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3.15.20 The Homefront

img_2276Yesterday I had stood outside the church with a member hoping to greet anyone (from a distance) that didn’t get the message about church closure. We held our balloons and were thankful that we could pass on in-person hellos to a dear person as we passed on the news of no worship. I’ve been encouraged by the ways in which church folks are caring for one another into this unprecedented time. I hope neighborhood folks are fairing well.

Today was a long one at home. We’re caring for our 3 and 6 year olds. I’ve got  ZOOM calls as we navigate things for the church. My husband is working from home. This is a profile much like so many families. So many folks are holding so much in this time of social isolation. And there are those on the frontlines of corona realities and care. Prayers are flowing deeply toward you this evening.

I’m committed to signs of joy that echo out from here even on tired days like this one with the prospect of countless(?) days in this home mode. Signs of some uplift in our midst: the efforts for some routine with a wall schedule.

20.03.14 Home School Schedule PEN

A homemade shamrock chain (can you find the four leaf clover?):


And my kids learning about dog breeds in what we are calling “Doggie Week” around here. Maybe one day we will get a dog, but for now we are educating ourselves:) Tomorrow we have a facetime call with my veterinarian mother-in-law to learn about caring for a dog. img_2285

That’s all for now from the homefront. Hoping we can bike out and about on a warmer day tomorrow!

Here’s one last photo of a my daughter’s artwork from the weekend. Balloons!

20.03.13 Balloon Phoebe painting

3.14.20 Bike Ride Ballooning

Hi, Friends, we are deep in social distance readiness at my house. We are trying to remind our 3 and 6 year olds that we will not be going much of anywhere for the coming weeks. This is a challenge because the concept of “tomorrow” is still sometimes a stretch for my son. I think he will be crushed once he really gets it that we won’t be seeing school and church friends for some time to come. We hope to use some video chats to keep in touch.

20.03.14 Balloon Pastor AJVN biking PENLast night before bed it occurred to me since I will be the one with the kids much of the weekdays ahead, I should power up and learn to ride my bike with the kid carriage attached. So, this afternoon, we attached the carrier that both my 35 lb kids can still climb in. We’ll be doing some socially distant biking in the weeks to come…with balloons. I’ll be gaining my strength to tote the kids and biking by the Little Patuxent Corner when weather allows.

There were many folks out and about taking advantage of decently warm weather on the gray afternoon, no doubt getting in moments before the strange turns of the weeks to come set in.

I’ll be away from my little patch on the corner for a bit, but the Call to Joy continues for this Balloon Pastor. As my Spiritual Director emphasized, “We need the joy now more than ever!”

Have evidence of your joy in these odd times? Check out the Joy Photo Page and consider submitting your photo!

20.03.14 Balloon Pastor Orange Yellow Table


3.12.20 A Video as We Social Distance for Pandemic

A video post-corner time Thursday, March 12, is below.

I’ll be continuing to post from on this blog  where I will be with my kids at home for the next weeks. We are committed to finding joy with balloons each day as we make it through this time. Be safe and be well, friends! Prayers remain with you, this community, and the world at large as we adapt with the changing landscape. You are not alone.




3.10.20 Understanding

20.03.20 Balloon Pastor shaded skyI brought both my summer visor and winter hat in the car. I had a tough time knowing what the climate was like on the corner. It was a little all over the place. Mild, but windy in spots. Suddenly sunny, and then quite dark as potential storm clouds rolled. There was a sense of up and down. I found myself humming prayerfully: shanti, shanti, shanti. 

Many inquistive folks: “what is it that you are doing?” One man with window down at stopped light: I see you out here, what are you doing? Me: Hoping to share some joy. He offered a thumbs up and a wave and the words, “I understand.”

Understanding. There is the natural way of knowing as some instinctually wave out into the afternoon. There are the natural skeptics that can get on board. “I understand” communicates that you can take something in and accept it, perhaps even affirm it.

Picking back up on yesterday’s corona thoughts–I can understand why colleges are closing, why we are advised not to board cruises, why public health officials are in overdrive. I get it.

Under the simultaneously dark and light skies of tonight, I acknowledge the difficulty of navigating this time. As we seek to take all the new information in, how do we choose to respond with understanding? Getting it, accepting it, and moving with best responses?

For today, I give thanks for the flapping about in the wind and regular activities of the corner that ground us in business as usual. For choosing the right headwear to meet the unpreditability of the street.

