Take a walk in their shoes

The Walk a Mile in My Shoes helps the homeless in Reno. See you there?

The Walk a Mile in My Shoes helps the homeless in Reno. See you there?

I love walking, but in the winter in the Sierra Valley it’s challenging. Sub-freezing temperatures. Snow. Ice. Shorter daylight hours. You just have to have the proper gear and, just as important, a determined mindset. It’s good to get outdoors and alleviate that S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) stuff.

However, if you walk in the Reno area, especially near the downtown, you see folks who’d probably rather not be out in the cold–folks who not only have to walk in the cold but also have to eat, pass the time, and sleep there as well.

One of the area’s most successful programs in the Reno area that not only feeds and shelters the homeless but also guides them through a life-changing program that makes them productive citizens again is the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission.

And one way you can directly help the mission of the Mission is through the annual Walk a Mile in My Shoes. The cost is just $30 ($25/each for groups of four or more). It starts at 9 a.m. at Wingfield Park in downtown Reno and proceeds one mile to the Mission; you can choose to walk back or get a shuttle provided by the Mission. At the end of this blog is a registration form with more info or you could call the Mission at 775-323-0386 to register via PayPal. You can even just show up that morning.

Hope to see you there! Even if it’s cold, the walk will warm your heart.


P.S. If you’re not near Reno, maybe there’s a similar kind of fundraiser that you could support in your own community.


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Outgrowing your shell

This ornament gift will stay up year-long.

This ornament gift will stay up year-long.

A thoughtful, loving friend gave me this dear ornament for Christmas as a remembrance of my sister Nan, who had died earlier that month. Hallmark put this inscription on it: “The ones we’ve lost are found in our memories.”

True, but the greater meaning of the ornament is in its design. It must have been modeled after Oliver Wendell Holmes poem, “The Chambered Nautilus,” which reminds us that just as the ocean animal eventually grows out of its expanding shell, so we, too, outgrow our earthly shell.

My own real chambered nautilus, on the right.

My own real chambered nautilus, on the right.

I’ve always loved that poem, which I teach each year to my American lit 11th graders. I even bought a nautilus shell to add to my shell collection and use as an object when we study the poem.

While I would never try to pat-pat someone grieving with trite expressions, the beauty of this little ornament just struck me deeply in my soul — and I knew it to be true. So, given all my backstory with that poem, I also knew God had nudged my friend Jane to buy that ornament for me — and it will be something that hangs on my little wooden cross, always.

Here’s Holmes’ poem, which may be a gift for you today — or someone you know who may be grieving.

The Chambered Nautilus

By Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (via PoetryFoundation.org)

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
   Sails the unshadowed main,—
   The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
   And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
   Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
   And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
   Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
   That spread his lustrous coil;
   Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
   Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
   Child of the wandering sea,
   Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
   While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
   As the swift seasons roll!
   Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
   Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
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Word for the Year: Embarrassment

Humility: Maybe not such good Word for the Year

Humility: Maybe not such a good Word for the Year


I should have known better than to choose the word humility as my Word for the Year. For about five years now I’ve chosen a character trait for my personal focus–something to challenge me to be better.

It started when I read somewhere that the name Janet, a derivative of John, means “God’s gracious gift.” I decided, well, now THAT needs some work to ring true! And when I still didn’t feel so gracious at the end of that year, I made it the next year’s word, too.

Other recent words of the year have been thankfulness and love.

Let’s just say, it’s a slow process.

Going into 2016 I knew that the process of moving toward humility could be like climbing out of the World War I trenches with a bullseye on my chest.

So, it was no surprise on the fourth of this month that I backed right into a student’s parked car in the parking lot of the high school where I work.

Dang. A chunk of change later I feel a little less accomplished, a little less proud of myself, a little less confident. Humble? No. Humbled a bit? Oh, yeah.

However, now that I think back on my own children’s fender benders when they were teenagers wrecking our cars, I am a little more sympathetic. And I’m looking over my shoulder more carefully now — especially when backing up.

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Holding it in

The Jan&Nan Team being good for the photo at 120 Green Street, Hudson, New York.

The Jan&Nan Team being good for the photo at 120 Green Street, Hudson, New York.

I lost my sister Nan to cancer Monday night. No more Nan of the Jan&Nan Team. I made the phone calls and answered the emails and text messages. I slept well that night–the best I’ve slept in weeks . . . then arose in guilt for having done so. I marched to work like usual yesterday. Graded papers, taught, nodded at the faculty meeting. Don’t crash. Don’t crash. Scored the basketball game, smiled, laughed. We won. That was good. Fixed tacos, listened to the husband’s how-was-his-day. He had to move 30 — or was it 300? — bales, then climbed onto the commercial building roof to find the leak. Phone calls. Dishes. Finally, again, bed. Again, good rest, great rest. And more guilt. Roast in the crockpot, and then a thought . . . . What ever happens to guilt deferred?

