I am convinced there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to retirement. I am getting ready to retire for the second time and by the time I finish this post, that retirement will be a done deal’ well, seven days and counting. Most of my energy is going to preparing for my last official act as a pastor, and it is not only necessary, but also a great distraction. Now and then my eyes will leak a little, and I indignantly ask, “where did that come from?”
I knew when I retired the first time that I no longer had the energy for full time ministry, which in my denomination is roughly 60-hour weeks, give or take. That decision was a no-brainer. But I wasn’t ready to come to a full stop and felt like I still had something to give. Four years later, I still have something to give, but equally realize that there is less energy to put behind that desire.
Fortunately, four years ago we did the “find a retirement home” thing and “Sign up for Medicare” thing, and the packing and the moving and the unpacking, and oh yes, the crying thing; me anyway. Finding the retirement home was not wonderful. We each had ideas of what we would like, and we got expert and finding and falling in like with a house that we thought would do, only to have it bought out from under us before we could collect our thoughts. We thought this might be our new role in retirement, we could advertise for folks who had homes that were hard to sell. Because if we saw a house and liked it, it was going to sell. I exaggerate? Some, but five houses???
Knowing that it is time to retire though, does not make it less emotional. Knowing that I do not have the physical stamina to give and have anything left for us, does not make my eyes leak any less. It is a little bit like when a loved one is dying, but you are not ready to let go. Yes, they lived a long fruitful life, yes, the body is giving up, but all that acknowledgment doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. I was going to title this post “The Valley of the Shadow of…Retirement” but decided against it. Yet, here am I, poised on the edge of the Valley of Retirement, grateful for the privilege and taking tentative steps.
Trying to keep an open mind and an open heart and not assume too much. We have a dog, there will be no sleeping in, past her water-tight integrity hour of 8:00 a.m. That means I have to be up, dressed and ready to get her out the door, coffee be darned. There will be naps, occasional preaching and teaching and creative pursuits, hopefully some fishing and campfires.
“The Day” itself was full, emotional, wonderfully full of hugs, tears and cake, and before that of course a Scripture, Sermon, Service and Sacrament, oh and song. When I retired the first time, at the end of the services I sang Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ Song Happy Trails, and I think Carol Burnett’s closer, “I’m So Glad we had this time Together.”
The Day after the Day, I was able to meet with my successor and do some visits together. This is What I wrote on my Facebook page: “Spent the morning in conversation with a colleague, had the privilege of introducing her to some of her new flock who are homebound or in assisted living. “This is your new pastor,” I said. Turned in some things to the church office and gave her a few more files and my church and parsonage keys. Still on duty through the 30th. All the feels. It feels like a Sunday afternoon (it was Monday).
It feels like a Carpenter thing, rainy days and Mondays. Grateful for time spent with close friends today who came to supper. It is good, it is the right thing at the right time, I simply was not ready before. But the weight of processing all the feels; Gratitude, hope, sorrow and wonder. Just sharing.”
Today, I managed to pay some bills, write some thank you notes and get them all in the mail and in the process cleared about half the clutter from my desk. Also had coffee with a colleague, made a delivery to a church in another town and when I got home, got in a quality nap. I love naps, but do not want to sleep my life away. Thank goodness for leftovers. Tomorrow? I would love to get lost in some breadmaking, but time will tell.
So, not to bore you with the minutia of my life, but right now, this is what it looks like, one step at a time, stepping into the rest of my life, tentative, baby steps, with a cane.
Maybe next time we will talk about assumptions and platitudes. In the meantime,
Not holding back the tide,
P.S. About the duck! Prior to my first retirement I scattered small rubber ducks around the church and the church office and said, “I am not a lame duck.” because I was going to work up until the last possible moment. I shared that this time around and my partner in children’s ministry made this duck for me. It lived in the water well in the pulpit until Sunday.
I left home when my parents still had the Union Villa and lived with my brother and sister-in-law for about nine months, in Washington State. I had always been a picky eater, but my brother would not have it. He was the first person to ever say to me, if you don’t like supper, the next meal is breakfast. I learned to eat vegetables I thought I hated, and salads. (salad dressing helped!) When I went home, I moved into my own apartment at 19. My meals consisted of living out of large cans of beefaroni, or some similar food. So much so, that I was thrilled to have Sunday dinner at my parents’ house.
Fast forward several years, although I do not think it was a coordinated plan, mom did several things to encourage my cooking. She bought me special gifts useful for entertaining and special meals. She helped me buy my coveted set of Lenox China, one place setting at a time. The last gift she gave me was a marble rolling pin. I think my favorite memory is of her reading me recipes out of the women’s magazines. “Oh, Michele, listen to this! Doesn’t this sound delicious?”
This, for me, is an important connection. When I was married the first time and making meals for myself and my husband, I already had the deeply imbedded habit of setting my sights on a picture or a recipe, and trying to duplicate it. Especially as a new cook. Much to my surprise, with all the things I have lost in 70 years, I still have a copy of the first meatloaf recipe I made as a bride. I had found it in a woman’s magazine, and there was a picture. It was the first thing I remember making and being bolstered by the compliments. (It was a mushroom stuffed meatloaf). But I probably would not have tried it without the picture.
When mom and her sister were older, and both widowed, they would come to our house for special holiday meals. I always made some kind of roast, because in general it was not something they would not make for themselves. I suppose I took as much joy in making those meals for mom and Aunt Cassie, as mom had taken cooking for us. I wanted each meal to be special and I was keenly aware this was a time limited opportunity.
It wasn’t just the holiday meals or the family meals that I remember but countless shopping trips with my mom that always involved lunch. Whether we were at home in Massachusetts or when we both lived in Baltimore, or mom and Aunt Cassie picking me up for lunch from work every Friday. They had a routine, Daily mass, breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, bowling and then meeting me for lunch. If the details of all these meals are lost swirling around in the gray matter in my brain, the love they represent is firmly lodged in my heart. I would joke on those Fridays, that it was “old lady lunch day” Knowing how keenly I would come to miss those opportunities.
MY FAVORITE MEAL: CHRISTMAS DINNER AT MOM’S
During the years that I was a single parent, my children spent every other Christmas with me, and the alternate Christmas’ sometimes with their dad, sometimes not, but always at their Grandparents’ home in Virginia. One year stands out particularly, the children had been picked up and I was home alone. I made fruitcakes for my mom and Aunt Cassie and then drove to mom’s apartment. She lived in an efficiency apartment in a senior citizen’s building, it was “assisted living”
The “living room/dining room/kitchen” combination held a couch, chair a folding table and a china closet. The folding table was a wooden dropleaf table with a compartment for four uncomfortable folding chairs. The table was covered with one of the embroidered tablecloths that dad had brought from Italy. It was dressed in her Noritake China, and sterling silver flatware. There were glasses holding shrimp and shrimp cocktail set at each place. Red taper candles were in the silver candlesticks. The shrimp were followed by standing rib roast, spinach soufflé and long grain and wild rice, all her favorites and specialty. She had made a rich chocolate pudding for dessert. The meal lovely and an unforgettable gift of love.
Mom did not buy china dishes until later in life, but the sterling silver was her pride and joy. She bought it one piece at a time in her twenties and when she and my dad got married, asked for pieces or place settings for wedding presents. I do not remember having any special plates, I remember her taking the wooden chest out of the buffet dresser that was in our dining room. The chest was lined in blue velvet, and filled with her precious treasures. Today, in 2022, it is hard to imagine someone buying just one spoon, or one fork and being excited about it, but before getting any pieces for wedding presents, that is how mom got her silver. It was a simple, if material joy, paid for in cash.
As I finish up this post, I am working very hard, rearranging my posessions, giving things away, setting things aside for a yard sale, donations to the library, preparing for full retirement, but that wooden chest with the silver remains. Perhaps it is my age, but thoughts of my parents are never far from me. Meals at the Union Villa were rushed by necessity, but remembering our first home, or family meals in the apartment at the Union Villa when the bar was closed, these two statements made by my father ring clear and present. After we said the traditional blessing before the meal, he would remind us, “God bless the provider of this table” (meaning himself), and after eating, he would push his chair back from the table and say to my mom, “My dear, I have dined sufficiently.”
I am so grateful for all the memorable meals, thankful for the cook and the provider and the joy.
First, please notice that I specifically did not say “my last” blog post. I have not quit, abandoned, given up, or otherwise stopped blogging. I did take a rabbit trail of sorts, but all with good intentions .
