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#Stronger Than the Cookie: Turning Point

This is my seventh entry in the saga of my cookie laden life. I began the journey to this turning point in mid-June 2020, and my first post about my journey to health (The Cookie Diary) July 21, 2020. I have written this series of posts for a couple of reasons. First, it has given me a way to combine honesty and humor, while at the same time scrutinizing my own history with food. It has also given me a way to hold myself accountable, publicly, in excruciating detail.

Second, my hope is that these posts offer encouragement and a sense of normalcy to others, who like myself have had a love affair with all the wrong foods. It is not, however to promote myself as an expert, or to promote a specific weight loss plan. Rather, I write to share my experience, and hope that it will give others hope, that if I can do this with my history, you can too.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

The Slow Plateau

My weight loss has been fairly gradual, sometimes losing as much as two pounds in one week, but I have definitely had a zig-zag pattern to my loss, up a few ounces, down a few ounces. It has gone like that back and forth for days, and then a good drop. As soon as I have gotten to a two or three pound drop, the zig zag goes back to work.

I haven’t suffered through long plateaus the way some of my compatriots have. I can see how discouraging that would be. It could be tempting to look for some trick to move the needle on the scale, or it could also be tempting to just give up.

I would be lying if I did not admit to entertaining both of those notions on occasion, but I came to some conclusions that helped me to dismiss them. If my goal is health, and a healthier weight, then, there are no applicable tricks. It is not about a number. And, if I could successfully apply a trick to move the needle to the magic number my heart desires, and then I bounce off and go back in the other direction, what will I have accomplished? Discouragement, for sure.

Likewise, giving up after a period of not making progress would mean throwing out all the hard work. I decided on a different rationale, that is to treat a slow plateau as if it were a period of maintenance. Part of my goal is to get to that “magic number” that is my goal, and then maintain it, or live into it, while enjoying the benefits of my hard work.

I got to try this theory out shortly after my last post in January. By January 25th, I had lost 45 pounds and was on my way to a goal of a 50 pound loss, with the possibility of re-setting my goal for an additional 5 pounds. That would put me at 145 pounds and a 55 pound loss. All through February that needle did not move. I began to wonder if my goal was doable or reasonable.

I have heard that the older one is, the more your body tries to maintain its metabolism, and the harder it is to lose weight. I had also heard that sometimes, when you only have a little bit to lose, it is harder. I had to wonder if my body was telling me, “This is it, we are done.” It was a possibility that I had to consider, but I decided to stick to my program and see what happened next. Little by little, the needle started to move again. When my weight got to 151, I was jubilant and reset my (final?) goal to 145. As of this writing, I have two pounds to go to 145. And the needle continues to zig-zag, up three ounces, down four, up four, down two.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I will get there, and then I am going to stop and focus on simply maintaining my loss and my health. I have been doing 1200 calories a day, since mid-July, with lots of good food and variety, but I am looking forward to adding some calories. When I hit my goal, the plan is to add 200 calories a day and see what that does. If I continue to lose weight at that level, I will add another 200 calories and day and monitor. All this in conversation with my physician. It seems like a good plan.

I have lost this weight before or a version of it, in equally large amounts. Living into a healthy maintenance is crucial. I want to be in a stable clothing size too. I have gone from a size 22 in jeans, to a size 12, from a 2X in tops and sweaters to a size medium. I can not begin to tell you how good that feels. Sometimes I look in the mirror a little too long, because I can hardly believe my eyes.

I have not done “diet” foods. I can eat anything I want, but spending calories is a lot like spending money. I track calories, and balance food types, weigh and measure food and get on the scale every day. I could eat delicious chocolate cake, moist chocolate cake with fudgy icing; I will always love that, but I choose to leave that in my past.

The Moravian Sugar Cake Battle

Through it all, with good support, learning, and careful planning, I have been able to do this fairly well. But something happened in mid-February that was a shock to my system. I had decided to make something very special, a Moravian Sugar Cake, for a Love Feast for church for Valentine’s Day. It was perfect, because we were still doing drive-in Church, so no mess in the sanctuary. But I had never made it before, so I had to do one batch of the recipe to try it out. I did not want to experiment on the congregation.

I made half the batch, so I would know how long it would take, (hours) and what it would look like and taste like. When the cake was done, I cut it and had a piece, not a taste, a piece. All well and good, I counted the calories and logged it. it wasn’t bad, so I reached for another piece. The next day I had a third piece. I wanted to cry. After months of work at healthy eating, just that quickly, my old habits came back. Mindless eating. I knew then that vigilance was going to be important going forward.

A New Palete?

Overall, I have cut way back on processed foods, and foods with high amounts of sugar. Cutting back, not eliminating them. I will share more about this in another post. One of the exciting things though, is by cutting back on my sugar intake, I have been amazed at the taste of foods and how much I enjoy them. Roasted vegetables, even things like string cheese, taste delicious to me. When I shared this with one of my program leaders, she commented that my palette was changing. I was polite, but not sure something like that was possible.

And yet, opening the refrigerator door and reaching in and grabbing a piece of fruit, is almost an out of body experience. It is like watching someone else do these things. I am still a picky eater, but I try to keep apples, oranges, sugar free apple sauce, and seedless green grapes, on hand. I have discovered new foods that I didn’t realize that I might like, and I am trying to acquire a taste for cooked oatmeal as an evening snack. It has to be sweet enough and I haven’t figured out the right proportion yet.

Numbers:

I’d like to share some numbers or statistics with you, the bad and the good. I have spent much of my adult life weighing in between 190 and 200. In 1988, or there about, my doctor offered me an extreme diet, coupled with medication (diet pills) and regular check ups. I lost 50 pounds, but did not learn anything. It did not stay off long.

In 2007 I met my goal and achieved Lifetime Status with Weight Watchers. It is a good program. At goal, I was 162 pounds and 5’6″. As soon as I hit Lifetime, it did not take me long to start going up. By 2010 I was 196 pounds. I had focused only on losing, but not learning.

In 2018 I was at 200, but I was always good at maintaining the higher numbers. In June of 2020, when I had my wake-up call, I weighed 200 pounds.

If you think this disclosure is less than embarrassing, you would be wrong. There is a reason I waited this long to disclose those numbers. So I hope you see in this series gratitude, and not bragging.

Here are the good numbers. I am still not sure how I got this far without being diabetic, but I am not diabetic. My cholesterol numbers though, have been high borderline for the last few years. My cholesterol went down from 204 to 155 and triglycerides from 272 to 96. There are other improvements as well, but that is plenty of information from a stranger. Still, it is a lot to celebrate.

I think maintenance will take at least as much work and diligence as losing the weight, but I believe I can do it. My plan is to continue to share updates, every four or six weeks in the hope that my story can encourage others. If I can succeed in maintaining my loss, I may try for another five to eight pounds in the future. My loss has taken my BMI from obese to the low end of overweight. I would love to get it inside the normal weight range. But that will keep.

I am so grateful, and I am #Strongerthanthecookie, and not taking it for granted.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020-2024 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Linking up With Esme Senior Salon and Natalie’s Weekend Coffee Share

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Light, Leaven and Laughter

Dear Mom,

I hope that I haven’t disturbed you or caught you at an inconvenient time. When I call my friends, or even other family, I always start by asking, “Is this a good time to talk, or have I caught you at a bad time?” Come to think of it, I seldom make random phone calls any more, most are pre-arranged. I suppose it saves (me) the embarrassment of being told, no, I can’t talk right now.

I ask this question, because I have no idea what your schedule is like there, and I am supposed to be letting you Rest in Peace. But that is not how I think of you. I don’t think of you as Resting in Peace, rather, I think of you more as Light, Leaven and Laughter. I think of you that way, because of your personality, because of who you are. And I think of you that way because I picture heaven as a place of joy, music, worship, and stories, but also I picture it as a place of meaningful work, meaningful engagement of all sorts.

Picture of a woman and a teenager standing on a street.

And the truth is, you are such a presence in my life, and not in some ghostly or ethereal way, but in the way of love. Perhaps it is my fault, because when you died, I didn’t think I needed closure and I certainly did not think that I needed to say goodbye. How could I? The other truth is that I talk about you, tell stories about you, write about you, and let’s not get started on all the sermon illustrations where your name has come up. Well, let’s just say I have taken taken your name in vain on more than one occasion.

I am not sure if you have run into any of my former parishioners, but I have a theory that if they do meet you and know that you are my mother, well. Don’t be surprised if a stranger rushes up to you, points a finger at you, and says, “You’re the one!” But, it’s all good, as the kids say. And maybe, if I have done my job right, they will also say, “Thank you.”

While I am in a confessional frame of mind, I should tell you that in many of those stories, you get blamed. On more than one occasion, after having done or said something, I have added, “It’s my mother’s fault, and she is not here to defend herself!” Don’t be dismayed though, because it is really not blame, it is credit.

I remember something that Dad said, when he was sick. I was home from Florida for a visit, you had gone out to run some errands, and I stayed home with Dad. I sat in the chair by the front window and dad was on the couch. I was working on a small latch hook kit. He looked at me and said, “You are just like your mother.” Pretty sure I dismissed it at the time. He didn’t realize that I did not and do not have your ability for sewing, crocheting, or other needlework. I remember when you reupholstered the overstuffed chair in the living room, and then did the same thing for some of the chairs at the bar. Come to think of it, I am sitting on one of those bar chairs now.

Color picture of an hotel circa the 1890's.
The Union Villa Hotel, Onset, Massachusetts Photo Courtesy of Angela Dunham and Wareham Historical Society

I remember you laying linoleum in the hallways of the old hotel, on your hands and knees, without kneepads, no less. I remember, I remember the matching curtains and spreads you made for your bedroom in the apartment in Baltimore, and using leftover wool to make an afghan with the colors that matched the beautiful rug that you made.

I remember the sound of your laughter; when someone told a joke at the bar, the kind of joke that I wasn’t supposed to hear, and probably never understood. I remember a time in our house in Shrewsbury when you were doubled over laughing. Nicole, who was in sixth grade, was telling you jokes she had heard at school, and you were laughing, and writing them down in shorthand, so that when you got back to your senior citizens’ apartment you could tell them to your friends. Bear with me here mom, I am trying not to say in print what kind of jokes they were, but they were not ‘knock-knock’ jokes.

While I do not have your talent, or ability for working with threads and fabrics, I am pretty sure that I inherited your sense of humor, which is the chief thing I tend to blame on you. But the real credit is your teaching me to be able to laugh at myself, and not take myself too seriously. But not that alone, our shared love of cooking, of literature and music, though admittedly not the same taste in music. In addition our mutual penchant for storytelling and our shared faith in God.

You wrote a few stories, I still have them. I have your secretary’s notebook from your 1930’s sorority adventures too, in which you chronicle planning dances, card parties, making fudge, and carrying on. I wish you had been able to write more, that you had let yourself write more. You liked to play with words, as do I. You also set the example of never being more than a reach away from a good dictionary. Believe me, that was a practice that stood me well through college and seminary.

For the most part, you did not point your sense of humor at others, and that is something I try never to do. But gosh mom, when our school introduced mandatory sex education, did you have to tell the folks at the bar that I got an ‘A’ in technique but flunked birth-control? Not nice! I know that you were just going for the easy laugh.

Picture of a basket with yarns and knitting needles.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Something funny happened today. I was going through plastic totes, looking for things to give away, part of my downsizing efforts, and I came across some things that I had forgotten that I had. Things that you had made, with wool and fabric and embroidery thread, and it just about undid me. I was trying to decide what to do with the woolen hook rugs that you had made, that I am unable to use. Because they are wool, they are very heavy, I wondered if I could give them away, or donate them. But holding them in my hand, looking at your work, I got stuck. I picked up a wall hanging that you had made for Jason, needle point I think, but large needlepoint. I looked closely at your work and marveled a the care and the detail.

And then I found them, the embroidered placemats with the napkins, some of them; they were the things that made my eyes water. In that seamless moment, I remembered seeing them in the store on display and falling in love with them. I was sixteen. So, you bought it and started working right away. There are wonderful shades of blues and greens, simple flowers clustered in large groups in the bottom corners. And the seams on both the placemats and the napkins were not machine stitched, but hand cross-stitched.

I’ll never forget that day in the hospital when I sat next to you on your bed, and you leaned your head on my shoulder and cried. It was my saddest moment and my privilege. I leaned on you my whole life, so humbled that you could lean back.

You are missed and loved and remembered and oh, the stories I get to tell, and so I do, with all my love.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Sharing on Esme’s Senior Salon and Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share and Denyse Whelan’s Life This Week

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Help! I’m a dinosaur!

Picture of wooden toy dinosaurs on top of a stack of books.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Well, not me personally no, but my dearly departed, or departing cell phone apparently is a technical dinosaur. In this time of technical advances, it does not require the passage of much time to achieve that particular status. Isn’t that what they say about cell phones? You don’t even have to drive them off the lot before they…Oh. Okay, that is what they say about cars. But if your brand new amazing cell phone is in your car and you drive it off the lot, same thing.

I am not a fan of built in obsolesence. I cannot tell you how many coffee makers my husband and I have owned in almost thirty five years of marriage. But, I digress.

It all started earlier last week when my cell phone, my near constant companion for over two years, (close to three years) began a gradual but definite cascading systems failure. One or two apps at a time began to malfunction. Phone calls abruptly ending in mid sent….like that. The first few times it happened, I thought it was the other person’s phone. But it happened on another call, so maybe not.

One malfunction was just an annoyance, but when it hit my texting app, I knew I was in trouble. I could live without the weather app, I could just look out the window at the sky, or open the door and step out onto the porch, but receiving or responding to a text without a messaging app, much trickier.

Since I am somewhat limited in the area of technical expertise (I have technical experience, it is the expertise that I lack), I took my myself and my phone to the closest box store, to the young, enthusiastic, helpful, though not necessarily trained, clerks at the electronics counter. They have saved my bacon before with phone issues.

There, not one, but two, kind and facile young men did their best to figure out the problem. They asked questions, they tried maneuvers, they they put their heads together with their combined understanding of all things electronic and finally said, “We don’t know what the problem is; you should probably take it to Best Buy and ask them to run an analysis.”

Picture of a hand holding a smart phone loaded with icons for apps
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

It was not what I wanted to do, I had lofty plans of baking or writing or reading for that afternoon, but no, that was not to be. I had a brief conversation with a friendly, understanding person, a tech rep, who was able to schedule an appointment for me for that afternoon. We are talking a one-hour drive, plus time to take Sheba for a quick walk, to ensure her water-tight integrity during her unexpected confinement, grab a snack for the road and any essentials.

Roger dropped me off at Best Buy, and went to run an errand. I got to the right counter, verified my appointment and explained the problem to the technician, handing my phone to him. He looked, made a few quick moves on the phone, looked up and said. “I’m not seeing it. It’s not doing it now.”

You know that feeling when you are having car problems, get it to the mechanic and the vehicle in question fails to demonstrate its failures? Yup. An hour drive, an approaching weekend, one open time slot for the appointment. I looked at the young man and said, “Well, could you text my phone and see what happens?” I had deleted all the previous text messages and a few other things, trying to lighten the load of data on my phone since it kept crashing.

The tech guy obliged and finally saw that it was not working. He had also checked the weather app. He allowed as how it was likely the age of the phone, and that at a certain point companies stop supporting their products with updates. This, probably around the two year mark.

Reader, be you male or female, if you are of a certain age, go to the doctor with an issue and are told “It is probably your age!” Don’t you just love it? No, me neither. Less so when the problem is a piece of technology that is under three years old.

Fortunately, for me and my sanity, my phone did, under his expert care, demonstrate that something was indeed wrong. He was able to offer me a temporary fix, by force stopping a few programs, which he said you shouldn’t have to do. He also implied, that my phone’s days were probably numbered.

I left the store, not happy to have a problem with my phone, but happy enough to be taken seriously. And, happy to be going into the weekend with a phone that was working. I drive alone a lot. Even if I am less than an hour away I generally, though not always, phone my husband to let him know I am on my way. I like that he has a time-line and also a sense of what roads I am on, in case there is a problem. Sometimes I employ a line from a much loved Boston DJ from the 1960’s, who ended every radio show by saying, “Put on the coffee honey, I’m coming home!”

Two days later, I was leaving church to come home. I called to check in and barely got 4 words out when my call dropped. It wasn’t a cell tower problem. It had been happening over the last week, one of many cascading defects. But this time when my call disappeared, I wasn’t sitting at my desk at home in fluffy slippers with my dog by my side and my hubby nearby. This time I was behind the wheel of my car, on a two-lane curvy, hilly, country road and I felt vulnerable.

arial view of a hilly curvy country road
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

You can be someplace where there are not enough bars to make a call, but this was not that place. My phone, my constant companion had let me down for the last time. So for a second time in less than forty-eight hours, I found myself at the box store, shopping for a new phone.

So, here’s the thing. A lot has changed up since I bought my last cell phone. I am an Android kind of girl, which I have previously described as a ‘Sort of’ smart phone. This model has so many bells and whistles that there was not any obvious place for the phone icon to show up. I spent about ten minutes, ten slightly panicked minutes trying to figure out how to find it and wondering if I had bought a phone at all or just a highly sophisticated jumble of parts and plastic that might also be used to make a phone call. There is a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate some of the features of my phone. While my husband is fond of describing his cell phone by pointing out, “This is a phone, it makes phone calls. That is all I need.” He has every right to feel that way; it works for him, but I want more. And, although my phone does have fun features, I consider it a necessity to be able to connect with parishioners and colleauges. But, while I struggled to figure out how to use this new phone, I was close to agreeing with him. I was close to throwing the %&#!! thing.

I am a pretty smart cookie, all things considered, but I have described myself as a-technical for years. While I am happy about the amazing improvements that modern technology offers us, some days it feels like too much of a good thing, or too much of a new thing.

Some senior citizens are absolute tech wonders. But not all of us are; I have several parishioners now and even more in the past who do not own a computer, have no interest in being online, but in today’s world not everyone recognizes that fact.

When we got a new television last year, after our old one had given up the ghost, we were both frustrated when it turned out that we had to do the set up and start up online. If technology is not your middle name, that can be a challenge. When you go to an icon that says HELP, because you desperately need help, but are led to articles to read instead, not helpful; just saying.

In general, I wish there was a happy medium, between the latest, newest, high-tech phone and a low tech flip phone that requires great concentration and tenacity to tap out a text because you have to tap the keys the correct number of times to equal a specific letter.

Or, if you wish, a happy medium between the high tech “get’em while they’re hot” phone and a Life Alert System. I wish, that our demographic was important enough to provide something that is more user-friendly. We have money to spend too!

Picture of a toy dinosaur on a white floor
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I had a Pollyanna overdose as a kid, and I try to be a positive influence in a cranky world. But somedays, I fall short. Maybe I am a dinosaur.

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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I am Downsizing, Again

First, let me say that it is a good thing. I was fortunate in that I had time to prepare for my retirement and move from the parsonage to our retirement home. I was very intentional about the things I gave away, sold, donated or even trashed. When push comes to shove, sometimes things just have to go.

However, I have a piece of unasked for advice, for anyone in the same position. Maybe, keep track of the things that go out the door in a notebook. Not because you would want to take back what you gave, sold or donated.

But the reality is you may, on more than one occasion drive yourself and your spouse crazy looking for that one thing you know you had somewhere. The problem is that somewhere is now residing in someone else’s home, a shop, or even, possibly the landfill.

Depending on your circumstances, said downsizing can be painful, especially if you have a history of holding onto things. And there can be ironic circumstances. I held onto my high school yearbook for 50 years, and not just holding onto it in one location. No, from too many domiciles to count; or to list. Let me just abbreviate by saying, three states, four counties and several homes.

Old picture of a young girl in a white cap and gown for high school graduation.
June 1968

Then, shortly before my retirement in 2018, I asked myself why I was holding onto it when I had no contact with anyone from my graduating class? I threw it out! That was in May. In September of 2018 I reconnected with a high school classmate, who put me in touch with others. In October of 2019 I had dinner with 11 of my classmates. Thankful, no one asked if I had brought my yearbook!

In another instance, I had purchased a book written by a colleauge, about his experience in leading a church through a growth phase. Buying the book seemed like a good, collegial, supportive thing to do. I carried it only to three different homes, but never read it. (So many books, so little time!) So, again, in preparation for retirement, I gave the book away, around March or April of 2018. Can you guess what happened in May of 2018? I was appointed to serve that church! With everything in me, I wanted to put that in caps, but my daughter tells me that is the equivalent of yelling in print.

My current quest for downsizing involves moving my small first floor office, to an upstairs room so that I can make room for a first floor bathroom. Recent past experience, prudence and practicality suggests if we are going to stay in this house for the rest of our lives, having access to a full bathroom on the first floor would be beneficial.

That means, although the two rooms involved are very close in terms of square feet, everything in the down stairs office, will not fit in the upstairs office/craft room. So I am proceeding judiciously. My computer and printer and office supplies are already upstairs in their new cozy digs. I like it.

There is even less “display” space here, and so I am also looking through those three dimensional resources to give to friends and trust that they won’t think that I am severely depressed. That was my big worry when I offered a friend a small oil lamp from The Holy Land. I still have a stuffed frog that I have had for over twenty years.

The frog does not have a name, but he has come in handy when talking about the story of Moses and the Plagues. Wall hangings and framed prints, ceramic plaques, they just have to go; quietly out the door, to the nearest second hand shop without delay.

The books and the book cases that are in my downstairs office will not fit, nor will the four drawer file cabinet. And there is the rub. I have given myself until the middle of April to clean out and off the old oak desk downstairs in the hopes of possibly selling it. It has taken a bit of a beating in less than three years.

A picture of a wall of book cases and books. Stacks of books on a brown table and a woman sitting on a couch reading a book.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The books are a weightier problem. I am a pastor; I write, teach and preach. I have kept those print resources that I consider essential to the work of sermon writing and books that have the potential to be used in the writing I hope to do someday. Books that are great resources for the non-religious writing I would like to do. I have several books about prayer, Bible Study resources, theology, books about the life and thought of John Wesley, to name only a few. And did I say, or only hint broadly, that I love research?

Do you see a theme here? There are very few books in my office that would interest anyone but a pastor or prospective pastor. I also have about 100 plus books on Kindle, but they are easy to carry around.

The books I have loved, I have highlighted, underlined, and written in. In other words, they are not the sort or condition that book concerns buy back. I would be hard pressed to sell them online as anything other than what they are; none of them are dog-eared, does that count?

Retired pastors often give away their books to new pastors. It takes a while to accumulate a personal library. The problem is that our books are old. Not as old as we are, but I have been in school, college and seminary enough to know that most professors like to change up either the edition, or the books they put on the class syllabus. It is a rare professor who will resist this temptation.

I would love to “accidently” leave some books behind on the bookshelves in the parsonage office that I get to use in retirement. The problem is, I can’t say, “Oh, those books? They were already here when I got here!” When I moved my things into the parsonage the bookshelves were bare, I have an honesty clause in my invisible contract, and pretty sure all the books have my name in them. I would be quickly “outed!”

What’s a girl, okay a 70 year old woman who should know better, to do? I am going to try to trim my books to what will fit in two book cases, but that will take some time. I will keep looking for unsuspecting, er, I mean grateful newer pastors who would be glad to receive books to help supplement their own resources.

The new bathroom, if it happens at all, cannot happen until I have done the needed work of sorting, culling and hoeing out.

Does this mean I won’t buy any new books? Don’t be silly!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Words Become Flesh: On Reading, Writing and Sermon Writing ~ Part I

I think the first book I remember reading, where I felt I had a movie camera in my head so that I could picture the characters, the scenery or the action, was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I was about 11. It may be that I had seen the movie, but whether or not I had, I could also pick up the drama in the dialogue and loved reading it aloud. It was like being there. Through the years, I have wondered if other people had that ability too, to picture the story as though they were watching a movie.

Picture of a woman writing in a notebook. On the table in front are a laptop, cell phone, coffee cup and salt and pepper
Photo by Judit Peter from Pexels

It is possible that all writers wish for that phenomena to be connected with our writing. Even if the writing is not fiction, even if there are no pictures. We hope our readers will feel as though they are seeing in real time the thing you are describing. That pondering seascapes, or recipes, that we almost imagine getting our feet dirty on the wet, squishy sand where the waves just retreated to the sea. We can imagine aromas of buttery cinnamon rolls while reading the recipe. Words and names that reel us in seem to take on a life of their own. Characters described in devastating detail, flaws, failures and successes, to say nothing of wardrobe, make seem them real to us. Words becoming flesh.

That is how John, the Gospel writer, whoever he was, described Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”(John 1:14) So in Christian churches, we use words like “Word;” we say “Jesus is the Word of God.” It is what we mean when using the word “incarnation” Jesus, who we believe is God, took on our humanity, became fully human.

Raised on my mother’s stories, of growing up in poverty, hiding from the men who came to turn off the utilities, of being a young working adult during the Depression, and the stories that she read to me, I have always loved words. It must have been from a young age because my father said when I was born, I was vaccinated with a Victrola needle.

I flirted with forms of writing; poetry, greeting cards, writing one-liners, or puns. In school, college and beyond, I preferred writing papers to objective tests. Before I ever thought of writing stories of any type, or essays, I loved to play with words. Like dice (die) in a Parchisi cup that you roll around in the cup and shake it carefully covered, back and forth, before spilling the die onto the game board, I like to savor words like that. To play with the combinations, to roll them around in my mouth, or in my mind, before letting them spill out onto the paper to take on a life of their own.

Looking back, I realize that approached the stories in the Bible in a similar way. Savoring the stories, taking the time to read, reflect and wrestle with them. Seeking understanding, inspiration. and connection. I did not walk around with an open Bible in my hands, but after closing the cover of my Bible, and walking away, continued to wonder about what it all meant. It was a way to allow the story to germinate, and eventually flower.

While there were many people and events that influenced my faith development as a young Christian, there were two in particular who helped me to connect with the Bible in a way that was both introductory and transformative: one of them was my Aunt Millie.

Picture of an open Bible with colored pencils in the background.
Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

I was raised Roman Catholic in a time when Catholics were not encouraged to read the Bible. It was believed we might interpret it incorrectly, so it was best left to the experts. But my Aunt Millie, was a Bible Reading Catholic, and when I visited her at a particularly difficult time in my life, in my early 20’s, she would read to me. She read a lot of different things, but the one thing that stood out was Isaiah 43:1, “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you…I have called you by your name (and) you are mine.” She would read that and say, ‘Listen to this, Michele. Isn’t it wonderful?

She had a large banner in the upstairs hallway with those words on it, (I Have Called You by Your Name…). When my then husband and I moved to Florida, she gave us a box of Christmas Decorations, that included two white styrofoam balls with gold trim (Chrismons) with the words from Isaiah 43:1b, and our names. So it read, “I have called you by your name, Michele and you are mine.”

Looking back now, I wonder if her creative connection with the text had a subtle influence on my relationship with the Bible, and my faith as a Christian. It certainly was the start of any real engagement the Bible on my part, that led to a pattern of reading, reflecting, wrestling, wondering as well as a deep longing to share the fruit of all that reflection with anyone who was willing to hear. I would write these ideas down and sometimes tentatively share them with a friend. These were the seeds of my own call to preach.

As I write, I realize that my experience with the Bible and the Christian faith is not everyone’s experience. Sadly, I have friends, and probably family whose only experience of the Bible is one that has been weaponized and used against them. Sorrow over this misuse of the Bible does not begin to cover it. But I also write as a Christian pastor, committed to studying, gleaning and sharing the stories in the Bible for insight, not for weaponry.

Use Your Words

I have a good friend who was a kindergarten teacher for several years. long after that, when dealing with her dog she would say to him, “Use Your Words” Not unlike a parent, dealing with a toddler who would rather scream or point instead of speaking plainly.

What draws me to stories of any kind, regardless of genre, is character, and whether or not I can care about the character, and if the author shows some type of character transformation. But what draws me to reading stories, has more to do with how an author uses their words. I do not aspire to doing book reviews, but let me just say that I find some authors captivating, because of the way they choose and use their words. Perhaps it is because they instinctively know that books were meant to be read aloud.

One book that comes to mind is “Giver of Stars” by Jo Jo Moyes. While this book has a lot to recommend it, it is the phrasing, the delicious concoction of words that kept me wanting more. Forgive me for not providing examples, but that would turn into a literary analysis, and a very different piece of writing. While what I felt was the beauty of her writing did not distract me from the story, there are times I find myself listening just for the words themselves.

My husband has teased me for years, saying that he can see my lips move when I read. But books were meant to be read aloud. If that is not so, then the first books that were written, were only the private treasure of the very few people who could read and afford a book. Try to wrap your mind around the number of books that were written prior to the invention of the printing press that made books plentiful. I doubt that many writers exercise their craft in the hopes that only one or two people will read their work.

The stories in the Bible, when they were finally written down, were likewise meant to be read aloud and for similar reasons. Few people could read, fewer still could afford to own the books or scrolls on which the stories were written.

When we read silently, no matter what the book, or article, we tend to skim. And in skimming, we miss the poetry and music of the words on the printed page.

I doubt that most people read books or articles aloud, but I listen to more books than I read. I got hooked on audiobooks when I was driving three hours one-way to seminary. I had three library cards to support my audio book habit, through my four years of seminary. I still use audio books on short and long trips, when I am by myself, and they have given me an appreciation for the sounds of the written words.

What about you? If you are a blogger, what is your writing process? Do you write the same time every day, at the same place? And, whether you are a writer or not, what draws you to a certain author or genre?

There is more to come,

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Things that Bring Me Joy

Since JOY is my Word of the Year (WOTY) and such an important decision in my life, I want to pay attention to sharing joyful moments in the coming months. But, I admit I stalled writing this for one reason. While I try to keep my family out of my blog as much as possible, my children, grandchildren and (mostly my husband) it feels awkward to plunge into lists of things that bring me joy, without first starting with my family. I would like to say “it goes without saying, that my family is part of my joy, one of the most important things in my life..” But it is precisely that ” ..not saying.’ that can lead family to feel unappreciated, taken for granted, missed or worse.

Picture of a painted sign that says "Chose JOY, with eh letters painted in Green, blue and red.
Photo by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels

I did not have to write a resume to become a pastor, but once I had been licensed to serve, I had to provide a resume. I came into ministry as a secretary and insurance clerk. I only had to write an application for those positions, and knew next to nothing about resume writing. I was appointed to work with a group of pastors and when they read my resume, they did not let me live it down for a long time. You see, I did not realize I was expected to list my husband’s name. But in the course of describing our dog, Sammy, I did name him (the dog). I had thought it was enough to say that I was married, and that my husband and I lived with our dog, Sammy. (sigh!) Pastors are supposed to be a compassionate lot, but not, apparently, with each other!

Every day when I pray, I thank God for my husband, my family and friends who nurture and enrich my life. Please let me stipulate that my husband, family, and friends bring me joy. In addition, I have a special category of “cousins and classmates” who only recently came into my life, or in the case of classmates and friends from home, recently reconnected. They too, are treasures of my heart.

Bourne Photography

I don’t know if folks who are reading this will jump there to check it out, but Bourne Photography is a Facebook group of Photographers from my home area. They are amazing and every day, because of their passion for getting pictures and posting them, i get to travel home, if only virtually. Every day, I see pictures of the Cape Cod Canal, the Bourne Bridge, the Sagamore Bridge, the Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay, all kinds of flora and fauna and so much more. It stirs my heart. Seeing their pictures does more than bring back memories, their pictures give me a sense of pride of place, of identity, and belonging.

A picture of the Cape Cod Canal taken by the author.
The Cape Cod Canal, looking towards Buzzards Bay, October 2018, my picture.

I went for several years without seeing anything of home, and now thanks to Bourne Photography, I can almost smell the heady scent of the salt water, hear the cry of the gulls and see the subtle eddies in the water. I have posted some pictures of my own here. This is partly laziness, on my part, rather than take the time to get permission to post someone else’s photos.

Sheba

Sheba continues to keep life interesting. She started something new around the time I was celebrating her “gotcha day.” I wish she would let me get a picture, but she is camera shy. When she sees me with my phone in my hand set to take a picture, or a video, she walks away or turns her head. Here is her latest trick though. she will sit net to me and lean against my knee, and tilt her head back and look up at me, as if to say, “Aren’t I adorable?”

Not sure my interpretation is correct or if it is some dog behavior that means something else, but it is cute and sweet as the dickens. My husband and I have both teased her that one of these days, she is going to fall over backwards and one night last week she did. She looked so shocked as she lay there looking up at us from the floor. Maybe she was playing a dog’s version of “Courage Camille,” a trust fall game that I obviously did not know do correctly. I thought I was just supposed to soak up her adoration; didn’t know I was supposed to catch her.

Picture of a black and tan dog standing on a green carpet.
Camera Shy

I am a fairly patient person, but this year winter in Pennsylvania has tried my patience. What I mean by that is I try to accept every day as a gift. I do not want to wish my life away, wishing it was another time, like saying, “I can’t wait until Spring, or Summer, or fill in the blanks. But this winter has brought much more snow than we have seen in years. I have heard my husband and others say that our winter of 2021 harkens back tot he winters of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Not exaggerating here; we got a heavy snow in mid-December, and several more after that. The snow is just now going away in March, and I am sure that some of the snow out in the yard is from the original snow from December. .

You can see a lot of grass, but there is still a good bit of snow. Our front yard is covered with snow. I would post a picture to show you, but pictures of grey-edged dirty snow, or yellow snow just are not pretty. All of this to say, the signs of spring give me joy. Taking each day as it comes, and

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Fun Food, and Faith

You might be thinking, ‘Michele, aren’t you missing a comma? Don’t you mean “Fun, Food, and Faith?” But no, I really mean “fun food” and faith. Perhaps the quotes will make it clearer. But first a little history.

You may not know this but, in the beginning of Christianity, worship gatherings included food, dinner to be precise. Have you heard the old joke about the teacher who invited students to bring symbols of their faith to school for “Show and Tell” and the Methodist child brought a casserole dish? There are probably many different versions of that joke, and in truth probably each denomination credits itself with single handedly bringing the “pot luck meal” to Christianity. Truth is, though, so called “pot luck dinners pre-date Christianity, but that is another story.

Jesus, it seems, often enjoyed a good meal and a dinner party. Scour the Gospels for stories of Jesus “at Table” with friends, Pharisees, and all sorts of sinners. You may be surprised at how many meal stories you find.