20.03.10 Balloon Pastor balloon hat


3.9.20 The Before Picture

20.03.09 Balloon Pastor AmbulanceAs I was heading down to the corner, I heard an ambulance going down the road and looked up to see several runners stopped at the corner watching it go west. I often see ambulances and pause in my waving to share prayerful thoughts with the medical team and person inside. It seems like a particular apt image for today. The illustrious golden skies of soaring 70+ temperatures–a brilliant day of sunshine right alongside the reality of our fragility as the ambulance rushes by.  So many people out and about enjoying the weather, and no doubt also wanting to soak in every bit of it before a possible quarantine and pervasive state of emergency.

As I walked past Vantage House, a woman offered, “Glad you are heading out on duty!” People generally were upbeat today, no one mentioned the coronavirus or alluded to the larger doom that is occupying our screens. On the contrary, one could be waving on the corner and not have a clue about the virus frenzy. A man yelled from a passenger seat, asking me what I was doing. At the mention of joy, he gave me the thumbs up.

A little surreal–is this the  “before” picture of our out-and-aboutness before we head toward increasing caution? Now more than ever perhaps joy needs a place on the corner.

What will tomorrow hold? Our church continues to consider our preparedness and cautionary measures–encouraging folks to be prudent, and longing to still be able to conduct the more personable aspects of community life. My husband and I continue to try and talk to our young children about what is happening in ways that aren’t alarming.

At the conclusion of my time, a parent on a bike with a baby carriage came back by to cross the road. The little child in the carriage, likely just shy of two saw me waving and kept repeating the word: “balloon” with excitement. I asked the parent if the child might like it and he was grateful to receive the light blue balloon to offer to her. It fit right in the little blue carriage before they biked out into their evening.


I likely won’t be offering balloons or much of anything hand to hand in the time to come. How precious all the little interactions become as we consider that they may be curtailed any minute. One day at a time…continuing to wave from a place of joy that meets us in our fragility.



3.5.20 Tangled

I was embarrassed. I usually have fun with the string when it gets caught on my hat. But, this particular moment I was really tangled. I was laughing it off, unwinding myself, doing a kind of orange balloon tangle tango. Then I looked up and saw one of the usual bus drivers stopped right in front of me. This is one who waves sometimes and often give me the “you are crazy” look. She took the opportunity to shrug her shoulders, stretch out her hands with exasperation, and mouth: “what are you doing??” It is the kind of moment when sheepishness can catch you. Even when you are doing a really out there thing to begin with! I rebounded, waving back to her and her passengers. 20.03.05 Balloon Pastor Orange Tangle

How easily self-consciousness creeps in even when you strive to let go. As much as I seek to give myself to the moment, I am still myself–shame and all.

Thankfully, there was a neighborhood dog to greet me. His good-natured mama extoled his breed and let me kneel and pet him. A father on a bike stopped to introduce himself and his teenage son. Dozens of little children waved with energy from back seats.

I don’t mind a tangle with the string. I like the playful unwinding that ensues. It reminds me of the ways that each of us get bound in the situations of our own making and of the forces about us. It isn’t always that we are so publicly unraveling from our foolishness. Often we do this on our own.

The bus driver today was that internal voice I hold often: “What are you doing?” And the tango dancer within can respond, “I am dancing in the wind!”

Oh, how I hope the dancer’s voice continues to strengthen and amplify along with the freeing energy of the universe. Right along with Rumi:

“You are water, whirling water,
Yet still water trapped within,
Come, submerge yourself within us,
We who are the flowing stream.”

Rumi, Love: The Joy that Wounds: The Love Poems 

What if we all whirl a bit more and invite those observing to enter into the rhythm?

3.5.20 S is for…


As I was coming down the sidewalk to the corner this really bright afternoon, I nearly ran right into a church person and her daughter. It was great to hear her daughter’s puzzling over the last week’s as she saw someone on the corner and had the realization that it was her mother’s pastor. We had some good laughs right there on the sidewalk in front of Vantage House.

03.05.20 Balloon Pastor Pat Robin 2

The sun was out in force again with high temps. There was some good time for waving with hellos here and there to runners and walkers and bikers. I got to meet and pet an elderly dog before heading back up the path…

When I was getting out of the car at home, a neighborhood boy on his bike was there in my driveway and I offered him my yellow balloon. Not to be out done, his little brother was soon at my door: “Do you have any more balloons?” He was impressed when I gave him a choice and blew it up right then at the door and there with the tank.