It was like this. As I was minding my own business, writing a post, laying out my ideas for my Word of the Year (WOTY), which at this point has got to be “Procrastination,” whatever else I thought my WOTY might have been. As I was working that out, and considering my future plans, I had a moment of clarity that what I most needed to do was to prepare for my upcoming retirement in some very specific ways. Immediate ways.
That is right, I am retiring again. I set the date for my upcoming retirement back in September. I was pretty sure that I needed to ease into it, sneak up on it and prepare for the drastic changes that retirement would bring. I had fought retirement the first time around, taking a whole six weeks off before returning to work part time. But this time, retirement will be more conclusive. Do not think I have not taken a lot of good natured (?) teasing about the way I was doing retirement to begin with, but I just was not ready to come to a full stop.
While this retirement may not constitute a full on stop, my plan is to do fill in preaching, Sunday mornings only, but not taking a church, both to make room for other activities in my life, but also to make room for someone coming up, eager to continue the work.
All of that is beside the point of why I have not been writing. There are two reasons really. First, I have a commitment to my good friend and writing partner to finish our book, to do what we both have to do to get to a full first draft. So in the two rooms where I am inclined to do any kind of writing, I have a picture with my main character and an admonition that says “Book before blog!” So, if I have not been finding time for the book, no blogging.
There is another component. I could write a blog post and well, post it on my blog and some folks would see it, especially those who regularly follow my blog when there is something regular to follow. But part of the fun of blogging is the mutual supportive community that one finds in a link party. That means that a writer will read and comment on the posts of other bloggers, with the understanding that they will do the same. It is a courtesy, and I would even say it is an ethical responsibility. And it is more fun and community building. So, not having enough time to do that, I have been largely silent.
The third reason I have not posted anything in a long time is the reality that I cannot seem to accomplish as much as I think I used to, given the same time frame. And the preparation I discovered that I need is to prepare the space that has been my home office, into something more like the creative space of a retiree, without it looking like a pastor’s office. And, much to my surprise, and here was the crux of that moment of clarity, I should not wait to start it until I was retired to start. That meant starting in January, combing, but not culling, through my books and papers, giving away books that others might be able to use and gritting my teeth and throwing away papers from seminary that no other eyes would read. All that hard work, right in the circular file. That kind of discernment has taken all the resolve I could muster.
It took about two months to get one bookshelf totally cleared. I have made decisions about what books to keep and have finally managed to totally empty two desk drawers and two drawers of a four drawer filing cabinet, but it is slow and emotional work. Worthwhile work, I hope, but I have thrown myself into the task, and along with that, the work has occupied time that is usually dedicated to writing, and blogging. And, truth be told, I have also been baking bread like there is no tomorrow, and bread making also takes up time and space.
I give away books, and give away bread, and hope that none of my friends duck down under their windows when they see me coming, heavy laden with bags of books, or cradling a loaf of bread in my arms like a newborn baby. O shucks, truth be told I probably have as many pictures of my bread as any new mom has pictures of their babies.
Throw into all those reasons (excuses) the fact that two busy pastors’ seasons have come and gone (Christmas and Easter). I try to be polite when people say that, “Oh, this is your busy time of year!” Because how to explain that Christmas has four weeks of Advent connected to it and Easter has five weeks of Lent connected to it, when they were just being polite anyway?
Well, there you have it, the unvarnished truth about my absence, reticence, hesitation, procrastination and distraction. Thankfully, it was not writer’s block, just a determination to do the right thing and not write. I hope that some of you have missed me. I certainly have missed reading my favorite bloggers and being an active part of the community. I write this and post it in the hopes that for me, it represents a return to some type of normalcy, as I ease into my new life. Nine Sundays, services and sermons, and other activities to go. Eight….Seven…,
I am about a week late with this post, but still want to finish it up and share it, at least before the month is over.
Whenever we go on vacation, we always take books. There are other times we take books with us on short trips, such as shopping – one of us may want to browse through a store that holds no interest to the other, so having a book along, rather than mindlessly killing time in the story is a great way to encourage the other. “Take your time” I say to my husband as he goes into a sporting goods store or a favorite gun shop. This is much easier done in good weather than in the cold of winter. In the winter, I would say “drop me off at the craft store.” To this end, we make sure we have our phones with us. My favorite time to “vacation read” is the week following Christmas, the week following a long year of…life. I had planned to take my kindle with me on vacation but managed to forget it at home. As a result, I just finished The Little Cafe by the Lake, my first Joanne Tracey novel, after returning from vacation.
I have never been to New Zealand or Australia, and while I do not expect to make that journey, reading The Little Cafe was like a tour in many respects. Because it was my first read of an Australian writer, I was grateful for and curious about some of the things Joanne referred to that I had no idea what they were, so I was grateful for the dictionary app on my Kindle. (And my mother’s life lesson modeling of using dictionaries). There was only one definition that did I did not understand. but looking back through the text, I can’t find it. It was some type of food item. That in itself is a lesson, next time I look up words in my kindle, I will be careful to also highlight them!) When I began connecting with bloggers and writers from Australia and New Zealand, I promised myself that I would get a map of the area so that I could understand where folks were and places they referred to. When I began reading “Little Cafe” I wished I had already done that, but that is on me.
I confess I was a little confused about some of the characters, for instance sometimes Jess’s father was referred to as Fletch and sometimes Cam. That depended of course, on who was talking about him, his wife, or others. Because this was my first Joanne Tracey novel, I wasn’t sure if the characters had been introduced in a previous work. But sometimes my reading gets disjointed (like leaving my Kindle home instead of taking it on vacation). So those are simple things, just me getting used to a new author.
I have a bad habit of (sometimes) reading the end of a book before I get there. As I read through food descriptions, I kept thinking, boy, I hope there are recipes. But I did not go looking. While there were a lot of things I liked about the book, when I got to the end and saw there are indeed recipes I threw my hand up in the air and said, “Yes!” I want to try the cheese scones soon.
One of the things that impressed me was the author’s ability to reveal plot twists and turns, unexpected occurrences that kept me wanting to see what happened next. Every chapter pulled me ahead to the next chapter to see what would happen. I never anticipated any of them. There were times I did not like certain characters, pretty sure that was intentional. I was happy to see character growth.
Twenty-One Days: A Daniel Pitt Novel by Anne Perry (2018) and One Fatal Flaw: A Daniel Pitt Novel 2019
Taking these two together as they share many characters and settings. As I had written elsewhere, i like Anne Perry’s writing and have enjoyed all of her books that I have read. She has several characters in series, in addition several Christmas stories. The ones I have enjoyed the most have been the Pitt family, Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, the first generation, Charlotte was a socialite who fell in love with Thomas who was a police detective.
Daniel is one of their two children. In the Daniel Pitt novels, he is a 25-year-old lawyer, who ends up playing detective in many of his cases. The novel is set in England in the early twentieth century. Women had not yet gotten the vote, and women’s lives were extremely regulated, with social conventions beyond most of our ability to imagine. Two that come up in these stories are that it was legal for a husband to beat his wife, and that women were not accepted as doctors or scientists.
In Twenty-One Days, the number of days in question is the amount of time he has to appeal and find the real murderer before his client is executed. Fatal flaw, in large part, deals with social prejudices about women’s abilities to learn and carry out medical and scientific work. The fact that we have come so far, does not mean that there is no racism, sexism or classism in the world today. That assumption would be naive. I enjoyed both of these books and was on the edge of my seat for much of it. However, as I came to the end of Fatal Flaw, I felt that perhaps the ending had been rushed, or that that particular section of the story, which was the climax to be sure, came so late in the story I wondered if the author was pushing up against a deadline or a page limit. i still want to read the next one though.
The Judge’s List by John Grisham, audio book unabridged, read by Mary Louise Parker
John Grisham is one of my favorite authors, and I was really happy to get this from the library, since it is a new release. The characters were strong and intriguing. In the introduction, read by the author, he talked about the heroine of this book, Lacy Stoltz, who was apparently the heroine in The Whistler (I have to read or listen to that now.) He said that he had been waiting for a story that would be a good vehicle for Lacy, and this story is it.
Before saying anything at all about the story, I want to comment on the characters, the heroines of this story, in my opinion. Certainly, Lacy comes through and makes the story. I want to suggest though that “Margie” who goes by many names (her real name is Jerry Crosby) is also a heroine. She has tracked, stalked actually, the man who killed her father. In the course of doing that she was able to pin other murders on him, revealing him to be a serial killer. She has been able to identify both the method and the motive but has no real evidence. While I do not approve of everything she did in the story, I think she also deserves heroine status. Without her work, and resolve, there was no case.