Through the centuries, Christian Worship became much more formal, so that it would be difficult for many of us who have grown up in mainline denominations to picture dinner as Worship. No room for tables and chairs in most sanctuaries, just pews in rows that do not lend themselves to mealtime conversation, or much conversation at all. So we end up with a view of Christian Worship that is very formal.

That is not all bad, it depends on what you are used to I suppose. I love liturgy, that blend of readings, responses, prayers, songs or hymns. As much as I appreciate liturgy, I have long considered myself “semi-liturgical”. For twenty four years, including retirement, I have served churches that were either in a rural setting or town and country. Small churches often wish they were bigger, but there is a richness and a flexibility in a small congregation that is not possible in a large church.

My personal adventure with food in worship began with the experience of a Love Feast. A Love Feast is a special service of worship that includes food; it is usually held in the sanctuary, but not always. One of the guidelines in the United Methodist Book of Worship is that whatever bread and drink is used for a Love Feast should not be the same as the bread and drink used for Communion. So, once I figured out the logistics of getting napkins, mini-muffins and drinks handed out in worship, I served mini-corn muffins and Kool Aid.

The refreshments sat on the Lord’s Table (Altar) until it was time to serve them. I remember the two rowdiest boys in the church were transfixed, starting at the bounty on the table and eager to partake. I was hooked.

Although I have been an instigator and sometimes the chief cook in those events and the ones following, let me be clear that I could not have made them happen without the approval and assistance of some wonderful church members. When I moved to the next church I figured out that I could get 100 mini-muffins out of my mother-in-law’s pumpkin bread recipe. We generally served water as the drink, because it was simpler.

Photo by Caio from Pexels

When I got braver or bolder, I decided to use candy for a sermon. The sermon title was “m&m’s” and I got small packs of m&m’s to be handed out before the sermon, but asked that folks take them home and not open them in worship. My sermon was about the Mission and Ministry focus of the Church, and my hope was that the flock would consider the candy a “mental hitching post” to their mission.

I think that it did; but something struck another cord for me, as deep as the Mission of the Church when one of the parents said to me, “Pastor Michele, Thanks for breakfast!” I remember what it was like to try to get three little kids dressed, fed and out the door for church. Another thing that connected with the statement about breakfast was the young adults who brought travel mugs of coffee to worship. I didn’t mind, and no one complained to me, at least. It seemed to be an essential thing for them.

Fast forward a few years to a new church. I mentioned this story in a Bible Study and the class really took it to heart. It was not long before the Church ladies were organizing refreshments to be available in worship EVERY WEEK! They set a spread, including juice boxes for the kids, served in a bowl of ice, Goldfish crackers in small cups, and on the “Coffee Bar” in the back of the sanctuary, there was ice water, hot coffee, brewed tea (not hot water and tea bags) and a variety of breads, muffins, or cookies and brownies. Not healthy to be sure, but readily available carbs.

People were invited to take their refreshments to their seats and help themselves at anytime. I would joke that their moving around during the service would not distract me, but I also begged them not to make that a life goal.

I realize this seems unorthodox. I also know that many churches have a regular coffee hour at the end of the service. But our facilities were somewhat limited. There was a small entry way and it was an upstairs sanctuary. If we had said, please join us down stairs after worship for a time of fellowship, we knew most people would not stay and they would lose the opportunity to visit with each other. This unique gift of the church contributed to the spirit of Joy in worship and did much to form community. It was radical hospitality.

The Creation Cake Service

One thing that we have learned over the years, is the need to appeal to different learning styles. Not only in terms of verbal sermon illustrations, but also in the use of visuals. Some concepts need to be seen to be understood.

I remembered reading in a Bible Study manual, that the Early Hebrews’ idea of creation was that the earth rested on pillars that were embedded in “The Deep.” Taking some liberties with an illustration in the book, I thought, cake pedestals would be helpful. So working with a friend and parishioner who actually did cake decorating, we each made the needed cake layers. Then my sermon talking about the wonders of Creation was part preaching, part cake construction.

Boy, I wish we had taken pictures, but no, I ask you to settle for this description. The base of the cake, symbolizing “the deep” was an oblong layer covered in blue/green frosting. I set the cake pedestals into that layer, which supported a regular round 8″ single layer, covered in frosting. I think we might have put some plastic animals or other things on it to show that was the earth. There may have been a yellow frosting covered cupcake to symbolize the sun. One more set of pillars supported the dome (the sky) which was baked in an oven proof bowl.

There had to be 2 separate cakes, because it would have been rude to say, “Look at this, do you get it? Okay, taking this to the next church!” So, at the end of each service, folks were invited to the fellowship hall for coffee, tea and cake.

The Wedding Feast at Cana

By the time we got to the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2) I was working with an amazing creative team. There is more here than I could have made happen. We had the idea to have a real wedding cake and reception following worship. The table had space underneath to set up a display, which you see below, with a real wedding veil, a silk bouquet, a ring bearer’s pillow and a bulletin from a wedding. The celebration was made that much richer because it was a Communion Sunday. I loved the picture showing the combination of Elements for Communion on top of the table, and the wedding decorations under the table.

No photo description available.
Celebrating the Wedding Feast at Cana (Blossburg UMC February 2016)

This time, the cake was not in the sanctuary, but the main meal was on the Table. After the service, folks were invited downstairs for cake and coffee. See the picture(s) below.

No photo description available.
Wedding Cake by Kathi Hemenway

One of the things that made this extra special was the use of memorabilia lent by parishioners from their weddings. Peeping out from behind the cake are some delicately crafted white wooden roses. People gave and celebrated from their hearts.

No photo description available.

The Pie-Chart Sermon/Service

Pie charts are certainly visual and used to explain a variety of things, so why not use real pie for a teachable, taste-able moment? I could not find a “free to use” picture of a slice of lemon meringue pie, but the pie I saw in a local restaurant was the inspiration for this sermon and service.

Briefly, my premise was that all the stories in the Bible contain three important layers: what was happening at the time of the story, what was happening years later when the story was written down, and what it means to us when we read or hear the story.

Not to belabor the point, but the stories were traditioned to us years after the occurrences described. Just as artists who paint cannot help but put something of themselves in the paintings, so life at the time of the actual writing was going to be influenced by what was happening in the church when the writing took place.

My experience as a pastor/teacher is that most people want to know what the story has to do with them, “life application.” But there is more to the stories in the Bible than that. So, planning ahead, each parishioner was able to choose what they wanted for pie, lemon meringue, coconut cream pie or chocolate cream. This sermon had to be served up in the dining room. Napkins and forks were on the table.

I was a tyrant, they had to wade into the sermon, before they could wade into the pie. Few people, I reasoned, would order lemon meringue pie, and just eat the meringue. All three layers are meant to be tasted and savored.

In this instance, the crust was “What was happening at the time of the event.” The filling was “What was happening at the time the story was actually written down,.” and the Meringue or whipped topping was the “Life application layer.”

I remember a special education teacher many years ago who commented on the number of different ways he knew to teach a concept. I appreciate that. As a Pastor/Teacher, I want to use every tool in my belt to help people connect with God, even if they seem a bit unconventional. Taking the Psalmist’s words to heart, “Taste and See that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8 NRSV)

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Shared with Esme Senior Salon #151 and Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share

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Monday Morning Misadventure

First, for any close family, friends or followers, let me begin by saying that neither of us were hurt in this misadventure.

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

I am a New England girl and have lived in Pennsylvania for almost thirty-five years. I like snow. I don’t ski or sled or participate in any winter sports, but I like the look as the snow drapes trees, and hugs branches. The different types of snow, the crystal that glimmers in the snow at night, are picture perfect. In general, I am not afraid to drive in or walk on snow, and I would much prefer an accumulation of snow to any amount of freezing rain.

It is winter in Pennsylvania. A little over a month ago we had the largest snow accumulation in recent years, a whopping 31 inches in our yard. That snowfall has been followed by cold temperatures, freezing temperatures.

May be an image of snow
December Snow (There’s a truck under there somewhere!)

At first I worried that it would warm up fast and all that snow would melt and cause flooding. It did a little bit, but I needn’t have worried. While patches of grass have been visible, a good amount of December’s snow still lingers on the ground.

So, to the misadventure this morning. Sheba was supposed to have surgery and was to be at the Veterinary Hospital between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. The hospital is about a 45 minute drive in good weather.

It started snowing here yesterday morning, and we are in a belt that was anticipated to get 8 to 12 inches of snow over a 3 day period, with the warning that in some locations it might snow 2 inches an hour. Because of the forecast, Roger suggested that I take the truck to take Sheba to the Vet.

His truck is an F-150, a good size truck and I have avoided driving it, in the almost three years he has owned it. But, when you are right, you are right, and planning to drive the truck was a sensible idea. He gave me a practice run yesterday and last minute instructions this morning, in case I needed to put it into Four Wheel Drive.

I took the key fob and confidently went outside to start cleaning off the truck. It had snowed about four inches during the night. I started with the passenger side and got as much snow from the door, roof, cab and front of the truck as I could, figuring that the snow laying on top of the bed cover would be okay.

I got the front of the truck, and cleaned off the headlights and the hood, and carefully moved to the driver’s side of the truck, I got started on that, maybe one quarter done and woops, ended up on my seat, on a bank of snow between our driveway and the neighbors.

Here, I should remind you that I am 70 and not the least bit agile or athletic. I had a hip replacement way back in 2004 and a knee replacement in 2017. The joints that haven’t been replaced yet, are not great.

Kneeling, much to my sorrow, hurts. I miss kneeling to pray before giving a sermon. The last time I tried kneeling next to my bed, getting off my knees. well it hurt like the mischief. In the last year I have begun having issues with both of my shoulders. So it is difficult, if not impossible, to get myself up from a fall.

But I had a plan. I could lift my body enough to reach the door handle on the truck. An F-150 ought to be strong enough to help me hoist myself, what the…. The door was not locked. So when I was almost on my feet, albeit at an angle, and the door opened in my hand, back down I slid.

I tried. I did. I tried positioning myself, to possibly get to my knees, but to no avail. I knew it would hurt, but if I could just move, but, no. I tried to use my feet to push my body back far enough that I could leverage something. Have you ever watched a dog slip and slide on a floor? That is all my feet did. Slip and slide. The more I tried to push myself back, or get a foot hold on a flat surface, I slipped down farther under the truck until I was half under the cab.

In that position, I tried to not think of worse case scenarios. Do you know what happens when you try not to do that? You think of them! I consoled myself that no one was in the truck with the engine running. I thought of this, as I glanced at the rear tires.

No one was on the other side of the truck, trying to be helpful by tipping it (Say goodbye life, hello God) I told myself.

Realizing that was getting me nowhere, I decided to lean as far to the right side as I could,and try to open the door all the way. My hope was that with the door open, and to my left, I could find something in the inside door or the floor or the seat, or something that I could hold onto to use to hoist myself up.

At this point, I was grateful that I have lost 45 pounds, knowing I would be that much lighter or easier for someone to help me to my feet.

Now, I normally have my cell phone with me everywhere. EVERYWHERE! But not this morning, I left it on the table in the dining room. But I remembered that I had the truck key, fob, that probably had a panic button.

Do you think I needed a panic button, or something to help me panic? I did not cry, I did not yell, or swear. Well, yelling might have been fruitful, but it was 6:30 a.m. and not a school day. I prayed too, of course. But I had a plan. Roger, I thought was in the living room, I do not know Morse Code, but I reasoned that if I hit the panic button, and let the horn beep several times and stop and repeat the process, he would realize that I was in trouble. It was a good plan

I felt guilty about the plan, he is recovering from COVID, which set his healing from his hip fracture and surgery way back. Could he help me and not get hurt? I hit the panic button, and even though he was inside, I still called him, “Roger, Roger! I need help!”

Did I say that it was snowing and that I was laying in a snow bank, half under the truck? My blue jeans rapidly turning white, and then wet? Finally the porch light came on. I kept calling. When I heard Roger’s voice answer me, I said those awful words, “I’ve fallen and I cant get up!” Being a conscientious writer, I did not say “Help, I’ve …” I did not want to be accused of plagiarism of a long running commercial.

He came out with his cane, thankfully and offered me a hand. Despite recovering from COVID and myriad side-effects, he is strong, and has really good biceps. I knew he could have pulled me up with one hand, but I did not have solid purchase on anything that was going to help me help him help me. So I demurred, and kept trying to reposition myself to make it easier. Finally, he pulled me from behind, he had his arms under mine and lifted and almost, almost, almost! Down we both went into the snow.

That scared me, but wise man that he is, he managed to fall on his back side and avoid his hip. People who don’t know him, would not know this. He is not only a wise man, he is also something from a smart aleck, so let me say, I was grateful when he offered me a hand, it was to try to lift me up, no applause were involved. They could have been, he hates turning down a good opportunity, but discretion was the better part of valor.

The saddest moment to me, came when unable to help me up after our fall, Roger called over to a school employee who was shoveling the walk at the corner. (The school was closed but not to staff). He called and asked for help, but the man apparently did not hear. Then I heard my husband say, “Can you help us, my wife has fallen?” But he did not hear him.

When Roger got up from the snow bank, he repositioned himself and with a good use of physics, I think, grabbed me under the arms once more and pulled. I was trying not to panic, was not sure if I could move, but it worked.

My jeans were soaked through, my fingers hurt, burned from the snow and the cold, but I was on my feet. Sheba did not get her surgery today, but we were able to take a cancellation for Thursday. I got into some dry clothes, took care of Sheba, a short walk and her regular breakfast, and coped with the morning trauma by taking a long winter’s nap.

Roger was my hero this morning, and many other days as well. I am so grateful that he did not get reinjured in any way, and that he was able to help me out of an embarrassing and frustrating position. I am happy that I was not hurt too.

Nothing but my pride.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Linking up with Esme’s Senior Salon and Everyday Gyann’s #Monday Musings

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Still Stronger Than the Cookie: January 2021

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I have struggled with my weight from childhood. In my adult life I have lost large amounts of weight at least three times and quickly gained it back. In June of 2020, I had a wake up call that started me on this journey toward health and weight loss. I wrote about it in the first post in this series, The Cookie Diary.

Over the last several months I have written one post a month to share the journey and my progress. I am not an expert, but am sharing my personal experience in the hopes that others will benefit. Although after the first month on my own, I have been following a specific program. I am not writing to promote that program or any other, because one size does not fit all.

I will say that I have learned a lot, and for the first time I feel that I can maintain the weight loss that I have worked so hard to achieve. I still think maintenance may be harder than the actual weight loss. However, this time around I have been pretty much eating normal foods, just less, and of course minus cake with frosting and cookies. I have continued for the most part on 1200 calories a day. I could eat cake with frosting, but that would eat up a large number of daily calories, so not doing that.

I have made slow and steady progress, much slower than some people would like. It is understandable to want to lose weight quickly, but I have averaged about 7 pounds a month. When I started back in June, it was not with the thought of losing as much as I have-45 pounds to date. I have taken this journey in 10 pound segments, the thought of losing 50 pounds or more would have been overwhelming. As of this writing, my final goal is only ten pounds away. Yay!

Stronger Than the Cookie?

After months of leaning on my daughter’s statement, “Mom! You are stronger than the cookie!” and months of focusing on healthier eating and intentional weight loss, I decided it was time, finally, to see if I was indeed “stronger than the cookie.” Not by eating them, but by making them and giving them away without eating any. One day it may be time to see if I can “eat just one.” But I am not ready to put myself through that challenge yet.

What was the challenge in making cookies for other people? Well, first, asking permission. I reached out to a friend and asked, “Do you mind if I make some cookies for the boys?” Another challenge, it may have been the first time in my life I made cookies to give away without sampling. Not one cookie, not one finger swipe of creamed butter and sugar crossed my lips. I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

I made two separate batches of cookies and did not eat any, but I was hungry while I was making them (I chose an alternate snack) and all the way through both batches I wasn’t sure I would succeed until the last crumb was swept away, the last bowl washed and dried.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Cakes are a little bit easier, one isn’t likely to take a slice of cake out of the middle and frosting glue it back together before giving it away! No, I would not do that with a cake really, just talking about human temptation here and the ability to overcome it.

Cake with lots of frosting is one of my favorite food groups. I would always make the sacrificial bid to have a corner piece of cake, or cake with frosting flowers. But I have made my favorite chocolate cake recipe for church suppers and funerals countless times, knowing there would be a serving spoon or two of frosting that didn’t need to go on the cake.

Stress Eating

I have been an emotional eater for as long as I can remember. It has been one of the huge successes of my weight loss experience to stop using food for comfort and coping. Everyone’s life has stress, conflict and a host of problems. I am no exception. We were in the early days of COVID, we just didn’t realize it, when I began my journey to health. I am grateful to my coaches, my plan and my own resolve that I was able to negotiate the stresses without turning to food.

I have built in flexibility of my diet, but still keeping to 1200 calories a day, still slowly working my way toward my goal. But there were two days that caught my attention that I want to share.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Have a Plan in Place for Crisis Management

COVID hit our house, the first recognizable symptoms hit me on December 21st. I was very fortunate, in that my symptoms were mild, and in the beginning my husband’s were too. It certainly took the Merry out of Christmas, although our plans were modest. We bemoaned the fact that COVID ruined our vacation as we cancelled our reservations, but we thought we were just okay.

But then COVID really hit him and most of his underlying health issues. Less than twenty-four hours after his symptoms kicked in, I called the ambulance. Actually the doctor’s office did that for me. The Emergency Room discharged him that evening. I picked him up, he had something light to eat and went to sleep. Everything went downhill from there.

When I made the second ambulance call a few days later, the look on his face as they loaded him into the ambulance all but broke me; I hugged the doorjamb as I watched the ambulance take him to the hospital. And I did not just cry, I howled and of course I prayed. I decided that I was going to have ice cream for dessert, just a Dixie cup. I don’t think I used the words, “I deserve it, I need it, or this will make me feel better.” It was a deliberate choice of comfort food.

I know that doesn’t make me a bad or careless person, I am just sharing. They admitted him and I went to church the next day to do the service, because I hadn’t thought to ask for backup. After church I had a fast food lunch, carefully chosen, because I had to come home and get his glasses and dentures and take them to the hospital.

On the way home from the hospital I realized I was tired and very hungry and I got coffee and a toasted, buttery bagel from Duncan. It was delicious! That day I was definitely over my 1200 calories, but compromised by having scrambled eggs for supper.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

The next day I was ravenous, and that is when I knew it was stress and not genuine hunger. It was okay. It was reasonable. But all of the weeks and months of work, this was the hardest, and caught me by surprise.

Let me interrupt myself to say, that thankfully, my husband is home and recovering. I try to keep personal details of other family members to a minimum.

I share this story to say, have a crisis plan. Have some alternate choices, rely on your skills and knowledge and give yourself some grace. It is possible to get through a crisis without a weight gain, maybe not as realistic to expect to lose weight during a crisis, unless you are someone who cannot eat when things are going badly. I am 70 years old and that has only happened to me twice in my life and both times it was before 1971.

Something happened this afternoon, that sent me back to this post, that I wasn’t sure if I was going to share the post or delete it. I understand how easy it is to regain weight. Friends brought us some delicious food as a gift, and I may get away without cooking for the next four meals. But there were sweet, mini cornbread loaves included.

When it was snack time, I meant to reach for the string cheese, or an apple, but it was quicker grab the mini-loaf. In my defense, I cut it in half, so 120 calories instead of 240. I cut the half in half, thinking, I can do this a 60 calorie snack. It was sweet. It was an appetizer, I ate the other piece. That is how it can start.

So, a few suggestions before closing. If you are thinking of starting a weight loss program, research it well, talk to friends who have used the programs you are looking at, talk to your doctor.

Avoid fad diets.

Learn the difference between nutrient dense foods and foods with empty calories. I love donuts and there was a time in my life I could make a breakfast of three (yup) on my way to work. Empty. Calories.

Do your best to keep a wide variety of “go to” snack foods. If you are going shopping, and going to be out several hours, consider packing a bag lunch. It is hard to find a filling fast food sandwich that is under 500 calories.

Phone a Friend: This option can be helpful in a variety of situations. Know who will support your efforts and who is likely to try to sabotage them. I have been blessed with support from family and friends and many friends in the blogging community, in addition to my program coaches and my family doctor.

Have a plan and stick to it but on the days that you get overwhelmed, and go off your program, forgive yourself and get back on board, the next meal if possible.

One additional thought, that I know is going to continue to be important for me, and it may help you. Distinguish between special treats and daily snacks. There was a time I ate unmeasured ice cream every night until it was gone. That was how I got rid of it.

My cornbread mini-loaf half was a wake up call. I am close to my goal, I am stronger than the cookie, but very human and today the cornbread was stronger than me. Not because I ate the pieces I did, but because the taste of them makes me want more. But I will not.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Linking up with Esme’s Senior Salon and Everyday Gyann’s #Monday Musings

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Resistance is NOT Futile

I began this post a few days before the events of January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. when rioters and others broke into the Capitol Building causing great terror. Because of that, I was tempted to change the title of this post for fear it might seem inflammatory. But given the passage of time, I decided that it is the right title and the right idea: Resistance is NOT Futile. My only regret is not providing a Star Trek Borg meme or GIF for you.

Although it has not been my biggest concern in what has been this “Season of COVID-19” the desire to shop safely has expanded a process that was already in full swing with, in my opinion, some disastrous economic results.

As more and more people have switched to shopping online, many of us have mourned at the closing of flag ship stores, and local versions of stores. Thus creating, what to me, is a vicious cycle. Shop online, so the stores close, so you have to shop online.

Black background white letters that say "Sorry we Are Closed"
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

When people talk about jobs created by the online shopping trend, but don’t talk about the local jobs that are lost, they are leaving out a crucial piece of the puzzle. I was going to say “on-line shopping frenzy,” but see what I did there? I made a more moderate word choice.

I buy books from Amazon, probably way too many, and I want them to do well, but not at the expense of brick and mortar stores.

Several months ago our local Wal-Mart started offering the option of ordering on line and picking up in person and many people I know really celebrated that. This was pre-COVID, but it turned out to be just in the nick of time.

During our state lockdown, our local grocery store began offering call in and pick up options, and maybe order online. I didn’t notice because my preference would still be to go in the store.

Picture of a woman in a blue dress shopping in the fruit and vegetable section of a store.
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Call me reactionary, I have been called worse. But having someone else pick out my food, choosing which cut of meat, what quality of oranges, and do they check the feel of the bread to be sure it is soft and fresh, or just pull it from the shelf and scan it? This does not work for me and even less so for my husband.

Even when it comes to clothes, I have ordered some clothes online and done so recently. But, I prefer to go to the store in person, to see the color and feel the fabric, etc.

Okay, so I am reactionary, picky and stubborn. I am especially resistant, and perhaps a little scared when I hear people make pronouncements like, “This is the way it is going to be.” “We will shop on line, we will not shake hands or hug people.”

When I hear the words “Contact-less” anything, well, I just get sad. No, I do not want COVID or any other awful disease. However, I cannot help but think that historically, including recent history, our culture can be all too quick to jump on the bandwagon, and go along with whatever the latest thing is, without any deep thought or discernment.

We need some of our parents’ and grandparents’ questioning, “If all your friends______________________ (fill in the blank to whatever generationally appropriate option you wish) does that mean that you should too?”

Shop Local

Another picture with black background and white letters.
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

I am going to start this section with an important disclaimer. My blog is not monetized and I am not an affiliate of any of the companies I am going to mention here. But vague is vague, and I don’t know how to explain the situation without naming names or name dropping, all in the name of clear communication.

More than ever we need our local stores. I shamefully admit when I first moved to my “new” hometown I referred to the local grocery store in unflattering terms, because I did not know any better. No local groceries can compete with the box stores, but I have learned, that it can be worth paying a few cents more, even ten or twenty centers more on some items to get personal service. I can get in and out of our local store faster than I can get into Wal-Mart from their parking lot.

I suppose I should add for clarity, and for family and friends who work at Wal Mart, that I do shop there regularly; often enough to have favorite cashiers and managers.

My local grocery store is not going to be putting in self-checkouts, yet they are mindful of every possible precaution, including mask wearing, plexiglass barriers between the cashiers and customers, social distancing and uplifting messages abound.

Also, our local grocery store has a huge community spirit and frequently do whatever they can to support local causes, including donations and discounts.

Our restaurants are essentially “mom and pop” restaurants. Good cooking, great food, no chains. Eleven years ago friends came to town to visit and wanted to take us out to eat. “Where is the closest chain restaurant?” my friend asked. The Perkins had not yet been built in the neighboring town, which had the only fast food restaurants in a fifteen mile radius. Perkins is still the only chain restaurant in a fifteen mile radius, again, except for the fast food restaurants, all of which are eight miles north.

One of the most difficult things in my resolve to shop local, is clothes. There are some things I will buy at Wal-Mart, (casual clothes) but I prefer Macy’s for a relaxed professional look. But Macy’s moved out of the closest two malls (fifty miles in opposite directions) and there is not one within 100 miles, so I shop at Kohls and my new favorite Christopher & Banks. But if they go away, I may have to learn to sew, and knit, because again, I want to see color and feel fabrics and try things on without having to ship them back. Reactionary? Maybe, or just stubborn. I will own it.

This was brought home to me recently when I received a sweater I had ordered online. It is a nice sweater and I wore it to church, but the color was not as bright and the weight of the sweater was thinner than I expected. Attractive for layering, but not one I would choose if I wanted to feel warmer.

My husband and I have always practiced personal boycotts. If, for instance, we find a television commercial for a product annoying or offensive, we simply will not use it. We don’t need to protest with signs or drag our friends into our preferences, but that company does not get our money.

With all of the negativity in the world right now, I worried that this post might be too negative, too grouchy, too 70 year old woman carping. But a few nights ago, I got an email from my new favorite, Christopher & Banks, informing me that they had made a decision to close all of their brick and mortar stores, but will continue their online business.

Black and white picture of a clothes rack with empty hangers.
Photo by Elina Krima from Pexels

My thoughts went to the women who work in the store I frequent. I do not know their names, but they have been helpful, and welcoming and at my last two visits we have talked about the value of shopping in person and the concerns that the store might go in a different direction. I am sad for them, as I was for my favorite sales staff at what was the Macy’s that used to be at that mall. Now, soon, there will be another empty store at our rapidly emptying mall, and at all the malls where they were located.

I will add them to my prayers, as they work to run the sales and do the work knowing how limited their time is and not knowing what they will do next. Praying that doors will open to them, and any necessary training or retraining might be available. Heaven knows there are not a lot of similar stores in our area where they could get employed.

I have to decide what I am going to do in response; will I continue to buy their clothes that I like online, or put all my eggs in one basket, Kohls? I might really have to dust off my sewing machine!

My point in all this is, we do not have to go along with the crowd, even if everyone else is giving up on brick and mortar stores, and shopping online, or calling people names, or any other activity that everyone else seems to be doing that is tearing at the fabric of our lives. Change happens but, resistance is not futile. Stand your ground, be true to yourself and listen, listen, listen. And shop local.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Linking with: Natalie the Explorer’s Coffee Share #3 and Denyse Whelan’s #Life This Week

Picture of a grocery cart with some items in it, fcing an ailse with bottles and other items.
Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels
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A Pastor and her, uh, Flock

It all started with Murray. Murray was a sturdy sheep with a blue bow that I found at a yard sale. As a pastor it can be convenient to have a few sheep around, you never know when one will come in handy, and since I am a shepherd to a dog who requires care, feeding, cleaning up and other basic care, I really appreciate my stuffed animals.

And then there was the Christmas Eve script that called for a few sheep to be hurled in the air by a very frustrated actor, and Frankie and Goldie joined the family. I wrote about them and Murray in an early post https://michelesomerville.blog/2020/02/11/a-pastor-and-her-props/ So I won’t say too much here.

Although I have these treasured props, I have tried to eliminate many of them as I moved into retirement. My office is small, about 8’x 8′ and general storage space in the house is limited. Plus, I am often guilty of “out of sight, out of mind” so I need my props to stay where I can see them. Still, space is limited.

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Bath-sheepba on the left, and Marshmallow on the right

But when someone gives you a gift out of love, or even something you forgot you asked for (I did send out a request for ‘gently used stuffed sheep’) you have to be gracious. Periodically, new sheep showed up at the door of “Shepherdess Shelley’s Home for wayward Sheep,” and in the process they were upgraded from “props’ to flock.

Occasionally, when preaching on the 23rd Psalm or the passages from John 10 about Jesus as The Good Shepherd, Murray would accompanied me to church. I can hold a stuffed animal and preach.

I began to sense other possibilities when I was forced to record services at home, due to pandemic restrictions. I had enough sheep to gather them in front of the camera, while I hid from view and recorded the 23rd Psalm. Wish I had been smart enough to snap a picture, but my talents are limited when it comes to technology.

I would have had a few more sheep for the fold, but my dog, Sheba objected. I had given her two “Lambchop” stuffed sheep with squeakers. They were still in good shape, so I thought to include them in the service.

When Sheba realized I had taken her toys, she came into my office and retrieved them one after another, and returned them to their proper place on her bed. Selfish dog, or foolish me? Truth be told, I may have initiated this burst of selfishness.

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Left to right: Goldie, Murray, Frankie and Happy

I had brought Frankie and Goldie home from church and set them on my office chair while I decided on a good home for them, and then I went out. When I got home, my husband asked if I had given them to the dog. She had come into the office, pulled them from my chair and put them with her other toys, er, friends. Cuddle buddies. Needless to say I retrieved them to save them from a fate worse than dog drool.

While many colleagues lived close to their churches and were able to record their services in the church, in empty sanctuaries due to COVID restrictions, I am retired and live in a neighboring county. At the time of the Governor’s Stay at Home orders, that meant that I could not travel to church.

It was okay. In addition to the Governor’s Stay at Home Orders that were in place last Spring, our Bishop has asked us on two separate occasion to refrain from in person worship for the sake of safety. The first time, between the Bishop’s request and the Governor’s orders, we were out of our sanctuaries for four months. The second request came at the start of Advent, early December 2020, and we are more or less holding steady until further notice. That means once again many of us are recording in empty churches. I appreciate the call to safety, even more since COVID hit our home. So this is not a complaint, just an explanation of why one would record church services in an empty sanctuary.

I had seen pictures that colleauges had posted of sanctuaries that were empty, but had pictures of parishioners in the pews where they would be sitting had they been present. Because I was still recording from home, I didn’t understand. Recording from home in front of my computer, the congregation was missing, but I had a place I could look, at the camera, and imagine I was speaking directly to the flock.

This time, I am able to travel to the church to record the service and the congregation has decided to do Drive-In Church, so several members come to the parking lot to tune in to the service and participate. But that is how I discovered how discouraging it can be to preach in a mostly empty sanctuary.

I don’t know if it is true for all pastors, but many of us rely on facial expressions, verbal responses and other body language to know if what we are saying is registering with the flock. And worship is meant to be interactive. It is hard to be interactive in an empty room, or a mostly empty room.

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Left to right: Twinkle, E. Lilly, Lollipop, Bath-sheepba and Marshmallow

You see, I am pretty sure that there is an unwritten rule for pastors and other speakers, that if you are preaching, or speaking and look at one person too long, it quickly becomes uncomfortable. With other people in the room, you can gaze around, look at different people, make eye contact without it becoming a staring contest.

But where do you look if the only other person in the room is the tech person in the back and the pianist? While I did not do that, it was the tech person at the church I currently serve that started the process that brought my new “flock” to church.

He came up to me after the first service and said, “Pastor, I think you are missing your congregation!” “You don’t have anyone to look, at so you are looking down.” He was right, and I quickly knew what I had to do. I had to invite a new flock to join me in worship, that would not cause trouble for me by breaking the “no in-person worship” directive from the Bishop.

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E. Lilly and Lollipop

Confession

If you took the time to stop and read the original post, A Pastor and Her Props, you might have observed that E. Lilly and Lollipop had different names in that post. I do feel sheepish about this, but there are reasons. As pet owners, we do not normally change the names of our pets when we adopt them. We did in Sheba’s case, but she was the exception. When I gathered the flock to take them into the sanctuary, I could not remember the names of the lavender sheep. I asked a few folks I thought might possibly remember and they did not. I searched my memory, I knew their names were something sweet and silly, but to no avail. So I settled on renaming them and doing so publicly, on Facebook.

Naturally, once their pictures and new names were on Facebook, I went back and reread the post that introduced them, and there, to my surprise were their original names. Too late, I am not renaming them again, I do not want to cause an identity crisis among the flock. I can’t even blame COVID, just time and age (mine).

Okay, they are cute, but why are they there?

There is a short answer to this; they give me a place to look when I sing, when I talk, and they make me smile. Because they are generously present and genuinely attentive, I don’t feel as though I am preaching to an empty room. Although, one of my colleauges who saw my pictures on Facebook said she thought Bath-sheepba was nodding off. I had to admit that Bath-sheepba might have been suffering from “long winded preacher” syndrome.

What would a service for this flock look like?

There are times when services are planned around special needs or a special focus. I want this service to be inclusive of both flocks, the folks in their cars or at home and the flock in the sanctuary. The opening song would be “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” (words attributed to Dorothy A. Thrupp, 1836, Music by William B. Bradbury, 1859) The scriptures would be the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is My Shepherd…) and the Gospel would be John 10: 11 “I am the good shepherd…” They love hearing about the good shepherd, it comforts them. All of that coupled with their favorite Christmas song, The Friendly Beasts. https://youtu.be/fWWIBtVq6lI

I have heard a rumor that their favorite all time song is The Wiffenpoof song, and when the sanctuary is empty, they can be heard to sing, “We’re poor little lambs who have gone astray…bah, bah, bah.” They are pretty bashful though, they will not sing with me.

Not all of the sheep were strong enough to make the journey from my home to the church and they make up the homebound flock, who are eager to hear the word proclaimed online, or in a practice run, snug in my office. They don’t seem to mind and not one has been heard to utter “Bah-humbug” in response to my sermons, so I am grateful. And they do their best to help keep me from taking myself too seriously!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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The Homebound Flock, waiting for the online service to load.

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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My Word of the Year

Many of the bloggers that I follow use a WOTY, a Word of the Year in their writing. I have read those posts with interest and considered following suit for 2021. Some have been able to incorporate pictures that demonstrate their WOTY https://debs-world.com/ (Deb’s World, for instance).

I wondered how I would know what word to choose? Would I choose something serious, or timely? My word should be something that would help point me in a forward direction. One thing I knew for sure, it would be important to choose wisely. While I wasn’t quite sure how I would incorporate it into my life or blog, it seemed like it would make a good occasional feature for The Beach Girl Chronicles.