What a sight to look out at my street and see the two little guys on their bikes with cheery yellow balloons drifting in the wind with them.

As for my house, we continue our daily celebration of the alphabet. Each day my two kids take turns decorating a letter from the alphabet Today was “s” and my four-year old took it on. We keep a look out for words that start with the letter throughout the day and report back in for dinner.

Today’s report: My favorite s word today was sidewalk as it leads me to and from the corner. It was sunny. It was sensational to meet familiar friends. I saw a shit-zu. I sat down with my family with our salmon and salad.

It’s the little things, friends. All these lead to the bigger container of joy.

Now, if only all stores weren’t out of sanitizer! My prayers are with this ongoing corona outbreak–those affected and the overall atmosphere and welleing of all.



3.3.20 Synergy

Soaring temps! 60 degrees and no coat. Just a pair of sunglasses and my trusty bob hat to meet the day balloon in hand. Many people were walking or riding, enjoying the light. 20.03.03 Balloon Pastor Sun Shadow

Earlier, a Lenten study class had been discussing Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved at the church. We got to talking about what we bring into the world and how we are choosing to show up.  One participant referenced the man who had been giving the middle finger and then has stopped lately. We talked about not knowing how we will show up will affect others and how to come to terms with continuing into a call. We can believe in our own belovedness, or chosenness, but not at the expense of others’ belovedness. We trust that each is unique and a part of the motions that stretch through and beyond all of us.

We don’t know what our actions will stir in others. I proceed with some caution while the joy continues to burst from within. Some are in a place to receive, others will go about their ways focused on how they need to be in the world. We as church ask ourselves questions about how we as community choose to show up. How will our energies meet and catalyze?

On the corner, two different church folks stopped by to say hi in the midst of the sun. One got to meet my corner friend who catches the bus. It was fun synergeistically to introduce folks as we all reveled in the weather.




3.2.20 A Paid Gig?

On a rather gray day, a young teenager biking over to the lake stopped at the corner as I was waving with a little hesitation: “Can I ask you something?… Do you get paid to be here?”

A simple answer would have been “no,” but I fumbled a bit. As a pastor, a part of my role and job is to live into my call at church and as life integrates into the world. So in a sense, I get paid to live into this role, but this particular expression is not a “paid gig.” It’s different from the folks that stand with an arrow pointing you toward a big sale. What am I advertising? Joy.

What is the going rate for that? Do I think this is something to offer–indeed. How am I paid? In the joy of it, in the waves, in the opportunity to connect with neighbors and glory in the wildlife taking in our busy streets. In the conversations I get to have parishoners about days on the corner. I tried to get at a little of this, but just indeed with, “No, I don’t get paid to be here.” 🙂

20.03.02 Balloon Pastor Gray Day Green

Not too long after, a bird flew about thirty feet overhead carrying twigs in her little talons, heading for a nest. She’s making her home nearby; she’d determined this is a promising little corner of the world to settle in.

On my walk back to the church, I spied a little boy on a tricycle on the handicap ramp. I asked his father if I could share my balloon. Me: My son gets these all the time, could I share this with you all? He loved watching it bob.

Could this be the birth of future days sharing balloons with neighborhood children? Free balloon Fridays?


2.28.20 The Leap

20.02.28 Balloon Pastor Pedestrian SignLeap weekend begins. I found myself leaning a bit on my little corner mound today. I always hear my third-grade music teacher in my head out there: “Don’t lock your knees!” So, I was moving my stance and leaning a a bit into the afternoon.

Two rugged bikers came and went. Their thick tires and muddy rims were evidence of many adventures on rough terrain. They cheerfully shared about their trails. They seem like the kind of guys that don’t wait for excitement to find them–they are out there ready to meet a new challenge head on.

Here we are all leaning into a leap day tomorrow–this extra day that happens on us every four years. I wondered what the passers by would be doing with the bonus before them. I could feel more energy in the air than mid-week, no doubt people ready to start a weekend.

And many of us carry, too, the trepidation of Coronavirus. All the reports of its spread has us all on edge wondering when it will make its way to Maryland.

As we lean together, hopefully we can take heart.

On my walk home,  I noticed the roots from an aging tree that have in time moved the shape of the sidewalk. No one day did this. It was the little leaps of measured growth that enabled the tree to ripple the walkway.