I often joke that I heard the “call of the mild” not the “call of the wild” so there were many facets of this book I found frightening, the fact that the person accused of being a serial murderer was a judge, who was supposed to uphold justice, not obliterate it, the cold hearted, vengeful pursuit of individuals who had wronged him, his ability to break through firewalls and use technology in pursuit of his objectives – all scary.
I do not want to say more about the case, but to me, there was a third heroine involved in this story, and it is Mary Louise Parker’, who read, narrated or voiced the story. No matter how good a book is, when it goes to the audio version, the ability and talent of the reader/narrator, can be make or break. I have never taken acting classes and don’t plan to start now, but, I am always fascinated by the ability of actors to do multiple voices and keep them straight.
I thought as I end this month’s contribution, I would share a few of my favorite mystery writers through the years:
Robert B. Parker, was my first mystery book author. I saw a book in the library that was a book about Spenser, which was on the air at that time (1987?). I started collecting them in paperback and read every one. I also like the Jesse Stone series. I have tried, but just not able to get into the Sunny Randal series, though it might have helped if I had read the first novel in the series and gone from there. I have read or listened to some of the books that have been written “in his vein” by authors approved by the family and have enjoyed them.
Sue Grafton, read or listened to most of the “letters” was very sad when she died.
Jodi Picoult, a wonderful author, her research (does she do it all herself or have assistants?), character development and simply surprise draw me in.
Lisa Scottoline, The first thing I listened to by Lisa was funny, so I was really caught off guard by her mystery writing. I especially love the Rosato and Denunzio series.
John Grisham (have read many, but certainly not all). Although many of his books are similar in terms of tension, danger and character, I loved “A Painted House” which was very different and “Skipping Christmas” which was the basis of the movie “Christmas with the Kranks”
David Baldacci, have read or listened to most of his books. I like the Amos Decker series, but others as well.
Grateful for the opportunity to read and share and,
I do not usually write my cookie posts together, but eight days before Christmas, with New Year’s around the corner it is “crunch time” in more ways than one. This is my first Christmas in maintenance for my weight loss, and I want to make the most of it. On December 9th I shared about my frustration at my weight gain, slight though it is, since a medication change and Thanksgiving. Although I do not believe I misbehaved very badly, there were careless handfuls of caramel popcorn that were unaccounted for, as well as occasional scoops of peanuts, pecans, and other such things.
My weight loss goal, which I met on May 9th was 145 pounds. For most of the months since then, except for Thanksgiving, my weight has fluctuated up and down a few ounces in the 143 range, occasionally dipping to 142. Today my weight was 147.2 and while that is not awful, it is not great. My chief strategy since writing my last “cookie” post, has been to continue weighing and measuring my food, getting on the scale every day and dropping my calorie intake from 1500 calories a day to 1250 to 1300.
So far, so good. But my current situation has reminded me of something I had forgotten, that my weight loss was very slow. The last two months before finally getting to my goal, it slowed to a crawl, a two-pound loss in the last month. While enjoying my 1500 calorie plan and my 143 pound weigh-ins, I had forgotten how hard it had been.
I went shopping yesterday to stock up on some pre-Holiday items, including some grapefruit, navel oranges and apples, congratulating myself all the way to the check out. And there I saw it, the thing that made me decide to write this post. There, in shiny, glossy color, were several magazines featuring cookies, cakes, pies and more. Let me restate that. There were sugar-laden, gorgeous, tempting, inviting, sparkling, satiny, alluring cookies and cakes and pies, oh my!
They seemed to speak, almost jump off the page words of invitation. “You still have time, it’s not Christmas yet. You could go home and make me, give me away, well, maybe just a taste, you have already gained five pounds, what is a few more cookies?”
That is when I thought, maybe someone else needs to hear the words that I have to say to myself, some healthy ” “back talk.” I realize there are lots of experts in health magazines, websites and podcasts who may be more scientifically based, and you have your own program that you are following. But perhaps some encouraging words from someone who is in the trenches of weight loss maintenance in this season of sweets would be helpful. “Protect your investment. It is not just those size 10 dress slacks you don’t want to outgrow, it is those healthy cholesterol and blood sugar numbers you want to maintain. You do not have to be deprived, but make wise choices.”
For some people two cookies would not be an issue, but I am the woman who self-medicated with double stuffed sandwich cookies for a mid-morning snack during those first stressful months of the pandemic. Every. Day. I know I can have an occasional scone, or muffin, but I know what two cookies would do to me (I cannot eat just one, one cookie is an appetizer).
I realize that there are people who have the opposite problem, women and men who want to gain a healthy weight but not matter what they try, they do not seem to be able to do that. Those folks deserve a lot of respect and empathy from those of us on the other side of , er, the scale. There are certainly people who have grown up knowing what healthy eating is and how to maintain a healthy outlook, where food is concerned. People for whom food is simply fuel. I cannot imagine what that is like.
Here are a few thoughts and strategies that might be helpful.
Put on a “just for you” fashion show. Dress up in all your favorite new clothes and model them for the mirror. Be thankful.
Stick to your resolve! I do not know who to credit for the quote, “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” I have mixed feelings about that, but I love how I feel in my dress clothes.
Say no kindly, but firmly to anyone who offers you any food that is going to throw you off track. “You do you!” I do not know who to credit for that either, but I like it.
Choose! Plan to not be deprived, but chose that special food or treat that you want to enjoy and plan to savor it. Plan too for the healthy options that will accompany it.
Look in the mirror again and smile.
You’ve got this! And you can be #stronger than the CHRISTMAS cookie! We both can.
Postscript: This weekend is the second anniversary of my blog (a blogaversary?) which is mostly memoir. I plan to keep writing, although life lately has made regular posts challenging. I am grateful for every follower, friend and family member who take the time to read and comment on my writing. I am grateful for the people I have come to know around the world. Some of my friends are taking a break from writing and I miss them, but that is how this thing works. I am grateful for the opportunity to write and publish these stories, especially stories about my parents, Jack and Maggie and my beloved hometown, Onset, Massachusetts.
There are just two books on My Bookshelf for December and I am reading a third. I have an opportunity coming up shortly for some cozy reading time and I hope to have more to report next month. One of my two books for this month is very local in locale and the other is a new Christmas story. My current read is my first Joanne Tracey book, The Little Cafe by the Lake. Whatever you may be celebrating this month, I wish you peace, health and love.
The Call of the Raven, by Richard P. Hanlon, Jr.
My husband says that I am a “city girl” because my small home town in Massachusetts, is much larger than his small home town in Pennsylvania. His meaning is not lost on me though. He was raised in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania; hunting and fishing are his primary sports. He thinks nothing of walking through tall grass or other forms of under-growth, but I like to be able to see my feet at all times. I have a macro appreciation of nature, but not so much micro. On those occasions when I do go walking with him in the mountains, I prefer our trail to be at least car width and I keep my eyes out for holes out of which creatures might scurry or slither.
My friend and colleague Rich, writes of sauntering in the wild, with a depth of knowledge and love of all creation that eludes me, but I appreciate it in him. The Call of the Raven is a series of journal entries that takes the reader along with him in a very specific area of North Central Pennsylvania to what he calls wild spaces. He is a scientist, with the heart of Francis of Assisi. Rich serves as a guide in real time with people and is only to happy to introduce them to residents of the wild spaces, which he refers to as neighbors.
I mentioned that the book covers a very specific geographical area. The subtitle of the book is “Reflections of time spent in the Pine Creek Gorge in North-Central Pennsylvania between Ansonia, Leonard Harrison State Park, and Colton Point State Park.” You might wonder why I would write about this book in an international forum. Wouldn’t you know that I have an answer. Perhaps, if you, like me are more of a ‘city’ person than a country person, or a wildlife person, that reading Rich’s words, hearing his passion married to knowledge, you might be inclined to take a closer look at your own “wild spaces.” Rich does not use any contemporary, polarizing buzzwords, but his writing might motivate you to take a look at your individual responsibility to care for all creation and to simply notice the blessings in ferns and fronds and other living things.
For myself, I might be more easily persuaded to join him in an easy hike, and look forward to his next book. You can purchase his book at www.thebookpatch.com and his website is www.wnnc.net I hope you will take a look.
St.As: The Second Book by Lisa Samson and Len Sweet, published by The Salish Sea Press
I just finished reading this book and loved it. It is, as best I can describe an “After Christmas” story, that focuses on the life of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Bethlehem and the visit of the Magi. Many of us are so used to seeing Nativity sets with the Magi or Wise Men at the stable with the shepherds, but that is the way the song “We Three Kings” tells the story, but Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-18) tells it differently. For one thing, Matthew does not say how many Magi, nor does he say that they are Kings.