I wish I had made notes of the words I considered and cast off. Perhaps like a high school youth, who hesitated to make a commitment in case a better idea came along, I shied away from getting stuck with a word that might pale by comparison to THE word. Yet, nothing was coming anyway.

I almost despaired of finding a word when the funniest thing happened. My Word found me! I was not sure such a thing could happen, until it did. In a moment of clarity and levity there was my word, and not a doubt in my mind either!

How it happened

Messy Church is an international and intergenerational Christian movement www.messychurchusa.org and www.messychurch.org.uk that has become an important part of my pastoral ministry. A few weeks before Christmas I received an email from one of our national leaders containing some Christmas Song lyrics that had been re-written by our founder Lucy Moore (MessyChurch UK). I started to sing the first one and was shocked to hear the sound of my own laughter.

It may have been one of those things where “You had to be there” to appreciate the humor in the moment. So, I won’t replicate them here. Suffice it to say though, that the moment of laughter brought my word along with it. JOY!

Picture of Christmas decorations, ed and black flannel cloth and the word "JOY" in the center.
Photo by Brigitte Tohm from Pexels

It was not the first time that the word had caught my attention. One of my neighbors has the word JOY in lights on their roof. I had noticed it several evenings while walking the dog. When I saw the word on their roof, using it for my WOTY did not occur to me. I was more curious about whose house it was, why they chose the word, and if I would have the nerve to ask what it meant to them?

For whatever reason, some nights the word is lit and you can see it for several blocks away, and other nights not. When I had chosen my WOTY, or rather it had chosen me, I quickly thought of Comedian Bill Engvall and his trademark line “Here’s Your Sign!”

I am a bit of a smart alec now and then (you hadn’t noticed, I’m sure) and I like church signs, professional pre-occupation perhaps. Two of my favorite church sign messages are “If you are looking for a sign from God, this is it!” and also the one that says “Sign broken, message inside!” I admit, after having a word choose me, and after noticing my neighbor’s roof again, that “sign from God” thing really caught my attention.

Why Joy and not Happiness?

They are not the same thing. Joy is hopefully deeper and not fleeting or dependent on circumstances. Christians are supposed to “Rejoice in the Lord!” (Philippians 4:4-8) and Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The Joy of the Lord is your strength.” These are just a few of many quotes from the Bible, New Testament and Old Testament (The Hebrew Scriptures).

The number of times any given word appears in the Bible will vary depending on translation and versions. But according to one online source, “Joy” appears 114 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and 68 times in the New Testament. That is from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, my personal favorite. So biblically speaking, joy is dependent up on God, God’s self, not on our circumstances. It is about relationship.

The thought does beg the question though, what was in the minds of the Founding Fathers when they included “the Pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence? I am pretty sure that would be its own study. I also suspect that current definitions of Happiness would vary greatly from the original intent.

picture of art supplies with the words "Choose JOY" in the foreground.
Photo by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels

Why JOY? I put that question to my neighbors and here is their gracious response: “Here is what Joy means to us: You have to choose JOY every day. YOU are the only one that can make YOU happy. As a community, during a pandemic, we came together and we chose JOY! It is certainly our word of this year, too. Joy is something that you choose! During this time it’s so easy to focus on the negative. We all have to look for joy and choose it!

My neighbors, Shane and Jill Nickerson, are community leaders; he is the town Mayor and she is the Vice President of the Borough Council and active in the local Chamber of Commerce. In truth, Jill probably wears a lot more hats than I know. They are part of a team of leaders and local business owners, who have poured energy into our community, seeking and coordinating volunteers to help meet all kinds of needs, instituting a mask wearing campaign “Wear Kindness” and many other initiatives. I wrote about this a little bit in a previous post “My Christmas Wish for 2021”

I agree with my neighbors; Joy is a choice, in a similar way that love is a choice. The focus of the world is on love is as an emotion, but that kind of emotion can be fleeting and flimsy. The choices of love and joy are crucial to our being able to stand up under the pressures of the marathon that has become COVID.

An electric sign with colorful letters and the words "Make This ay Geat!"
Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pexels

I believe our community has done so well with this because of the marathon outlook and a refusal to give up or give in. Rather, the focus is on creative possibility, and joy. The joy of making a difference, the joy of celebrating life in the midst of some discouraging times and the choice to live and model Joy.

I do not yet know how this will work out in my own life, but I will be paying attention for anything shareable. One small part of my plan is that I got a few Christmas cards with the word “Joy” on them, so I will keep them in plain sight as a reminder. Because you know, “Out of sight, out of mind!”

‘Let us not become weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9)

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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#Stronger Than the Cookie; The Home Stretch

This morning when I stepped on the scale, it smiled at me and did not groan. I nicknamed my scale Henrietta a few months ago, when I was getting ready to take her on vacation. I had great plans for Henrietta and a series of pictures I had planned to take and show off: Henrietta belted in the back seat with a face mask and bottle of hand sanitizer at the ready, Henrietta with her googly eyes peering over the edge of the canvas bag, Henrietta, sitting demurely at the table in a restaurant, while I make healthy choices.

Unfortunately, our trip was cut short, and all those ideas were just missed photo-ops. Still, taking Henrietta with me on vacations is part of my plan. She helps to keep me honest and aware.

Picture of a woman on a scale
she wears a white robe and her hands are raised in  hope
Photo by Diva Plavalaguna from Pexels

Henrietta has been my faithful companion, a foot-soldier in my weight loss campaign. This morning when I got on the scale, I thought I heard her let out a shriek of joy, though in reality it was me. This morning when I got on the scale it read 160.2 pounds. In all of my public sharing and confessional narratives, I have carefully avoided sharing that I began this journey at 200 pounds on June 1st. Not my highest ever weight, but my consistently high weight.

My weight loss journey is not over, but I think I am at a turning point. In consultation with my physician, I have reset my goal to 150, with the possibility of going just a few more pounds after that.

I am at a point, where I need to change up some of my food so I don’t get bored. I try to use variety, but I still remain a pretty picky eater. Again, I have not used any special foods, just foods I ordinarily eat, minus, of course chocolate chip cookies and chocolate candy. But I have had homemade fudge and cranberry bread and gingerbread loaf, so not doing without as much as making careful, measured choices.

In my last post I shared about meeting myself in the kitchen doorway. I did some, not all of the baking that I wanted to do in the days leading up to Christmas. I made choices about some baking gifts. I did make one batch of cranberry crunch that I shared with friends and kept a few pieces for myself. I did only what was in my heart to do. I made two batches of cookies for my husband and some Christmas sampler baskets for some friends, and wrote some sermons (a pastor’s busy time of year, you know!)

I could not have done nearly so well without the supportive community of bloggers, close personal friends and my program (still not naming it, sorry!) and my weight loss coaches. One of many things that I have learned though, is that numbers are not the only measure of success.

picture of clothes in my closet

If you blush easily, you might skip this next bit of info! I can wrap a towel around myself after my shower and close it, no gaps!

I have two jumpers that I love that I have had for about 15 years. Pretty sure they were hand-me-downs when I got them. I haven’t been able to wear them, but I can now. One is a deep navy jumper with buttons all the way down, and the other is a simple denim jumper. Those two jumpers are the only older dresses I have kept, except for storytelling costumes. I have bought some new clothes, in slow stages, but really excited to be able to wear those jumpers again.

I seldom wear dresses for worship, because of the microphone. I have to clip the microphone battery pack to the back of the dress at the neck, which is most uncomfortable.

Two years ago I bought a new winter coat, I think it was a 2X. I could not fasten it, so walking the dog, or anywhere else, wearing layers was crucial. I can fasten the coat now.

My Mother’s Coat

My mom started sewing when she was in fourth grade and she sewed all of her life. Her last project was a coat that she had stitched together. The lining was cut out, but not stitched together. Before she was able to sew the lining, she took a turn for the worse and went down hill very fast; in six weeks she was gone. That was 1994.

I kept the coat and the lining, not knowing what I would be able to do with it. I bought myself a sewing machine for a retirement present to me, but I do not sew, not like she did. I carried that coat with me through three moves. Sometime, around 2007, I got brave. I have a very good friend who had a friend who was a seamstress. I took her the coat and lining and asked if she thought she could finish it.

Picture of a turquoise wool  blend woman's coat
Mom’s coat

Mom had stitched three layers of stitching around the sleeves, down the arms and the front panels of the coat; one row each, perhaps for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Connie was able to do the work. The only change she made to the coat itself was to add buttonholes and buttons.

The picture above, does not do it justice. It is a pretty turquoise wool blend. When I slipped my arms into those sleeves and put the coat on when she finished, I felt like my mom had wrapped me in a big hug.

picture of mom and me outside the Union Villa, Onset Ma 1968

I cannot tell you what a joy it is to be able to wear that coat again.

The journey continues and once I meet my goal, the journey intensifies as I do my best to live into maintenance and more healthy changes.

Thank you for patiently joining me on the journey for all these updates.

#Stronger than the Cookie!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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My Christmas Wish for 2021

Conventional wisdom teaches us to not use the words “always” or “never” because most things seldom are always or never anyone thing. Even so, it is hard to imagine many people that won’t be happy to see the year 2020 leave. One can almost imagine an image where “Baby New Year 2021” Kicks Old Man 2020 out the door with all the exclamations of “Don’t let the door hit you on the backside!”

The trouble is, Baby New Year 2021 cannot make and keep the promises we most want. But I want to suggest that there are some things that we can do individually that can help make a difference.

I admit that I can get very down and discouraged at times. And yet, I think of myself as an optimist. I also try to look for things to compliment or otherwise express appreciation to checkout clerks, janitors and other service workers. My glass is generally half full and not half empty.

picture of a neon sign with words
Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi from Pexels

Doing What You Can: I have been repeatedly struck by the ways the stores, both chain stores and local stores have adapted and stepped up during the COVID Crisis to be able to stay open, in business and serve their customers and communities. They have had to think creatively and outside the box or re-think how they do what they do.

It is tempting, and I have seen it a lot, for people and organization to get so mired in the misery that they are unable to move forward. We all want life to be normal again, though I hesitate to say “get back to normal.” Maybe “Normal”, not unlike the golden days, was not all that good. At the same time, I shy away from pronouncements about what our “new normal” will look like.

Look for the opportunities and ways to meet needs

I live in a small community of amazing people who have been putting energy into helping the less fortunate in our community have access to food and other needs. They expanded the reach of the local food pantry and were able to put additional funds and grant money to help feed more people. They have also worked very hard at simply keeping spirits up, staying positive.

Picture of a Christmas ornament
Christmas Angel

Currently part of the outreach includes organizing meals for COVID patients in our community. They never stop trying to come up with something new. Most recently, Santa and Mrs. Claus coming into town on Fire trucks and a local Christmas Outdoor Decorating Contest and Snow man building contest. There is a community Facebook page that keeps current information and people are welcome to post needs. Folks are even allowed to grumble, although that is my least favorite part of the page because it seems unproductive. But it does allow people to express frustrations.

Develop skills for Critical Thinking Memes, tweets and Facebook posts can be good for speaking off the cuff, they can be fun and entertaining, but they can also block genuine and healing communication. I love Facebook and some memes, still haven’t gotten my head wrapped around Twitter. However, I do not base my political thoughts or religious theology on them. I want more depth. We need more depth. Part of it comes from reading sound resources, asking good questions and not accepting ideas uncritically. Fact Check and question, is this really true?

Learn to Agree to Disagree Agreeably This is an important ability to learn. It seems to be in short supply. But the likelihood that you will change the mind of a friend, neighbor or stranger, whose opinions, religious views or politics are totally opposite yours, is slim. So why not resolve to listen deeply, and seek common ground and when all else fails, agree to disagree.

Ask “Why” ” Why Do You Think That? ” and “Where does that Come from?” often. If you want an easy way to determine bias, in newspapers or social media, pay attention tot he picture of individuals that accompany the articles. For instance, pictures that accompany articles or posts that favor President Trump, are going to show him calm, or commanding. The pictures that accompany articles or posts that are against him, will be unflattering at best, and maybe a pose that is menacing, or comical. You can apply this rule of thump to any national or international politician or personality. Call it trite, but a picture can be worth more than a thousand words. The pictures that are chosen can speak volumes.

picture of glas jars and bottles on shelves
Photo by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

Do not use labels when talking about people. If out of all the things on this list, I could only have one wish for 2021 and beyond, it would be this. Do not use labels. Stop it! Labels are for cans or jars. People deserve better. As soon as you label someone conservative, or far right, or left or radical, you have demeaned them, minimized who they are and blocked conversation. Instead of labeling people politically, or religiously, why not simply use their names? Why not say, my cousin John thinks that we should do one thing, but my neighbor Jim thinks there is a better way?

I believe that exploring what your cousin John thinks or what your neighbor suggests and asking them why they think that could be productive. But losing labels and inflammatory language is essential. THat is what I think anyway,

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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My Other Car…is a Ford too!

Have you seen the bumper stickers that proclaim, “My other car is… a Cadillac” or fill in the blank? It could say anything, lots of versions of that statement. My other car is…a boat, my other car is a junker. I don’t really have another car, although it is true, both of our family vehicles are Fords.

It’s really about writing. Pretty sure I found my “voice” in my first creative writing class in college. (Late bloomer, 1997) It has gotten a lot of exercise in the year since I started my blog, but my “voice” has also had ten years of graduate and post graduate studies, and many more years of writing sermons and newsletter notes, a life time of story telling, and something else, “my other car.”

My “Other Car” I started writing and performing (biblical) character monologues in worship in the fall of 2008. It started with one simple question that I learned to ask in my later years in seminary: “If this person could speak for herself, tell us about her life, what might she say?”

For instance, if you are familiar with the Bible story of The Samaritan Woman (John 4:1-42) you have probably heard numerous preachers or Sunday School teachers say that she was immoral (she was married five times and lived with a man who was not her husband)!

Some cite as proof of her immorality the fact that she went to the well at noon, at the hottest part of the day, when she had the least opportunity to run into anyone from the community. However, the way homes were built in those days, in an almost cul-de-sac fashion, with shared cooking areas, it is not likely she could have left her home without being observed at any point in the day. That argument, does not hold water.

Picture of a bible with a pair of glasses on it.
Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

The Well Have you ever started to make a cake or a casserole, or embark on some other project, only to realize at the outset that you are missing a key ingredient? You leave everything lay, grab your car keys and wallet and make haste to the store. I can think of several different reasons the woman may have needed (more) water in the middle of the day.

Jesus does not accuse her of sin, or immorality, rather he touches on an important fact of her life. For instance, there was a practice in biblical times called “Levirate marriage.” In Levirate marriage, a man could be required to marry his brother’s widow and to provide her with a child, in the name of the deceased brother. Marriage was social security for women. It is possible to imagine a situation where a widow or divorced woman might need to seek the security of another marriage or relationship consecutively.

Recently, a United Methodist preacher, writer whom I respect, referred to The Samaritan Woman as being divorced five times. It is possible, even remotely, but women in that time and place did not have the power to divorce men and all a man had to do to divorce his wife was to simply say, “I divorce you.” If she was divorced five times, it was not likely that she initiated it; in any event her situation speaks more to personal sorrow than shame.

God Talk Some writers and preachers cite the fact that when Jesus got too close to the truth of her life, she tried to distract him by talking about the Temple and proper location for worship. That makes me saddest of all. Why is it so difficult to say, the Samaritan woman was engaging in a theological discussion? She was talking with God about God.

Have you ever played that game when someone asks, “If you could talk to anyone in history, who would it be?” Have you ever had the joy of talking with someone you trust and admire about the most important aspects of your work or hobby, knowing that they understand? Or have you ever attempted to question your faith, only to be told that you were out of line?

Here she was, this Woman at the Well, and she asked questions about The Messiah, about Worship and Jesus did not treat her with contempt, he talked with her! It was a conversation; a holy conversation.

Why is it one seldom hears a sermon that says, ‘Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah, when he said those amazing “I am” words, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:26). How often is she credited for being the first woman to announce the Good News about Jesus (John 4:29)? For centuries, it has been easier to dismiss her as immoral, and cagey.

So how does this work? I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But when we open the pages of our Bibles, we enter into a world and culture that is vastly different than the world we live in. We cannot help to bring our own twentieth and twenty-first century assumptions to the reading of the text. Those assumptions come from a variety of places; sermons and Vacation Bible School memories, Hollywood movies, what we have always thought, even if we cannot identify the source of those thoughts.

I try to work my way backwards through those things to the basic story, like a “story archeologist” carefully identifying and gently sweeping away the assumptions that have stuck to the story, to get to the central character and narrative as it is told in Scripture. I don’t change the text, but try to add information that comes from a variety of biblical disciplines.

For instance, many characters in the Bible are not named. It is probably true of more women than men. Sometimes, I give a character a name. For instance in writing a story about Simon Peter’s wife, it seemed reasonable to give her a name. In another case, rather than giving the character a name, I had the character say to the congregation, “you probably would not be able to pronounce my name. Freely translated it means ‘She who was meant to be cherished.’

close up image of typewriter
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Why do I write these stories? I have witnessed several presentations of character monologues that played fast and loose with facts, perhaps in the effort to make the characters relatable and up to date. I understand, but the nerd in me just cringes. I like fiction, I do, but I always want to know where things come from. I want footnotes and a bibliography!

I write to clarify white-washed stories, to replace caricature with character, to relate to them and God’s action in their lives. In writing, I try to interweave the best biblical scholarship available to me, that helps explore the daily life situation of the character, all the better to see God at work in the story.

I believe that it is possible to tell stories that are authentic to the biblical text and context of the character, and at the same time to blend some humor and pathos. When my characters come to church to visit and tell their stories, crossing boundaries of time and space, some poetic license is needed.

Biblical Storytelling For me, these character monologues are a form of biblical storytelling. Biblical storytelling takes many forms, and it is nothing new. As early as the third or fourth centuries, authors and artists have sought to tap into the drama in the Biblical narrative to help people learn the stories and connect with them. Broadly, I would include stained glass windows, music, poetry, painting and other art forms that focus on the biblical narrative as forms of Biblical Storytelling.

Another favorite form of biblical storytelling comes from the Network of Biblical Storytellers. Their focus is on learning to tell Bible Stories by heart. I try to do that on average once a month, but sometimes I procrastinate. When I write a monologue, I still have to learn it in order to present it, even though I wrote it. Both forms of storytelling are embodied and incarnational and lively. Most of the feedback I have received over the years has affirmed the effectiveness of the art. I try to not do monologues more than three times a year, so that the format does not get old.

Why I started this blog Because the memoir stories of home, my parents and Onset Beach burned in my heart, and imagination, bubbled up inside me and I felt like I would burst if I did not write them. But I also started the blog because I would very much like to publish a book with my character monologues, and scripts. I believe that other pastors or drama teams could perform them in worship. It is hard to get a publisher’s attention without a “platform” and blogging is a platform.

Most of my characters are women, as one friend calls them “my girls”. I have written scripts for St. Nicholas, at least three different stories for Mary, the Mother of Jesus. My favorite character was Miriam, the sister of Moses. I have also written scripts for Queen Vashti (the Queen before Esther), Rahab the Prostitute, Gomer, the wife of Hosea and many others. Most recently, I wrote and presented a visit from an unnamed woman, who was a passenger on the Mayflower, for a special Thanksgiving service. It wasn’t the sermon, but it was in every sense the message. Just to give you an idea of the cast of characters.

picture of a woman standing next to a story quilt
Thesis Defense Day 2016 at Colgate Rochester Crozzer Divinity School, Rochester, NY Photo by Joellyn Tuttle, Story Quilt by Susan Hoover O’Brien

Okay, Michele, which is your favorite “car?” The honest answer is both. I think my writer’s “voice” is consistent in both forms, and probably my pastor’s voice is in there too, in both places. I made a conscious choice to do a blog that was memoir, not specifically religious; but I bring my whole self to writing the blog, a love of scholarship, creativity, humor, honesty, faith in God, deep longing for home, and a passion for telling stories.

Blogging Anniversary One year ago today, I wrote the introduction, set up my Word Press Account and hit Publish. I shook with fear, excitement and hope, and did so the first several posts I published. This blogging adventure has brought so much more than I ever expected; new relationships and friendships, learning opportunities, a deeper understanding of life in other countries in this time of COVID. Because of the rich variety of bloggers I follow and have come to know, I want to name them, but would forget someone important. But if you have been reading my posts and I have been reading and commenting on yours, then you know who you are. My deepest thanks for your encouragement, example and community.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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#Stronger Than the Cookie: Meeting Myself in the Kitchen Doorway

I love to bake, I have since I was a teenager. While I did not roast my first turkey until my early thirties, I made my first homemade desert when I was fourteen. I made homemade fudge, with the recipe from the Kraft Marshmallow jar. I made it as a gift for a friend’s mother and it turned out right. For me, “baking + compliments = do this more often.” Who doesn’t like to get compliments for something they have made?

I did not make too many homemade cakes in those days but used package mixes. They do save time and most older cake recipes, even the simple ones call for alternating dry and wet ingredients and there are days that seemed like too much work.

In those years, I would make cakes, ostensibly as gifts, although if the cakes were gifts for my family, that meant I got to eat them; one slice at a time! I do remember making a home made chocolate cake for my dad one year. Looking back though, I am not sure if it was his favorite, or if I just wanted it to be. Pretty sure dad’s favorite was Jim Beam, but I was not yet at the point that I incorporated alcohol into my baking!

I did in later years though, one of my holiday traditions was making rum balls, and I had a “doctored” cake recipe that was basically an excuse to use rum in a cake. Yum. The cake was drenched in rum. That was in my pre-pastor days and United Methodism is a dry denomination, although many United Methodists don’t know it!

Baking gifts I do not remember my mom doing a lot of baking except at Christmas time and the menu at The Union Villa was pretty straight forward; pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, meatball sandwiches, grinders (subs) and stuffed quohogs. But at the beginning of the season for opening night and the close of the season, she went all out, and making food delicious and attractive was the name of the game. It inspired me.

Picture of 7 snow ballcupcakes in a foil tray.
One of my favorite frosting covered creations. No recipe. Make cupcakes, cover in frosting, roll in coconut! Yum!

I was also inspired by pictures of food, so if a recipe in a cookbook had a picture, I would likely choose that. There was a gorgeous chocolate chip layer cake in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, (the 1969 version) the middle layer was a butterscotch filling and the top layer was a smooth chocolate glaze. I made it to take to a church bingo game, for the refreshment stand.

When the layers did not turn out right the first time, the regular size chips sank to the bottom of the pan, I bought mini chips and started over.

Baked Alaska? Easy and elegant looking. I loved a challenge. It did not take me long into adulthood to use baking and eating as a coping mechanism. A bad one for sure. My mother once said, “Nobody knows what Michele thinks, except the refrigerator.” She was right.

The urge to bake

It is no accident that certain foods are considered “comfort foods” and my comfort foods usually had frosting. But I also learned to bake, because in my youth, I thought it was my only talent.

In my single parent years, I would often bake gifts for Christmas. One of the favorite gifts I received from a member of our parish was a box containing five pound bags of flour, white sugar as well as powdered sugar and brown sugar. Baking gifts was practical in some ways, but even in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, ingredients were costly.

It wasn’t just about eating though. I could bake to avoid doing other things. I could bake if I was bored. I baked for fun, and I taught my children how to cook.

Baking sabbaticals

Fast forward fourteen years; it took me almost eight years to get through college and seminary, as a full-time student, while serving three churches part time. My amazing husband did most of the cooking during those years. (He still does the lion’s share). I cooked for Buck Season and big holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

I would keep some cake mixes in the pantry. Now and then I would get the urge to bake something. But I opened the pantry door, took one look inside, and closed it just as quickly. It looked too much like work, and there was always an exam to study for, a paper to write, and a sermon to prepare.

Gingerbread houses

I love gingerbread houses and began making them around 1993. My houses are simple, and while I admire the complex structures that I see in magazines, movies and cooking shows, I will stick with simple.

In the early days I made some to try to sell at work or craft fairs, but I quickly settled into making a few for gifts and for my own enjoyment. But the kids are all out on their own and no one is close.

About fourteen years ago I decided to share some gingerbread joy. No kids at home? No problem. I scheduled a gingerbread workshop for the churches I was serving. I provided the gingerbread pieces, so homemade gingerbread kits, and the participants were to provide everything else.

A white round table with10 gingerbread houses on it.
Picture from 2019 Gingerbread party, photo by Deb McGhee

The first one was fun and although I aimed it at the adults, the kids had a good time too. So gingerbread house workshops were a fun tradition that I continued through three appointments (three sets of church assignments).

It was always a cooperative venture, but I made the gingerbread. However, in 2013 I went back to school to get my Doctor of Ministry Degree, while serving two churches full time. The other youth group leaders and I reverted to splitting the cost of ready made kits, but the kids continued to enjoy making the houses, and I enjoyed it too.

Motivation While I like to bake, I generally need a reason, especially now that I am working very hard at being #Stronger Than the Cookie. It has been five and a half months since my wake-up call, since my last cookie or candy bar and I am very careful about what I eat.

I have not lost my love of cakes, especially cakes with lots of frosting, candy or cookies. I am just not eating them. We are not on speaking terms. I still like to bake, but have to have a good reason. Company is a good reason, fall, cranberries, Thanksgiving, the Christmas Cookie season (that is a thing, right?) are all good reasons in my book.

I have not done the marathon of baking that I aspired too, because other commitments take priority. Sometimes, I underestimate how long a task will take. But I have managed to make cranberry muffins, molasses ginger cookies, zucchini walnut muffins (Check Esme Salon @esmelsalon.com ), peanut butter fudge, and cranberry bread, spread out over the last two weeks.

Still on the game plan are chocolate pecan fudge, more cranberry bread, raisin-filled cookies and some gingerbread, one batch of gingerbread, not five this year. Oh, and cranberry crunch! Cranberry crunch is basically date nut bars, only, swap out a can of whole berry cranberry sauce for the date nut filling and top with the remaining oatmeal crumb concoction.

The things I am expecting to eat, I have used a Splenda blend, to cut back on calories and carbohydrates and I do that for my husband too.

My informal and unscientific survey

I struggled and puzzled over my urge to bake, knowing that if I am not careful, I could undo all the good I have been able to achieve. So I posed my questions to Facebook Friends and to Readers of my Beach Girl Chronicles Facebook page. “Why do you bake? What calls you to the act of baking? Do you bake just for yourself and your family or do you share it? Are there certain times of year that you bake?

People were generous with their answers. Most of my friends or acquaintances bake seasonally and for their families. One woman I know bakes often, year round, mostly from scratch and for her family and the freezer. I always look forward to her posts and pictures.

A few people admitted to a sense of “Call” when it comes to baking. Perhaps not so much vocation, but a definite tug or nudge in the direction of the kitchen. Remember, this was an informal and unscientific survey. The most impressive award goes to a woman who is a committed baker, who bakes all year round, but especially now and gives away easily half of what she bakes to local groups of first responders.

Can you Trust a Skinny Cook?

I am determined to make my cranberry crunch and have a piece or two, and give the rest away. It is better to have occasional treats, than to be totally depraved. I mean, deprived. My goal continues to be healthier, not skinny. I have to believe that I will continue to succeed and put into practice the things that I have learned.

I will continue to weigh and measure my food as opposed to estimating it. This practice may sound tedious to some, but my husband needs to weigh and measure every carb, so it is really no extra work for me to weigh and measure my own food. It eliminates guesswork and mistakes.

I can make special treats just that, special, occasional visitors to my kitchen, not permanent residents. It is a journey, that involves seeking balance in food, and in activity.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, phone, selfie and indoor
Thirty-five pounds down, five more to go, then decisions.

I am not finished learning or losing weight. There are still those questions of sugar addiction to deal with, and I have to figure out what I need to do to keep my weight at healthy place. I am still a vintage chic on a journey of discovery and grateful for the journey.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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#Stronger Than the Cookie; Saying Goodbye to My 2X Clothes!

The conventional wisdom about clothes and weight loss is, to get rid of those clothes that no longer fit, so that you are tempted to grow back into them.

I understand that to a point, but I have pretty cheap genes (not cheap jeans, but maybe those too). I am not a packrat by any means, but I hate to throw something away that is still in good condition, or might be needed again.

The obvious solution of course is to give those clothes away. Someone can use them, why hoard them in a box or a bag in your closet? Yet, ladies especially, how many times have you saved a dress or other item of clothing because it’s a) a special memory (I confess, I still have the robe I wore for my college graduation and I have all three hoods) b) it might come back into style and c) if I just lose ten pounds it will fit!

Pretty sure no one who has intentionally lost weight wants to grow back into those old clothes, but I have saved extra large size clothes out of financial guilt.

My situation is a bit different now. In retirement, in my retirement home, I have pledged to myself to not keep more clothes than will fit in my dresser, my closet and one tote for off season clothes.

Picture of clothes hanging in a woman's closet
That’s about the size of it.

In addition I have two winter coats and two clergy robes (one that will soon fit, YAY!) and four costume dresses and assorted tunics, belts and veils, which I don for in character biblical storytelling skits. Some of those fit in a small closet at the top of the steps that also contains a metal shelving unit, an ironing board and my walker from my knee replacement days, that I hope to not need anytime soon.

Status update:

As of this writing, I am down 29 pounds. It is not a fast process, and I recently hit a strange plateau where my weight went up and down so often it looked like a sewing machine zig-zag stitch on my weight graph.

For the most part, I have maintained a 1200 calorie a day total. And I walk the dog three times a day. I still love chocolate and hate exercise. Hmm! I should put that on a tee shirt. My last cookie or chocolate candy was June 16th or there about.

Picture of a bushel bsket with a variety of fruit and vegetables, surrounded by other fruits and vegetables in the background
Photo by John Lambeth from Pexels

Yet, I have not felt deprived. I have worked hard to vary what I eat so that I don’t get bored. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I am eating fruits and vegetables 3-5 times a day. I recently shared this with a friend and she did not believe me, thought I was making it up.

She wasn’t being mean, she knows I do not like fruit all that much. She has said to me on more than one occasion, ‘If you had been in Eden, we would not have had a problem, because you don’t eat fruit!’ But I have assured her each time, that she was wrong, there probably would have been a chocolate chip cookie tree, and we would still be in the same boat; out of Eden.

Back to my clothes:
I don’t remember when I first noticed that my clothes were getting baggy, but it was probably at least two months in. I did not rush out and buy new clothes (cheap genes, remember?) But one day, I saw a skirt that caught my eyes. I used to live in skirts, but haven’t worn them in 8 or 9 years. I bought it and found myself thinking that it was time to go shopping for skirts.

I realized that my 2x jeans were too baggy and decided to shop for some 1x jeans. I found a pair in the bottom of my dresser, that I didn’t realize I had. I am glad I found them before I bought more, because they too were baggy. Yay! The funniest discovery among my old clothes was a pair of size 14 dress pants. When I held them up to myself before trying them on, I marveled that they dragged on the floor. Why on earth would I have bought pants that were too long? I didn’t. But I am 70 and have apparently lost 3 inches in height.

Picture of an old typewrier with the word "Goals" printed on the paper in the typewriter carriage
Photo by Markus Winkler from Pexels

Short Term Goals

Right now, my goal is to lose 11 more pounds. That won’t put me very low on the BMI index, and may still put me in the overweight category, but I think it will be okay. My goal has never been to be skinny, just healthy. That will give me a 40 pound weight loss and at that point, I think putting my energy into maintaining the loss will be important. After all, I have succeeded at least 4 times in my adult life in losing this much weight. I have not yet succeeded in keeping it off; until now.

I know that I will need to be careful and thoughtful about my food choices and level of activity, but I also feel that I have learned a lot, about myself, about food. I feel like I am poised for success. I anticipate that I will add 300-400 calories to my daily intake and continue to explore other aspects of healthy living. (I hate exercise, remember?)

There is a good chance that I may meet my goal by mid-December. But you can never tell when there is a plateau around the corner. And something else is around the corner too, Thanksgiving and Christmas. That calls for careful choices. I am not obsessive compulsive, but I already know what I want to have for Thanksgiving Dinner and what I am willing to pass up. As much as I hate exercise, I love carbs, I do! I can skip homemade rolls (I love homemade rolls and love to make them) and even skip the pumpkin pie. But turkey, my mom’s oyster dressing and cranberry sauce and some kind of green vegetable will be on my plate.

Picture of cranberry bread, with one slice on the plate
Cranberry Orange Nut Bread

What About Christmas Cookies?

My husband is an amazing man. He can eat one cookie, and share it with the dog! I keep telling Sheba I don’t share, and I still like my cookies to have friends. But there are other carbohydrates I would rather enjoy, so I am hoping to make some mini loaves of cranberry bread and cranberry orange scones for the freezer. My big will power question will be, can I make cookies and not eat them? Making raisin-filled cookies for my husband is a simple act of love. I don’t like them, they don’t tempt me. But beyond that I may have to figure out why I think I need to make cookies in the first place. Not there yet.

Ongoing Struggles and learning:

As much progress as I have made with my weight, I still trip over the same mistakes. I still eat too fast. I have figured out the clue to fix that, but haven’t mastered it yet. What is that clue? PUT DOWN THAT FORK! I have spent much of my life confusing my fork for a shovel. I am trying to consciously remember to put my fork down in between bites. I succeed about half the time. That is still progress.

Picture of a banquet table with place settings
Photo by Mat Brown from Pexels

I do not drink enough. I like hot drinks to be hot, and cold drinks to be ice cold. I know that I need to be drinking more, but I get caught up in what I am doing and forget to stop and get a drink. When I write, or when I am working, I can get laser focused on my task, even though I am generally easily distracted. So remembering to get up and refresh my drink or walk around the room or up some steps just is not on my radar.

Because I am eating many foods I normally would, and some foods that I like but had avoided, I don’t think I have ever felt like this was a diet. My focus has been on healthy eating and protecting myself from the possibility of diabetes or cardiac issues. Eating cookies won’t make you diabetic, but I have had risk factors for years. So all this work goes to eliminating at least one risk factor.

In addition to some new clothes and forcing myself to bag up the things that are in good condition to give away, there have been other fun discoveries. I have collar bones! Who knew? But there they are in the mirror. I have a waist line! Wow! I could probably take darts or tucks in my tee shirts! I feel pretty! Being overweight is not necessarily a barrier to a good self image for everyone. But I can tell you it has been a long time since I have felt pretty or liked who I saw in the mirror. Color me grateful!

