overture of friendship. I didn’t feel like I was in the same strata as her.

She called me out. She wrote back saying something like, “Who decides who I can and cannot be friends with?”

And, with that, we began a long correspondence.

I told her things I had never said aloud to anyone, but somehow, it felt okay to tell Alyssa.

We wrote back and forth, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, but rarely letting much time pass without one of us checking in on the other.

We prayed for each other through challenging times. She’s been with me through three deaths in my family. I was with her through a foreign adoption and some health issues.

A few years later, I was at a retreat put on by the Rabbit Room (the same people who put on Hutchmoot) at Laity Lodge. In a Q&A session, the question was thrown out to the audience that was something like, what do you appreciate most about the Rabbit Room? Or, what is your best takeaway from the Rabbit Room.

I timidly raised my hand. I don’t usually like to speak, but I knew the answer to this one. “Alyssa,” I said. “The greatest gift of the Rabbit Room has been the gift of a close friendship of someone who truly understands me and loves me.”

Do you think I could find a picture of Alyssa for this post? Of course, not!

But this is Leah. We met at Hutchmoot and we traveled to Bosnia together. I love Leah! I could stories about how she has been a huge encouragement to me.

And this is Kim. We met at Hutchmoot. She is such an encourager! She came to a Zaengle wedding. We text frequently. We can’t wait until we can see each other again.

Speaking of seeing each other again — I got to see Alyssa last night. I’m traveling with one of my daughters to look at colleges and were not far from where she lives. It was such a treat to see her, to talk face to face, to laugh together and to share burdens.

Why didn’t I take a picture? Probably social distancing. And the fact that photos weren’t at the front of my thoughts. Just seeing her.

Friendship is the greatest gift of Hutchmoot. Truly.


Hutchmoot does not predetermine a theme for each year, but every year a definite theme emerges. That theme, though, may be different for each participant. Once, when a friend was asking me about Hutchmoot, I said that Hutchmoot meets you where you are.

I was reading through all my notes for 2012 and noticed a definite theme that I don’t know that I picked up on at the time. Here are some quotes:

It doesn’t matter what you think of me. It doesn’t even matter what I think of me. The only thing that matters is what God thinks of me — and He loves me.

Russ Ramsey — Friday chapel devotion

How did you become you? Pain.

Jason Gray, Recovery Through Song

I need to show up in my own life.

Andrew Osenga, Recovery Through Song

…to be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else.

e.e. cummings, quoted by either Lanier Ivester or Sarah Clarkson, The Art of Spiritual Subcontext

Over and over, I was reminded to lean into my own story and that who I am is known and seen by God. The pain in my life shapes me. I need to be present. I need to be me.

Looking back, I remember the horrendous year I had had leading up to my second Hutchmoot. I had started this blog in 2011, I think, but by mid-2012, I had acquired a most un-welcome follower. The verbal attacks caused me to really question who I was and ask myself if anybody could possibly love me. I had stopped writing in this blog.

The ego is a person’s sense of self-worth or self-importance. Mine was beaten down.

Yet, there were the words spoken by a variety of people that were a balm to my soul.

Yes, Hutchmoot met me where I was that year. And it was good.