The book includes a donkey (Is, Izzy, Starlight) and a camel (Zebby) who talk with each other, although they do not talk to the humans. Even with animals who talk, I think this is more of a family story or an adult story than a children’s story. In addition to co-writing the story, Lisa Samson did the illustrations.
There are some things that refer back to the first book, but I don’t think they would be a barrier for someone who started with St. As. There are biblical and historical allusions and lots of food for thought.
I read this book on my Kindle, partly because I was being “cheap” and partly because I wanted to start reading right away. But I am tempted to order the paper version of the book. You can start here, but as I said the story begins with Jesus as a toddler. The first book, St. Is tells the story of the months leading up to the birth of Jesus, if you want a book that is “Christmas,” you might start there instead. But reading St. As first may help to shake up your expectations of the story you know and hear it with fresh ears.
I have spent much of my life, youth and adulthood, overweight. I have lost large amounts of weight in the last forty years, but this is the longest I have ever gone maintaining that loss. I take nothing for granted in this journey, but count it all gratitude and joy. Six months from achieving my goal weight of 145 pounds (down from 200) my average weight has been 143, up and down by ounces of course.
I entered this period of maintenance carefully, almost gingerly. What that means for me is continuing to get on the scale most mornings, and continue to weigh and measure my food count, and log calories. I started increasing my calories slowly, sticking pretty close to 1300 calories for a number of weeks. I realize that all of these things might seem extreme for some folks, getting on the scale, weighing and measuring food and counting calories every day might seem too much like work. But for me, they are the best ways to protect my investment and my health.
I write these posts to share my personal experience in the hopes that there is something helpful here, that might be a source of encouragement to others. But I am not a weight loss expert or guru. The thing I have been an expert in, is regaining the lost weight, something I am trying very hard to not do again.
Changes I have made:
One change is setting a 1500 calorie daily goal. I try to not go beyond that, and on days that I do, try not to worry, but I also try to not do that very often. In the past I have comforted myself with the knowledge that 2,000 calories a day is considered average need for normal metabolism, but I have recently learned that if I get too close to 2,000 calories, I am going to gain, so for me, 1500 calories daily is a good workable number. Most days I feel comfortably full, but there are other days that I feel inexplicably hungry. Maintenance is a journey and a process.
New foods I have incorporated
Cooked oatmeal! I used to think I could only eat oatmeal if it was instant and sweet. Just adding sugar to cooked oatmeal was not enough. But I tried it again on maintenance and have come up with a combination that I find satisfying. Cooked oatmeal with a tablespoon of raisins, tablespoon of walnuts or pecans, and two teaspoons of honey. A full cup of oatmeal with those ingredients will be enough to keep me happy in the evening. However, I have figured out that a full cup is too much (darn) for an evening snack, so next time I will go for a half cup. It is still filling and great for cold Pennsylvania nights.
I have also added occasional lentils and barley. I have no interest in going 100% plant based. For one thing I like meat too much for that. For another, it seems that many plant based foods, in the freezer section anyway, are highly processed, which seems to me to be the opposite of healthy. I have not eliminated foods that are highly processed, but certainly have limited them. I still need to incorporate more fish into my diet, and barley and lentils, but am not there yet.
One thing that I have not changed from my routine is that I get on the scale every morning, and weigh and or measure all food. That might seem tedious or rigid, but it does not take long. And I have done it the other way. I successfully maintained my weight at 200 pounds for years, by just eating what I wanted, when I wanted, grazing and not counting. I prefer maintaining my weight as close to 143 as possible.
Eating on Vacation
I had a wonderful opportunity to spend a week in my Massachusetts hometown in October. That meant several opportunities to enjoy seafood, and I did. Fried seafood, and pizza. Fried clams, fish and chips, fried scallops and shrimp, and pizza. Although people and places were the most important ingredient in my time at home, food ran a close third. Because of that choice, I did not log much of my food, it was hard to count calories without weighing and measuring, which is difficult to do in a restaurant. But I still got on the scale every morning, ate minimal French fries and skipped deserts entirely. I gained two pounds that week, that I quickly lost. Eating on maintenance, even eating while losing weight has to have some flexibility and not rigidity. That being said, I have no plans for Christmas cookies or frosted cakes in my holiday plans. I will tell you why.
Thanksgiving and other food dilemmas.
I love turkey, and generally make my mother’s sausage oyster stuffing for Thanksgiving and Christmas when we choose turkey for both meals. For me then, I generally limit other traditional foods. Cranberry sauce is a must have, I can skip the mashed potatoes and other things. We received Thanksgiving meals from a local group that included a slice of pumpkin pie for each of us. I would have made the pie if my husband had wanted it, but I was grateful when he decided that one piece was more than enough. It is better to enjoy some special foods occasionally than to feel deprived (depraved?), and stuck in rigidity, so I have striven for balance. I had a half cup of stuffing (sans oysters, they went bad) every night for several nights. I have had a few other treats in recent weeks, a large piece of yummy cranberry tart, and two slices of homemade cinnamon raisin bread not in the same day.
My current frustration:
Other than what I have detailed above, my daily intake is normal, no cookies, cakes, etc. But a bagel and cube of cheese are almost daily must haves. I continue to monitor, log and weigh in. But something is different. From May 9th until mid-November my weight has hovered at 143. In recent weeks I have gained weight, this morning at 148! Ugh! Not happy. I have had a recent medication change that eliminated one of my blood pressure meds because I am doing so good. Not sure if that is the culprit, or if there is something cumulative going on here.
I share this because, I have tried to be transparent in these posts. It could be that this is the stage where some folks start gaining, and as we know, Christmas is around the corner. Or Christmas cookies are around the corner, but they are not worth the possible weight gain, especially when I seem to be doing that on my own. In the spirit of full transparency, there is this:
However, like everything else I eat, I weigh it. When I make bread I let it cool, then I slice it put it in the freezer and limit the amount I eat. Every slice is weighed and logged. But, I would be lying if I did not admit to preferring bread to fruit, even cookies!
Although my bottom line weight goal was 145, because I have been able to maintain close to 143 for most of the last several months, when the scale hits 145, I want to be extra careful. I will be talking with my doctor soon. At 148 I think I will reduce my calories back to 1200-1300. If I see another increase, I am going back on my program for a few weeks. While none of this may seem problematic for some, I think in terms of what I have done, this is the danger zone. I have been on the “gain – lose- gain” roller coaster before and do not want to be on that ride again. I got my ticket punched for “maintenance” and I plan to stay the course.
Four years ago I was able to visit my hometown for the first visit since 1994, and only a second since 1973. Because I had moved away and left home behind, I did not think it was possible to become suddenly homesick. My thought was to do a brief revisit, take a lot of pictures that I could put in an album, store in my heart, and perhaps frame a few to hang on the wall. It was to be like a rock group’s farewell tour. I had thought that 40 hours, or so, would be enough. Instead what I discovered in that visit, was that it would never be enough. I was the audience, wanting one more song, and the band, wanting the show to keep going, for old times sake, but not just for that.
The following year I was able to make the trip for a whole week by myself. I had thought I was just going to revisit memories and home. When people would ask, “Are you going to see family?” I simply said, “No, there is no one there, it is just about place, about being and hopefully some writing.”
That was the plan, the expectation, but in the last six weeks before that visit, my life and world got peopled, repopulated, with family I hadn’t known existed (wonderful second cousins), and a childhood friend and his wife. In addition to that, there was a gathering with high school classmates that I really had not known in high school, one I remembered from elementary school, and one from middle school, but I left there with a sense of connection, renewed acquaintances, and new friends.
That was the trip that fueled my blog and deepened my sense that one trip home to Onset was never going to be enough. I have to approach each trip with the understanding that life can change in a moment’s notice and one should never assume. One can always hope, however, and I will always want one more trip as long as I am physically able to make it.
My trips home to Onset, the short ones, and the week long ones, have been an opportunity to encounter my long lost self. The one who was valued, and loved unconditionally, before layers of life and baggage and roles. In high school, and after, there were times when being known as Jack and Maggie’s daughter seemed burdensome, as though I had no identity of my own.
While I am happy to be someone’s wife, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, step- mother, and pastor, to name only a few roles, there was something healing and refreshing about being in that place where I was just Michele Marcellino, Jack and Maggie’s daughter.
My intent in returning to Onset, has the same foundation as the first full week two years ago, to come home and simply be; to let loose of the busyness and demands I place on myself, to shrug them off like an old coat, and take on the peace of the place and just be. So often, I act as many do, as though I were a ‘human doing’ and not a ‘human being.’