Grief Deferred

What happens to grief deferred?

Will it dry up

Like a desert salt lake?

Or boil over

Like volcanic hot springs?

If tucked away

Will it dissipate

As though it never existed—

Or would that be a denial

Of life and love

And smiles shared?

Maybe it could smooth over

Into recollections

Of possibilities down never-shared roads,

Check marks on each other’s

Bucket lists.

What ever happens to grief deferred?

Does it eventually mirror

The cracks,

The vacant place setting at the table,

The silent heaves,

So that life can proceed

With its promises and joys and love-at-hand?

What will happen to grief deferred?

— (c) 2015 Janet Holm McHenry (with appreciation for Langston Hughes)



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The last this and that

On our 2014 sister weekend: me, Roberta, Nan

On our 2014 sister weekend: me, Roberta, Nan

I think I presented the last Financial Aid Night this week at my school. In that I hope to retire from full-time teaching this year, I have been facing many last this-and-that moments:

  • Research paper drafts (won’t miss those)
  • UNR library trip with the seniors (will miss those)
  • Circle reading of Macbeth (the boys love it!)
  • Online grade postings (if only the Internet would always cooperate!)

All lasts at this point in one’s life should be celebrated . . . and I’m quietly doing that.

However, in another corner of our country my sister Nan has been facing her this-and-that lasts, as she is on hospice at home with Stage IV cancer. Last Thanksgiving. Last birthday Dec. 21. Maybe last Christmas just after that.

In November I may have had my last look at my dear sister . . . and it was hard to leave. I’ve flown to her home in the Southwest three times this second half of the year to help out, hold her hand, and reminisce about our big, crazy, loving family.

One of the last things she told me was, “I like your hair.” Hers is a whisper of grey following last spring’s radiation. She always had the better “do”–thick, full reddish brown hair that she could quickly fluff into a perfect coif. Mine is fine and fading–something I’ve vainly mourned the last few years.

The last thing I told her was “I’ll see you soon.” I don’t like goodbyes. They seem so final in an eternal sense . . . and anyway, I do see her daily — in my thoughts and heavenward urgings for God’s final healing.

“I’ll see you soon, sister. I love you.”

“P.S.: I love your hair.”


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These Scrabble letters, which sit on a little table in my office at home, prompt a smile out of me every time I look at them. They are the first “word” our oldest, Rebekah, spoke. She was not even one, as I recall, when she literally threw a book at me and said, “Readabook.”

I guess she was mimicking my continual question, “Do you want to read a book?”

I don’t know why I even asked the question at all. She always did. Still does–just devours things in less than half the time they take me.

I’ve been reviewing fiction elements with my students in the last couple of weeks: the rudiments of plot structure, character development, setting, symbolism, point of view, theme…as well allegory, archetype, persona, style, figurative language.

The one thing that brought a giggle or two, though, was my one piece of advice: Readaboook.

“It can save you a lot of time,” I said.

This always puzzles my students, because we read long, complex works that are not easy at all…not even for me.

But yes, reading fiction can save you a lot of time, because you get to experience OTHER people’s problems and watch THEM go through the learning curve of internal character development and external conflict. So, we can learn vicariously…instead of going through those hardships ourselves.

Because if we don’t read, we certainly will.

Readabook. It’ll save time.

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He cares for you

A flower on my finger

A flower on my finger

Does God care about little things?

The verse from 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

I’ve never wanted to trouble God. I’ve dumped big stuff — cares about my kids, a job loss, shrinking income, surgeries — in his lap.

But little things? Hurts and disappointments? No–he has better things to take care of, I had convinced myself.

I had a hard day last week. As I wrote in last week’s blog, I had decided, though, that if there were flowers when I got home, everything would be okay. There weren’t but later a dear, thoughtful friend brought some by.

He cares for me. 

In a blog a couple weeks ago I wrote about losing my wedding and engagement rings and how Craig had sweetly suggested we get his ring — which he never wore — sized down for me. So there it was . . . another beautiful ring.

He cares for me.

But a crazy thing happened last weekend to tie the two together. Craig and I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon together driving our mountain roads to a cute little town called Graeagle. The jeweler there had sized Craig’s big ring down to size little for me, so we were taking another ring there to get repaired. This was the ring Craig had found many years ago — which I was now wearing instead of an engagement ring.

We drove away but a mile or so down the road Craig asked if I wanted to go back and look again at another ring I had admired. We did and bought it — lovely emeralds circling a diamond in an elevated, airy setting. Half price, too!

So, I showed it to a friend at school today . . . a friend with whom I’d shared my flower story last week.

And she said, “Oh, Janet, and it’s a flower!”

Oh, my, it WAS a flower! All I had needed last week was a flower . . . and now it is sitting on my finger in emeralds and a diamond . . . to forever remind me . . .

He does care for me . . . through the big things, through the little things.

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