Along the way, it takes our big jumps of adventure and our steady motion through adversity. May the Bonus of a Leap Day help you take the step into an expedition. Perhaps this deep leaning is just the jumpstart needed for the marathon of slow growth awaiting.  This is often the course of Lent.

20.0228 Balloon Pastor Leap Weekend



2.27.20 Beyond Superstition

I googled “likelihood of getting two double egg yolks in a row.”

I’ve never gotten a double yolked egg in my life that I recall. Suddenly, there was one in the pan this morning. I went to crack the second egg, and whoa! Two double egg yolks in a row.  It looked creepy. Upon research, getting a double egg yolk likelihood is 1/1000 eggs. I entered the morning feeling like I had reached some strange Yahtzee. Superstition also has it that double egg yolks can portend good luck. Double good luck?Double Egg Yolks

It’s funny how even just the suggestion that luck coming keeps one on heightened alert, eyes wide open for good things unfolding. Today was a day for slowing, for moving with intention into Lent– even as the whipping winds encircled Columbia and Little Patuxent Parkway. Twice I felt like I could have been blown over while standing at the corner.

A man parked his car and came and talked to me: “The other day I saw a woman out here talking to you, so I thought I’d come out here, too, to see what you are up to.”

He seemed a little let down when I talked about sharing joy. It seems that he and many have really wanted there to be some next and larger thing I am pointing to. Perhaps they want me to reveal some source of luck and hope.  It seems to me that folks are uncertain of what they will hear and finding out allows them to move on with confidence that they are not missing out on something more.

In addition to the wind, the sun was blinding. With increasingly longer days, it has been higher in the sky at 3:30 p.m. The glare was so bright that I couldn’t see into the majority of windows that were driving east. I just kept waving, catching glimpses here and there of a hand outstretched. People could see me, but I couldn’t see them. This was a good reminder of the effort to share good thoughts that flow to each car, to each truck and bus and van–whether or not they wave, whether or not they see or care to see .

The brightness reminded me of the intensity of four yolks staring at me this morning.

Couldn’t we all use signs of double blessing? And when we alight on them, why not wave them toward the unknown needs of those passing the corner as well as the wild uncertainty of the wider world…


20.02.27 Balloon Pastor Windy Glare
20.02.27 Balloon Pastor Windy Glare Double Blessings


2.26.20 Lent Begins

It was a wet one yesterday for Fat Tuesday.  I was in my galoshes all day thinking of the corner and the folks of Columbia. I’ve not been going out to wave when conditions are slick as commuters navitgate the busy intersection.

I did enjoy an appropriately Lousiana themed muffaletta sandwich with my son after his haircut. He was delighted to get a purple balloon for himself and one for his sister. One lollipop for himself, and one to take to his sister. 20.02.27 Balloon Pastor Jay PurpleHaircut Balloons

My Mardi Gras mood was tempered when I learned that a friend is having to help someone navigate the reality of ICE detention. One partner has been detained and the other one being ordered to come back next time with ticket to a country of origin. My friend helped the partner share the news with the couples’ kids. Devastating.

I had attended a Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice meeting on Sunday evening and learned more about the ICE facility being run in Howard County as the County maintains a contract with ICE. So much heartbreaking separation of people from their families.

It isn’t hard to fall into despair.

I wore a balloon to the Ash Wednesday noon service today that has since grounded. I talked about the witness of joy that springs forth in renewal. Even as we recall our mortality, we regain a sense of urgency about what it is we do with our hearts, minds, body here and now.

I look to hold up signs of joy and renewal as a form of Lenten fasting. Fasting from cyncism. Taking action and standing with those who did not get to enjoy Tuesday feasting, those who will not be with their loved ones for the wilderness days to come. May there yet be hope in the darkness, joy on the corner, love and sanctuary for all.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame…”   (Isaiah 58: 9b-11)


For more on the local ICE Contract and actions, see Jews United for Justice here.

A Baltimore Sun Article on the contract here.




2.24.20 Hot and Cold

Warm. chilly. hot. Another one of those in-between days when a puffy winter overcoat is needed one moment and excessive the next as the sun reappears.

A neighbor stopped by during waving.

She: So, what are you doing here? Me: Looking to share a bit of joy.

She: (with emphasis) And…?

I told her I was the pastor at the church up the way.  She knows it and several church folks. I shared more about how the the time on the corner has unfolded.