Secondly, I go to write. It is true that I can write anywhere, even in a noisy place, but something about Onset digs deep into my soul, and the old addage, to “Write what you know” holds sway.
The third benefit to returning to Onset is the unexpected gift from 2019, of new connections with “Classmates and cousins,” and two friends who were an important part of my long ago life.
Going with the Flow
I return to Onset with hopes, but to the best of my human ability, not assumptions. I hoped to connect with “classmates and cousins” to see the places in Onset that hold so much memory and meaning for me. The main goal for this trip, though, was writing. My good friend Donna and I are in the process of writing a book together. I won’t say much more about the book, until it is done, at least the first final draft, but we are excited.
For a long time in the beginning we would say, “we are trying to write a book…” Chalk it up to fear, realism, a quote from Yoda, perhaps all three. But we have moved from that to saying we are writing. We have certainly hit snags and slow downs. We each have our individual writing projects and life, of course brings its own interruptions. In many ways we are in a better position to make progress with the book now, than a year ago when a family accident cut our trip short.
We live about two hours from each other, but do regular phone check-ins most weeks. Ostensibly to talk about the book, some days we just talk about life and our other projects. Truth, it is easier for me to write a blog post, than to sit and work on the book sometimes. But I think the work we did accomplish this week, and it was a lot, has helped and will help me stick with the story and the discipline needed to write. When I talk about procrastination in writing and other obstacles, do not misunderstand. No one is forcing me to write, it is my own sense of longing. I cannot speak for my friend, though I think she is similarly minded, I left Onset this weekend loving our story and wanting to spend more time with the characters. It is an adventure.
If you are looking at a definition of the word “nostalgia” I cannot deny that it describes my return to Onset, again and again. But there is so much more to it than that. This trip, I did not do some of the things I thought I might do. There was no sitting by the canal looking longingly at the water, just stolen glances while crossing canal bridges. I took only a few pictures at the beach, our writing and work together happened differently than I imagined, but it was real, rich, productive, and fun. We are able to hear each other, trust each other to read and edit each other’s work, plan and suggest, create a plan for moving forward. It was it’s own enriching experience. And it was helpful to be away from the everyday realities of our lives, to spend some time together spinning fiction.
We had wonderful visits with people, and really good seafood and pizza. A sub desire of any visit home is eating seafood, that was as good or better than I remembered it. Seafood and pizza, yum.
I cannot deny that on any visit home, my parents are always close in my thoughts. I did not grow up in a family that visited cemeteries, taking flowers on Memorial Day, or returning for conversations. I am of the mindset that “they are not there.” Yet, when I have only had the opportunity 4 or 5 times in 50 years, so it is something I do when I can. And even though I know that “they are not there,” it felt good to say “thank you and I love you still.”
I am not trying to be fourteen again, or to “bring my parents back” or to live in a fantasy world. What is it about these trips home that is more than nostaliga? It is like looking for my life. Looking back to see what I had left behind, remembering, recovering, and redeeming what was broken and storing reserves, and direction for the rest of my life; the “who am I when I am not a pastor life.” It is about being a sponge, and soaking it all up, reserves for the future. it is about gratitude, more than I can express in a single visit, in a single blog post. Every visit home begins and ends with a stop at the Onset pier and a look a gaze, on Onset Beach, so sharing this picture from the last day, taken by my friend.
I am so thankful! I am a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts and I am
Death with a Double Edge, by Anne Perry. A Daniel Pitt Novel.
Anne Perry is a prolific writer and has three different series that I know about. A friend introduced me to the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels several years ago and I really enjoyed them. There is also a group of novels with the character of William Monk, a police sargent, both series are set in England in the late 19th century. This may be an awful admission from a writer who wants to be a published author (and have people buy her books) but often my fiction reading comes from the library, not the book store. That means I read what is available and not necessarily in order published. This novel, the fourth and most recent in the Daniel Pitt series was published this year. Daniel Pitt is the son of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, so about 25 years after the original book.
Perry has also written a series of Christmas novels, and a series that are set in the time period of World War I. I have read fiction series in different genres, detective novels, amateur detective novels, Christian fiction, as well as many individual books. The ones I have read, the authors have done a good brief job of catching the reader up on the who’s who of characters.
I have never done a good job of skimming text books and try not to do that with fiction either. So I don’t know if I blinked while reading this, but it seems to me there are a few places with repetitious dialogue that do not move the plot forward. And one or two “announcements” related to “who done it, or might have done it” that seemed introduced as a “fait accomplice” that sent me reading back to see if I had missed something.
If I did fall asleep somewhere, it wasn’t the writing. I had a very good, but long morning on Sunday and managed to nod off about 5 or 6 times during a fairly close football game that evening. At least I was in my living room and not on the bleachers. Reading this book though reminded me that I do like her writing and characters and will probably look through her earlier work and see if I can pick up where I left off.
Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Klara is a solar powered A.F., an artificial friend. It took me a while to catch on to the fact that this was science fiction, dealing with artificial intelligence, but more. Klara’s relationship with the sun is of necessity, but Klara herself seems the most human of the characters, and her relationship with the sun is close to spiritual. Let me interject by saying that I enjoy some sci-fi stories, though I haven’t read any. Star Trek (“Live long and prosper”) and Star Wars (“May the Force be with you”) are the beginning and ending of my sci-fi journeys. And in both cases, I d id not see all of the television versions or movies.
So barely recognizing the reading as being science fiction, I struggled a bit through what felt like stilted dialogue, and mysterious allusions beyond my ability to hazard a guess, until much later. Even then, I can only guess: For instance, they often referred to a child being “lifted” which I finally assumed to mean some type of genetic altering, which may or may not have unintended and deadly consequences on the child. Well into the story, there are some conversations about the value of life, the meaning of love, and a hinting and fear about a possible A.I. takeover. So there are also conversations that revolve around fear of the other, What constitutes prejudice, and the possibility of armed conflict between those who resist, and those who embrace the presence of artificial intelligent life to an extreme degree.
Part of Klara’s claim to fame in the storyline is her ability to observe and take in her surroundings, and the behavior of those around her, to evaluate their intentions, and make decisions accordingly. She does act independently in some surprising ways, perhaps ways that could cause her to be shut down permanently. Most interesting to me is Klara’s relationship with the sun, and her relationship to the Manager. I will admit, even at this stage, I am not clear if the Manager was a person, or an A.I. creation.
There were many times during reading this book, that I persisted in reading, like a child who grudgingly eats their spinach, or other vegetables, because they will be good for them. I simply did not want to leave it unfinished, or cast it aside. There were things I appreciated about the book, but had I understood up front what it was, I might have left it in the library. I am glad that I did not do that.
Promised Land by Barack Obama
I have been listening to this story as an Audible book over a long period of time. It is very long, and made more so by the fact that I had only snatches of time in which to listen. The truth is that although I enjoy some fiction work, I gravitate to non-fiction and biography. I enjoyed this book for a couple of reasons: it was narrated by the author and was auto-biography (not just because I listened to it in the car). Although I do vote, I do not consider myself a political animal and prefer to keep my opinions to myself. Writing about politics is not something I aim toward. That said, one reason I appreciated this book was hearing about his life, apart from many of the outlandish accusations and assumptions that characterized his run for President and were lobbed by the opposition.
I am embarrassed to say that I believed some of them, and was very wary of the man. I am as embarrassed by that admission, as I was wary of him. So, hearing from his own voice, stories about his background, growing up in Hawaii, visiting his father in Kenya, his mother who lived in Indonesia, put the accusations into perspective. I appreciated his frank discussion of the difficulties of living in the White House, for his family, and the tremendous benefit of having his mother-in-law living with them. His care for his family was evident, his love for his wife and daughters, his education at Harvard, his calling into public service were the parts of the book I liked the best.
While I am sure that he worked with carefully kept written records, his recall of detail, people’s names and roles, personalities, etc., are impressive, to me anyway. He is a good writer, and a smart, smart man. I admit that some of the details were tedious, and the book is quite lengthy. It only covered the first two years of his presidency, ending with the death of Osama bin Laden. I assume it is his intention to continue writing to chronicle all eight years of his presidency. I did gain some insight into current political events from the things he had to say. But, honestly, at this time I do not know if I would persist in reading three more volumes. Maybe, though.
I stopped reading on October 3rd, with too many tasks to complete in anticipation of a life-giving vacation. I have tried throughout to live in the present moment, with a cautious anticipation of things to come, of things present. The good thing was, all those tasks kept me focused and able to avoid over planning or assuming what the reality might be. Much better to live into the non-fiction of life and hold it close. And so I am.