The journey continues, so I will continue to let you know how it is going. I am still following a specific plan, but my writing is not about getting you to do what I am doing. It is simply to share the journey in the hopes that you might see yourself in my words and experiences, and find hope here too, and laughter. Always, laughter.

Not holding back the tide!

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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One Pastor’s View of Weddings

Anybody remember The Church Lady from Saturday Night Live? I have worked very hard throughout my ministry to not be that person, that church lady, that church pastor.

In the twenty four years I have been a pastor, I have officiated at over 100 weddings. Not a large amount, really. Many of the weddings have been couples who wanted a church wedding, but did not have a church connection. I have done several weddings for parishioners and those were most special because I knew the bride and groom and their families.

Picture of a white church building with the doors open and two groomsmen outside the doors.
Photo by Michael Morse from Pexels

Some churches and pastors, will not perform weddings for people who are not members of their churches. But I have chosen to do the weddings, rather than close the door of the church on a young couple who might never darken the door of a church again, if they are turned away at such an important moment in their lives.

A wedding is not a make or break evangelistic moment, not a place for an altar call. Yet, the way a clergy person and church respond to a couple can open a door, or firmly slam it shut. And let’s be honest, how many church members come to their own church only to be “hatched, matched and dispatched?” (baptized, married and buried)

Invite Us to Bridal Expos

Some clergy will not do weddings for non-members. Some will not marry couples who are living together. Some will not marry people who are divorced. Sometimes those are denominational requirements and other times it is the discretion of the clergy. Some clergy will do weddings without any premarital counseling, but many of us are required to do premarital counseling. I always joke with couples and tell them I come with references (from couples I have married) and I haven’t lost a couple yet.

For those reasons, and others as well, I always feel a little dismissed when the annual bridal pages are printed in the local newspaper. Bridal magazines and even those issues that feature a variety of types of vendors, give a brief nod to clergy or officiants, with minimal information. It has made me wish that clergy could set up a clergy information vendor table at bridal fairs; not to sell anything, but to give information.

It is not unusual for a bride who wants to have a church wedding, set the wedding date, reserve the hall, engage a caterer, dj and even order invitations, before contacting the pastor of the church. When they do, they ask if the church is available. Can you say “putting the cart before the horse?”

Flower pails decorating pews in a church.
Pixaby by Pexels

If you start with the pastor and church availability, the other pieces will fall into place. But how do you set a date without us? It happens more time than you might think. Invite us to Bridal Shows!! I can only speak for myself, not other pastors and not other denominations, but I think it could be a helpful move.

A Church is not a Venue, it is a holy place; a church wedding is a worship service with prayers, promises, Bible readings, covenants and blessings. Some denominations consider marriage a sacrament (If that is an unfamiliar word, a church definition is, “A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace” I like to think of sacraments as something special that are “sacred meant” meant to be holy, an encounter with God).

Clergy and churches go together, at least in my denomination they do. Asking to use a church as a location for a wedding, without asking the pastor to officiate, is rude at best. Now, I realize that sometimes there might be someone special that you want to officiate, and that can be arranged, but a church is not a rental hall.

If none of this is appealing, you might ask yourself why having a church wedding is important to you. I ask this question of couples often, when they want to get married in a church but have only a slim connection with church, if any.

Many brides especially will say, “To get God’s blessing on our marriage (or wedding)” They might say, “my grandmother is a member here, or my grandmother was married here and my parents were married here…” When that is what they say, I generally suggest that a church wedding is an opportunity for them to consider what they believe about God and what they mean when they say, “to get God’s blessing…” and where God fits into their lives.

Most photographers include a picture of the couple with the pastor or officiant. I really do not like getting my picture taken. I come from a long line of unphotogenic women. I always oblige the request, but I wonder how many couples still have that picture lurking somewhere, or if they remember the name of the pastor who performed the service? I wonder if that photograph springs from a sense of polite obligation. And, forgive me, I wonder if that is the way “God’s role” in a service of Christian marriage is also viewed. I am not trying to be negative here, just honest.

Best Memories

Just as couples may want an officiant who knows them, some of my favorite weddings have been weddings of active parishioners. My best memories are of rare events, the one wedding where I got to pray with the groom and the groomsmen before the wedding.

A church altar set for communion with wedding decorations underneath the table
Celebrating the story of the wedding at Cana, with wedding cake for after church.

The few times (three) that we celebrated Holy Communion as part of the service. I served the congregation with the assistance of the bride and groom. I always like to use people’s names when I serve communion. I stood in the middle with the bread, and the bride was on one side of me and the groom the other, each holding a chalice. In each case as someone approached to receive communion, the bride or groom leaned close and told me the name of the person so that I could maintain that tradition.

Worst Memories: I am grateful that my worst memories are few. I realize that there are generations of people who have not grown up in the church and so are unfamiliar with church traditions and expectations; as a result, often a sense of the sacred is missing. Not out of any antagonistic motives, simply lack of experience. This is me, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That was made clear to me at a wedding reception, a few years ago. The photographer had digital pictures from the service on display, and I noticed a picture that she had taken of the couple exchanging rings. I could not figure out how she had gotten such a great angle, until I realized that she had climbed over the communion rail during the service, to get behind me to get the perfect “photo op”! She just did not realize, or care, that it was inappropriate.

Now, you might wonder how I could have missed that she had done that and it is a fair question. But I am pretty focused during a wedding, on the bride and groom.

The worst and saddest memory though, was the groom who wiped his bride’s lipstick (or her kiss) off his lips after their kiss near the end of the service. I do not know if they are still together. But I was both shocked and saddened.

Funniest memory: I always try to make each wedding as personal as possible. So part of the premarital counseling is spent talking about marriage, relationships, communication, forgiveness, and respect. We spend a lot of time on their vows. I also spend time getting to know the couple, so that their wedding is as personal as possible.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t retell some stories. One time I was searching for a story to use in my homily to stress to the bride and groom, that they had within themselves the power to have a happy and long lasting marriage. I used the story of the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Glenda, the good Witch, tells Dorothy that she always had the power to go home.

The bride’s young nieces were the flower girls, and when they heard me mention “The Wizard of Oz” they both got excited, because they knew the story. They caught me in a big error, apparently. The youngest flower girl leaned against her grandmother and whispered, “she forgot to tell about the flying monkeys!”

The Church Lady

I want to say that I do not have a snarky bone in my body. Ask anyone who knows me well, sarcasm is not in my genes. Usually. But I am human. Remember when I said that I hadn’t lost a couple yet? Well, maybe one. If so, it was the time when a prospective groom asked when the best time to see the church was, and I said, “10:30 Sunday morning.” It really is, but most couples want to see the church when it is empty. Or when he asked how long the service was going to take? They average twenty minutes, with nothing extra added. Unless there is special music or family members doing readings, the biggest variant in the length of the service is the size of the wedding party, how long it takes them to get down the aisle.

On balance, It is not unusual for pictures to take well over an hour after the service, in addition to pictures that are taken before the service. The reception will go on for hours. When asked, “how long is this going to take, anyway?” The most polite answer I can give is “as long as it takes.”

Photographic memories:

I do understand the quest for the perfect picture, and I admit that I have the best spot in the house. While all eyes are on the bride as she enters the room and comes down the aisle, I glance at her, but my eyes are on the groom. I watch him, watching her. It is often such a tender moment.

There was the time that the bride took a handkerchief and carefully wiped the perspiration from her groom’s forehead. It was such a loving gesture that I was almost undone by it.

I stand within three feet or less of the couple, with them facing me. I try to make sure that they and I have enough personal space. It is a delicate balance for an intimate moment. I do not use a microphone for weddings, even though I am not a loud speaker, because I often give instructions to the couple or say things to them that are not meant for the congregation at large. When the bride arrives at the front, I always tell her she looks beautiful. Sometimes, I just check in with the couple and ask if they are okay.

Picture of a bride and groom kissing, Bride's bouquet with white roses and with greens
Photo by Rocsana Nicoleta Gurza from Pexels

Call me old fashioned, but I always avert my eyes when they kiss. And one of my favorite moments of all, after all is said and done, is the blessing of the couple and the congregation. Then I announce: “Now that ‘Jim’ and ‘Martha’ have given themselves to each other, with the joining of hands, the exchanging of vows, and the giving and receiving of rings, I announce to you that they are husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Reality: a gift for our vow renewal 2/28/16 with the cake topers from our wedding in 1986

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“A Short Trip to Onset…is Better Than No Trip to Onset”

It is only in the later years of our marriage that my husband has left home to go hunting. While some of my in-laws have been ‘hunting widows” for years, I have not.

The first year Roger did this, I did not accompany him. But then I thought, I could go along for the ride, not the hunting. I could work on my thesis in the cabin while he was out, I could go into the nearest town or city, I could write, shop, bake and also visit friends.

There is something freeing about leaving home for vacation and if you are anything approaching a workaholic, you need to get away from the office. Even if it is your “happy place.”

About three years ago, his brother joined him for part of the hunt. We could not get the cabin we wanted for the whole week, so when our days at the cabin were done, I helped him to move into a yurt, a basic, somewhat less spacious accommodation than our cabin.

After helping him move in and his brother got his things unloaded, I got a comfortable hotel room in the nearest city. Then I spent the next few days visiting friends and making my way home.

I was not trying to be unfriendly, and I truly love my brother-in-law. I was pretty sure I did not want to bunk with the guys in a one-room, no running water, bathhouse down the hill type of situation. Especially when, if all parties sat on the edge of their beds, knees would touch.

They enjoyed it so much they decided to do it again for a whole week the next year. I made plans to visit friends and do some storytelling. It worked, no one felt left out.

The guys have continued to hunt together, now joined by our nephew. We both got to enjoy the week and I had some guilt-free time away.

Last year as they made their plans, I began to explore the possibility of spending that week at home, in Onset. Readers who have been following me know that that was the trip that fueled this blog and my writing.

I made similar plans for this year. I knew it would not be the same as last year, not as many firsts, but there is something about being at home in Onset that feeds my soul and comforts my heart.

I invited a good friend to come along on the journey. Donna, my friend, is also a retired United Methodist Pastor, also a writer, and also someone who loves the beach, the ocean, and other assorted bodies of water. We each have our own writing projects but several months ago we began a writing project together. The trip to Onset seemed like a good way to combine restoration, relaxation and writing.

Life is What Happens When You Are Making Plans

When I was young, even as a young adult, my ‘go to’ phrase was “I’ll be happy when…When I can go on my first date, when I can go back to public school, when I get my license, when I graduate…” It took some maturity on my part to realize that I would be missing out on a lot of life if I would only be happy when certain things happened.

In 1980, or there abouts, I was working part time, going to school full time and was a single parent to three children under the age of 8. During those crazy years, I came across a quote that was either from Dear Abby or her sister, Ann Landers. It read, “Life is what happens when you are making plans!” In an age before memes, that simple statement helped me so much in those busy years of my young life and the young lives of my children.

I had to be able to see that that busyness was my life. The goal of getting an associate degree, or maybe more, getting a job I was better suited to, all that was the future. But the present was picking up children from afterschool programming , studying for exams, writing papers, doing laundry; that was life in the present moment.

Last week, while my husband was making plans to leave on his hunting trip, loading up the truck, etc., he had a fall that changed everything.

Donna and I had gotten unpacked in set up in the apartment in Onset at 3:00 in the afternoon; 45 minutes later I got a phone call from my neighbor at home telling me that my husband had fallen and been injured and they had called an ambulance. “Don’t worry,” she said, “we will take care of Roger and he can call us and we will pick him up when he is discharged.

Knowing how much this trip meant to him, I hoped that he would be okay and would still be able to make the trip. About three hours later we got the word. The hip was broken and they were transferring him to another hospital. See what I mean? Sometimes life intervenes. Always, “life is what happens when you are making plans.”

The Journey is about more than the destination

Even though it became clear that we would need to pack up and return, the journey was not ruined, just shortened. Vacation hadn’t ended, it was still in process. As much as Onset means to me, the trip was not only about the destination, it was also about the journey.

We had great traveling weather up and back, easy roads, the foliage was beautiful, and the conversation never ending. Do not misunderstand we do not agree on everything or think the same on everything. For as much as we have in common, our backgrounds are very different. But we could entertain those differences, we could disagree without being disagreeable. We even talked about politics! Even though some of our plans did not work out, we remained undaunted.

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

Searching for Meaning

I think there is a lot to be said for searching for meaning in our life experience. Socrates (I think) said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I love that quote and I agree. I extend it to faith and religion. The unexamined faith is not worth having. I think it is important to think about “What you believe, why you believe it and where it comes from.” That is a “song” I sing often as a pastor.

I think often our culture encourages superficiality in this area, or quick fixes. Part of that superficiality, to my mind anyway, is an insistence on multi-tasking as a vital way of life. But multi-tasking can get in the way of thinking about what you are doing.

We are pastors, Bible Geeks and Theology nerds by passion and profession and the car was seldom quiet. We relished digging into scripture and all of those inviting stories and characters. But we fell into wondering, what does this mean? We had prayed and prepared diligently for the trip. Although there had been some obstacles, including COVID, it seemed clear that the way was open for us to make the trip. All the doors appeared to be open.

Yet, when we learned about my husband’s accident and injury, it was clear that we had to pack up and return. So we wondered, and pondered, were we wrong about making the journey in the first place? What was the lesson we were supposed to glean?

“A Short Trip to Onset …is Better Than No Trip to Onset”

I made the decision to wait one whole day before returning home. I was able to speak with my husband on the phone a few times. Surgery was scheduled for Saturday. I took a day to rest up and do some of the visits I had hoped to do. I got to see two of my cousins on Cape Cod, but I had to miss the other three that were making the trip, because they were not arriving until after I felt I had to leave.

We also had the opportunity to visit with one of my high school classmates, that I am just beginning to get to know and consider a new friend. Without taking you through every step of my 40 hour return visit, let me just say that it was compressed, packed and full of meaning.

I wanted some quality, if short, time on the beach and not knowing if I will actually be able to return, I wanted to spend some time at the Canal. I got to visit with a woman who was my best friend in my junior and senior years in high school. We have kept in touch sporadically over the years and it was our first meeting since 1973.

Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

We also found some time to focus on our writing, and as full as Friday was, some restful time before the return trip. We covered 1,000 miles in five days.

Here is part of what we learned, though I do not think it is all there was to the trip. When I wrote to a special friend and his wife to bewail the fact that we would have to delay our visit to another year, he wrote “A short trip to Onset is better than no trip to Onset.” That was a needed perspective. Rather than feel bad about plans that were cut short, Donna and I both celebrated that we got to make this trip. To that we added, ‘A cloudy day at the beach is better than no day at the beach.” and “one seafood dinner in Onset is better than no seafood dinners in Onset.”

I am not a “meant to be” kind of person, nor do I accept that often quoted phrase that “everything happens for a reason.” I think those assumptions can short circuit deep reflection and can lead to superficial conclusions. My opinion. Rather than complain about the shortened week, we marveled at all that it contained.

My Homecoming Tradition

view from the pier in Onset

I am not sure how the tradition started, except that in 1994 when we returned to Onset/Wareham for my mother’s burial and graveside service, I stopped at the pier on our way out of town. I had gotten 6 white carnations, which my husband, daughter and I discretely threw into the water in memory of my mom and dad.

The fishing boat and tour boats were gone. No one seemed to be in the Harbor Master’s office. I wasn’t sure this action was legal or if it was littering, but it sure was comforting.

I know the pier in Onset was not my first stop, because we arrived stressed and exhausted from the funeral service in Baltimore, getting to our hotel in Bourne about 10:00 p.m. But it was my last stop before leaving Onset and I had no expectation of a return.

But in 2018, my first trip back and every trip since, last year and last week, I begin and end my journey at the Onset Pier. It seems to summarize something. That vague something of memory and emotion and that view, that wonderful view; and I stand in that place and the tears flow, adding my own salt water to Onset Bay.

I try to hold all this gingerly and gently in my hands, always wanting one more visit, yet not assuming that it will happen. Savoring the journey and dwelling in gratitude and,

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Life Without a Dog

Friends of Sheba, please do not worry. She is alive and well and still part of the family. But, read on:

My husband had a medical emergency of sorts that was going to require us to be out of the house for an unknown period of time, and possibly spread out over a few days. Rather than force Sheba, who is very people dependent, to spend long hours in her crate and alone in the house, I chose to kennel her.

picture of a Husky in a crate
Photo by Julissa Helmuth from Pexels

Of course this means long hours, without us in a larger type of crate, but not alone and not without both human and canine companionship. As much as the neighbor dogs strike fear into her heart, she has done pretty well in the kennel. She even barks there! I have to laugh though, I have clearly watched way too many crime dramas and police shows. When you take a dog to the kennel and they are escorted to their pen, all the dogs bark and carry on and it makes me think of a “perp walk” in a crime drama.

I have a reason for deciding that kenneling her was the right option. When my husband had to have the same procedure done in 2008, we left Roxanne (Dog #2 of 4) home. Because our living room had a double wide doorway, there was no way to confine her to a specific area of the house. She had broken teeth trying to chew her way out of her crate, so crating her had ceased to be an option.

Picture of a large hound dog with black, white and tan coloring.
Roxanne

She chose to entertain herself, and eventually express her displeasure over our extended absence in our bedroom. First, she apparently attempted to “make her bed” on our bed. If you are a dog owner, you know what I am talking about. The dog tries to manipulate the cushion, pawing this way and that, then turning and turning around until things are just right, before curling up into a ball.

In Roxanne’s case, this act of “making the bed” served to unmake ours. The fitted sheets were dislodged and in a heap. Then, she apparently proceeded to express her dissatisfaction with our behavior…well, let’s just say, at least it was solid. Never made that mistake again. Never.

Having Sheba at the kennel made it that much easier for us to prepare for the upcoming test, but there was a surprising obstacle. I kept bumping into her absence!

In a relatively small old house, this dog has two crates, one in our bedroom, one in the dining room and a pad that serves as a bed on the opposite wall in the dining room from her crate. She frequently curls up (forces her way) between my feet and computer desk, or my chair and the tray table that holds my laptop. In other words she takes up space. In the house, in my heart. Her brief absence created an unexpected void.

The Unexpected Void

When each of our other dogs died, the void that they left in our lives was large. But this was different. Sheba is alive, she just was not in the house. Perhaps I noticed it more because she spends a lot of time with me. More than with any other dog, and they were all mine in theory, I seem to have “favored person” status. I am her “go to” person, her security blanket, her walker and petter. If that is a word I just made up, let us define it as ‘One who pets a pet.”

Picture of a man with a beard sitting on the couch petting a large black and tan dog.
“Pet me!”

That does not mean that my husband does not walk or pet her. In fact, if she deems that I have not done a sufficient job petting her, she will go to him and present herself for some petting. When he tires of the job, she returns to me and proceeds to act like a canine tennis ball, moving back and forth between her humans until she feels she has had enough attention. Then, it is naptime, until it is treat time and walk time and time to start the cycle all over again.

Now, after living with us for over a year and a half, Sheba has developed a new routine, which she does periodically. After shying away from my husband for months, she looks for him first thing in the morning, even before going outside for her walk. Perhaps she just wants to know where he is in order to avoid him. But no, if he is sitting up, she goes and stands in front of him, as if to say, “You may pet me now.”

Hopefully her ubiquitous presence and frequent seeking of attention explains why after returning from the kennel and other errands, my first thought was, “Oh, I have to take Sheba for a walk before I get comfortable.” Wait, what, oh, she is not here.

Kenneling Sheba for human medical procedures is a wise move. In addition we take vacations and choose the kennel route, as opposed to a pet sitter. I think those choices are good for us. The issue is when we are home and she is not. The house feels empty and it is empty of her large presence.

Medical Emergency Two

I don’t know if other bloggers do this but I actually began this post several weeks ago. Now and then I will start a post with just a working title and some notes or an outline because it is something I want to write and not lose, but do not have the time to complete. Other times I begin writing and do not stop until I have finished, sometimes spending the larger part of two days between writing, edits and selecting pictures. But here I am over a month after starting this story. A failed attempt at vacation and an accident have intervened. It happened like this:

I left home for my longed for visit to Onset, two days before my husband was to leave on an equally anticipated hunting trip with his brother and nephew. Thursday morning my husband took Sheba to the kennel. Thursday afternoon while starting to load his truck for the trip, he had an accidental fall that resulted in a broken hip.

Fortunately, Sheba was already at the kennel; not as fortunately I was way out of state. My husband had surgery and is recovering nicely. But broken hips in us older folks can be, well, I do not really want to think about it but, no pun intended, they can be a slippery slope to steady decline. We have been home from the hospital for 24 hours, Sheba is still at the kennel.

Picture of a large black and tan dog laying on a dark brown mat.
Sheba

She was scheduled to be there until Sunday. She does not know that we are at home. Yet I experienced a human version of that as a child, and it felt mean. I have been a pet owner long enough to know that pets are people too. They are capable of expressing joy, jumping for joy in fact. They are also capable of expressing displeasure (hence Roxanne’s expression on our bed). Even though skeptics will say this is just an attempt at anthropomorphizing, pet owners know that their pets are capable of expressing a wide range of emotions.

Even though we are home, the house feels somewhat empty and I feel guilty about not bringing her home right away. Yet, none of our dogs have ever liked change and only one of our dogs, Sammy, had the instinct to not get under foot of people walking with canes, oxygen cannisters (my mom) or crutches (me) or walkers. Sheba likes to anticipate where you are walking and get there first, or her preferred method walk right along side you.

So I am trying to give my spouse time to be stronger and more secure walking with the walker, before bringing Sheba home to the confusion of a rearranged house and that strange metal crate like thing. And I have to find places to put the things I dislodged in the process of making the house “walker” friendly. If I don’t, Sheba will assume I have left presents all around for her to check out.

But I may not be able to hold out much longer. She is family after all, a four-legged member of the family who has taken up more space in my heart than in our house. Things just aren’t the same when she is not here. She still needs us and we still need her.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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A Land Locked Life with a Beach Girl Heart

The mountains are one kind of beauty and the beach and ocean another kind of beauty and I have been privileged to call them both home.

I am a Flat Lander, a Beach Girl and an immigrant in a state full of mountains, forests and farmlands. There are mountains in Massachusetts, but my whole life until I moved away was in a beach town and occasional sea ports.

I have lived in other states, including Washington State and Florida, Virginia and Maryland. But I have lived in the state of Pennsylvania longer than I have lived anywhere else. Thirty-four years, and counting.

In truth, I was so caught up in the needs and responsibilities of my early life, and single parent years, to notice whether I thought a state was pretty, or anything else, until I woke up re-married and living in south central Pennsylvania, just north of the “Maryland Line.”

I quickly grew to love my new state with its hills, mountains and farmlands. And I loved showing it off to my mother, who was living in Baltimore at the time. Although we were from different states, she too was a “flatlander” and a “city girl.” When she came to visit sometimes I would take her for rides or we would go to York shopping and she never tired of the beauty of the hills and the farmlands. And I never tired of showing it off.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I was struck that first year of the corn harvest, how one could drive all over the local towns in Southern York County, and see cornfields, ripe for the picking, at almost any turn. In an odd way it put me in mind of how at home, in Onset, almost anywhere you turned, you could see the blue of water, or if you were lucky, the maroon velvet of local cranberry bogs; similar, but different.

Cranberry Harvest, Wareham, MA Photo by Esther A. Roe, used with permission.

I had lived in York County for ten years, when we moved to Towanda, Pennsylvania, in Bradford County, nestled in the Endless Mountains. I learned there, that the mountains of York County that I had so admired were hills, in comparison.

My first mountain ever though, was Mount Ranier, in Washington State. I had gone to Tacoma to visit my brother and his family for two weeks in 1969, and stayed for almost a year. I had been in Tacoma for two weeks before I caught sight of Mt. Ranier, which I quickly dubbed, “My Mountain.” Arrogant, but ah youth. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, snow capped, and distant, but visible for miles around, and when I saw it for the first time, I said I never wanted to leave. To learn more about Mt. Ranier National Park, check here: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm

I returned to Onset in November, 1969 and got married the following summer and moved away. In those days, I did not notice the beach. As I said, caught up in my life, starting out, getting married, leaving home, and not really looking back. No forwarding address, no goodbyes. All about me.

In my defense though, when you live some place that draws tourists, whether it is the ocean or the mountains, it can be easy to build up an unintentional immunity of sorts. Or, you are too busy making a living to look up and take it all in. Busy living my teenage life in the bar in the 1960’s, I didn’t notice either.

I returned for a few short visits, my father’s funeral in 1971, which broke my heart. I was one of those girls who thought that their daddy was indestructible. My mother moved back to her hometown of Baltimore two years later and when she passed away in 1994, we took her home to be buried next to my dad, those were my only visits to Onset.

Sometimes though, it takes a tourist, or a newcomer, to notice the beauty that the locals have simply come to take for granted. I traveled to Tioga County, Pennsylvania for orientation at Mansfield University two weeks before our official move and spent the night with a friend and colleague who lived in Potter County. She had moved there in June, but my appointment did not start until September 1st

Folks up there consider it “God’s Country” The Mountains were so huge, and they were everywhere. All I could say was “Oh! Wow!” Then, in wanting to share how beautiful we both found the mountains there, we kept saying we were awed, but felt compelled to spell it (a-w-e-d) to differentiate from being o-d-d. Maybe we were less than convincing, my friend and I.

I still had not gotten over my sense of awe and inspiration when I began to serve the churches I was assigned to serve, a mere two weeks later.

Liberty Corners is the crossroads of a farming community in Bradford County. It sits high up on a mountain. It is a steady climb, to get from the flats up to the church. Some mornings the hilltop would be wrapped in fog, only to come out of the fog or experience the fog lifting. It put me in mind alternately of Brigadoon, or Mt. Horeb, the site of the giving of the Ten Commandments.

As if there wasn’t enough simple beauty in all that, on reaching the top of the hill, with the church sitting perpendicular to the road, one could see through the windows of the church to the mountain that stood on the opposite shore of the Susquehanna River.

Living in Bradford County, and other places I had long ago assumed that a return to my hometown was not in the cards or the realm of possibility. So I did engage in some pretending. After all, just because the ocean or beach does not come near Central Pennsylvania, does not mean there are not waterways. There are lakes, rivers, streams and “cricks” as the locals call them.

Occasionaly when we would visit lakes for fishing and picnics, I would pretend that the wake created by a motor boat was really waves. The lakes I am referring to only allow small electric motors, so, we are talking small waves.

Traveling North of Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River, there was a section that seemed so even, with a gentle curve, that I could pretend that I was on the road by the Cape Cod Canal. I was willing to settle for pretending and acceptance.

That said, no one was more surprised than I, at the tremendous pull the beach and the canal had on me during my return visit in 2018 and subsequent visit in 2019. Some of it, to be sure, was simply reconnecting with home, memories of my parents and growing up there. But it seemed there was something more than memory, sentiment and emotion.

Onset Beach, the beach at Point Independence, Buzzards Bay (the town and the bay) the Cape Cod Canal were so much a part of my early life, but I had pushed them back to the far reaches of my memory. But I continue to feel the compelling tug, the combination of an intense yearning and longing for home that sweeps over me.

I have tried to figure out why that is; is it only emotion and memory, or is it something more? I realize that this may sound like too much introspection and navel-gazing for some. But recently two high-school classmates in different social media posts or conversations said something that struck a chord. They spoke about living far from home in earlier years, and being land-locked. They both spoke of a need to be near the water, and especially after long weeks of lockdown and stay at home orders. I could relate.

Photo by Rob Craig, of Plymouth, MA. Used with permission.

A month ago a friend sent me a video of Mayflower II leaving the Massachusetts Maritime Academy dock in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, traveling through the Cape Cod Canal, on it’s journey to Plymouth. It brought unexpected tears to my eyes. Mayflower II is powered by wind and sail. Moving through the Canal, it was powered by tug boat.

It was impressive watching the sailors climbing the rigging and preparing the sails. There was something about the expansiveness of the Bay, the sight of the ship in full sails that made it seem as though I had been holding my breath for fifty years and didn’t have to hold it anymore.

It is about homesickness, memory, emotion, longing and so much more. It is about identity and a complex understanding of home. In essence though, something about being near the beach, the Bay and the Canal feeds my soul.

This poem is one of several I had to memorize in seventh grade. It too, speaks to that sense of longing and need.

Sea Fever by John Masefield*

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide, Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying. And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover. And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the lock trek’s over.


Mayflower II, photo by Ryan Smith Photography

The mountains are one kind of beauty and the beach and the ocean are another kind of beauty and I have been privileged to call them both home. But I must go down to the sea again. I must.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Sea Fever, by John Masefield, from Salt-water Poems and Ballads by John Masefield, published by the Maximillan Co., NY 1913, p. 55. The Poem was first published in Salt Water Ballads 1902 Public Domain.

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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#Stronger Than the Cookie~ The Journey Continues

It is September 16, 2020 and I am happy to share that I am three months “Stronger than the Cookie, stronger than cake slathered in icing and chocolate candy from the checkout.” If you want to know why this is sharing and not bragging, let me tell you. No where in that statement does it say I no longer desire those things. That might qualify as brag worthy; no, I am simply happy to share it because I am amazed and grateful. It is slow going but 3 months in, I am 20 pounds lighter and still determined.

I wish it was more, but it is true that the older you get, along with other factors, your body works very hard to maintain your weight and losing it is more difficult. Yet avoiding the “near occasion” of things covered in frosting does help.

I am pretty sure I have previously confessed to being a picky eater, from childhood. I am still a picky eater, though I have grown up some. Let me explain. I like Navel oranges, not other kinds. I prefer Macintosh apples and I think that Delicious apples are not. In fact that is what I call them “Not delicious.”

I like to decorate food with strawberries, especially cakes. If there is enough whipped topping I can eat some strawberries, but even a vat of melted chocolate to dip the strawberries in, is not enough enticement for me. I will eat strawberries if there is a sufficient amount of syrup on top of a Belgian Waffle, and strawberry jam is just fine. See what I mean? Picky. Not proud, just confessing.

Boarding School

I went to a boarding school from seventh grade through tenth grade. It wasn’t a luxury school, the nuns saw to our good behavior and we washed dishes, set the tables, and took turns going into the kitchen to bring out the serving bowls and platters. My favorite part? Bread, butter and dessert with every dinner, and dessert with every lunch. And, Sister Mary’s Candy Corner every afternoon. Sister Mary had a large, locked, grey metal cabinet in the corner of the dining room and it was filled with candy, all manner of candy bars. Every day after school, we could buy as much candy as we wanted for a quarter a piece. It is not Sister Mary’s fault that I didn’t have any will power. It is lucky for me that Sister Mary does not live here!

These are the habits I am working very hard to unlearn. And it is happening, bit by bit. One year ago I went on a very special vacation. I stayed in a rental unit with a kitchen, so I could prepare some meals to balance the restaurant meals I wanted to eat (Pizza and seafood). I used frozen dinners, I did not want to spent an unnecessary minute cooking when I could be doing other things, like writing, walking on the beach, drinking in the view etc.

But I also planned my snacks, and they were of the ice cream, pop tart, and sugary variety. This year as I return, ice cream and cookies are not on the shopping list. Instead, I will be taking along low-moisture part skim mozzarella string cheese, unsweetened applesauce, oranges or some apples, some green vegetables and peanut butter. I am committed to this because I still want to eat pizza and seafood.

You might wonder what is so special about pizza, when you can get it pretty much anywhere? It is a good question, with a sentimental answer. The pizza place in question is less than one block from the former hotel, bar and restaurant that my parents owned, and where we lived. It’s not my mother’s pizza. But there is something about the location, the atmosphere and the food that is enough to draw me in: pizza with toppings and sentiment.

Say “Cheese!”

I have to add a cheese story here. When I talk about following an eating plan that fits my life, I like cheese. My husband and I typically have a cheese snack every night. I suppose it can get boring because often times I choose Colby Jack Cheese. it works for me, a one ounce square, though I often want more.

Today I had some errands to run and it was kind of a “keep moving day.'” Before leaving the house I grabbed two servings of string cheese, and ate them in the car on the way to my destination. That was to help me avoid making a serious mistake of the cookie variety. If you get too hungry, it can be easy to make poor decisions. Driving down the road listening to the radio, and nibbling on string cheese, I remember thinking, “This is delicious!” When did that happen? I know that for me, the more I eat foods with a high sugar content, the more I want them and only them. Is it possible that sugar and empty carbohydrates, dulls our receptivity to other foods?

Whether it is every day eating, or eating on vacation, having a plan is crucial. I generally gain about 5 pounds on vacation, but this time potato chips will not be on the menu. I still need to think through carbs, because anything bread, or breaded still appeals to me. Soft bread; fresh out of the oven bread, thick bagels, rolls on a restaurant table with honey butter all require deep thought, but I still operate on autopilot on occasion.

I am working with a program, but like before, I am not writing to promote a program, simply sharing the journey. I hope some of this makes you laugh, while I cringe in the confessional. But I hope it also helps you to see what is possible. I am 70 years old (still shocked by that) and I am not too old to learn, or to change, or to get healthy.

Learning Goals

I love water, if we are talking about my favorite Canal, or beach, or the ocean. But drinking water? I would still rather have mine sweet: hot coffee or iced tea. Still working on that learning curve. Water would be better, but it is seldom my first choice.

The Cape Cod Canal on a beautiful fall day

I eat too fast. While I have done a reasonably good job about being mindful of what I eat, of my food choices, once I have made the decision, I often forget to savor the food. I have even noticed this with ice cream. My treat of choice during these past three months has been an occasional soft ice cream cone. Yet each time, when I finished, I wondered why I bothered, it was gone so fast.

Those are two reasons why this is a journey, and a marathon. For most people who need to lose weight, we want it off fast; I do too, but I want to do this right. For me more than ever, this is not a diet, it is re-forming my eating habits and food choices.

I have been working intentionally to chose foods for every day that I can live with, not special foods to help me lose weight. I find myself eating fewer prepackaged foods and choosing to snack rather than to graze. I know that there are some foods I will put back into my diet when I have achieved my goals, but I will be choosy.