She expressed concerns about my safety by traffic. I pointed to my little place on the corner, elevated on the mound. And I felt a swell of gratitude that she would care enough about me to want to make sure that I am okay.

And I give thanks for continuing to meet neighbors as they look out for our community. For days that are a mix of chill and warmth. Reminders of caution and care in the midst of standing in place.

20.02.24 Balloon Pastor blue post



2.19.20 Pop!

Bounding down the hill. Low-hanging limbs. A sudden “pop!”…

20.02.19 Balloon Pastor Popped

And I looked down to see my yellow balloon limp! A bit carefless on my walk down as the piney trees pricked it.

Thankfully, the sun was bright, serving as the bright round orb for the afternoon. Perhaps today instead of the balloon accompanying me, I was the sun’s companion and she had me tethered with a sense of joy and enjoyed me bobbing about.

Plenty of folks recognized and received the waves even without my bouncy friend. It became a point of laughter with some of the regulars. I could point and smile and shrug. And we would chuckle together. That’s life. We know the language of changed expectations. Pretty amazing to make it thus far without such calamity.

One neighbor, “K” stopped good-naturedly on her walk. “It’s nice to meet you. I had heard about your before and now I get to see you!”

At home, I was delighted to come across the below image among my child’s papers at supper time. I’d like to think that math can bring her joy!

However you might be feeling, perhaps more popped than lifted today, may you encounter the buoyed support of counter energy if you are ready to receive it. May friends surprise you in high places. May little sketches of hope dance across your dining room table.

20.02.19 Balloon Pastor Phoebe Paper Person



2.18.20 Up Close

How do you wave in the midst of an extended corner conversation?20.02.18 Balloon Pastor green

Someone who is well-known to many from my church and lives in the neighborhood stopped by. We re-met. We had a wonderful conversation about the roots of Columbia, Jim Rouse, and the neighborhood. At first I was slightly ancy, only because I knew that I wasn’t waving. But, I was so enjoying talking to the neighbor. It has of course felt natural to stop waving when anyone actively wants to speak with me. And this is important. I want to see and know my neighbors. What better way then when they come and are up for an up close conversation?

I think we must have talked for 12-15 minutes. I got to hear about her love of the town and the love she has for her local faith community and leader. We agreed that there is just something about building and living into community that is important grounding for a spiritual life and way of being.

When I stop for conversation I’m not leaving my post. I am meeting someone in the crucial moment of the now. I aim to give them my full attention. It is simply a continuation of the attention I’ve been streaming out to the hundreds passing. I zero in on the one before me and all who pass may see two neighbors meeting with joy on our common street. This is waving, too. Connecting face-to-face.

And although we didn’t make eye contact, I saw Middle Finger Man again. Again, he chose not to flip me off. Schwoo.

Earlier in the day I was at a long clergy session. We heard from Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown of Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. She reminded us that everywhere is holy ground and that we “preach” everywhere–not just in some pulpit. How we select the eggs in the market, how we behave in the parking lot, how we itneract on the street corner–every element communicates something about who we are in the world and how we use our voices.

Now, if my children and I could just tap into more joy when we negotiate each morning about the cereal!:)

20.02.18 Balloon pastor path




2.14.20 Valentine’s

I couldn’t resist the chance to be out there on Valentine’s Day. A little later than usual. Unfortunately,  I didn’t have my regular mittens and hat. So my fingers were nearly frozen by the end. Cold hands, warm heart.

At one point as I waved someone yelled from lanes away at the stop light: “Who are you?” I yelled back, “Just trying to spread a little joy.” Should I have yelled back: “I’m Claire!” or “I am Balloon Pastor!” ? it feels like one of those existential questions…Who am I? 

The best Valentine highlight: seeing my husband in the car across Little Patuxent as he left the house to pick up the kids. Enthusiastic waves to the one who supports me in this venture and makes the corner possible. And love to the kids who turned our table into a heart and sparkle explosion as they ripped open all the joy-filled messages from their friends.

I know Valentine’s isn’t awesome for all. It hasn’t always been something to look forward to on this end. Thoughts with those navigating unpleasant relational waters in this season. Or perhaps this is a season of grief or uncertainty. Hoping there was and is some joy awaiting you at some point on the path soon.


Communal Heart Space for All:

Sacred Garden Party, February 15, 5-9 p.m.

Tickets $25 at the door to benefit The Sacred Garden

Kittamaqundi Community Church | 5410 Leaf Treader Way | Columbia, MD