I am not typically a countdown person, so I can tell you when I met my weight loss goal, May 9, 2021, but not how many days it has been. The numbers I pay attention to most, are the amount of calories I eat on any given day, and the numbers on the scale. To some people, that may sound obsessive, but for me it is an important measure of health. I was going to say success. I am happy to say that so far, my weight has fluctuated up and down by degrees, but consistently two to three pounds below my goal.
In the past when I reached a weight loss goal, I stopped counting; but I also started gaining. The biggest thing I am trying to permanently keep out of my daily intake is frosting. I have a recipe for carrot cake that I use as muffins (From the book “Eat Cake” by Jeannie Ray) and I think frosting would cover up the delicate taste of honey. So while I am skipping frosting, occasional sweet, moist muffins are a welcome treat.
Some days I do better than others. I average between 1400-1500 calories a day. There are some days I am genuinely hungry and maybe not eating enough, but it is probably also on those days when I am not balancing enough fruit and veggies with my carbs. Most days I have eaten enough to feel satisfied but not stuffed.
What I am trying to say is that my weight loss journey is not a done deal. Maintaining a weight loss may be harder than loosing the weight in the first place, but many of the same strategies are what is keeping me healthy. There are some things I am still not doing that I should be doing, like walking enough or drinking enough water. But, I surprised myself the other day by mindlessly putting down my sandwich between bites! Progress! Yay!
Paying attention to cues, especially temptations or cravings is important. One thing I have learned in recent weeks, especially since I started baking again, is when I am feeling hungry, it is most often for carbs. Candy, cakes and cookies are not the problem they once were, snacks with frosting on top or creamy frosting inside, don’t lure me either. But Bagels and muffins whisper in my ear. Every day. It is okay, because I weigh, log or otherwise count everything, and continue to be intentional about fruits and vegetables. I will always have to be careful, but admit that I feel very vulnerable in these early weeks. It is a period of time where it could be easy to become careless.
A new tool in my tool belt. I realize on some of those days when the cravings are strong, or on days when I have not made the best choices possible that I need to think them through carefully. So I have added a short narrative section in the back of my “everything” notebook. I do not write it in every day, but on those days when I feel that I could have done better, I do a brief summary, what was going on, what I could have done better, what I was feeling.
Another form of documentation that has been important. I have been able to use a free version of the log app from my weight loss program. Some days though, it does not work; when that happens, I resort to old fashioned tracking systems; pen and paper. I cannot keep track of 1500 calories in my head – I get to 13 and have to start over. Accountability is not a four letter word. I have said on more than one occasion, my practices may seem extreme, but 60 plus years of bad eating habits, do not just go away.
That said let me share with you one of the wonderful gifts I have been enjoying. I began baking as a coping mechanism, at an early age. Once I was old enough to bake without supervision, turn the oven on and off, etc., and follow directions, I figured out that if I was upset, I could pour that energy into making a cake to give away. For the most part they were package mixes, but it was something to do and felt like an accomplishment. But I could also make a cake, ostensibly for the family, and slice away at it until it was gone.
This was a bad habit I carried into adulthood. Hurt my feelings? I’ll show you! I’ll make something… and then eat it. By then I had advanced to homemade treats. I made fudge for a friend’s mom for a gift when I was teenager and she liked it. I made the recipe ever since. Do you know the stuff that is left behind in the pan is so good! It didn’t go to waste, but it went to my waist.
I started baking in earnest as a young bride. I had learned to cook at home, but I would try almost anything if the cookbook had a picture that I could use as a model, or if the picture looked so good I had to have it, I mean, make it. And I did seriously use baking for gifts for family and friends, when I could not afford to buy gifts. Of course flours, sugars, butter and eggs were not free. But knowing that I felt compelled to bake presents for my in-laws, a friend from church gave me a box of flour, sugar, etc as a Christmas gift that made my gifts more affordable.
I still make homemade brownies, etc. The only time I reverted to package cake mixes was when I was in school and serving three churches. I would get the urge to bake, open the pantry door, look at the box of cake mix and declare it too much work, closed the door and went back to working on papers.
There is a lot more to my baking, eating and giving resume, but that is enough for you to get the idea. When I began my journey last June (2020), I knew that the only way I could be stronger than the cookie, was to not make or buy any cookies in the first place. I thought my baking days were over.
My husband often gives or sends me recipes on social media. Often, because he knows they are things I like to make, or that we might like to eat, and sometimes I think they are unabashed hints. I think that is cute. For whatever reason, one day in April he shared with me a recipe for homemade sourdough starter, a primitive recipe from a muzzleloader magazine. The short version of this story is that after tracking down compressed yeast, which is difficult to find here, I made the starter, and then the best bread I had made in a long time. I had to make it again.
But it was such a gift, because at this stage in my journey, I knew I was not going to tear into that bread and eat it up in two sittings. It was probably the best bread I had ever made. I used my self control to let it cool, then I sliced off an end piece, popped it into the toaster, and spread a thin layer of butter on the warm bread. From the first bite, I was hooked. The combination of the crunch of the crust, the soft bread, the butter melted into the bread, was worth savoring. Bite after bite. I do not know if this is true for all countries, but we call the end slices of store-bought bread “heels.” I think the end slice of homemade bread, toasted and buttered, deserves a much better name.
I have been baking my own bread ever since, and that is its own journey, that I hope to write about in a separate series of posts. But I write this here to celebrate, because I have learned that I can still bake for fun, for stress relief, for the sheer joy of baking, and not worry about undoing all this work. Baking is a joy that has been restored in my life and helped me through some rough days.
My husband and I are both readers. That is not necessarily something I knew about him during our brief courtship, because it was so brief, but it is a practice I have come to value, even after thirty five years of marriage. I am fortunate that he is such a reader, because being married to a reader when you yourself are not a reader, well, one could easily feel left out. Admittedly, he does tease me because he prefers a book he can hold in his hand, and has no interest in electronic readers, audio books, etc., where I would be lost without them.
I may not always sit at the table or in the living room and read, but I always want to be surrounded by the companionship of stories created by good writing. Sometimes we sit at the table reading, we read at dinner, which would scandalize Miss Manners, or the late Emily Post, but to us it is companionable. Yet we manage to sit together reading, while immersed in the characters, plot and setting in our hands, without having strayed beyond the dining room table.
We generally prefer different genres, although early in our marriage we played “dueling bookmarks” reading the same book at different times. One that I remember was a biography of John Adams. My favorite refrigerator magnet is something I picked up at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. It is a quote from Jefferson that says, “I cannot live without books.” All that said, here are the books that enriched my life during the last thirty days:
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex , by Nathaniel Philbrick.
This is a true story that begins with a departure from Nantucket, in July of 1819, until the rescue of the remaining crew in 1821, and the aftermath. Fifteen months into their journey, while some of the crew were in a whaleboat hunting, the Essex was rammed twice by an eighty-five foot sperm whale. The captain and crew survived the attack, but the ship was lost. The crew gathered what supplies they could onto the much smaller whaleboats. Those twenty survivors in three whaleboats, eventually dwindled down to eight survivors.
In some ways this is hard to read, it is a gruesome story, told in detail based on writings of survivors and other documentation. The battle against starvation, thirst, and the decision to survive by eating the bodies of their dead shipmates, as well as battling storms at sea, and repairing boats while in the water. The biggest surprise to me was that I was able to read this. I shy away from stories about violence or anything resembling horror, so seeing the word “cannibalism” in the intro almost put me off. But Philbrick is a reliable teller of history, and skillfully blends in depth research with storytelling.
I was drawn to this story for a few reasons. It is not his most recent book, but it had been recommended by a high school classmate almost two years ago. While cruising the book store I saw his name on a newer book, but decided to go in search of this one. Another book that picked me? I grew up close to Cape Cod, a ten minute ride from home to the Bourne Bridge that crosses the Cape Cod Canal onto the Cape. Also about a thirty minute ride in the other direction from my home in Onset to the Whaling Museum in New Bedford. So there is a geographical connection with whaling in my home state.
Another reason for this book, I have read other books by this author and really appreciate his writing. I think of him as a historian, although his background, I believe is in American Literature. The nerd in me appreciates the depth of his research and the storyteller in me appreciates his ability to spin a true story, replete with facts and not put the reader to sleep. Well, not a history loving, Massachusetts women with relatives who spent a large part of their lives at sea.