For instance, I miss my nightly Colby Jack Cheese fix, right now I have it several nights, but not every night. I like peanut butter and sometimes if I am hungry, a tablespoon of peanut butter is enough to push away the hungries. I do not know if I will be able to return to my favorite “fluffernutters” or not. (Marshmallow Fluff and peanut butter sandwiches, preferably on soft bread with a cold glass of milk)

Ice cream twice a month, but not nightly. The rest will reveal itself as I continue to work at this. I have met my first goal of twenty pounds, and have pushed that goal back by ten more pounds. Because we shrink as we age, I am 3 inches shorter than I was in my thirties, and that pushes my ideal weight well below a number that I am interested in achieving. But I am not thinking thin, just thinking healthy. When I get to my next goal of ten more pounds, I will move it down by ten pound degrees and do another reset.

My doctor is happy with my progress and determination. I love the fact that my size 2x jeans are baggy and that I have a new (on sale of course) size 14 dress in my closet that fits. I get hungry in between meals, but not ravenous.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Lessons learned

I travel a lot by myself, first for school, and also conferences and other work related events. I have joked for years that I know the location of every fast food restaurant along any normal itinerary. I get tired driving and my “go to fix” for that has generally been fast food chocolate chip cookies. You know what I am talking about right? Especially when they give them to you hot out of the oven and you don’t burn your tongue, but you end up licking melted chocolate off of your fingers? Now I am learning to pack a lunch and some extra snacks. It is working.

I am taking this journey to health seriously and one step at a time, maybe two. I am not altruistic. Do not think for a minute I want to learn to make healthy choices and not lose weight. I want to lose the weight, but I am serious about the health. I am learning, sometimes with every meal what works for me and what does not. Right now that is enough.

When I get to the place where I feel like I have this, I need to invest some serious time in learning about (1) sugar addictions and (2) fats, oil, cholesterol. I think those things will help me make more informed decisions. Now, I am making good choices, but not necessarily understanding why they are good. But for right now, I am also working on not getting overwhelmed. I am focusing on mindful eating, thoughtful choices and maybe the next dress can be a size 12. One meal at a time, one step at a time.

#Stronger Than the Cookie

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Settling into a Schedule (of sorts) with Sheba

**There are two important notes at the end of this post, I hope you will read them:)

UP and at ’em

Sheba has been with us for 20 months now and, according to her records, was six years old on June 25th. I can finally see a discernable routine in our days. You might think after 20 months, it’s about time; but with her background (See Introducing Sheba and Life with a Tentative Dog) patience has been key.

We struggled with housebreaking for eight long months and finally realized that she needed to be walked. Three times a day. We are fortunate to live near a school that many people in the community use for a dog walking park, so much so that our borough has installed dog waste stations at two places along the journey and provide free waste bags.

She is the first dog we ever had that we could not simply put on a tie out rope outside so she could “do her business” and then scratch on the door to come back. She will lay on the grass outside for hours if my husband is working there or if we are both in the yard, but she still will not “go there.” It seems to be holy ground.

But finally, walking her three times day around the school yard and other places has reduced the number of accidents. In fact, thankfully, it has been several months since she has confused the living room carpet with the grass at the school.

Her sort of schedule

Part of the success of this new routine is getting up right away, for me that is 7:30 a.m. retirement standard time, and then grabbing her treats, bag and leash and getting out of the house before she has time to think about it. I am not at my best during that first walk, but there is no time for coffee if I want to keep the house smelling nice. She seems willing enough to come home without dallying, once she has found the absolutely perfect repository and has sniffed enough blades of grass, and other things.

Yet, as soon as we come in the door, she seems to think her breakfast should come before my coffee and depending on my state, I will oblige her. Then, while I am wishing I could go back to sleep, she has curled up into a ball and gone back to dream land, while I make coffee, forage some breakfast and try to not noticeably stagger around the kitchen.

Just chillin’

When I was in seminary and living in a dorm in my early 50’s I used to joke that I wore bangs to cover up the tattoo on my forehead that said “Not a morning person.” But I wasn’t fooling anyone.

Treats and Food

Sheba gets a Denta Stick at noon, or as close to noon as we remember, and seems to be ready for a walk soon after she inhales her treat. Supper is at 5, more or less and she gets a rawhide at 7:30 p.m. She gets her last walk of the day after supper and that seems to be enough to get through the night.

Like many pets, she seems to see herself as a priority and thinks she can tell time. Sometimes she is right on the money, and sometimes it is wishful thinking on her part.

She can be pushy, especially when it comes to wanting her treats; but I can be stubborn. Although I have teased my husband for years that the correct pronunciation of his last name is “Stubbornville” truth be told, I am a bit stubborn too. When she follows me into the office after her post supper walk and starts pushing my hands away from my keyboard, I will not be moved and tell her to lay down. That might net me a glare.

Sort of schedule?

I admit that this sort of schedule is my fault. Perhaps something more regular would be better, but I am not that rigid, nor do I care to be so, but it all seems to fit in and suit.

I talk to the animals

Well, one at a time. When I walk Sheba, I talk to her. I feel like, despite her sense of duty and distraction, this is some good one on one time for us. I praise her of course for doing those good things, but I also just talk with her. I know she ignores me, but I hope that the sound of my voice does something positive. I tell her that we are lucky to have her. Then I say, “who am I kidding? You are lucky to have us.” Both are right, I hope. When she seems anxious, a sudden noise, or the onset of another human being, can be enough to distract her from any productivity, I remind her that I will not let anyone hurt her. I also tell her frequently, that she is a good girl and I am proud of her.

I have seen people walking their dogs with a leash in one hand and a cell phone in the other, and that is their choice and right, certainly. But as much time as I spend on the phone, texting or social media, I feel like this time of walking Sheba belongs to her.

Fear and wariness continues

I took Sheba to the Vet’s office for a technician visit. While we waited, and there was not much going on in the office, she backed up, partly under the chair next to me and shook. Now, I realize no smart animal likes going to the vet, indignities of all sorts can and do happen there. But she shows that type of fear, when the neighbor dogs bark. She has learned to lead me out of the way, in order to avoid walking in front of the offending dogs’ house. She will pull me to the back yard and around the side of our house, rather than walk in front of theirs.

She has the same general reaction to men, boys and children and when the football team starts to practice and suit up across the street at the school, walking Sheba will be a little more challenging, though not impossible. It simply makes me sad.

In twenty months, I have only heard her bark twice at most. She does bark gently in her sleep, but all the neighbor dogs who bark, she will not bark back. I admit I am grateful, but when I mentioned this to the receptionist at the vet’s office the other week, she said, “you don’t know what her previous owners did to make her that way.” And it makes me wonder as well, though those are answers we will never have. How much fear or pain has to be instilled in an animal to make it stifle instinct?

No ma’am, I am not going to look at you.

Camera shy

Unlike human toddlers and babies who quickly warm up to having their pictures taken, even to the point of posing, Sheba will not cooperate. But I have taken a few candid shots for this post. I wish I could show you a video of her running around the house or jumping up half in the air, seeming to have springs on her front paws, bouncing up and down when I come home from being away, or when my husband or I say those magical words, “Sheba, do you want to go for a walk?” Or pictures of her stretching out her long, lean body as she puts her front paws on the porch railing to crane her neck at the latest sound to catch her attention. But those shots or videos could never happen if she saw the camera or the phone, as you will see.

Bedtime Ritual

Because, as far as we know, Sheba lived her first four-and-a-half years in a crate, we are grateful that she willingly gets in her crate, when we are going out or when it is time for bed. There are sometimes she tries to pretend she is invisible or deaf, especially during the day, but usually she will go right in. Sometimes she goes in without being told because she “reads” the signs, car keys in hand, jacket grabbed of the back of the chair, etc.

When it is bedtime she still races ahead of me and turns around on the landing to look at me and to make sure that I am following. If the doors to our room and her crate are open, she generally goes right in, even before I get to the room. I pet her and tell her that she is a good girl. I put my hand under her chin, because she seems to like that, and I tell her that I love her and close the crate.

I have written posts about all of our dogs, but since Sheba is the current pet, it is easier to recall the myriad things she does. There are times when missing Misty, our beagle who died October 27, 2018, just sweeps over me and catches me off guard. Then I think when the time comes to say goodbye to Sheba (hopefully many years from now) it will be the hardest. Because of all four of our rescue dogs, Sheba is the one that is most mine and has stolen my heart.

Granted, I have used a lot of anthropomorphic language in telling this story (language that ascribes human characteristics or tendencies to non human entities), but in my defense, Sheba is only human after all.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

A celebration: This is the 50th post in The Beach Girl Chronicles, I will keep writing, I hope you will keep reading and sharing! Thank you for following this site, or reading on Linked In or my Facebook Page, Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles.

A BIG Thank you to Sue and Leanne who have hosted the Mid-Life Share the Love Link Party (#MLSTL) and are ending that party with this weeks contributions. Thank you for the welcome you have extended to me as a new blogger, and for your encouraging words. I have made many wonderful connections with other bloggers through this link party and am grateful to you both. Wishing you both success and joy as you branch out in other areas. Michele

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Lessons I am Learning in my Cookie-less Life

The Cookie Diary, Part II

For any who are interested, it is almost 2 months (on August 16th) since any cookies or candy bars have crossed my lips. The score is: Me 1, cookies and candy bars 0. # Stronger than the cookie!

Full disclosure, I have had 2 homemade brownies (not in the same week) and some store bought Angel Food Cake. (All fat, calories and carbs accounted for). So, I thought I would share some of the lessons I am learning, as I try to journey to a healthier me.

One important disclaimer, I am not a dietician, or nutritionist, nor am I writing to promote any specific weight loss program or strategy. I am simply writing to share my experiences in the hopes that it may provide some inspiration to anyone who, like myself, has struggled with weight and weight loss and self-image.

One of the biggest things I learned, that I shared in https://michelesomerville.blog/2020/07/21/the-cookie-diary/The Cookie Diary, is my surprise that it is possible to eat a meal and feel satisfied and not run into the kitchen, or the cookie closet for a pair of cookies.

Okay, I am exaggerating a little bit. I do not now, nor have I ever had a “cookie closet.” Remember, I like my cookies to have friends. I didn’t realize it was possible to walk away from the table and be content.

This insight may surprise some readers who may not have battled with weight gain or have always known that it was possible to leave the table and not want more. However, I am pretty sure that cookies, cakes and other sweets have the same affect on a person with sugar addictions that salty snacks have on someone who is drinking in a bar. The treats are generally free, because you will want to drink more. And they want that too!

“Snowballs” cupcakes totally covered in frosting and rolled in coconut.

I have found that eating sugary, wonderful foods has often, if not always, made me want more. Perhaps worse, when I was out of anything sweet enough at home to satisfy that desire, I knew that I could get cranky.

It is not that I am not enjoying snacks now, but am being more choosy and mindful about them.

Speaking of mindfulness, that was my second lesson learned. Even though I often measure side dishes at dinner, I was not counting, tracking, measuring or any other way limiting what I ate at other times. While I would not normally have potato chips, ice cream and cookies all in the same day or snack time. I was just not paying attention. I am now.

One thing I have found really helpful is planning ahead. Knowing what we are going to or may have for supper (I still think of it as dinner, maybe it’s a Massachusetts thing!) helps me decide how I want to spend calories on breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Time is not the only thing that is like money, so are calories. If you limit the number and quality of your calories, you are likely to spend them more carefully and maybe even have a few left over at the end of the day!

I have not pushed myself to starvation, or not eaten until I was at the point that anything was fair game. But it has proven to be important to let myself feel hunger, without rushing to a quick or emotional fix. Part of that has been asking myself questions like, ‘What is going on right now? What am I feeling? Is this really hunger, or is it something else, like sadness, frustration, or hurt feelings, to name only a few possibilities.

Are there cookies in my future? or, Will I ever eat cookies again?

I ask myself these questions from time to time, along with other cosmic questions, like “What is it like to not have your thighs touch?” I think there will be cookies in my future, but while I can say I am #Stronger than the cookie, right now there are no cookies in the house (not the kind that I like) and I am not ready to have them here.

I still have to deal with the question of addiction. But I have put that on the back burner, while I simply concentrate on choosing wisely, weighing and measuring and counting and otherwise carefully calculating. I am eating foods I would normally eat, except of course foods that are dripping with melted chocolate, slathered with icing or simply laden with chocolate chips.

I could eat them, but it would be self defeating at this point. When I can figure out the addiction, when I can get to the point of occasionally enjoying those treats without eating them up until they disappear, then; maybe.

If I can enjoy a few Christmas cookies by Advent, that would be great. But right now, I would rather have a homemade cranberry scone that I can take out of the freezer, warm up in the microwave and savor. But I am not there yet, either.

Flaky, buttery homemade cranberry scones

If you can’t tell yet, I love carbs and next to cookies, cake with frosting, lots of frosting, bagels are one of my preferred carbs. The fact that I have limited my intake of bagels to smaller ones or half of my favorite Thomas’ Bagels (you know the ones with 50+ carbs per serving) is a measure of my commitment.

I went to a local farmer’s market this morning and they had an entire table of my favorite things, breads, for instance. The only way I like zucchini is in bread. They had cookies, chocolate chip were the ones I noticed, but I looked over that table and said to myself “hmmm, no thanks.” Do you hear the pride in my voice? Pride, they say, “goeth before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

In the corner of the table, there was a tray of four doughnuts with piles of swirly pink frosting on top; they might have been calling my name, but I covered up my ears and darted away. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about them. With a cold glass of milk, or fresh hot coffee.

I want to say again, that I think all of the health related blogs I have read by blogger friends, who run, jog, workout, ride bikes, eat carefully, have been at least a subtle influence in my determination.

I have lost 12 pounds since my last cookies and I don’t aspire to be thin, just healthier. Anything less than a size 16 would be terrific.

Even now, with maybe 15 pounds to go, I finally like what and who I see in the mirror. I do hope all this self-disclosure, with a side order of humor, will be helpful to someone.

#Stronger than the Cookie

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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On Prayer and the Spiritual Life

To say that I want to talk about prayer, does not mean that I am bragging, or saying that I am an expert at prayer. I want to share with you a gift that a mentor had passed on to me, that has been life affirming and faith shaping for over 22 years of my pastoral journey.

But first, a few things by way of introduction and one that may shock you. For clarity’s sale, I will say that I am talking about Christian prayer and sharing my personal experience (and opinion).

Here is the possible shock, I might as well “rip the bandage off” now and you can decide whether or not to stick around for the rest of the story.

I went to Catholic kindergarten and there were both Catholic kids and Protestant kids in that class. When we began to learn The Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer), I said the words that I heard, which were “psss psss, psss, psss, psss” Somewhere along the line I must have learned the actual prayer.

I went to public school after that and this was the 1950’s, 1956 to be exact. My teacher, Mrs. Ellis, read from the Bible and led us in the Lord’s Prayer, but it had that different ending (For thine is the kingdom, etc, and I found that very confusing).

To be honest the whole thing, the Bible reading and the prayer felt awkward, and I felt out of place in ways that my first grade mind could not express.

For that reason, and a few others that I will share, I am not a fan of “bringing back prayer in public schools.”

Now, all the people who know me and know that I am a pastor, may have already left the room. I am hoping that wasn’t a door I just heard slam. Bear with me, please. Because there are important questions and considerations that follow.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

First of all, whose prayer? Christian prayer? Jewish Prayer? Muslim? Buddhist? Other types of prayer? And who is left out and made to feel strange and awkward when their tradition is ignore, or belittled?

I am not opposed to prayer in public schools because I am afraid of offending anyone, but because I think it can cause more confusion than it helps.

We put more than enough on teachers and this heavy lifting, I believe, belongs to family homes and houses of faith. This is no time to be passing the buck, er, responsibility.

Second, I certainly believe that God hears our prayers and hears the prayers of children, but I also believe that prayer is meant to be a two way conversation, that is built on a relationship with God. For that reason, I think it needs to begin and be formed at home and church, synagogue or mosque, or run the risk of being watered down and uninformed.

Photo by Michael Scott from Pexels

A lot may depend on one’s definition of prayer. I had an Anthropology professor in college, who stated that prayer for Christians “is asking for stuff, or asking for something.” Her implication was that non-Christians tend to be more spiritually minded and thus she saw Christian prayer as limited.

I wanted to argue with her, but I did not for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she was speaking to her own experience of Christians and Christian prayer. Even though I disagreed with her definition, I could not devalue her experience. Because she was referring to her experience, and because she was the professor and I was a new forty-something year old college student, I was not sure I would be heard, and arguing about religion serves no one. (In my opinion).

Despite the tradition of separation of church and state, you may be surprised to find a good bit of prayer language in our court system, but it is not what you may think. To petition the Court, or to make a prayer in a document, is simply formal language that does “ask for something.” Perhaps the professor had a point.

The flip side of this, and it is kind of funny; I was in college to complete work on my Bachelor’s Degree, so I could go on to seminary, I was serving three churches as a pastor. In church, everything begins with prayer, council meetings, Sunday School, church suppers, and of course Sunday worship. It felt really odd to be in classes at the university and not begin with prayer!

There is a lot of prayer that occurs on the campuses of our colleges and universities, during the high holy days of exam weeks, but of course, that is different. When I got to seminary, there were lots of opportunities to begin classes with prayer.

The Gift of Prayer

It was during those days in college, as I tried to find a sense of balance, that a mentor introduced me to the concept of journaling prayer. She shared with me a book that had been published posthumously by the writer’s son. It was a book of prayers, letters that his mother had written to God.

I have never successfully journaled or kept up with a diary, but this appealed to me. All I remember of the original book was that the prayers were in the form of letters to God, so that is what I do. I have developed my own pattern, that I will share with you, but there are no real rules that I know about.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

I use ordinary, inexpensive (read cheap) composition notebooks. I write my name on the outside cover with the words “Confidential Prayer Journal” and the start date. When I finish that book, I add the end date and grab a new journal. Because I have been doing this a long time I do try to buy Composition books with different colored covers, just for variety.

Now and then some helpful person gifts me with a more formal journal and I say thank you and use it, but the Composition books stack more easily. I generally keep the most recent journals, in my office, the rest are stacked on a shelf in my clothes closet.

I have always felt that I can say anything in these journals and that is very freeing. Since it is prayer, and not a diary, I try to do the following:

Every new prayer begins with the date written out, no numbers and slashes. The next line always says, “Dear God” because that is how I generally address God.

I believe that it is prayer, and that God reads as I write, or hears. I do not know how God does what God does during prayer. I am just responsible for my part. Even though I feel that I can say anything, including question, complain, express doubt, anger and frustration, because it is God I am speaking to, I keep all that respectful.

I do not abbreviate or use acronyms. Does God know what all that means? Of course, but I am writing a letter, a prayer, not a memorandum or a shopping list. I try to begin with thanksgiving and I try to be specific. Every day when I pray, among other things, I thank God for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.

If I have to interrupt my prayer, I say, or, write, “excuse me.” and return as soon as I can. When I first started writing my prayers, because they were in the form of letters, I always signed them, Love, Michele. Eventually I stopped doing that, because, well, God knows it is me. But there is something comforting about the form and format of a letter and it seemed…thoughtful and personable.

While this is not the only way I pray, it does make up the majority of my prayer time. I am not very good about praying in the same time and place every day, so there are times that I add the time to the date. For instance, if I have let my day get away from me and don’t sit down to pray until 11:35 p.m. I write that in.

While this form of prayer will not work for everyone, if you are feeling stuck in a rut in your prayer life, it might be helpful. There are other things I do to keep my prayer life fresh, but this has become a meaningful practice for me.

If prayer is a regular and important part of your life, how has the form of that prayer changed over time? Do you have favorite ways to pray?

Remember, nothing is written in stone, except The Ten Commandments!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

I love this sign. Prayer is action, but we have to do our part!

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Bridges

As a beach girl, I will admit that I have a fascination/fear relationship with water, especially storm water. In a related way, I have a love/hate relationship with bridges. Perhaps it is not so much hatred of bridges, as it is a fear, or wariness of them.

I don’t think there is anywhere one can travel without having to cross bridges of one sort or another, though I would be happy to simply travel on good old fashioned flat land. My love/hate relationship with bridges also extends to highway overpasses. I tend to look up briefly, before I drive under them. Call me neurotic, it’s been done before; call me “Chicken Little” though it’s not worry about the sky falling that makes me look up.

picture of a park next to the Cape Cod Canal, blue water, blue sky, with the Sagamore Bridge in the distance.
Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

I saw and loved bridges, before I ever learned to fear them, or more appropriately fear being on them. The three bridges that cross the Cape Cod Canal (more later) and the Old Stone Bridge that crosses the water between Point Independence and Onset were the backdrop of my every day life growing up. Those bridges spell home to my heart, in ways that are both profound and mysterious to me.

My first lesson in fear, came late one night, in the back seat of a 1954 Chevy Belair, where I was supposed to be sleeping. (This was decades before seat belts, car seats and other such safety measures). My mother was driving us to New York, or Baltimore, I am not sure and my brother was in the front passenger seat. He was about 12 (plus or minus) and I was 6 (plus or minus). We were crossing the George Washington Bridge. My brother raised a question I never wanted to think about, ‘What happens if the bridge collapses?” “Oh, Steve,” my mother said, “we’d be killed.”

Thanks! A lot!

Not all bridges inspired that kind of fear in me. When making the trip to Baltimore from Massachusetts, the approach to and crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge was always a welcome sight. On the way to Baltimore, it meant we were getting closer to seeing family. On the way back from Baltimore, it meant our journey home was underway.

And then, there is “Dummy Bridge” in Onset that had a message all it’s own, although it was more like a song. It was an open grate bridge, that has since been replaced with normal road material. But I loved the sound the bridge made when the car passed over the grates, a humming, whirring sound that I assume was a combination of the speed of the car, the tires, the air through the grates. It was a short bridge, so it was a short song.

Residents of Towanda, Pennsylvania may, on any given day, cross two different bridges to cross the Susquehanna River, a winding river to be sure. The Route 6 Bridge, that joins Towanda with the “Golden Mile” of Wysox is heavily traveled. It is not unusual to be stuck on the bridge, waiting for the traffic light to change. We haven’t lived in Towanda for many years; but, I always found the vibrations caused by the traffic moving in the opposite direction slightly unnerving.

The Bridge that cemented my experience of fear (I could say no pun intended, but that would be a lie, all of my puns are intended) was the (almost) 24 mile bridge that crosses Lake Pontchartrain in Louisana, from New Orleans, to the other side of the lake. Here is an official link of information. https://www.thecauseway.us/ I was traveling with a friend’s two sisters, we were going to a retreat on prayer. Perhaps the real retreat happened on the bridge.

The driver missed her turn to the retreat center, or we would not have even ended up in New Orleans, let alone had to take that bridge. But we did. And it was dark, and my friend’s sister who was not driving, was hysterical. “What if a barge has knocked into a section of the bridge and we end up in the lake?” “We’re going to die!” Not once, but over and over through all twenty four miles.

I admit, she had me convinced or at least unnerved. In truth, I wasn’t sure if I should cover my eyes, or my ears. I shut my eyes, could not have seen anything happen anyway, and prayed. For all twenty four miles. Before you ask, this was decades, decades before people knew about a thing called a G.P.S.

So with this history of fear of bridges, or at least a disdain of them, imagine my surprise in 2018, when I caught my first glimpse of the Sagamore Bridge, that crosses the Cape Cod Canal near the mouth of the canal that opens out to the Bay. My heart seemingly leapt to my throat, I was pretty sure that is what that lump in my throat was; salt water spilled from my eyes.

Everything in me wanted to stop, and I could not. There was traffic behind me, there was no place to pull over, it was raining, my poor confused husband was sitting in the passenger seat, no doubt thinking, “What the____?” I could not speak. Because it seemed as though the bridge was speaking, and it said one word. “Home.”

Even writing this, the salt water brims in my eyes.

Picture of a black marble sign for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, next to the Canal, with the railroad bridge in the distance.
You can see part of the Rail Road Bridge in the background.

I had much the same reaction, a few miles down the road, when I passed it’s twin, The Bourne Bridge and still had to keep pressing on. I drove on past the amazing railroad bridge, a very special elevated train bridge that crosses the canal.

I passed the new to me, entrance to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. We were heading to Onset, with little time to spare, and then on to Middleboro to check into our hotel.

I am not alone in my love of the Canal and it’s bridges. One of the many things I have come to appreciate about my classmates as I get to know them in a whole new way, is that many of them also bear a deep appreciation and fondness for home and the many riches of life near or on the Cape, including the sights and sounds of home.

Picture of the Bourne Bridge that crosses the Canal, rocks that line the canal and 4 birds in the water.
The Bourne Bridge, photo by and courtesy of Scott Stevenin, posted in the Bourne Photography Group

One friend introduced me to a Facebook page titled, “Bourne Photography” where many local photographers post amazing and sometimes daring photos of the canal, the boats that pass through it, the bridges, at all times of day, colorful, gorgeous pictures. There are other pictures as well, and not just bridges, so if you are on Facebook, give it a “look see.”

Much to my regret, there was not enough time to return to the canal that trip, and it was rainy much of that day and the next. I had to hope that I could come back sometime. When I was able to return home to Onset in 2019, for a much longer visit, I went to the Canal every chance I got. Once again, it was as if the bridges could talk, this time it was The Bourne Bridge. And what did it seem to say? “We are a part of you too!” Ah, sentiment!

You probably could not tell, but I cannot wait to go back and am hoping, maybe against hope, that I will still be able to go this year. If not, I certainly hope for one more trip, at least. I do not know how much longer I will be able to make the trip, afford the trip, or feel physically up to the journey. But I feel a little like a homing pigeon at this point, or some creature with a homing beacon planted firmly in its breast.

What happens when the time comes that I am not longer able to make the trip? I hope I will have enough pictures and stored memories to last my lifetime, but I do not know how I will feel. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

A crisp fall day on the Onset Pier
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The Cookie Diary

I love desserts, the sweeter, creamier, richer, or more chocolaty, the better. I prefer frosted cakes or cookies with a little something extra. Cookies should be chewy, but not crunchy, and accompanied by cold milk or hot coffee.

My mom was a good cook and I have a very early memory of her decorating a birthday cake for me when I was, perhaps four years old. What I remember about the cake was that the frosting was a satiny white, and she decorated it with a blue border and pink flowers. That was forevermore my favorite birthday cake. Her favorite cake was a white cake with white frosting and covered in coconut. Yum.

I don’t remember her making cookies very often, although I remember her delicate thin sugar cookies at Christmas time, cut out with the red plastic cookie cutters or aluminum cutters that were popular in the 1950’s (perhaps earlier). And she made chocolate and vanilla pinwheel cookies for Christmas as well. I make them too, on occasion, but they are a lot of work. I don’t remember her making any more varieties of Christmas cookies than that, or any large quantities.

My Aunt Millie on the other hand, when we visited her house at Christmas time, the top of her buffet was lined with trays and dishes filled with decorated cookies and chocolate candies, as well as a variety of mixed nuts and mints. I always admired the variety and quantity of the spread she put out. I never did succeed in copying that though, because in my house, the kids and I could eat up the cookies as fast as I could make them. So, there were never batches of anything to lovingly display.

My fascination (read: addiction) for chocolate chip cookies began at a neighbor’s house. Once my mom asked Linda if I could stay with them for a while. While I was there, Linda made chocolate chip cookies, the first I ever remember. Oddly, I don’t remember eating the cookies, but I do remember the making. I remember my first taste of creamed butter and sugar, before adding in the other ingredients, the look of the light brown cookie dough and the chocolate chips being poured from the bag into the bowl and stirred into the dough. I may have been marked for life at that point!

a kindergarten graduation picture of me, 1955
My Kindergarten graduation picture 1955 (not fat, just chubby)

With that brief history of baking, it should come as no surprise that I have struggled with my weight most of my life. I don’t think I was fat in High School, but I probably had about 15 pounds over many of my classmates. My weight went up after my first marriage and I got what turned out to be some bad advice about using salt tablets when I lived in Florida.

If it wasn’t the salt tablets, it was probably mindless eating in response to stress. I did not understand at the time that cake was a poor substitute for coping mechanisms. Truth be told, cake was my coping mechanism. From high school forward, if things were tough, I would bake. But unless you can give the baking away, you eat what you made. One slice at a time.

picture of a cake with fruit on top and white icing on a silver foil base

I have successfully lost major weight (over 40 pounds) twice in the last 34 years, with minor skirmishes up and down the scale at other times. One loss was with a diet my doctor put me on 32 years ago, and then in 2007 I met my goal with Weight Watchers (Now WW). But each time I hit that magic number, I started back up the scale, like a swimmer who has reached one end of the pool and promptly pushes off in the other direction.

Don’t get lost in the forays into honesty, this post is not about diets, or weight loss programs, it is about cookies. Well, cookies and my next favorite treats, most carbs. Although, I started gaining some weight back soon after reaching my goal in 2007, I had still topped off by our move in 2009, to about a 14 pound gain, which I was able to maintain.

picture of some Christmas cookies, mittens with pink icing and decoration
Someone with more patience than I made these for a church cookie sale. They are here as an illustration.

Seriously, I know that it is weight loss that one is supposed to maintain, but over the years I have had better success in maintaining the gains. I had to give up some of my favorite clothes to maintain that gain, but at least it had not all come back. While I was embarrassed bout the gain, I felt pretty good where I was and the clothes I was still able to wear. And then “it” happened.

Now, before I tell you what ‘it” was, let me be clear that I am not blaming my husband for the weight gain that followed in any way, and let me also tell you that he has been in remission, for four years now. But in the fall of 2015, he was diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer that was classified as malignant, and our family doctor told me privately to “prepare myself.”

So began a season where he underwent immunotherapy, with treatment and side-effects that almost killed him, but thankfully did not; and I began a season of self-medicating with carbs. Cookies, bagels, bread, brownies, but especially cookies and bagels.

picture of chocolate kiss blossom cookies in a cookie sale
Cookies that were made for a church cookie sale. No cookies were eaten in the process of writing this post.

Now and then my husband would tell me, “you can eat just one cookie” especially when kind parishioners were gifting us with trays of Christmas cookies. But my cookies like to have friends; anything less than 2 feels like a travesty. Seriously, even on the package of your favorite sandwich cookie, it says that a serving is 2 cookies!

Stronger than the Cookie!

In a conversation with my daughter, sometime during that season, she said to me, “Mom, you are stronger than the cookie!” She is a wise young woman and has done a great job in fostering and encouraging physical activities in her children. She has also worked hard at her own physical condition and has a job that is physically demanding, in addition to being the working mother of three children under 7.

I took her advice and wrote those wise words in a piece of paper and hung them above my computer, “You are stronger than the cookie!” it read. But, not really. I did not put the sign back up after we moved. Still, I managed to maintain my weight at its upper level.

Then, COVID. We have all been on the same planet and world-wide have suffered many of the same struggles, I will not insult you by telling you mine. I will admit, in as forthright a manner possible, that only after things started returning to some normalcy, did the enormity of the amount of cookies and ice cream I managed to inhale during those long weeks dawn on me. Surprisingly, I did not gain weight, just, you know, maintained it.

On June 16th, or maybe the 15th, I was struck by a moment of clarity that amazingly enough, did not come in the form of a medical crisis. In that moment of clarity, I realized the potential disaster I was heading for, and decided to stop doing that to myself.

That simple, and that profound. I have not had a cookie, or a pair of cookies, or a store bought candy bar since June 16th. I have chosen to limit ice cream to a serving every week or every other week.

My biggest surprise in all of this has been that I could eat a regular meal and walk away from the table satisfied. I could go between meals and not be hungry. I have never been that!

I know that some people believe that sugar is addictive and some do not. I haven’t read studies, but I think that I have lived that addiction. This is not me pronouncing myself cured. Since June 16th I have been able to eat meals, and not be ravenously hungry in between. I have lived this cookie life reality for probably 65 years. While I am always happy to have people take the time to read and comment on my posts, I am not asking you to affirm or deny the facts of my confessed experience.

I would like to think that even if it is subtle, that reading the blogging friends who write about health, nutrition, physical fitness and running, have been an influence on my mindset. I appreciate them for it. I have been pretty honest that I am not now, nor have I ever been athletic, but still feel as though I fit in with the group.

I am confident and hopeful, that I can keep on keeping on. I can keep calm and skip the cookie.

And it may be that my daughter was right. With grace, it just may be that I am stronger than the cookie.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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On Writing (Part II) The Gifts of Blogging

After my trip to Onset in 2018, I resolved to take my own writing seriously, and explore blogging. It took a year, but when I returned from Onset after my 2019 visit, I began to keep that promise.

It was not without fear, though. I had thought that Blogging would be a good thing to do, but I wasn’t even sure if it was still a “thing” that people did. I worried that I wasn’t a good enough writer. There are a lot of good writers out in the world and lots of not so good writers. I wasn’t sure that the world needed one more writer.

What if no one was interested in what I had to say? But the only way to deal with “what ifs” is to act, or live in wonder. So, I decided to act. I had actually opened a free WordPress account back in 2014, but after writing a few sentences, it sat idle until December 2019.

Photo from Pixaby from Pexels

First Things First

Where to begin? I knew from Facebook that a colleague had started blogging and also had written a book, so I reached out to her for advice. She suggested a book on blogging by Barb Drozdowich, Blogging for Authors https://barbdrozdowich.com/. The book was really helpful, though being a-technical it didn’t all make sense. But Barb (imo) has a gift for making wise the simple, or making complex computer terms and directions straightforward and simple.

I took her introductory class on WordPress, and part way through it, I realized the only way I would really understand what she was saying was to do it, open up the blog and add things and write.

I was still anxious about whether or not I was doing this right, so I reached back out to the colleauge and she shared with me some of the writers that she follows. So I signed up to follow them, and of course follow her as well.

The only problem I had was that my friend did mostly book reviews, as did the people she follows. Now, there is nothing wrong with book reviews, and some of my blogging friends do them as part of their whole blogging work. But, I do not. I wouldn’t know where to start.

I may, from time to time recommend a book, as I did in a previous paragraph. But if the book is a work of fiction, what I am most likely to tell you, beyond, author, title, and publishing, will have little to do with plot, character or context.

I will tell you if I think the book has good character transformation, and I will hand pick several quotes that show the authors facility with words. Words that were seemingly gathered together and dropped into a shaker cup, like die in a Parcheesi game, swirled around in the authors mind and poured out onto the page.

So with no disrespect intended for those who write book reviews, and do them well, I went off in search of writers with similar writing styles or interests to my own. I needed something to compare my own writing to, to see if I was doing it right!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Blogging friends, do you remember your first post, or your first few posts? The first time, after I had read, re-read, edited, added, subtracted, determined categories, tags, etc., and hit “Publish” I shook. I shook with excitement, but also fear, wondering what in the world I had done.