I read this book with three bookmarks, one to mark the detailed drawing of the boat, so I could look back to see what he was describing, one to mark the place I left off reading and one for ease of checking footnotes and bibliography. I always want to know where the author is getting their information from, and what the notes have to say. I may not be as smart as I think I am, call me a nerd though and I will take it as a compliment.
And then there is my dad. It is only a case of speculation whether any of my family where ever part of a crew on a whaleboat. I don’t think that my dad was, but I know he was put to sea by his father at the age of 13. Was that a Portuguese or Cape Verdean thing? I will never know. But he did spend most of his life at sea from the time he was 13 until he was 59, with few exceptions. Whenever he had too much to drink (was drunk, inebriated, three sheets to the wind?) he told the same whaling story, (sprinkled with hiccups) parts of it anyway that I recognize from early childhood. I never heard the whole story. “Thar she blows…” and “Mr. Simms, says I, shall I lower?” (the whaleboats). I do not know if it was recitation or memory, but I heard those words again as I read the book. Now and then they would pop into my head unbidden.
Eat Cake, by Jeannie Ray
Does this ever happen to you? You are reading a book that you love, it makes you laugh, chortle, chuckle and gasp, sometimes it also causes tears to well in your eyes because of the sadness in the story? You can’t wait to finish the book and yet, you never want it to stop? That is how I felt reading this book by Jeannie Ray. I do not know much about Mrs. Ray. She has written three other books that I know of, but I wish there were a lot more, because I love her writing. Her characters are relate-able, there is character transformation, which is key in my book. There are complications, revelations, surprises, laughter, tears, twists and turns. What do you do when what you always thought you would be or do, is suddenly taken away?
I am trying not to make cheap, punny comments, but this is a book you can sink your teeth into. As with other books I have loved through the years, this is a book that I could not wait to get to the unfolding of the story, the new direction of life for the characters and at the same time, did not want to see “The End” too soon. Reading this book restored to me something I had forgotten, the simple joy of reading.
One of the things I appreciate about the story that intersects with my life at the moment, is that the protagonist bakes for stress relief. Not that my baking is on the same level as hers, but I can relate none the less. And a novel about cooking that includes recipes, is a plus in my book. That said most of the recipes are way above my talent level or calorie cap, but I have made the carrot cake, without frosting, and it does make a good muffin, or side dish. Yum! There is a recipe for a pear upside down cake that looks tempting. But most of all, I love the story. I want to read her other books, but since there are so few of them, I don’t want to rush into them.
Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler
My reading goal is two books a month. For some of my blogging friends, that is setting the bar very low. However, it is a challenge, not a competition, and reading two books a month, beyond reading for sermon preparation, is something I did not think I could do. I finished my third read last night, plus am including one audio book in my report. The audio book is Vinegar Girl (A modern retelling of Taming of the Shrew) by Anne Tyler. I am glad that this is a book I listened to instead of read. One of the main characters is a Russian Scientist, and I could not have read his accent into the reading.
The book was read by Kirsten Potter and she did an excellent job. As many audio books as I have listened to in the last 20 years, I continue to be amazed at the ability of actors, and others to give voice to several different characters in a novel, and keep them straight! Since I mostly use audio books while driving, it is important to be engaged and not put to sleep by a monotone narration of a story. The thing that draws me to any novel, or television show or movie, for that matter, is whether or not I can care about the characters. If there is character transformation, so much the better. Of course, plot twists and surprise endings are also good.
One of the small things about this book that I appreciated is that the setting is Baltimore, Maryland. When an author includes locations that you know are real, or even places you have visited, or lived near, it adds an air of authenticity to the story. You just might go to a suburb of Baltimore, or a landmark and run into Kate and Pyotr. This story made me laugh, weep, and wonder. It entertained me in the busyness of my driving around life, and surprised me too. I am only vaguely aware of Shakespear’s The Taming of the Shrew, so I cannot tell you how closely the author did or did not follow the plot. But this story gave a lift to my spirit.
The only drawback, and it’s minor, is that every time I see the title, or even think about it, this is what runs through my mind:
I did finish a whole fourth book, but since this post has gotten long, I am going to save that one for next month.
This reading challenge has been a great benefit to me, restoring the joy of reading that I had long misplaced!
Most bloggers know that link parties, coffee shares, and other variations on the theme can be a great way to grow one’s readership. They are also a great way to grow one’s mind, and enlarge the circle of people that somehow become part of your “tribe”. So I thought for this week it would be fun to share some thoughts on The Weekend Coffee Share.
Credit, or blame, a blogger named Ju-Lynn. I was sitting on the edge of my bed the other night responding to something that she wrote to me in response to something I had written and could not help but think of the wonder of it all, me, in small town Pennsylvania, having a conversation with a writer in Singapore!
For friends, family and other readers who are not bloggers, a brief word of explanation may help here. Participating in a link party or coffee share carries with it the expectation that the writer will read posts by some of the writers, few people could read it all, and leave a comment about their post, as well as respond to comments that other bloggers leave on your comment wall in response to your post.
Sometimes, when a blogger is “new to you” in addition to reading the post they are sharing in the link party, exploring their site and reading something they have written, or their “about me” page can be helpful.
Sometimes the comments made are brief and sometimes a real, although written conversation takes place, something like an e-mail, but connected to the blog format. When I started blogging I wanted to read what other bloggers were writing, partly to see if I was doing it right! But those earliest follows all seemed to be people who wrote book reviews and a) I do not do book reviews per se, although I am happy to tell you what I am reading. And b) I wanted to find bloggers who wrote similar types of posts to mine.
I stumbled into a mid-life blogging party, and although I was at the top end age-wise, maybe beyond what might be considered midlife, I was accepted into a group of similarly minded writers, mostly women. I eventually became part of the group, and saw that blogging can really be a form of community. Surprise; happy surprise. I thought blogging was just a way to get my writing out into the atmosphere, so all those thoughts in my head that were pouring out onto paper, did not, as my mother often joked, die of “solitary confinement.” But it become so much more.
Let me share just a few ways, I may be forced to name drop here, although I do not want to be considered a name dropper. Australia and New Zealand: If I start naming people, I may forget someone important. though I don’t expect feelings would be hurt. The First Australian blogger I remember reading and following was Deb from Deb’s World. http://debs-world.com/ Deb takes stunning pictures, is an avid bicyclist and a good writer. Many of the first bloggers I connected with were from Australia or New Zealand. So much so that I still would like to get a small but readable map of A/NZ so I can picture where they are. I do know where the continent is, but it would be nice go look at it and say, Oh, there, that is what they are talking about.
Ireland: Enda is a funny but also serious writer and I hope you will check out his blog. http://endastories.com/He is also patient because every now and then he uses a word I am unsure of, but rather than assume, I ask him and he is always gracious in his response. I am not a traveler and am quite sure I will never visit the places where I have blogging friends, well, Toronto might be doable and when I see Natalie’s amazing and inviting pictures, I think, maybe. http://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/ Bucket list?
Cheryl is in Bulgaria and we have become Facebook friends, for which I am really glad. She was living in Russia when I first encountered her and I have followed her through two moves. I started blogging at the end of December 2019, so much of my “international travel” via reading the words of other bloggers has happened during COVID.
That has been an education in itself that I wish many of my friends could experience. Even people who are not friends, I wish they could experience the COVID experience through the eyes of writers around the world. Sorry friends, but we can be very self centered in the United States when it comes to many things. I would give us the benefit of the doubt and say that we do not mean to be that way, it is often the end result. Reading the COVID life experiences of writers in other countries has been an education.
Benefits and Blessings of Blogging I am not sure what I thought retirement would be like, beyond having a vague notion that whatever I chose would be it, written in stone. One of the blessings or benefits of following other bloggers who are retired from their jobs, careers, or professions, is that it is possible to make a change, more than one. While that may seem obvious to some readers, it was not obvious to me.
Reading about changes that other bloggers have made in retirement, has helped me to broaden my horizons and dream, perhaps not about where I wanted to be, (pretty sure we fixed that in place by buying our retirement home), but what I wanted to be and how I wanted to spend part of my time, now feels open and not restricted. For instance, in a way I had not envisioned before, I realized I could make changes (weight loss), learn new skills (bread making), and retool others. In other words, I am not ready to choose a headstone, or set my life in stone.
Although I had some things in common with the writing community I stumbled into, age mostly and writing style, many of the early bloggers I followed are very much into healthy living, diet, exercise, physical activity; none of those things applied to me. I felt a little sheepish, as though I had wandered into the wrong room and hoped I would not be found out. When I began my weight loss journey in earnest, I found compassion, encouragement and support from my new friends. If you have read any of my #strongerthanthecookie posts, you know I have not shied away from honest confession of a lifetime of bad habits. They have generously and faithfully cheered me on. Perhaps even better, they did not seem to tire of my updates and they are champions of self-improvement.