I have preached hundreds of sermons, presided at a large number of weddings and funerals, spoken in front of a lot of people, written countless college level and post graduate papers, but I shook.

All I could think of was what Martin Luther reportedly said after nailing his 99 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Or, was it “Here I stand, and God help me!”

Yet to have finally started, and have something in writing, my thoughts, my heart, published in a blog and the hope that readers would find it, and find it interesting and somehow worthy. That was it. That was the goal!

But Wait, There’s More!

As it turned out, there were layers more, that I have found enriching, but could not have predicted. As I mentioned in the first post “on writing” writers need to be readers.

That expectation is at the heart of “link parties.” A link party is an organized system of sharing that is set up by an author or group of authors that sets out the number of posts a blogger is invited to post, and also lists expectations that said blogger will read, comment and share a certain number of the posts of participants.

There are a lot of things I have come to appreciate about these parties. Right now, there are only two link parties that I participate in, Midlife Share the Love (#MLSTL) and Esme’s Senior Salon.


Sensal Banner

Some weeks I do both parties and some weeks I alternate. It takes a lot of reading and because it does, I appreciate every reader who takes the time to read and comment on my work.

The bloggers I read and follow are at different stages of their blogging journey. Some have only been blogging a year or more longer than I have, some have been at this for years. I have learned much from simply observing their content, writing styles and set up.

In general my paragraphs are long and my use of semi-colons can be sporadic. I am just never quite sure where to put those pesky things, and opinions vary. Nonetheless, I have been affirmed for my writing, but the “Grammar Police” have not gotten after my paragraphs or semi-colons.

Content and Community

Another important layer for me is what I have learned from the content I read. Some of the bloggers I follow are athletes, not professional athletes, but individuals who are dedicated to physical fitness and their overall health. Some are runners, some have extensive exercise routines, some bicycle, and I am none of those things.

Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, and I think that there is an implicit vulnerability to our writing. If you read the same writers consistently, a sharing of life happens. A love of grandchildren, of country, of surroundings, to name only a few themes.

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

O Humanity!

One of the things that has been very uniting in this wide world of blogging, is our common, yet differing experiences of life in the time of Covid-19. Regardless of anything politicians may have you believe, this did not just affect us in the United States, hence the word, Pandemic.

Everyone I have met through writing, has had to deal with the sorrow of missing or losing long planned vacations, just barely being able to be present for the birth of a grandchild, not seeing family in person, having to reduce communications to online gatherings. All of this, to say nothing of stress and depression that has been a side-effect of lockdown.

Perhaps it is normal that news media focus on their own country. When tragedy strikes in one country, there seems to be a direct link between how many “American” lives were involved or lost, and the amount of media attention that results. I suppose in many ways it a makes sense. But I want us to care and have compassion for sorrows beyond our own.

I can’t help wonder if the world would be a more peaceful place, if more people knew more people in other countries. Last year, when fires ravaged parts of Australia, I “felt bad,” for people I did not know. It was, as awful as it may sound, a very generic kind of feeling.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I want to think that it does. Because the next time I hear about something that happened in Australia, I am going to be looking at a map, and checking in, with Deb, Jennifer, Leanne, Sue and others to inquire about their well being.

From the early days of impending lock down, television, radio and media adds have proclaimed “We are in this together!” Yes, yes we are. But my hope now is the understanding that the “We” who are in this together, is a broader “We” than just US.

I know that I am a finite person and can only hold so many people in my heart, like a life raft. Family and friends first. Yet, because of a little thing called a blog, there is room to care about Deb, Sue, Leanne and others in Australia, Corinne and Pradeep in India, Enda in Ireland, Cheryl in Romania, Laurie in Pennsylvania and the list goes on and on. They have been my teachers, my role models in writing, my readers, and my writing community.

Who knew that all this could come from simply starting a blog?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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On Writing (Part I)

I was raised on stories, the stories my mother told me, the books she introduced me to, and of course the stories that I saw on television and movies. Stories have long been my pleasant diversion. But it was my teacher’s response to a composition that I wrote in ninth grade that began my love of writing.

Picture of an older woman looking over the shoulder of a young girl looking at a book.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Just as friendship is an important prelude to marriage, so reading as an important prelude to writing. In fact in both cases, it needs to be more than a prelude but a strong ongoing connection and relationship. Writers need to be readers.

Married people need to be able to like and respect each other, especially on days that they are not so much feeling the love. And, one hopes, on the days we may not even like each other very much (I have heard that it happens) to draw on those public promises we made to love, honor and cherish each other.

I only remember a small part of that first composition I wrote, the setting and the inclusion of subtle or wry humor. What I remember most was my teacher’s praise and encouragement to write. Thank you, Sister Mary Cecile!

The writing that I did not relish was the questions we had to answer at the end of the chapters in our literature books. And yet, we read some classics and the questions forced us to think.

Over the years, through high school and beyond, writing became an occasional pursuit, one that I enjoyed while doing it, but I only wrote when inspiration struck or a particular writing assignment was given. There was however, no discipline or devotion to my writing.

Picture of a woman writing in a notebook while working on a laptop computer.
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

In my defense, I did not go to college until after I was married. I did some writing in my single-parent days, and collected some rejection slips. I wrote some short stories, lots of one-liners, greeting cards and poems.

I got really brave in the early 1980’s and did a portfolio for Hallmark Cards. It was brave, because I cannot draw stick figures, but the cards needed to be illustrated. Rejected. I sent some one-liner’s to Reader’s Digest. Rejected. Now, I have to tell you, that one hurt. Especially the one I sent for “Toward More Picturesque Speech” It was “A fisherman waiting with bated breath.” I thought that was pretty picturesque!

In the meantime, I had three children, got divorced and spent much of the following ten years just trying to keep bodies and souls together. Ten years after that, after getting remarried and two empty nests (my kids and his), I answered a call to pastoral ministry. In the process, of becoming a pastor, I returned to college to get my Bachelor’s Degree, so I could go to seminary and get my Master’s Degree.

Three college level composition classes and a Creative Writing minor, forced me to a certain level of discipline and devotion to writing. Now though, all my writing was assigned, to say nothing of sermons and newsletters.

picture of a large staak of colorful books.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

There were times I felt like I was pushing out the toothpaste that was left in the bottom of the tube. But in college and seminary, given a choice between writing papers or taking exams, I always chose the papers.

History papers, theater papers, and of course all the levels of creative writing class papers, theology papers, biblical studies papers; my papers had papers! Eight years after getting my Master of Divinity degree, I returned to seminary for a Doctor of Ministry Degree and, you guessed it, more papers and a thesis.

Through all these years of writing, I did not give up the dream of publishing or getting published. I admit, I was disappointed to realize that I could not just publish my thesis as is, without a major rewrite. Shucks, I thought it was good and interesting (to a specific audience) and put that in the “maybe one day” category.

Pursing publishing, however, takes persistence and dedication and a lot more. In between getting degrees, I wrote sermons, newsletters and some things that I considered to be fun and hopefully informative. But I only wrote them when the inspiration hit. Still, I had no discipline, or plan, until Onset.

Walking and driving around Onset on those fall, rainy days in 2018 unleashed the floodgates in more than one way. The stories came, in waves, in torrents, rolling around in my head and heart as if they were big enough to contain the waters of Onset Bay and the Cape Cod Canal, Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Picture of the
Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

The memories too came in those persistent waves, until I realized the only way to deal with them was to write. To stop holding back the tide, to commit to making room for them in my day and allow them to spill onto paper. Written, not in pen and ink, but written in the salt water of the ocean and the salt water of tears, of gratitude and memory.

I still write sermons, I love to write sermons! I love biblical stories and characters. I love to read and listen to stories. I am in the car a lot and would be lost without “my” audiobooks and the opportunity to listen to writers who serve up a concoction of delicious words and amazing descriptions.

Writing may be a compulsion or a disease, for which the only cure is discipline and devotion. I have finally resolved to do what the sign on my wall says, and “write something every day!” To let those pesky thoughts out onto paper, before they die of solitary confinement. And so I write, because at 70 years old, I am

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association
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Unexpected Blessings ~ Part II

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

There have been many times in my life when my default mode has been “Out of sight, out of mind.”

When I transferred from public school to boarding school the beginning of 7th grade, it didn’t occur to me to let any of my classmates know, except my best friend Pete, who was two years ahead of me in school.

When I moved to take my first appointment as a pastor, moving from just three miles above the Maryland Line, to just about 25 minutes below the New York border, our immediate family knew about our move, and I had changed our address with the post office and other such places.

It it had not occurred to me to send my contact information to family who had become emotionally distant. In both sides of my family, there are levels or generations of cousins. The only cousin I had been close to as a teen, I had not seen or heard from in years. Even though we had some good memories of our youth and teen age years, the contacts seemed to fade into thin air.

Picture of a boy and a girl leaning against opposite sides of a tree,      
 with white cottages in the background.
My cousin Phil, and me.

As far as I know, there were no Marcellino family reunions. In my mother’s side of the family, reunions were weddings, funerals or religious celebrations involving one of the nuns or priests in the family.

Even in my husband’s family, the impetus to gather in reunions seemed to die off with the oldest generation and their children. Each year, the annual reunions were attended by fewer people and lasted fewer hours.

I did not send my address to a high school reunion committee, because I was not in touch with any classmates. It may have been difficult for them to keep up with my/our moves anyway. It is no wonder that they assumed that I was no longer among the living.

All of which to say, when I found out I could return to my hometown, Onset, Massachusetts for an entire week, it was without any expectation of visits, except for visits to the beach, visits to the canal, visits to the site of my former homes.

I was grateful for this opportunity and wanted to make the most of every minute. When we had visited in 2018, I had gotten a hotel about 25 minutes out of town. This time, I wanted to be much closer.

The trip felt like an extravagant gesture to begin with, I wanted to be cautious on the dollar side. I was willing to stay in a hotel, although there were a few reasons why I preferred some place with a kitchen.

I did want to eat out, preferably a few seafood dinners. But that also meant doing breakfast and lunch on the cheap and not fast food. Once the possibility of spending a week in Onset looked like it could happen, I began to search for a place to stay.

The U.V. Apartments
The former Union Villa, now The U.V.

I had been offered a beach house at an amazingly generous rate; but it was twice as much as my conscience would allow. Then a friend suggested that I try Airbnb, and that proved to be my best bet. It was the perfect combination of price and proximity.

I suppose that was my first unexpected blessing, finding the right place at the right price for the time I needed.

FAMILY QUESTIONS

Once I had finally settled on a place to stay and had reservations, I could turn my attention to preparing in earnest for this adventure. My dad had never talked very much about his family. I knew some details.

As I was getting ready for the trip, I realized that I did not know or remember what my father’s birth order was, or when and where my grandparents had met and married.

Picture of a tall man with a hat, a short woman and another man (my grandparents and my dad)
My grandparents, (Anibal, Mary) and my dad, July 1942

My grandmother was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal and came to the United States sometime in the late 1800’s, or not later than 1901. It would have been interesting to hear the story from her, what it was like to travel alone on a boat from Lisbon, Portugal to Fall River, Massachusetts. But I never asked, and not unlike my father, she did not talk about it.

Now and then she would talk about “the Old Country.” But not about herself or her life.

So, I called my brother to ask these questions. He is very knowledgeable about family stories, because he has done the research. He had really invested time and probably funds, in Ancestry.com and other searches.

But when he would talk about these things, I tried to listen attentively, but I confess my eyes glazed over now and then. I feel awful saying that, but it is true.

He would talk about people I had never heard of; John, Jake, some relatives I knew about and remembered, others, not so much. This time, when I called, he said, ‘You should really talk to your cousin Gina. She lives in Mashpee, on the Cape!

My response was articulate. I think I said, “My what, who, where?” “Cousin Gina, Uncle John’s granddaughter.” he replied. “Uncle who?” was the best I could muster.

I wanted to reach out, and I did, but it took me a while to figure out how? I could not figure out how I could tell them that I did not know their Grandfather, or their father existed. It felt rude! Simply put, Uncle John died before I was born, and with a father who did not tell stories about his family or life, I had no idea.

COUSINS

They were not offended, and were as happy as I was to discover new family. When I gave them my travel dates, we made plans to meet.

As it turned out, they were also in touch with other granddaughters of some of my dad’s sisters. Just before arriving in Onset, when we had set our meeting place, they told me another cousin would be joining us.

The more, the merrier. More people I did not know existed! Although I had vague recollections of their grandmothers. Then one of the “new” to me cousins was bringing her sister, and they were in touch with other cousins from another aunt.

Our gathering, which I described in another post, was a long leisurely lunch, that spilled over into an amazing day. We walked all over the cemetery where my parents and grandparents (their great-grandparents) were buried, searching for their graves.

I took them to see the site where our grandparents’/great-grandparents’ home was and the two homes where I grew up. We hugged, laughed, cried. I cried a lot. There is a Bible quote from Jeremiah about mourning, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears! (Jeremiah 9:1). That day, that was me. The tears came unbidden, but so did the joy.

Picture of some cottages on a sunny day.
Renovated Cottages, Photo Courtesy of Angela Shwom

In the company of my cousins, I felt a balm for my soul, that filled in the empty places that I hadn’t realized were there. I had family of my own. This was a blessing I could not have anticipated.

Although my in-laws (both sets) had been welcoming enough, after my mother died, I felt like an orphan. I felt as though I did not have family, beyond my children and husband, and of course my brother. In that one day, in the presence of these women who had been strangers, but were at once family, I felt like something had been restored.

CLASSMATES
Just before leaving town from our 2 day visit in 2018, I came across the contact information for a high school classmate. We talked for a long time. She told me that our 50th class reunion was scheduled for 10 days later.

I was tempted to get home to Pennsylvania, and turn around and go back, but really, that was a first conversation with her in 10 years. With no contact with anyone else in the class in almost 50 years, it would not have been totally genuine on my part. I had only been part of this class for the last two years.

Nevertheless, she put me in touch with other classmates, through Facebook and I was added to the Class of 1968 Facebook page. I learned a lot about the class members in the year that followed through personal and group Facebook posts and interactions.

I found them to be caring, compassionate and to have a deep love for their communities, including the beaches and the canal. Perhaps because a group put so much planning an effort into the 50th reunion, or maybe they already had it, they displayed a deep appreciation for the gift of life and for each other.

The following year, when they found out I was going to be in town, one of my classmates took the lead in planning a get together, because I was going to be there. Now, I believe the sincerity of that plan and was both excited and honored. But I also think, this is a group that enjoys getting together.

I went to the dinner without great expectations, hoping for some good seafood and some pleasant conversation. But I came away with more than that. I came away with a sense of renewed friendship, a surprising new friendship, a feeling of belonging, or acceptance, and the hope of more visits and continued contact.

There were other opportunities that week for some one-on-one, in person visits. I had plenty of time to walk on the beach, to write and reflect. But if I say more, this post will become a book. Everything about this trip home was more than I could have asked for, or imagined. Perhaps hoped for, but filled with unexpected blessings and grace.

Every day, when I am smart enough to pray, I thank God for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life. I thank God too, for cousins, and classmates, and the time to simply be.

I am just a vintage chic on a journey of discovery and I am

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Unexpected Blessings ~ Part I

More Than I Could Have Wished For

In the Spring of 2018, months before my retirement, I accepted an invitation to travel from my home in Pennsylvania to Maine, to perform a wedding for the relative of two of my parishioners. I would have done the wedding anyway, was honored to be invited, and had no problem traveling to Maine to do it; I would be retired after all, and had lots of time.

There was an extra added benefit to me personally. When I studied the geography, I realized that my home town was only a four hour drive south from the site of the wedding. I had not been home since my mother’s burial in 1994.

I would do the wedding; but I was going home too. It is not that I had not tried to go home before, just that life always seemed to interfere. I did not anticipate visiting anyone. I just wanted to go and take some pictures walk on the beach and look for seashells and say good-bye.

picture of a woman, young boy and girl in front of a white house, no porch.
Mom, my brother in me in front of the house, about 1953?

I reasoned that a good set of pictures that were current, along with my old 1950’s black and white photos would be all I could need. Then, I would close that door and live out my life.

Plans Changed

About six weeks before my actual retirement date, I accepted a part time appointment (approximately 30 hours a week) serving two churches. So now, my open ended vacation had to change to just 2 days in town. Well, I thought, it would be enough.

To say that I was unprepared for the emotional impact of being at home, for only the 2nd time since 1973, is an understatement. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I was caught off guard. The sights, sounds and smells of the beach, even on a chilly fall day seemed to be attached to something that was almost ethereal.

As we drove around town, visiting and re-visiting the sites of my first home, the home of my childhood, and the Union Villa, the home of my youth, walked on the pier and the beach, I knew that two days, and partial days at that, were not enough. I had to come back.

I needed more time. More time to reminisce, more time to drink in the views, to smell the salt air, and to search, though for what, I was not quite sure.

At every site we visited, standing across the street from the Union Villa, which had been transformed, standing on the street looking at the cottages my parents had built, trying to take in and discern all the changes and wondering if I had the nerve to ignore the sign that said “Private Property.” (I did not). Still, every place we stopped, the word “Write” burned in my heart, and lodged in my throat like a huge lump.

I wanted to write, about home and growing up in Onset in the 1950’s and 60’s, but I was afraid. I had written some of the stories briefly in creative writing classes in college (my minor). I have told some of the stories in sermons and other venues, but to actually write and publish them in some form?

Have I told you that I suffer from Procrastination? Perhaps suffer isn’t the correct word, pretty sure that I have perfected it! And along with the procrastination came a finely honed case of the “What if’s?” Throw in fear of rejection, and a case of writer’s block, and you have the perfect combination of wishing, but not doing.

However, none of those roadblocks, were as strong as the persistent call to write, as I walked on the beach, drove around my old stomping grounds and simply breathed in the bittersweet air of memory.

close up picture of a old fashioned typewriter, with words on the page,' to blog...or not to blog
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

I came out the other end of this journey, promising myself to return, if at all possible, and to start writing with both devotion and discipline.

I have a simple poster on my wall that I printed when I was working on my doctor of ministry thesis; it reads, ‘Write Something Every Day!” But even working on my thesis, that did not quite work, and after my thesis was complete, I could ignore it for weeks on end.

The first surprise or blessing

The pictures that I had gone to take, to either frame or to file, were the first surprise. I had expected the pictures to be what pictures generally are, one dimensional pieces of paper, or one dimensional digital formats.

Rather than being just a piece of memory cut off from the moorings of the past, each picture proved to be laden with memory and meaning. I felt as though I were a participant in a motion picture special effects experiment, transported from the present into the vivid past, while the present seemed to be enveloped in a distant fog.

If I were to show you a picture of my daughter and her family, you might look, nod politely and say something like, “Very nice” “Pretty young woman,” “Cute kids.” “Nice looking dad.” Such polite responses would be appropriate, you have no history or relationship with the people in the photograph. It might as well be a nineteenth century Tin Type picture.

picture of a mother and infant
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels (not my real family)

When I look at the same picture, voices and memories converge. I remember how much my daughter loved shock value, even at six years old. I remember the three separate times in as many years that she brought home stray dogs, and how much she still loves animals today. You have a polite connection with my family picture, I have emotional attachment.

It was the same with the pictures I took. They spoke! They welcomed me to a different reality in which I might find that crucial thing that I had left behind when I moved away for the first time in 1970. And they beckoned me back.

Hoping to return

My hope, which I was able to achieve, was to have a full week in my hometown, plus travel time. It was not about visiting family, I had no attachments near town that I knew of, and no contact with any of my father’s family, since his funeral and my mother’s. If she received Christmas cards from them, she did not say. There were no lingering phone conversations or eagerly made plans between my mother and my dad’s family.

I had not had any contact with most of my classmates since 1969, with one exception. And while we were close friends in 11th and 12th grade, our contact through the years had been sporadic at best. We could always pick up where we left off, but that was it.

Panoramic view of Onset Beach, people in chairs, people walking on beach, boats in the water.
Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

It was okay though, my planned visit was all about place and being. I wanted to walk on the beach at any opportunity, search for sea shells, take pictures, simply be, and oh yes, write. That was it! It seemed like a full week to me. Of course, I planned to visit the cemetery where my parents are buried, but that was not the focal point of my trip. I hoped to spend some quality time by the Cape Cod Canal, which I had to skip in 2018. My absolute goal was to be, just be, and to write and to soak it all up, to drink it all in, to fill up memory banks and sensory banks and maybe eat some good seafood.

Who knew, that I had set my sights too low, and that there were more unexpected blessings to come?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

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Sheba’s Quiet Life

Things about Sheba that make me sad:

Sheba will be six years old on June 25th, at least according to her rescue records, and she will have been with us for a year and a half. I do not know a lot about dogs, just the dogs that we have had. Sometimes I wonder if she misses or missed her puppies. We know that when she was rescued she had recently given birth and was still recovering, but there were no puppies mentioned in the rescue and sixteen dogs were rescued. We do not know if that was her first litter or not, we do not know if it was a puppy mill or not. I just wonder sometimes if she misses them.

Although she lets Roger pet her, in fact she begs to be petted, she still leaves a room when he comes into it, will not eat if he is in the room, and backs up to me, or backs into my office if he approaches. We both share in walking her, she generally needs to be walked three times a day. I had shoulder surgery in early April and could not walk her and my husband did it every time, getting up early to get her out, and feeding her.

I think I have finally figured out that she will approach him when he is sitting whether at the table, at his computer or on the couch. It is when he is on his feet and moving, approaching her on foot or entering a room that she is most likely to run. He noticed that if he approaches her from either side, approaching from the right she is less likely to bolt than if he is approaching from her left. Vision? or Past experience?

Truthfully, I think that his caring for her totally while I was recovering from surgery helped her to be less wary of him, but it is still sad that despite a year and a half of a good and easy life, her past and past abuse seems to haunt her. There are occasions when she will seem afraid for no apparent reason, although I think that happens less often now.

She continues to be wary of strangers and although we need some opportunities to help her get socialized, the COVID-19 Quarantine has limited her opportunity to be exposed to our friends.

Things about Sheba that amaze me: Sheba gets “good girl” treats when we walk her and she has done what a good dog does. It is rare that she doesn’t cooperate on a walk. One thing that amazes me is how gently and carefully she takes the treats from our hands.

When we first got her, she did not seem to know what her nose was for, but now when she gets outside she seems to take great delight in sniffing every possible blade of grass. Every.

Despite her sad history, we learned last summer that Sheba likes, loves being outside. When my husband is working in the yard or the garage, she will hang out in the yard with him, on a tie out rope. She has a good length so she can move around, he makes sure she has water.

How can I possibly know that she loves being outside? She will get up when I approach and is happy to have me fuss over her a bit, but then she returns to her cozy spot in the grass. Even shaking her food dish so that she can hear the food move around in her dish, is not enough to entice her back inside the house. Perhaps that is good for my ego; there is something that she loves more than me!

She also loves being on the front porch and seems happy to watch people, dogs and cars come and go, or just suns herself.

Even though we have “invited her” she will not get on the couch or any other furniture. She is well spoiled with dog beds, but I think she could be really comfortable up there with us and curl up between us and get petted, or just snuggle. She does like close physical contact.

She does not bark! except in her sleep. It is cute and I appreciate it. We have neighbors with yappy, barky dogs who will bark at anything or anyone that moves. They have terrorized Sheba. She is bigger than they are but they scare her.

Picture  of Dog on her hind  legs, looking out the window.
Did something move out there?

All that being said, one day Sheba startled me and scared me a bit. She jumped up from her bed, ran to the other side of the room to the rear window and barked loudly, slamming into the window. I thought she was going through the window. She ran around the dining room panting, went from window to window and back again, barking and slamming into the window. There was a rabbit in her yard!

Things about Sheba that make me smile:

When we go upstairs at night for bed, she races ahead of me and then turns around on the landing to look at me. I think she looks at me with a “grandmother” kind of face and to make sure that I am actually following her, even though I am the one who started upstairs.

I take foolish, chances and take advantage of her stopping there to reach out and pet her face to face, while I am standing about 3 steps below her. That is fine as long as I don’t lose my balance, but it has become a nightly ritual.

She follows me or waits on me. When I am washing dishes, she will straddle the kitchen doorway until I am done. She will wait for me a discreet distance away when I am in the bathroom.

Perhaps like other dogs, or our other dogs, Sheba likes routine. She gets a dental treat at noon, supper at 5:00 p.m. and a rawhide treat at 7:30. Sometimes she seems to be able to tell time, other time it just seems like wishful thinking.

Picture of Sheba standing in front of me on the front porch. A large black and tan dog.
Waiting patiently

Odds and Ends

Please do not think that I never get annoyed at her, pastor, yes; saint, no. She can be very pushy and annoying when she wants something and can seem to put her entire weight into her face that she uses to push my hand. Since she gets walked three times a day, I really try to space it so it doesn’t turn into 4 times, unless the need seems great.

She is stubborn if she wants to go in one direction and not in another. She is very easily distracted, if she sees a person, or another dog, or hears a blade of grass rustle, she will forget why she was outside in the first place.

Did I say that she is afraid of small children? With the schools closed due to COVID-19, she was happy to walk around the whole perimeter of the school yard. But if kids are playing in the play ground, once she hears their voices, she will do a 180 and strain on the leash to go back the way we came.

I did say earlier that she can be annoying? Around 8:00 p.m. or a bit later, when I should have left my office and computer, she will come to get me. Pushing my hands away from the keyboard, as though she were a sheep dog and I were her sheep. She likes us all to be in the living room together in the evening, even though she will not join us on the couch. Annoying, but wise.

Misty, our Beagle adored my husband. She would often sit against him on the couch, throw her head back and look up at him and I wondered what that felt like. She never did that to me; but he was her Alpha male and I was “the other woman”.

picture of a beagle curled up at a man's feet. They are on a couch.
Misty

Sheba sits at my feet when we are on the couch and she will on occasion throw her head back and look up at me. I feel bad because she does not do that for Roger and so often ignores him. But that action, that act of adoration or something, whatever it means is quite lovely and humbling.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright © 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and msomervillesite.Wordpress.com – All rights reserved.

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Let Us Be Part of the Solution

Feeling helpless in the face of the Pandemic Racial Tensions?

It is normal to feel helpless in the face of something as huge as both the Pandemic and the current atmosphere of Racial Tensions. Both are national in scope, and in some cases international.  Sometimes, if you can do even one thing, or more than one thing, it can help make a difference. You and I can help to make a difference right where we live.

The required disclaimer is, that I write as a white woman who is over the age of 55. I do not know what it feels like to be a black person. I only know what I see and hear in the news media and social media. The chances of my being stopped by a member of a police force for simply “driving while white,” is unlikely. That being said, I want to offer some suggestions that I think can help to make a difference.

The second disclaimer is that it is, not unlike the Commandments, it is difficult to phrase them all in positive language. Here goes:

black neon sign with white letters. Words, "Think about things Differently"
Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi from Pexels

Stop sharing negative posts on Social Media. Why? They are designed to stimulate animosity and limit communication and compassion. If you doubt that, pay careful attention to the photograph that accompanies the post, and the responses that it garners. The result is little better than an inflammatory tweet. It is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

There is a difference between protesting and rioting: I do not know anyone who thinks that rioting, looting and violence will solve anything, and those actions are upsetting. They also get in the way of our being able to hear the pain and anger of the protesters. Not all protesters are rioters and not all rioters are protesters.

Some people are taking advantage of the situation and are intentionally making things worse. Please do not let that stop you from hearing, learning, speaking up and acting in positive ways.

Do not engage the haters. They will not listen to you and you will be wasting your breath, and perhaps even making them happy because they succeeded in getting you riled up.

It is okay to “agree to disagree” with someone. It is okay to walk away from an unproductive conversation. I would go so far as to say it is healthy to do so, when you cannot come to an understanding or a meeting of the minds.

Don’t be dismissive. Have you ever shared a story of a deep, personal pain with someone only to have them dismiss your feelings, hurt or experience? Sometimes people say things like, “You think that is bad, wait until I tell you what happened to me!” I know that has happened to me; and I know that I have probably done it to others. It may be unintentional, of course, but it hurts nonetheless.

From an outsider’s perspective: When you look at the protests, riots and demonstrations and ask, ‘How is this helping the Floyd family?’ Try to understand that the initial response that sparked demonstrations was in response to the murder of Mr. George Floyd. It was for many people, the last straw, on top of many other last straws.

There is a significant list of similar deaths that have occurred in the last eight years. I see the demonstrations and protests as responses to a combination of all of that; the murder of George Floyd and many others. Say his name. Learn their names. They mattered. They were somebody’s son or somebody’s daughter.

Seek Understanding: Have you ever said in response to the statement, “Black Lives Matter” “All lives matter,” or “Blue lives matter” or something like that? The “Black Lives Matter” movement is in response to the large number of black people and black bodies that have been murdered or killed by police. It is it’s own statement and does not need to be edited by us. It is a statement that tells a story and deserves to be respected.

It does not mean that all police are bad or evil or murderous. But there are sufficient document cases where this has happened, and for the most part gone unpunished. The last time I checked, the role of “judge, jury and executioner” is not accorded to police at any level. I do realize there are circumstances when the taking of a life becomes necessary in the performance of their duties. Black Lives matter!

Taking a Knee at a football game: People I know, love and care about have been upset with this demonstration of protest in National Football games. I am sorry that I kept silent. I did not want to offend them.

Those I know who vocalized their frustration, and perhaps anger, saw this action as disrespecting the flag. I wish I had said, as often as necessary, that it was an act of silent protest in response to the frequent loss of black lives at the hands of unethical police practices. Protest is still a civil right. Football players taking a knee in protest on a national stage could have started a needed conversation. We just did not hear what they were trying to tell us.

“I am not a racist.” I do not know anyone who is racist. But there is a difference between not being racist and being anti-racist. The distinction may seem subtle to those of us who are not inclined to be activists.

In not being a racist, most of us would not think to do anything against a black person. But it is time to do something positive: Be an ally; educate yourself about the problems of racism, and racial injustice. I will include some resources at the bottom of this post and hope you will seek others on your own. Perhaps through your local library, your church or clergy person.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Make Friends with someone who does not look like you. This can be a challenge where I live and serve, because our communities are pretty white. Our churches are pretty white, too. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been quoted as saying that 11:00 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States. Fifty plus years later, that hasn’t changed from what I can see. So, maybe it takes effort, but it should not be impossible.

Listen to someone’s story of racism. Do not interrupt, do not counter share, that is counter with your own ‘you think that is bad’ story. Just listen. Perhaps if more of us had listened things would not have gotten to this point.

I know that I am not always a good listener. I am such a talker, that I get in my own way. When we listen, we are supposed to be paying attention to the words that are being spoken and the feelings that are being shared, not listening for a place where we can jump in and talk. Just Listen.

Don’t just tweet, or post or make a poster. Resolve to do something positive to be part of the solution. These are all simple ways to overcome that feeling of helplessness and I believe we can make a difference. We can learn to know better and then do better.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Some resources worth exploring:

www.naacp.org

www.blacklivesmatter.com

http://www.raceamity.org

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Timeless Advice from a (somewhat dated) Chick Flick

One of my favorite all time romantic comedies is You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.* Even though the technology featured in the film is now dated, there are some timeless ideas and advice in the movie that have stuck with me through the years. Okay, I also have to add that it has stuck with me through the numerous times I have watched this movie.

picture of a manual typewriter with some stuck keys
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Near the end of the movie, just after a significant turning point, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) visits Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) at her apartment. He says to her in a half-hearted attempt to apologize for putting her out of business, “It wasn’t personal,” he says “it was business!” She respond by saying, ‘Well, it was personal to me! It was personal to a lot of people. Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

I wrote in a previous post about Friendships and types of friendships and pretty sure I just scratched the surface. It seems to be me that most relationships ought to be personal at some level. Long gone are the days when items like milk and bread were delivered to our doors. But mail is still delivered. And many of us still shop “in person” for groceries and other necessities. I am one of those fussy people who prefers to pick out my own food and clothing.

There was a period of time when my then favorite store stopped carrying women’s dress clothes in the store, but there were plenty of “misses” or “Women’s” size casual clothes available. I was told by a compassionate cashier that I could always order online and if an item didn’t fit, I could return it through the store. “Or,” she said lightly, “you could return the item by shipping.” I was crestfallen at best and slightly depressed. While I am not one to try to decide what someone is thinking without their saying so, it felt as if the store were saying to overweight women everywhere, ‘You can’t possibly need dress clothes, the sweats and jeans are…over there!”

Pcture of a woman ina store hanging clothes on rack
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

I pleaded my case with a couple of cashiers, fighting back the tears. It was an hour’s drive, to get there and to my way of thinking, picking out something to try on at the store, is more efficient than ordering online, waiting for the item to arrive to try on and then having to go through the work of returning the item. Much quicker to put it back on the rack in the store; without paying postage or shipping.

I prefer the personal contact. I always engage cashiers in the briefest of conversations, in the hope that I can add something to their day, a moment of pleasantness or even compassion. If you want or need a cynical reason for a personal contact with a cashier, it helps to keep their attention on me and my money or credit card while the transaction is taking place. Rather than them talking with another associate, while ringing up my purchase. I think the personal contact is crucial.

The isolation and social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 virus have made this that much more important to me, and I think, to others. In small towns people tend to wave at each other, even strangers. Sitting on your porch and someone drives by, wave. Walking down the street and someone drives by, wave. And don’t forget to smile.

picture of a woman in a store paying with a credit card
BUt most important is the smile on the cashier
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Does it matter if you smile if you are wearing a mask? No one can see your smile! I recently arrived at a meeting a few minutes early, with the intent of checking my hair and putting on some lipstick. I do not wear much make-up. I realized when I saw someone else who had arrived for the meeting already had their mask on and then I realized that the lipstick was superfluous, but smiling is not. I am pretty sure when we smile, it exercises all of our face muscles and shows around our eyes. Life is tough and has recently gotten tougher. Soften it with a smile.

Beyond that, part of my concern is that fear of the virus and the potential spread and the need for social distancing, has made limited personal contact an imperative. I think, not to sound alarmist, that we are in danger of losing something vital in our society. It has been weeks, months since this all began and there are some things that will not go back to the way they were; in person connectivity should not be one of them. “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

PLAN B for “Brave

Earlier in the story, after an unsuccessful protest and media campaign fails to turn her business around, Kathleen makes the dreaded decision. She shares this with her mother’s friend Bertie and when she tells her she has decided to sell the store, Bertie tells her it’s a brave thing to do. “You are daring to imagine that you can have a different life.”

picture of suggestions pinned to a bulletin board
Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

What happens if your heart is set on a goal that cannot happen? So many factors apply, aptitude, talent, education, but also job market, economy, etc. I got my college degree at 49 years old in 1999. I was already a pastor and headed to seminary. I settled for a liberal arts degree, for reasons that don’t matter here. But I had two academic loves in college; History and English. I had significant credits and course work in those subject areas and it was tempting to either do a dual major or shift from liberal studies to major in one of them. I did not want to teach and I was eager to finish college and get to seminary. But there was also a joke making the rounds at the time: “What did the History major ask the English major?” The answer was, “Do you want fries with that?”

As a much younger person, I started out at nursing school, right after high school. From the time I was ten years old I wanted to be a nurse. I read every youth nursing series that was popular at the time (Cherry Ames, Kathy Martin, etc) and I had been a ten year old surgery patient. It didn’t take more than a few months in nursing school to realize that I did not have the maturity or other necessary attributes.

In Kathleen Kelley’s case, closing the store gave her the opportunity to consider what else she might do with her life. One can have a retirement Plan B, or a career Plan B. It may be good to have a few additional letters in your option basket.

Retirement Plan B

There are some ways I/we did not do a great job of retirement planning. What younger person can think ahead to financial needs 40 years in the future? But I did begin in my last year of full time ministry to begin to prepare, especially prepare myself emotionally; I had watched some friends really struggle with retirement. The planning I did was partly financial (we bought a house) but it was mostly spiritual and emotional. To paraphrase a song from another movie (White Christmas)** “What do you do with a pastor, when she stops being a pastor?” That took a lot of soul searching.

Of the pastors that I know who have served over 30+ years and many longer, many seem content to stop and go onto life fulfilling retirement goals. I had only been a pastor for 22 years and I wasn’t ready to stop, just cut my hours back. The full-time expectation for United Methodist Pastors is 55-65 hours a week (emergencies included) and the closer I got to 65 years old, the more I knew in my bones that I no longer had the energy for full-time ministry. (Slight disclaimer here, this picture was taken at my retirement party and while I may look really tired, I had been crying – a lot!)

Picture of myself and Roger at my retirement party. Interesting, not sure why the dates is wrong in the picture!
Retirement Celebration 6/23/18 ~ Photo by Jean Barber

But I only took 6 weeks off and have been serving part time (about 30 hours a week) for two years. It is not unusual for our pastors to go back to work part time, and it fulfills a need, both for pastors and churches. I am not ready to stop yet, but I am finally at a point in life, when I can imagine something different. I am hoping for another full year. But I know it is getting near time to be brave. Time to develop a Plan B. Time to imagine a different life.

There is one other thing. When I first entered the work-force, the average person expected to retire from the same company they began working at, or at least the same occupation. So where a person my age may have begun a career with that expectation, I think people entering the work force now have different expectations and perhaps begin working with several different letter options in their baskets.

What about you? Have you ever had to rely on your Plan B? or Plan C? Or are there other timeless movie quotes that have become a part of your life?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

* You’ve Got Mail. Director: Nora Ephron. Performers: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Jean Stapleton, Greg Kinnear. Laura Shuler Donner Productions. 1998.

** Song “What Do You Do With a General?” Bryan Darcy, Irving Berlin in White Christmas. Director: Michael Curtiz. Performers: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen. Paramount Pictures. 1954.

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A Sideways Look at Life in Lockdown

I feel compelled to begin with something of a disclaimer. I realize the weight of the pandemic that has caused much of the world to grind to a screeching halt and retreat into a science-fiction-like version of society.

I am embarrassed to say that all this, our time in lockdown, has snuck up on me. Like many, I saw it coming on the news and watched with the wariness that one watches weather forecasts of massive amounts of snow, or none, if the cold front moves in exactly the right way; or a hurricane, unless it moves out to sea. (Or some other natural disaster.) We try to prepare, stock up and pray or whatever one does to get ready for an unwanted event. I am often struck by the messages that people write on the plywood they use to board up their windows in preparation for a hurricane. Go ahead and write, tell the weather where to go and what to do, but please do evacuate when that is called for; do not however, expect plywood or painted words to keep you safe.

Picture of a lighting strike at night, dark sky, black water
Photo by Philippe Donn from Pexels

Just so, I thought the news media was fear mongering and maybe they were doing just that. I do not think we need a steady diet of stirred up emotion, “Just the facts ma’am.” Then our Bishop urged us to close our churches for two weeks in March in an effort to “Do no harm” in the face of the growing pandemic. “Do no harm” is not only an important part of the Hippocratic Oath that Doctors take, but an oath that others take as well.

I thought, and perhaps others did as well, “I will do as I am asked, but I can’t wait until we get back to church and we will…celebrate, and have a party, and have a dish to pass dinner, and a hymn sing, and hug each other…” Then schools were closed for two weeks, and then the “Stay at Home” orders came rolling in, like storm clouds moving rapidly from one region to another. Now school was closed (In Pennsylvania) for the remainder of the school year, and our stay at home order was in place for 30 days and there was no going to church. But there could be church. Online.

I have often joked that I am ‘a-technical’, and so when I assumed the appointment to serve two churches in retirement and learned that it would be my job to prepare the power point each week for the smaller of the two churches, I was indeed stressed. I was glad to be serving a church where power point was expected, but in my recent years in ministry, I was able to expect someone else to do it. Someone who considered it a breeze, a snap, a walk in the park, a piece of cake!

picture of a slice of cake, chocolate, thick chocolate or peanut butter icing and blue berry tooping
Photo by Abhinav Goswami from Pexels

Yes, that piece of cake, comfort food with icing. That was what I wanted. I did not know for instance, how to locate lyrics online, copy and paste and make them fit the power point screen. Tasks that more technically minded people take for granted. You may be surprised to know that it takes longer to type hymn lyrics if you sing them when you type them! Trying to hold open a 2″ thick hymnal so you can see to type the words without the weight of the other pages flopping back down takes coordination and determination.

It took a while and even that “copy and paste” thing is not as user friendly as I would like, but it did help me prepare for bigger things. Now, to record a modified service on “You-Tube” and upload, download, reload, I am never quite sure which load it is. Figuring out which computer is the best option, my desk top or lap top, what room in the house has the best connectivity, and then the big shock. While recording on You-Tube is pretty straight forward, other options were more attractive. It took me at least 4 weeks to figure out that as a-technical as I am, I could learn to edit the mistakes out of the video. But that was more easily done in a different format.

Picture of a young woman in front of  a computer, looking like has a headache or is thinking.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The big shock was recording in a different format and then loading it onto You Tube or another option takes H-O-U-R-S. Meanwhile my stress level is increasing and all I can think of is Sugar, give me Sugar. Chocolate Chips, in cookie form or just poured into my hand. Skip the Jack Daniels, you can have a beer. Just give me sweets! Many of my blogging friends who are into healthy eating are probably cringing or at least nodding sympathetically and thinking, “Ah, Michele, this is why we are stressing health eating in lockdown.”

Then came the Sunday, as I was trying to learn the intricasies of getting a recorded service loaded so I could email the link to those who were not on Facebook and did not yet realize that this other different format was still not going to load in the 10 minutes I had allotted. Instead of a 10:30 a.m. service, some of the flock had checked out other online opportunities, while I sheepishly was unable to load my service until 3:30 p.m.

It has been a process made better by two younger, patient, technically savvy colleague/friends who were able to walk me step by step through the process to some success and talk me off the ledge of chocolate chip cookie overload. Did I say I stress eat?

Picture of a half dozen chocolate chip cookies, lots of chips on a board
Photo by Brigitte Tohm from Pexels

This has been a large part of my ministry-life in lockdown. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful that I have been able to do this and other things to help the churches I serve stay connected and have some meaningful contact with their own church. Let me just add two words: Learning Curve.

I fully understand the seriousness of the situation we have been in and are not out of yet. While I am in a confessional vein though, I confess to savoring the time to simply be home. I was unable to stay put the first few weeks because of impending surgery, physical therapy appointments, pre-op appointments, and the like. So it has only been the last four weeks that I have been able to just savor being at home, except for needed food runs. This has been permission giving, and it helps me look ahead to a time when I will no longer be partly retired and see the possibilities. My husband and I live a quiet, simple life which I relish, when I am smart enough to stay home (ministry is generally not done long distance or only online).

Being at home more, has given me an opportunity to write or to be more intentional and dedicated in writing and reading. While often my “reading’ is actually listening to audio books while I drive to classes, meetings, services and other gatherings, I have been able to hold my Kindle or an actual book in my hands and read it.

Picture of our dog, Sheba, a tall, lean mixed breed, black and tan dog.
Sheba, checking things out

I was going to say something about healthy eating in quarantine, but that “Cat is out of the bag.” I will say, that I am not totally ignoring the advice of blogging friends and have been working at healthier eating, in the hopes that something is better than nothing and while I am not the least bit athletic, our dog Sheba, has to be walked three times a day and that is generally good for a significant amount of steps on my Fitbit.

Sheltering in place at home without going anywhere but the store, has been mostly good. I have not turned into a hermit and there have been a few days when I have been weepy for no apparent reason. Between writing, emails and phone calls I have had lots of social contact, though I miss hugs from friends. I have not accomplished some of the things that I had hoped to do. I haven’t given up on them, just have not gotten to them yet.

Picture of an "oen "ign
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

As of this writing, I have no clue when we will be able to fully re-open churches. I am quite sure no one in my area does either. We want everyone to be safe. I want, for myself and my flock at least, if not our culture in general, to think more deeply about needed changes. Speaking for myself, I have not gotten all the way there yet. I thought I would have a few other projects done by now and I expected to be making loads of homemade bread, but then came shoulder surgery. What am I hoping to gain from what remains of this ‘lock-down time?’

I would like to gain some mastery of the technical tools I need to use in this season, and thereby reduce my stress level and increase my efficiency. I want to laugh more; I want to stay home more (while still earning my keep at church) and I want to bake that bread. Okay, and maybe some chocolate chip-peanut butter-oatmeal cookies too! Perhaps most of all, I hope to reason my way through needed changes before life in lockdown is history and I unconsciously go back to the way things were.

What about you? I would love to hear from you. What has been your biggest learning or gain from this time? Have you been able to use it to your advantage? What do you hope will change, or do you hope everything will change back, as though it had been a bad dream?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Featured

On Friendships

I am thinking about two different themes in this post. How do you, or does one, determine if a person is a friend? And then I also wonder, how do we help our children and young people determine or distinguish about types of friends?

And here is another question, can the category of BFF (Best Friends Forever) be determined in the first months of friendship, or is it something one can determine, only after years of solid history, looking back from the other end of time? Being someone’s BFF can be a lot of pressure.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

The best compliment anyone every gave me as a friend, came many years ago, more years than I want to count. They said that I was very accepting as a friend; that I did not judge them, but accepted them as they were. I liked hearing that, and tried to be that person to the best of my ability. My ability has not always lived up to the ideal described by my friend (what was his name?) so many years ago. See what I mean? I can be very “out of sight, out of mind.”

In addition to that, I procrastinate, and live with the “shoulds.” I should give “so and so a call,” but maybe later. Later, turns into much later until I am embarrassed. As I recently said to a friend of over 40 years, “Well, the phone does work both ways.” I really wish I hadn’t said that. It was immature and even if it is a truth, it does not excuse my failure to call a good friend with whom I have a long term shared history.

Oddly enough, Facebook has helped me to see the need to think about different types of friendly relationships. I think Facebook’s categories are useful, (Friend, Close Friend, Acquaintance and Unfriend), but I also think that is a starting place. To them I would add the following:

FRIENDS FOR A SEASON: I met Gloria in Spanish class at the then, Pensacola Junior College, when I was a lonely and confused Navy wife in Pensacola, Florida. She was also a Navy wife and our husbands were not in Pensacola. She taught me so much, made me laugh and cry. She was Lutheran and I was Catholic and we went to church with each other and bemoaned not being able to take communion in each other’s churches. We spent some real quality time together, but lost touch after I moved way. I am still grateful for her and miss her, but it was a relationship for a season.

Photo by Tobi from Pexels

WORK FRIENDS (Colleagues) I am an itinerant pastor, which means I go where the Bishop sends me for as long as I am sent. It is part of my ordination vows, and something I knew going into the process. I live and serve in a defined geographic area (Central Pennsylvania ~ from the Maryland Line to the New York border). It is not unusual for our moves to create a crisscross pattern, like a team building exercise where a group tosses a ball of yarn back and forth, creating an acrylic web. In the process, I have had some colleagues that fit all of Facebooks’ criteria, but that has also made me think of other criteria as well.

CONFIDANTS That is not a noun I use very often, but, ask yourself this question. Out of all the people you connect with in your life, especially if you are the gregarious, extrovert type of person, how many of them do you trust with your most personal thoughts, experiences, hopes and dreams? As far as I know I have never been burned in this area, but I know people who have been very hurt by a failure to be trustworthy.

I think for many of us at least this is, and probably should be, a very small number, compared to all of the other people who we relate to in various capacities. Twice in twenty years, I responded to a colleague’s question by saying, ‘We do not know each other well enough for you to ask that, or for me to answer.”

I read somewhere that there is a limit to the number of sustainable friendships a person can manage. That makes sense to me. While one can have a lot of acquaintances (should they be forgotten?) close friendships require an investment of time and the development of history. I am not talking about those relationships that are sometimes, truthfully or callously referred to as “high maintenance.”

PROFESSIONAL FRIENDS (Mentors, mentees and others.) Not splitting hairs, but I see this category as a little different than work friends. When I was going through my process toward ordination, I had several very good mentors. At the time we worked together they seemed like friends, and I suppose they were. But our friendship and relationship had time and content boundaries. When that stage was over, and it was a relationship that was assigned by our supervisor (District Superintendent), it was time to move on to the next phase and the next mentor.

Pastors are in a slightly different situation than other professionals, like doctors or counselors. For instance I have had many people say to me in recent years, “You are not just our pastor, you are our friend.” Pastors are, hopefully human, and we are expected to have good boundaries and we are expected to love the people we pastor. We are also expected to move on at the end of our time, and that makes the ‘pastor/friend’ category somewhat challenging.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

FRIENDS YOU LEAVE BEHIND:

Every move that I made as an appointed pastor, I cried the first two weeks in the new place, not because anyone was mean or unkind, but simply grieving the loss of the previous relationships. It was a little bit like housekeeping for the heart, making space in my heart for the new flock, meant setting aside the prior relationships. Not ceasing to love them but ceasing to relate to them for the most part. When I retired, I cried. A lot.

FRIENDS WHO ARE LIKE FAMILY: My brother whom I love, is only six years older than I, but I lived almost half my life in a place he never lived. We have seen each other through the toughest of times. I cherish our relationship. For most of our adult lives we have lived at opposite ends of the country. While that relationship is important to me, I am also very grateful for friends who are like family. Friends I did not grow up with or even know in the first half of my life. But they are a present and ongoing part of my life, work and daily experience. Every time I pray, I give thanks to God for family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.

BLOGGING FRIENDS: A new category! Strictly speaking I have only been blogging since just before Christmas, 2019, although I have been writing for years. I realize that it may seem premature to label the connections I have made with other bloggers as “friendships.” Yet, while these women and men are unknown to me personally, having read their thoughts and experiences and their having read some of my most personal and formational stories, provides an interesting sense of connection. I am grateful for their feedback on my writing and stories. Perhaps because writers need to be readers, and bloggers especially, need to read other bloggers, a new depth and richness has been added to my experience of writing and to my life.

PIVOTING TO AN EXTENSION OF FRIENDSHIP:

Even for all of the categories and types of friendship I have described, I have probably just scratched the surface and that is part of my argument against an early declaration of someone as a BFF. I am not, however, arguing against close friendships; I think that we need them. Further, I think that close, trusted friendships are part of our mental health and are genuinely good for society.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

I do want to suggest before closing though, that the best qualities of friendship can be part of healing the world. We do not have to be friends with someone in order to treat them with respect, honor and kindness. We do not even have to agree with them politically, religiously or otherwise. When I shop, I try to engage the cashier in a brief conversation, ask about their day and how they are being treated during the busiest seasons. I admit to having favorite cashiers, but I never mistake those relationships for friendships. Just simple humanity. A simple opportunity to help make someone’s day better, because it can affect everything that follows.

CALLED TO KINDNESS: My friend Donna says that she sees herself as “Called to Kindness,” during this Pandemic especially. She says that it is not that she is trying to impose that on others, but it defines her understanding of who she is called to be, especially now. There was a movement a few years back, perhaps more than a few years, encouraging people to practice “Random Acts of Kindness” I think now, we need more than Random Acts, but Intentional and Frequent Acts of Kindness. It can make such a difference and it is not superficial. Kindness won’t cure illness or disease, but it undergirds compassion. It seems to me that kindness and compassion ought to be the middle names of a group of people known as humankind. Kindness fueled by compassion and simple respect can be part of healing the world. I.M.O.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Featured

Last Call for Alcohol (Jack, Maggie and Alcohol)

One of my favorite childhood memories, in terms of my dad’s drinking, (yes I know how strange that may sound) was the sense of celebration when he got home. After the opening of the suitcases and the giving of presents was done and supper was started, he would go to the neighbors and invite them to “Stop in and have a drink with us, I just got home.” I remember going with him one time, young enough to be holding his hand and knocking on the same doors I would knock on a few years later to sell Girl Scout Cookies. Somehow it felt special to be part of the invitation crew.

Dad circa 1929

If there was any orientation or any preparation needed for living at the Union Villa, it was simply living at home. There would be people who cursed and used bad language at the bar. Dad was a sailor, check and check. There would be people drinking to excess and being drunk. Dad was a sailor, check and check. It was called ‘Celebrating.” In addition there were all the times I accompanied them making the rounds to the local bars, including the Glen Cove Hotel and the Union Villa and several other bars that are no longer in existence. Check and check again.

One thing that made this all bearable for me, especially after I was a teenager, was that I knew there were people who were mean drunks, I had witnessed it first hand, but not from him. Surprisingly, I never felt unsafe. Mom did all the driving, but she also drank. I marvel now, that there were no accidents (or tickets, as far as I know).

Jack and Maggie did not fight, and I am pretty sure she was never embarrassed by him either. There was one time that still makes me sad to think of it. We were out at a restaurant and there was some kind of local community meeting. They were attending the meeting after dinner, and he had already started to drink with dinner. Maybe he had already started before that. At some point during the meeting he got the microphone, but between the hiccups and slurred speech, it just wasn’t pretty. Somebody said (out loud) “get that microphone away from that drunk.” and Mom, was not embarrassed by him, but for him. I still wince to think about it.

Photo by Chris F from Pexels

I have talked about some of this in an earlier post and said that dad drank when he came home (celebration) and when it was time to leave (the goal of feeling “no pain”) and mom would say of those times that she “poured him” onto the train or plane. It was how they celebrated and how they coped. Yet, neither of them were inclined to sit alone and cry in their beer. Drinking was always a social event.

Dad “celebrated” when I graduated from High School, I was the first person in my immediate family to do so. I did not see him before graduation, but after the ceremony, it was clear he was celebrating. I wasn’t worried about any of my friends noticing, but in the picture that someone had taken of him, he was clearly “three sheets to the wind.”

It is not that I never got upset. I learned at an early age that you cannot reason with someone who has had too much to drink or have an intelligent conversation with them. We played a game of sorts when I was in high school. I was old enough to stay at home when they went out, this was in the winter when the bar was closed. I put two Alka Seltzer packets on my mom’s pillow and three on my dad’s. When they came home, they played along. Mom would say, ‘Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my coat, and Dad would say, “Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my jacket.” I coped too.

Photo courtesy of Lynda Ames

We had drop in company when the bar was closed, and it was often invited. I am pretty sure that the fellows who came to visit knew that the drinks were free, and the conversation, jokes and laughter would flow too. In addition, they were good paying customers during the season the bar was open, as well as people who were considered real family friends. The most frustrating thing that happened during that time was the time that one of the guests got so sloppy drunk that he fell into the Christmas tree, knocking it to the floor, hitting it hard enough that the oranges in the Christmas stocking were smashed. I was not happy, to say the least and while it could have ruined Christmas for me, I loved Christmas too much to give it up that easily.

Several years ago, when my children were 8, 9 and 10, they came home from a family visit with their grandparents and my former husband. One of the kids shocked me by saying, “Daddy said Grandpa Jack was an alcoholic.” It does take a lot to make me angry. I was on the phone fast and I was furious. It may, or may not, surprise you to know that I never even considered that as an option. Maybe it was all the euphemisms. It never occurred to me that all of that drinking was something other than normal. It was normal in our house.

I talked about this with my brother shortly after that, and again a few years later and he suggested, and we concluded that mom and dad were “functional alcoholics” and that seemed to fit. After all, in spite of everything else, they worked hard and dad did not drink during the busy season, and mom did not drink at all, not that I was aware of, when dad was drinking at the bar. In spite of this, I believe that my parents were fairly well respected in the community. They worked hard, they contributed to the community and the local economy. And, they were sociable!

Some might ask why would I tell this particular story, or include it in the collection? For one thing, because this too, was part of life at the Union Villa, life in a barroom in a beach town in the 1960’s. Maybe something in this story will help someone else. I write about my own experience. I cannot speak for anyone else in my family or my father’s or mother’s families either.

I do not write this with any intended disrespect or desire to tarnish my parents’ memory. It was what they did, and not all the time, it was not who they were. I loved my parents and love them still. I am glad, grateful that they were my parents.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I was a light social drinker in my 30’s. My husband still likes to tease me about the time I only had one glass of wine, but I kept refilling it and could not for the life of my touch my nose to my face without using my other hand to help. It was New Year’s and we were at home. Wine, cheese and crackers were our New Year’s tradition, until he became diabetic. I am not inclined to drink alone either, now our New Year’s tradition, when we remember is crackers, cheese and lights out before midnight.

When I was leaving home to assume my first appointment as pastor, my pastor told me that I would hurt my own witness if I drank at weddings, etc. Methodism is a dry denomination, (It’s in something called The Social Principles) although not all United Methodists know that. I haven’t had wine or anything else since, except for a few Anglican Communions in seminary. It is always a little startling if you are expecting grape juice, but get a warm feeling all the way down to your toes.

After I had been a pastor for a few years we were invited to a church family’s Christmas party. We walked in and I saw beer cans seemingly everywhere. Pretty sure I blushed. I thought I had not done a good job of teaching my own flock, but it was lovely of them to invite us and we had a good time and drank diet soda.

I know that alcohol can destroy lives and I don’t take that lightly. I often wondered why no one ever confronted me in my youth because all that alcohol my parents sold paid for much of what we had. For me personally, I think moderation may be more important than abstinence. I am much less comfortable around people who have been drinking than I was as a youth. There have been some special people in my life, both friends and parishioners who have worked very hard at their sobriety and I am proud of them.

Mom and Dad behind the bar at the Union Villa circa 1963

The waitress fishes in her apron pocket, pulls out a quarter and slips it into the coin slot in the juke box. I can almost hear the sound of the quarter as it slides into the coin box. She pushes the buttons, the machine retrieves the record and she sings along with Ray Charles, “I can’t stop loving you, it’s useless to try…” Dad grabs a bar towel, soaks it in the water and cleaning solution, wrings it damp and wipes off the bar in circles. He stops, looks at the remnants of the evening crowd and winks. He grabs the bell pull, gives it a tug and along with the ringing of the bell he cries out, “Last Call for Al-co-hol.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

{Song, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” written by Don Gibson, Produced by Sid Feller, release 1962}

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Birthday Blessings

I am a “Baby Boomer” and recently celebrated a significant birthday. Although I have not been greatly concerned about my age through the years (there are a few exceptions that follow), I admit I have been dreading this particular number. You can say, “It is just a number,” that is what my doctor said. I believed her for a while, but then it got the best of me. You can say, “You are as old as you feel.” But I have had arthritis since my mid-thirties. When I found out at the age of 40 that I needed to have hip surgery because my joint was in bad shape, the surgeon said I had the hip of an 80 year old woman. A friend told me to “give it back.” So, I don’t necessarily want to be as old as I feel somedays.

BIRTHDAYS OF MY YOUTH

My first birthday memory was sitting on the kitchen counter next to my mother, while she decorated my birthday cake. I was probably not more than 4. It had white satiny frosting and she used an aluminum cake decorating tube and used pink and blue frosting. I remember the colors. I would like to say definitely it was a blue border with pink flowers but that would be exaggerating the prowess of my memory.

swirly pink krose decorated birthday cake with three curly red and white candles and a bouquet of flowers
Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

We got to choose what we wanted for our birthday dinners, and I realize now, that was a lovely gesture on her part. She certainly did not grow up with birthday celebrations, when her father was wandering around and her mother was hiding from the bill collectors or the gas man.

I have a good friend who was born on July 4th and pretty sure no one ever asked her what she wanted for a birthday dinner, the menu was set by the entire culture, as if it were embedded into the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. In my husband’s family birthdays were an ordinary day, you did not get to choose the menu. My favorite birthday memory comes from the Union Villa. I do not remember if it happened more than once. But I do remember having a few friends over, sitting in the corner both with pizza, soda and birthday cake. Yum! And that was paying customer space.

Typical for her time, my mother did not reveal her age to many people, it was one of those things “a lady did not tell.” Truth be told she may have been sensitive about it, I am not sure. I remember turning around in the car and telling a woman my mom had given a ride to, “My mommy is 26 years old!” and considering mom was 40 when I was born, her passenger must have had a good laugh. A few years later mom started to color her hair, which she did until she was 82. I didn’t know how old my parents were until I was 9 years old. My dad was at sea and he sent a cable to my mom (1959) that said “Celebrating 49 today!”

TURNING 30

I am not sure I have my mother’s senstivity about age, except for two things. When I was approaching my 30th birthday, I did make a really big deal about it. I am sure it involved some whining and complaining on my part. I don’t remember the specifics, but my friends were extravagant, and took me to the National Theater in Washington D.C. to see “A Chorus Line.” I left myself a note on my desk calendar for the next day that said, “You don’t look a day over 29!” I whined and carried on a bit the next year, when I turned 31, and they gave me birthday cards.

picture of a calendar with writing at the bottom.
Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

MY OWN GOOFY TRADITION

I am not sure how I started this, especially with my protests of not being sensitive or worrisome about my age, previous story excepted. Somewhere along the line, I began to celebrate or honor the day before my birthday as ‘the last day to be x years old’ and hanging on for dear life. It is something I have continued to do. But, not so much this year. This year, I have been distracted by the number. I envisioned myself as hanging on for dear life, not unlike a movie heroine, holding on to the railing of a cellar, while a tornado was passing by, trying valiantly not to get sucked into the whirlwind. And then, I gave up. About 3 months before my birthday I began to think as though it had already come and gone and I was already the dreaded age.

MOM in her 70’s

Mom in her 70’s was and is my hero. She finally started admitting her age, I think she realized that she did not look her age. And, it was a different time culturally; Mom was in her 70’s in the 1980’s. She continued to sew, and branched out in new areas. She made and wore her first slacks ever, making her first pantsuits, making blouses, and coats. She planned and organized parties for a group, covering all of the details and not getting (too) flustered. Location, menu, prizes and more. She did volunteer work and was always willing to pick up groceries for neighbors in need. She still drove to Massachusetts, from Baltimore, to visit friends and made a few trips to Washington State to visit my brother.

Mom,, not at 70! always young at heart.

She learned how to swim and started bowling all in her 70’s. I was a struggling single parent with three young children and she went overboard to help us. So much so, that I would be embarrassed to give details. In addition to all the other things she did to help, one day a week she picked up the kids after school, to help cut down on childcare expense. My kids loved her! And she had a wicked sense of humor. She was not a saint, but definitely pretty special.

One day, after I had remarried, she came to stay with the kids while my husband and I went out to a party. My youngest daughter, a sixth grader at the time, began telling mom jokes (dirty jokes) and mom wrote them down in shorthand. She was doubled over laughing and said she couldn’t wait to get home to share them with her friends!

FINDING THE BLESSING

I try to be a positive person and a grateful one. I try to regularly express gratitude to servers and cashiers, family and my friends. In my prayers I thank God every day for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life and I try to be very detailed in listing out the many things for which I am grateful. I think it is a good practice. But something happened a few days before my birthday this year, that created a significant shift for me, in almost every way. I realized how fortunate I am because I “get to” be this age. Many people would have loved to have made it this far; there is no given or entitlement when it comes to age. And certainly many people wish their friends and loved ones had made it this far. My father was 60 when he died.

Realizing how fortunate I am, that I get to be this age, helped me shift the focus from my birthday, to my birth. The breath of life was breathed into me, the gift of life was given to me. It may strike some as being semantics, but I do not think so. Birthdays are about celebration, gifts, cards, parties and cakes; for those who are lucky anyway. But it seems to me that birth is about something deeper.

I had been afraid that turning 70 would turn me into something else. Someone old, something less than vital; a caricature of someone who no longer had value. Someone considered “elderly” by my community. Someone to need to have help, and not someone able to help. Someone whose day, maybe even hours are numbered. Perhaps it was even in a sense of reticence that I have gotten to the bottom of this post before admitting, I am 70, now. As of Saturday.

a picture of me, the author with my favorite sweater that says 'One Starry Night"
Photo by Donna Lynne Vaux
Me, about 3 years ago, a favorite picture

EMBRACE EVERY MOMENT

I still know that life is a gift and that tomorrow is not given and that anything can happen in the blink of an eye. I have lost loved ones to cancer and seen my husband through a battle with cancer. But I choose a deeper level of gratitude than I have yet lived. In the many birthday wishes I received from friends on Facebook, in addition to cards and phone calls, one phrase stands out. A friend wrote “Embrace Every Moment,” and I chose to do just that. In gratitude.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Things I Learned at My Mother’s Knee

There are three things I learned from my mother at an early age, Faith, Storytelling and stories, and the joys of shopping. I have written about her influence on my faith in other places, but let me share this memory. As much as I love shopping, and that is the confession at the heart of this post, it was always more than a little boring when she was pouring over dresses. What is a little one to do except go in and out of the dresses on the racks, back and forth, pushing the dresses aside as though they were a thicket of cotton, silk or wool? Or, standing on the base of the dress rack swinging back and forth asking the question, “When are we going to be done?”

picture of clothes on a rack in a store
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

I asked a similar question as a young child in Catholic Mass, in between the prayers in Latin, standing, sitting, kneeling and standing again. I tugged on the skirt of her dress and asked in a hoarse whisper , “When’s it going to be over?” The fact that I am now a Pastor, I regard as evidence of God’s sense of humor. Church is never over!

I loved her stories and could listen to them over and over again. She told stories about her childhood, lining the bottom of shoes with cardboard, because the soles had worn out and there was no money for new shoes. In fact, there was no tradition of throwing out old stuff and buying new because you felt like it. Stories of hiding from the gas man, or the electric man who had come to shut off the utilities, because there was no money to pay. She told me Bible stories and stories of the saints. It always struck me as funny since in the 1950’s and even 1960’s Catholics were not encouraged to read the Bible for ourselves, but she had a good grasp of the story of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) and other Bible stories as well.

My favorite children’s book that she read was “The Pokey Little Puppy,’ it was a large Golden Book. (Written by Janette Sebring Lowery, 1942). The first books she bought for me to read were classics, “Jane Eyre” and others. I also read “Little Women” and “Gone With the Wind,” before I was 11. It didn’t make me an eclectic reader, but even back then, I could appreciate the drama in the narrative.

NEW BEDFORD BOUND

It was about a half hour drive from Onset, to the city of New Bedford, Massaachusetts. Mom’s favorite department stores in New Bedford were The Star Store and Cherry and Webb. (The Star Store, and probably Cherry & Webb too, used pneumatic tubes to send money and receipts back and forth between floors. I still remember the whooshing sound as the tubes were sucked up into the works, as well as the thud when the tube came back with her change and receipt. We also hit the Mill outlets, Arlans and the Fairhaven Mills. It was a pilgrimage. I have two trinkets or three that belonged to her, a vase and some smaller pieces that I am not sure if they came from the Mills or the Mediterranean from one of dad’s trips. I also loved going to Cornwell’s Department Store in Wareham, especially the housewares department.

A good shopping trip also involved lunch, preferably at the Star Store lunch counter, but there were other places as well. A good shopping trip also included one of her friends, Abby or Billie. She would call them in the morning, when she was thinking of shopping and ask, “What’s on your foolish mind?” which turned out to be mom speak for “Want to shop?” I don’t necessarily remember her doing a lot of buying, but mom sewed her own clothes and mine and it may be that she was looking for ideas.

picture of dishes, various types with colorful designs
Photo by Eneida Nieves from Pexels

One of the outcomes of shopping with mom as I got older, was a love of housewares, and especially dishes. Ironstone, bone china, it really did not matter. I took accordion lessons at DeRossi’s Accordion Studio (I was not very good and did not advance far). The Studio was very close to the Star Store, and if we got to New Bedford early enough, we would window shop at the jewelry store near the intersection and look at all the china patterns. I fell in love with Lenox China at a tender age. We never bought dishes, not in those days anyway, but we sure looked. I like housewares and dishes so much that truth be told, I would buy a new set of dishes every two years, if I thought I could get away with it. Time for a new pattern!

Maybe part of the reason I don’t remember the buying as much as the looking is that shopping was all about the hunt, the search for that one special something. For reasons that don’t matter here, I got to spend three and a half months with mom, in my early 20’s, the year after my dad had died. We went to Mass on Sundays and 3 days a week minimum, there would be shopping. Mostly in New Bedford, but sometimes we would go to Braintree to the Mall and I loved that too.

picture of a woman holding a and inspecting a winter coat.
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

THE ART OF SHOPPING

We had set on two simple goals for the three and a half months of shopping, we searched for a soup tureen and a glass pedestal cake plate, both for me, with the understanding that I would know what I liked when I saw it, and there was no real hurry. I am pretty sure the soup tureen was mom’s idea and the pedestal cake plate was mine, but I was all about the hunt. And the companionship. It had been a hard year for both of us and shopping was a lovely diversion and quality time together.

All these years later, I still like to shop. And call me reactionary, but I prefer to shop in person. Admittedly, I buy some things online, mostly books but occasionally clothes that I cannot get any other way. I suppose it is not much different from the days when we ordered things out of a catalog. But I much prefer to make my own choices, to see the actual color, feel the fabric, try the garment on and see how it feels and fits and looks in the mirror.

I realize that shopping with children and youth is a whole other game that can be emotionally and physically draining, especially when it has to be fit in between work, rehearsals, practice, scouts and other pressing events. I have my own memories of the challenges of shopping with an infant and two toddlers, and later, with three middle school youth. There was the time when my young ones took great pleasure in trying to fill my grocery cart with frozen turkeys, faster than I could pull the turkeys out. “Lunch! they said with glee. “More lunch!” they said, grabbing another turkey. Middle school mischief makers!

I try to shop locally, or items that I cannot buy locally, within an hour drive. This has become even more challenging in the last two years as more and more chain stores and mall anchor stores have closed. I know it may sound very superficial, especially considering our current situation and need to wear masks, practice social distancing and get in and out of stores as quickly as possible. But, I still love to shop.

Partly, it is about the lingering, the free time to carefully choose and ponder the purchase. Lingering over a decision to buy is the opposite of caving into high pressure sales and instant gratification. That is one of the things that makes me sad at the moment, no time for lingering and socializing is not considered safe. A few weeks ago I saw a woman whom I know at the store and do not see her often. I wasn’t going to rush up and hug her, but I was clearly happy to see her. However, the expression on her face, as well as her body language seemed to say, “Hi-Bye, Stay where you are do not come any closer.” I understood, but admit to being disappointed to not have a six foot greeting and smile. This was before masks became mandatory.

If shopping is about lingering and careful choices, for me, it is also about the human connection. Several years ago I led a group in a prayer walk at a shopping mall during the Christmas Shopping Season. The point was not to preach, or be preachy, showy or pious. The goal was simply to walk around the mall and in stores, quietly praying for the shoppers and store employees and to ask, when possible and practical, how the clerks were doing, how there day was going and how they were being treated.

Because I want to practice what I preach, it is a tradition that I have brought into my every day life. I don’t expect to have a full blown conversation in the check out line or expect anyone to tell me, a stranger, their life story. But it doesn’t take a lot of effort to look the cashier in the eye, ask them how their day is going and during the busiest times of year, sales, holidays, etc. to ask them how they are being treated. Oh humanity! Because I am in the store way too much (eight miles away to the nearest Walmart) it forces me to be aware of the person on the other side of the register and not whisk through the line as they they were not human, or important.

picture of a cashier and a woman at the register
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

One day I was in a check out line and the cashier caught me off guard, she asked me the questions I generally ask the cashiers. I bit my lip just in time. I wanted to say, “Wait! That’s my line.” But I just smiled a grateful smile. It doesn’t take too much effort and it can make a big difference in the life of a busy, hardworking person who often may feel unappreciated and underpaid.

I know that not everyone looks at shopping the way I do. Many people have recently celebrated the shopping plans that Walmart and other stores have introduced, shop online and pick it up at the door, or have your car loaded. It is a genuine blessing that our local grocery store in town has also started making that service available. That would never be my choice, but I have neighbors who have been rejoicing at the time saving factor. Perhaps that shopping program was introduced just in the nick of time for COVID-19.

picture of a woman looking at fruit
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

I admit two things in that regard. I did get a bit anxious about shopping in person, even though we are not in or near the epicenter of the virus and our county has a relatively low number of cases, compared to other parts of our state and other parts of our country and the world. My husband managed to talk me off that particular ledge. When it comes to shopping for food, we both prefer to pick out our own meat, fruit and vegetables. Touch, smell and appearance are important.

My other admission is the fear or concern that this could become an irreversible trend, either shopping online or doing self-check out. I want the personal contact. I want to linger over my choices. Shopping for food or other items is not an area of my life that needs to be streamlined. The more limited my social world becomes as a retiree, the more in-person shopping I will want to do.

picture of mom, myself and my brother.
Big Brother, Mom and Me

It’s my mother’s fault, and of course she is not here to defend herself. She transmitted to me, the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the find, the companionship of the journey and the simple gratitude of human connection.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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On Languages, Accents and Being Home

I am from a small town just southwest of Cape Cod; On our end, the Cape Cod Canal begins in the waters of Buzzards Bay, just outside of Onset Bay. My husband says that people here “talk funny” but that is because I don’t have an accent, not a discernable one anyway. My mother wouldn’t allow it. She wouldn’t let us ‘Pahk our cahs.” For that matter, she insisted on being called “mother” not “mom or mommy.” She did not like nick names. She was from Baltimore, where people generally call everyone “hon” (pronounced ‘hun’ and short for honey) and they go “downey ocean” which means they are going to the ocean, literally ‘down to the ocean’ short cutting the articles and infinitives. Somehow those local shortcuts offended her sense of the English language. But please, don’t stop reading.

Light blue ceremaic mug with small bowl and plate, dark blue outlines and pink flower in the center
Made in Portugal

My grandmother was from Lisbon, Portugal and she spoke wonderful broken English, with a thick Portuguese accent. I loved to hear her talk. I loved my grandmother, I loved the sound of her voice and because of all those things, I learned to love the sound of all languages. She loved the soap operas which she called “her shtories” (that’s not a typo, but an attempt at her dialect) and she would point to a character who was especially bad and say, “Him no good! Him bashta!” Now, I am not sure if that is Portuguese or if it was her mangled English, but it meant that his mother was not married.  My husband though, has a different translation. When I tell him that he is a “bashta” after what I think is some genuine provocation, he turns to me and says, “That is Portuguese for ‘you sweet loveable man.”

I had a lot of opportunities to do overnights with my grandmother and I was enthralled with the slow, definite, way she would do things.  At night she would take the hairpins out of her long, grayish white hair and brush it, probably 100 strokes like many of us were taught. Her furniture was very modest. The couch was a bed with a couch cover and bolster cushions. She had at least one large wicker chair if not both. When I was very little and spent the night, after she tucked me into bed, she would push the wicker chair over to the side of the bed to keep me from falling out.

Picture of my an old woman, a young child holding a baby doll. My grandmother, Mary Perry Marcellino and me.
Grandma Marcellino (Mary Perry Marcellino) and me, circa 1955

I never learned Portuguese and my father who most likely spoke it, never spoke it at home. That worked out in my Aunt Myra’s favor because when I was at Grandma’s and Aunt Myra came over from her house next door and she began to rattle off in Portuguese and they would talk. I never knew what they were saying, although now I am pretty sure that the conversation started with Aunt Myra saying, “Is she here again? Why don’t her parents stay home?”  

I am not sure I can spell my mother’s name the way my grandmother pronounced it, but it was something like “Mahhhhhh ga retttttttttta, you got ‘em cup shugah? ” One of the best accent stories about my grandmother could get me in trouble here; It is the day my grandmother got in trouble with the bus driver. She was taking the bus uptown and wanted to be dropped off at the USO.  But what she said, from the back of the bus was, “Bus drivah, you let ‘me off UASSO?”   She really wasn’t calling him names; it was just how she spoke. And if you are reading this and thinking, that sounds like….you would be correct.

Grandma wasn’t the only one in the family to get in trouble or embarrassment over accents and languages. I recently checked into a unit for vacation and two men were discussing the best location to set the new thermostat. They were rattling away in a language I didn’t recognize, and so I asked them what language they were speaking and where they were from?  Imagine my embarrassment when one of them said, “we were speaking English!” He was polite, I was red faced. He said he was Turkish, and his friend was Albanian. As embarrassed as I was over this little international incident, it also made me wonder why we could come from 3 different backgrounds, have a conversation in which one of us had committed a social guffaw (that of course was me) and walk away peacefully without retaliation?

I can’t say that I have a studied ear for accents but when I hear any accent that is not native to the particular locale we are in, I generally ask “Where are you from?” and it can be a good conversation starter. When my husband and I made our first short trip to Massachusetts, after he ordered breakfast and the waitress walked away, he looked at me and said, “These people talk funny.” I really don’t remember what I said in response, but what I wanted to say was “Shut up and let me listen!” Because that accent sounds like home to me. 

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal, clouds reflected in the water.
The Cape Cod Canal on a Sunny Day in October, 2019

I recently made a phone call from home in Pennsylvania to a local businessman in Wareham to request his services. We talked for a bit about when he could do it, etc. and I wanted to say, “just keep talking.” I just wanted to listen, not so much for the sound of his voice, but to the sound of his accent. But I didn’t want him to think I was flirting, so I concluded the conversation and hung up. 

 Even though my husband says that I do not have that accent and therefore do not ‘talk funny’ he has said for years that when I get tired my “A’s” get a little broad. He says that when I am referring to the Lord, it would be spelled “G-a-w-h-d” and then there is the little matter of the liquid one uses to make tea, coffee and the like. It is probably not strictly a Massachusetts accent but something I picked up from the Philadelphia nuns who taught school at Sacred Heart, near Plymouth. “Wart-er” has crept into my conversation. In one of the churches I served, every time I would say “Wart-er” the youth in one of the families would nudge their parents, as if to say, “she is at it again.”  Indeed, I am. One night last October, I had dinner with 11 of my high school classmates, and to hear them talk! Really, you should hear them talk! It was wonderful, it was music to my ears and heart.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association
Featured

Life with a Tentative Dog

When we brought Sheba to our house, she had not yet lived in a traditional home. That is, if the hoarding situation she had been rescued from was a home, it was a home filled with stacked dog crates. Then after she was surrendered/rescued she was in the local animal shelter for about two weeks. The staff was kind and gentle and it was a good transition.

She had missed the learning curve on a whole lot of things, relationships and, living in a house, just to name a few. When we took her outside she was scared; she stood still and shook. She did not attempt to sniff anything and did not move. I think, perhaps it was too much wide open space for her, even standing on our simple patio.

We had a crate for her in our room, but because of her background we didn’t want to force her to go there and we let her have the run of the house within reason. It didn’t matter much. She spent most of her time in the dining room. We had a large oval table and put a bed for her under the table near my chair. She spent most of the time there, unless she was eating or “doing her business.”

First night in the living room after being here for 7 weeks

We watch television in the evening and would routinely invite her to come in. She would stand in the doorway and look, and then went back to her bed. We put a dog bed in the living room too, but she wasn’t having any of it. She would allow (that is the right word) Roger to pet her, if he was physically close. If she saw him coming, he would not get the chance to get close.

He loves dogs, he is even more of a dog person than I am, which is probably why our first three dogs gravitated to him, although in theory they were mine. Finally one day, when she wasn’t looking, he got on the floor on the other side of her bed, so she was between my chair and him. He just lay there looking at her. Eventually she reached out her paw to him, very tentatively, and he petted her. Then he pulled back until she did it again. That went on for a while that day and for several days more. I have a picture of this, but as I have said in the previous post about Sheba, dark dog, dark bed, dark house, you can barely see her. But here is a slightly fuzzy picture showing Sheba reaching out to Roger. This was after her being with us for seven weeks.

First Contact

The truth is that Sheba had visited the living room several times before, but not to visit. We started paper training her, thinking that would be the best starting point. At the beginning it seemed like she was getting it and we thought she was about 90% there, when she started having accidents and/or failing to discriminate between the paper and the carpet. We soon had puppy pads on one-third of the living room floor, in addition to pads in the dining room and kitchen.

It was discouraging, to say the least, and a lot of clean up. Most of the traditional things that people suggested did not work “Move the pads closer to the back door, so she knows she needs to go out there.” Did not work. “Walk her around her yard.” Nope, not that either. “Spray part of the yard or use one of those incentive sticks so she gets the scent and understands.” We did, she didn’t. “Give her five minutes in the yard, if she doesn’t go, put her in the crate for thirty minutes, then take her back outside.” She just looked confused. Then, as summer went on, when my husband worked in the yard or in the garage, we would take her outside and she loved it. She would lay on the grass and stay there for hours while he worked. But she would not “go.” It seemed to us that she thought it was holy ground.

I admit, I briefly got jealous of my neighbor, who could take her little dogs out to the yard, tell them “Go pee!” and they did! But jealousy is not an attractive trait and Sheba would not go on command. After several months of this, we figured out that if we walk her, she “does what a good dog does” on her walks. We walk her three times a day and there are occasional accidents, but for the most part, the walks work. She likes long leisurely walks and now she sniffs everything; E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!

Walking Sheba is an adventure on its on, at least for me. Truthfully, I dreaded having to do it in the cold winter, especially walking on ice and in snow, but we managed. I talk to her when we walk. I try to say encouraging things, praise her when she is good. Some days I say things like, “Come on Sheba, please!” (read that with a whiny voice). When she acts afraid I tell her I will not let anyone hurt her.

One day I did this and a lady I know was walking into the school building. I said, ‘She is not going to hurt you.” She responded by saying, “I am not afraid of her,” to which I said with a laugh, “I was talking to the dog!” Because Sheba is afraid of everyone, the football players that walk near our home on the way to the field, the teachers and staff going into the building, the children in the playground, the neighbor dogs, regardless of size, small dogs, everything and everyone.

She likes to be near me and in small spaces

I have received the largest amount of Sheba’s attention and affection. I have never experienced that before, and it does feel good. But there is a flip side to that that is hard and heartbreaking. Of all the things she is afraid of, it is mostly men, and my spouse ends up paying the price for something he never did. After Fourteen months of having Sheba with us, she consistently leaves the room when he walks in, or moves in the opposite direction.

Often she runs to me when I am here. When I am not, she lets him take her for walks, he can pet her, she will go to him to be petted when I am busy, but I know it hurts. Imagine if you had this experience with a person you lived with, who every day, every time you came into the room walked out. And yet, she gets excited to se him come, rushes to the window when she hears his truck, rushes to the door, then rushes to me. She backs up, but her tail is wagging happily. It is as if she wants to engage and play, but as with humans, the tapes of her negative experiences seem to be the louder voice.

I love this dog and cannot imagine my life without her. I believe she has found a good home with us, but I also believe that every day we live with the long term affects of her previous life, of someone’s thoughtless cruelty and it is frustrating at best. Life with Sheba is a delicate trust and a delicate balance for a tentative dog. She has come a long way, and maybe she has come as far as she is going to come. Sometimes she will shake for no apparent reason, and all we can do is pet her or talk to her. I wanted a dog that needed us and that certainly is her. We get to offer her love, security and the necessities of a dog’s life and I hope it keeps making a difference.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Faith Journeys

When I began my process to explore the possibility of becoming a United Methodist Pastor, I heard many people refer to a “Faith Journey.” “Tell me about your faith journey” the interviewer would say. I do not know if other traditions both Christian and non- Christian use a similar phrase, or if it is particularly Methodist phrasing, but it is one that makes sense to me. Before I tell you why, please don’t stop reading until you read this disclaimer. My faith is as much a part of me and who I am, as my heart is to my body. Yet, I am not writing these stories to convert you to Christianity, or Methodism, any more than I am writing stories about alcohol and bar rooms, to convert you to Alcoholism. They are just stories of my life and humanity that I hope might touch you in some way. Perhaps they are things you can relate to, or better yet, that bring to mind your own stories that have been on the back burner of your life.

picture of hikers on a forest path, tall green trees, moss and other green growth.
Photo by Ben Maxwell on Pixels

When I hear the phrase “Faith Journey,” I think of God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you I will make of you a great nation, and I will less you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So, Abram went, as the Lord had told him…” (Genesis 12: 1-4a) I also think of a twisting, winding trail, that darts in and out of thicket, near a lake or river and away from it. In other words, not a smooth, easy journey. What fun would that be?

GROWING UP CATHOLIC

I was raised Roman Catholic, and although I have chosen a different denomination to live out my life and faith practice, it was foundational for me. It was not an easy decision to leave that Church behind, but it was made easier by the fact that I was divorced but wanted to remarry. Some of the things I gained from my Catholic childhood and youth are a love and appreciation for the sacraments. I like liturgy (the formalized process of prayers and ritual in Sunday Church Services). There were three things that especially marked my life as a child growing up Catholic. Two of my mother’s sisters were Catholic nuns, members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. They were teachers and they wore habits, (What the dresses and head pieces were called) broad, starched head covers that were lined with white. (See picture). In addition to my two aunts, there were two cousins who were also nuns, members of different orders (organizations of Catholic sisters) and my mother’s brother was a Priest as well as one of her cousins and one of my cousins.

Black and white picture of my family, circa 1952.
Mom’s family including Uncle Jim (Fr. O’Hara, Sister Hilaire SSND and Sister Lucitta SSND) and others

I am a baby boomer, so I was young when the Catholic Mass was still in Latin, and I remember when the Catholic Church was making the transition to dialogue Masses. We had cards that had the Latin printed on one side and the phonetic phrases printed on the other side, (transliteration), so that the people could respond to the priest’s statements in Latin. We could read them phonetically, even if we didn’t understand what the words meant.

One of the changes in the Catholic Mass that I especially appreciated in the 1960’s was the Folk Mass, the introduction of Guitars and more contemporary songs instead of hymns and by that time the Mass was said in the language of the people.  There were things of course that I did not understand, and things that later in life I came to disagree with, but one thing my background as a Catholic helped me see is that I am a “denominational kind of chick.” What I mean by that is that I value the structure and accountability of denominational life. In addition, I suppose that part of that structure and accountability that is important to me is the inclusion, practice, and understanding of Communion and other sacraments.

BOARDING SCHOOL

It didn’t take my parents long to figure out that perhaps living at the Union Villa 24/7 wasn’t the best environment for a young girl, and so while I was visiting family that summer in Baltimore, mom got me registered for boarding school. I attended Sacred Heart School, in Kingston, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth, from seventh grade through tenth grade. When you hear the phrase “Boarding School” you might think “Rich girl prep school” but you have to substitute the words “Catholic Boarding School”, in order to get a clearer, more accurate picture.”

There were lots of things I did not like, but one of the big benefits was that it was a life that was book-ended by prayer. Not only did we pray in classes, every Friday we got up early and went to Mass, we went to chapel for rosary after supper before going back to study hall and in the evening after we were ready to bed, we padded our way down the hallway to the choir loft of the chapel for evening prayers in our pajamas, robes and slippers. In addition to all of that, the whole school had Mass in the auditorium the first Friday of every month.

Looking back now I would say it was not so much the specifics of the services and the prayers, as much as it was the sense of a life of prayer that is my “take away.” One other important “take away” came from a visiting priest who told us in a retreat that at some point in our lives the faith we were given by our parents, had to become our own, but not without thinking it through, growing to a mature faith that was accepted as an individual choice, but not forced. Faith is chosen, not inherited.

picture of a rosary, white beads, gold chain light colored wood background.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I went to Sacred Heart from September of 1962 until May of 1966. We wore uniforms, black and white saddle shoes, Navy blue knee socks and Navy blue jumpers in 7th and 8th grade. We felt really grown up when we graduated to navy skirts and blazers in high school. Although it didn’t really happen often, I remember at least once when the nuns lined us up in the hallway and measured our hems. Some girls would roll the waistbands of their skirts to make them shorter.

Things like going steady, teasing one’s hair and the wearing of paten leather shoes were not allowed. Going steady could get one thrown off of student council, should the infraction be discovered. And then, there was this rumor that during school dances, the nuns would gather and watch the dance from the mezzanine of the gym and if they saw couples dancing to close, they would point it out to the sister on the gym floor, who would tap the couple and the shoulder and remind them to leave a foot of space between them for the Holy Ghost. “Foot, foot for the Holy Ghost,” we would say to each other and smirk.

LESSONS FROM MY MOTHER

My mother did not get her driver’s license until she was about 43, maybe a little older. All those trips that we left on, to take dad to work in Hoboken, New Jersey, to go on to Baltimore, Maryland to visit with family, were nerve wracking for her. I learned how to be a white knuckled driver from her. Truly! There are some times after a long trip when I wonder why my hands are so sore. my first thought is arthritis, but the reality is “White knuckled driver!” There were times when mom was driving and she would second guess herself, think she had missed an exit or got anxious about something that I would shake my head.

picture of heavy traffic 
on a highway with on and off ramps, city in the background.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Because of all that nervousness though, she prayed. As we left home, she would pray and as we crossed from one state line to another she would pray. Now, because we were Catholic, the prayers that she prayed were The Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer to us Protestants), the Hail Mary and maybe the Glory Be. But at the end of those prayers she would say, “Thank you dear Jesus for bringing us safely through Rhode Island, please bring us safely through Connecticut.” I have adopted that prayer in my own fashion and love it when I am traveling with a friend, even for a shopping trip, or to a seminar or conference when we begin that journey with prayer.

The other two major faith lessons my mom taught me were in her example. She had open heart surgery at the age of 82 to have a valve replacement. I was able to be with her in her room before they took her to surgery and accompanied her to the outside of the OR. When the attendant stopped her gurney so we could say good bye, she sat up and said, “What can I say but, Lord, Into your hands I commend my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46a). She did not remember saying that, but I have never forgotten that she did. Then two years later, the day before she died, I visited her, she told me to take her birthday flowers, she didn’t need them. She handed me her pocket book, and then most profoundly, handed me her prayer booklet that she used and said, “I don’t even have to pray anymore, I just have to wait.” Life lessons for me, for sure.

picture of a womans wriest with a bracelet with the word Faith encircled.
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

While I claim a love of liturgy, as a Protestant Pastor I also appreciate the potential for informality that exists in worship in my denomination. For instance there are some prayers and traditions that qualify as liturgy, because within a given Sunday Service, there can be some back and forth conversation between the pastor/worship leader and the congregation; laughter, joking and tears are all acceptable interactions. Yet there is an order, or ritual, to the service that includes prayers, readings from the Bible, singing of hymns or choruses, sharing of joys and concerns with the congregation and reading of written prayers but also spontaneous prayers. Because of all of that, the order of worship, with the potential for conversations, laughter, tears and other spontaneous happenings, I self-identify as “semi-liturgical”. I do not want to trade formality for the Spirit. Sometimes people even shake one another’s hands or greet each other with a hug. And the use of reason!

“Reason” maybe one of the reasons that I am United Methodist. Not that Methodists, or even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism invented reason. But Wesley held, and we still teach that there are four main ways we learn about God: Scripture, Tradition (the teachings of the apostles and early Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith), Reason and Experience. The fact that I can apply reason, question, doubt and understanding and question again to the teachings of my faith are priceless to me.

I have posters on every door in the church (including the bathrooms) with the church’s mission statement, and signs on the doors going out of the church that say, “You are Now Entering the Mission Field” The signs I should also put on the doors going into the sanctuary though, would say, “Please do not check your brain at the door.” Being able to question faith, preaching and the Bible are important. It is how we learn. There is a “song” that I “sing” often. I know many people will say that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you do believe. For me personally, that is way too generic. My song is, “It is important to know what you believe, why you believe it and where it came from.”

If you have gotten to the end of this blog post, I hope in some way it has inspired you to give some thought to your own faith journey, the ups and downs, joys and frustrations, the times you have felt near to God or a higher Power and times that God has seemed far away. I hope that it has inspired you to think about what you believe, where it came from and why you believe it. And thanks for sticking with me to the end. Since I first wrote this post, the COVID-19 has become a pandemic, and each of us are trying to find our way through uncharted territory. Can there be a better time to think about what you believe, why you believe and where it comes from? Might this situation we find ourselves in be an invitation to do just that?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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How Will You Use Your Time?

Responding to cultural quarantine in a time of crisis.

I believe that time is a gift. It is a gift that I often waste, breeze through and forget to carefully plan. Sometimes I waste good time by working too much. Other times though, I waste it by spending too much time on social media, or too much time on the phone and then, time is the thing I lose. Perhaps most frustrating of all, I do not always do a good job of anticipating how much time a given task will take. Yet, I have also learned that time is precious. When I was a young person, even a young adult, I would often say, “I can hardly wait until________.” But now, I can wait. While I am tired of being cold, it is still winter in Pennsylvania in mid-March, at least temperature wise, and I do not want to wish my life away by wishing it was another season or time. Time is something I have finally learned to save and to savor.

picture of a yearly planner with a pen
Photo by Plush Design Studio from Pexels

How many sayings about time can you recall? “Time and Tide wait for no man (sic)”, “Time’s a’wasting” I asked that question of my Facebook friends recently and got a lot of responses, many were different from what I expected. Here are a few of their comments: “A day late and a dollar short,” “For such a time as this…” (From the story of Esther in the Bible, Esther 4:14), “time after time,” “How many times do I have to tell you___”, “Third time’s a charm,” and “Long time no see.” Poll your friends, make your own list, and see what you learn.

I had a friend years ago, who had a home made sign on his wall that read, “What is time for?” or, it might have read, “What is it time for?” Either way, it is a worthwhile question. As a pastor, I have a lot of freedom to set my own time schedule (except of course for Sunday mornings or if I had a Saturday evening service). I don’t punch a time clock, can choose my own day off, and while I do periodically report to a team about how I spend my time, there is a lot of freedom given.

Within that freedom though, there are certain expectations. Although denominationally, leaders are trying to be more realistic about time commitments, the average expectation for my 23 years of full-time ministry was 55-65 hours a week. And John Wesley, the founder of Methodism had some interesting things to say about time. Basically, ‘Be on time,’ ‘Do not waste time” and, ‘Spend the exact amount of time needed, but not a minute more; paraphrased, of course.

Every morning, since I have become a pastor, I have one important tradition or ritual. My second favorite ritual is sitting on the edge of my bed, clutching my pillow to my chest, while trying to make myself move. Wait, maybe that is my first favorite ritual. But before that, I have to ask myself these two crucial questions: “What day is it?” and “Where am I supposed to be?” As long as I give myself the right answers, everything is good. But there are times I wake up in a panic, Is it Sunday?

picture of an alarm clock with roman numerals and a bell on top.
Photo by Krivec Ales from Pexels

Please do not put too much energy into analyzing this, but, my recurring nightmare for 23 years has been that I overslept and arrived at church so late, that there were only a few disgusted people left in the building who were on their way out, and I had no reasonable explanation for my behavior! Fortunately that is not an every week dream, but I have lost track of the number of times it has darkened my door in 23 years.

But my chief concern in writing this piece is to ask you, not your favorite expressions about time, but how will you spend the gift of time in these days of chaos, fear and toilet paper purchase power? I say that, not belittling the enormity of the crisis before us, which is indeed worldwide, but attempting to look at the gift of time that is hidden in all of the closings. Please do not yell, or think me thoughtless, I realize that there are huge financial/economic issues tied to those closings. But one important reality is that many of you, like myself, can act as though you are “human-doings” and not “human-beings. ”

Picture of two people at a square table, one has a cell phone in hand.
Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

When those who work come home, those who cannot work are still there, and there are no distractions of meetings, games, events, concerts, dinners out, what will you do with the extra time you have been given? How often have you wished that you had more than 24 hours in your day, wished that you had more time to read, relax, visit, bake, write, build, play, opportunities to do good to those around you? In addition to all the things this crisis has handed us, fear and chaos, to name a few, it has also handed us a temporary gift of time.

In addition, although we have never been here before, we are not the first generation to face such a daunting challenge. We can learn a lot by studying how our grandparents or parents, made it through World War II, The Depression, and other major social disruptions. Many of us have gotten so married to our conveniences, that the basic skills of cooking, canning, gardening, sewing, baking from scratch, using hammer, nails and screws or heavens, “making do” by using things up until they are beyond repair, and an unheard of discipline, of not buying big ticket items until we have the cost saved up. But I think some of us are planning to rekindle those disciplines out of necessity. Not only is the bread aisle empty in our local grocery chain, so is the flour, and yeast!

Picture of a little girl learning to crack an egg into a bowl.
Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

Some families I know are teaching their children such basic skills as a matter of course. But this thing that has happened, this awful virus with unknown potential and forced closings of schools, dining places, churches, non-essential businesses and gathering places, can bring couples and families together; perhaps in new ways. It is somewhat ironic that the tools of social media that have blocked real conversation, can actually be life-lines to connect with family and neighbors in the midst of self-imposed or government imposed quarantine.

This crisis will tell the world and speak volumes about who we are, depending on how we handle the challenge. Can we take care of “our own,” and still be mindful of the needs of our neighbors, the vulnerable among us? Will we be compassionate people or fear driven hoarders? Only time will tell.

I would love to hear from you. How are you handling time in the midst of crisis and social distancing? How are you staying connected to those you love and care about when you are not in the same house? Where have you seen acts of compassion? What opportunities have you had to show compassion?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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INTRODUCING SHEBA

Sheba is our fourth rescue dog in thirty years. When we lost Misty in the Fall of 2019, my husband and I had an unspoken agreement, or assumption, that we would be adopting another rescue dog. There were certainly some concerns, we are not young (sigh!), we are retired, well, partially retired in my case, and I was pretty sure that a puppy was out of the question. We agreed that we were going to look for a senior dog.

We also were going to wait until the first of the year, because we already had planned to go away for a week after Christmas and did not want to bring a new dog into the house, only to have to kennel it before it had been here long enough to get adjusted. And, although many people consider “Christmas” a pastor’s busy time of year, it is actually the entire four week season of Advent and leading up to Christmas Eve that constitutes that “Busy time of year.” I knew that I was going to need to focus.

In the interim, we looked online, especially to check the dogs listed at our local animal rescue center, looking at older dogs. Finally, one January day, we showed up in person, looked through the book of the dogs they had in residence and asked to see Sheba.

Picture of a tall, lean, black and tan dog.
Sheba, checking out the driveway.

If you have been following my blog, your first thought might be, “That is not a beagle!” True. Sheba is a long, lean, black and tan dog of mixed parentage. She weights about 45 pounds, and when she thunders down the stairs in the morning, you would swear it was a horse! Why, when I love beagles so much, did I not get a beagle? My answer, might only make sense to animal lovers. I know that in theory, animals do not have personalities. Wait! If you are an animal lover of any kind you are amazed at the ability of your pet to express any range of emotions: joy, happiness, anger, fear, annoyance, betrayal, stubbornness, to name only a few traits. Scientists, psychologists and any number of specialists can have, well, scientific explanations. Here is mine. I did not want to adopt a dog who might look like Misty, or Sammy, as much as I love beagles and it seemed like the best way to allow our newest family member to assert it’s own “personality” and not be mistaken for Misty or treated like a “Misty II” was to adopt a dog that was totally different, not only in temperament, but also in looks.

There is no mistaking Sheba for Misty. Sheba is younger than we were thinking. Not a puppy, but not a senior either. She was four-and-a-half when we adopted her, she will be six in June. Her story, is not one I have ever put in print, although we have shared it with people verbally. Sheba was one of sixteen dogs surrendered/rescued from an animal hoarding situation. It may have started out well meaning, but all sixteen dogs were kept in crates, stacked up on each other, maybe 2 or 3 crates high and I suspect she was surrounded. Sheba, as big as she is was, was probably in a crate that was on the bottom. It may or may not have been a “puppy mill” but she had recently had puppies within a month of her surrender, but there were no puppies when the dogs were handed over. That is really all that we know about her background.

She had been at the shelter for about 2 weeks, when we arrived to visit. When they brought her into the office to meet us, it was clear that she had made friends with some of the female workers, but Sheba did something I have never seen a dog do. As she came into the office, and saw that there were strangers there (us), she lifted up each paw and held it in the air before putting it down and lifting up the next one, and she shook. Well, she wasn’t a senior dog, but she was definitely a dog that needed us. I could have held out for another dog, but I couldn’t. She was so timid and scared. When we brought her home the next day, my husband wisely suggested that one of us sit in the back seat with her and the other one drive, instead of leaving her back there on her own, cowering, As it turned out, perhaps I should have been the driver. But I was the “back seat with the dog person.” I petted her and talked to her all the way home.

That was fourteen months ago. She has truly come a long way in fourteen months, but we often wonder if she has come as far as she is going to come. Here is a rare picture of Sheba:

picture of a black and an dog getting a bath at a groomer's
Sheba at the dog groomers

What makes this picture of Sheba so rare? It is the only time she let the groomer pick her up and put her in the sink! The next time we went, she took 5 treats out of his hand, but then hid under my chair when he tried to pick her up. Sheba is afraid of ________, fill in the blanks. She is afraid of men, small dogs, children, strangers, men, sudden noises, men, the football players from the nearby school who walk by on the way to the football field. She is afraid of everyone but me. There is a meme/prayer on Facebook that says, “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” My husband says, that would be impossible, because Sheba seems to think I am perfect. Fortunately, we both know I am not. He is as good to her as can be, and she will take treats from him, allow him to pet her (sometimes), beg him to pet her when I am not giving her enough attention, or if I am not here, or if I have stopped petting her in order to try to accomplish something. But sad to say, when he walks in the room, she runs in the opposite direction. I am far from an expert, yet everything about her affect and behavior seems to shout trauma.

It would not be accurate to say that she is an affectionate dog, but more accurate to say that she soaks up affection, loves to be petted and fussed over. She is funny, needy, stubborn, challenging on many levels, and I cannot imagine life without her. One other thing for now, that you might notice in the top picture. She is a black and tan dog, living in a brown, tan and gold world. Every room in our house is paneled and every room has different paneling: all shades of brown. The carpeting in the living room and in the bedrooms is brown and dark gold. We foolishly (I) picked out a dog bed that is dark brown. It can be difficult to tell her apart from the dog bed, the floors and her indoor surroundings. She blends in.

Picture of a black and tan dog partially hiding under a desk
Sheba half under my desk.

I wish that we knew more about her life, some days I wish any pet could talk and then there are days I am glad she can’t. We just keep offering her love and care and a good home and do our best to be up to the challenges. There is so much more to tell, but that is it for an introduction.

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

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Life at the Union Villa

Life at the Union Villa, when we lived there, was like a cross between “Joe the Bartender” from the Jackie Gleason Show* and Cheers.** My dad was definitely “Joe the Bartender,” well, “Jack the Bartender.”  “Joe the Bartender” was a regular skit on the Jackie Gleason show. As each scene opened, the doors of the bar would part, to reveal Joe wiping off the bar and singing “My Gal Sal” although it was barely recognizable. He would pour a drink for Mr. Dunahee, whom the audience never saw, and start a conversation. Eventually Joe would invite a local named “Crazy Gugenheim” to join in the conversation. “Crazy” was played by Frank Fontaine.

How was life at the Union Villa like Joe the Bartender? Joe was a big guy, wearing a white dress shirt, wiping down the bar singing off key and holding forth with the customers. That was dad. Although he would not drink during the busy season of Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the off season he would have a few drinks with the fellas at the end of the bar. When he had had enough to drink, or rather too much, he would sing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” while wiping down the bar.  That was dad and I had no doubt then, or now that he was singing it for my mother!