There are a few other things that I found to be happy surprises or positive side-effects to blogging. But I will end with this, the exchange of ideas, opinions and experiences, especially in this long season of COVID has allowed me to get to know and care about people in other countries that I would never have met in person, or any other way in print. As a result, when I hear about an issue in Ireland, or England, or Bulgaria, Mexico, Australia or New Zealand, Singapore, or India, Toronto, British Columbia and other places as well, it no longer feels impersonal. I have friends there, who have impacted my life and who matter to me. Even though we will not likely ever meet in person, they matter. This is true also for blogging friends who live in other parts of the United States as well.
I wonder if more people had that experience, if there would be, could be, fewer wars. Granted bloggers generally connect with people with similar interests and feel an affinity with, yet it is our differences that are part of what enriches the process. If more people had more positive relationships with people in other countries, I would like to believe it would make a world of difference.
I’ll have another cup of coffee and maybe one biscuit.
Both of my parents were good cooks. So it amazes me that for all the memories I have of my parents, my memories of specific meals, or food, are scant, piecemeal. Nevertheless, my mother’s cooking especially has been a large influence in my own love of cooking, and how I cook. What I remember are simply bits of pieces of meals and experiences and yet they were very formational.
Probably part of the reason I don’t remember much of those early meals is that I was young, and was only 11 when we moved from our house in Point Independence, to the Union Villa, the hotel, bar and restaurant that they bought at the end of 1961. We moved into an apartment on the first floor of the hotel shortly before my 12th birthday. So, I think of my parents’ cooking, my mom’s especially as before the Union Villa, during the seven years we lived there, and the years following the Union Villa. In addition, during these years, my dad was in the Merchant Marine and at sea, and in other ports, much more than at home, so family meals are a bit of a blur, if a family meal means everyone at the table.
Before the Union Villa
I remember watching my mother decorate my birthday cake for my fourth birthday. I remember Thanksgivings and mom’s oyster dressing, that I thought was awful (although I love it now and make it whenever I can, when oysters are in season). I remember my mom picking up my grandmother Marcellino, and bringing her to our house for dinner and then taking her home. What I remember most though are the plates we ate on, I remember when she bought them at the hardware store/lumber yard. They were Melmac, some were a dusty rose, and others were grey. Fashionable in the 1950’s. The dining room furniture was blond oak, also very fashionable in the 1950’s.
Mealtime Traditions with Dad
These were simple, but for me unforgettable. Somewhere along the line, dad decided to amend the traditional Catholic table grace. When we got to the end of the prayer he would add, “God bless the provider of this table!” I suppose he did not want to be left out; to his addition, mom would retort, “…and the cook!”
I remember on many occasions when he was home, my dad pushing his chair back from the table after a meal, and saying to my mother, “My dear, I have dined sufficiently!” That was especially memorable because it was a real word and a rather large one. My dad was a sailor and talked like it, so much of his conversation was sprinkled with four letter words, and larger ones but with the same type of sentiments. Although I am sure that my mother did not invent this description, he was one of those folks who could swear two minutes straight, and not repeat himself.
In those early years before the Union Villa, he would make fried fish and jag (jagacita), a Portuguese rice dish. There are probably dozens of ways to make this, but he cooked it using salt pork, chopped onion, converted rice and peas or lima beans. It was his traditional, “just got home from sea and I’m going to cook dish.”
The alternate tradition for his just getting home from sea, was my favorite, “Let’s go out for dinner!” I have only recently come to realize, that this is probably the source of my enjoying going out to eat, and my desire to do so on special occasions. Sometimes, just because it is a welcome break from cooking and cleaning up. Not to recreate something lost; but the memory is so potent, that it does beckon, creating a humble, but hopeful expectation of something that speaks of love.
My favorite places that we went to, no longer exist. The China Maid Restaurant had Juke Box selection boxes at each table. There were small metal handles at the top of each page so you could ‘turn the pages’ to see what songs were on the juke box without having to leave the table make a selection. It was fun to browse through and pick out songs. The food was good too, though nothing really stands out, so many years have past
My other favorite place to eat was The White Rabbit, which was attached to Nickerson’s Bar. I loved the dinner rolls, that were like squared hamburger buns, buttered and grilled, toasty and delicious. Their seafood platter was my favorite dish. The waitresses wore dresses that were large flower prints, and white nurses shoes to ease tired feet. We sat in wooden booths, and the atmosphere was different than when we ate at tables in the bar. Pretty much any place we would go out to eat would have a bar, that was a given.
The Union Villa
The menu at the Union Villa was limited to pizzas, spaghetti and meatballs, meatball sandwiches (Grinders, or subs) and traditional Grinders (Italian subs) and occasional stuffed quohogs. (Pronounced Ko-Hogs). I never ate mom’s stuffed quohogs, though now I wish I had. We could not eat dinner together when the bar was open. Somebody had to tend bar, and somebody had to cook, so we more or less ate separately.
Even though I still love pizza and spaghetti, there had to be other foods. Mostly I remember mom making fried rice, chicken or pork chops that she made in the electric frying pan. Meals were simple, because most of the cooking in the kitchen was for the restaurant, so our food had to be made concurrently with the restaurant fare. As amazing as it sounds, we went out for breakfast every morning, to Arthur’s Restaurant, just around the corner. Mom tried making a family breakfast for us at the Villa, but when customers would hang over the back of the booth and say, “Gee, Maggie, you got any for me?” that was the end of that. So off to Arthur’s we went. We sat at the counter, but it was the only meal we could eat together.
Customer Appreciation Meals
We lived in a beach town, and the liquor license was seasonal. That meant that the Union Villa opened on April 1st and closed on November 30th. On opening day, and closing day, mom laid out a feast. She bought large lobsters, cooked them and made lobster salad. She cleaned the large claws and placed them on the table for decoration. There were trays of sandwiches, in addition to appetizers, and the requisite chips, nuts, etc. But it was how everything looked that caught my attention. It wasn’t just the taste, but the look of a party. I thought I wanted to be able to do that. I never wandered into catering for lots of reasons, but those customer appreciation events caught my eye. Mom made everything look special and taste good.
Dad’s Version of Customer Appreciation was a little different. There were roofers, and I suppose some other construction workers who stayed at the hotel by the week. Once a year he invited “the fellas” to a home cooked New England Boiled Dinner (corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and turnips). He also made beef stew for them once a year. I was a brat, loved dad, but those meals I was happy to get an invitation to eat elsewhere, or have spaghetti.
Off season cooking was much different, but still my memory does not serve me well on this. Mom made boiled butternut squash, roast beef, but not pot roast, so the beef was roasted dry. She loved wild rice and back in the day, Stouffer’s made Spinach Souffle, something I haven’t seen in a long time. Unlike the stove in the restaurant kitchen, the stove in our apartment was apartment sized. The kitchen was small, there was no counter space to speak of, no dishwasher, and microwave ovens did not exist yet.
Everything the restaurant served was homemade. The pizza dough was made from scratch, meatballs, sauces. everything was made in our kitchen, nothing was pre-packaged. Although I am not sure how it came to be, mom made most of the restaurant food, but dad made the spaghetti sauce. So he kept his hand in, but mostly he was behind the bar and took care of the whisky and beer. I helped in the kitchen as needed, squeezing canned whole tomatoes to get the pulp out, making pizza dough when needed, although mostly my help was limited to things like folding pizza boxes. But in family businesses, you do what needs to be done and it was a way to be with my parents.
There is an important thread here, and part of the reason I wanted to write this story, because it leads into my current obsession with making bread. The short year I spent overseas with my first husband, the only food from home we could not get on the base (trying not to call it ‘junk food’) was pizza. So I began to make my own, which is something that I did often when the kids were growing up. Although I can only claim to be a novice bread maker at this stage, working with flour, yeast, salt and water, and also baking as a way to deal with sorrow or stress is just part of who I have been, who I am.
I hope you will come back to read more. What about you? If you are an adult of any age, who loves to cook or bake, have you ever explored the roots and connections of that love? What have you learned about yourself in the process?
I love to read and love writing, as a blogger that goes without saying. But much of my reading is taken up by professional reading needs and so recreational reading is something that generally happens only on vacation. While I had come up with a plan for improving my reading capacity, there is nothing like a good challenge. So when I was invited to participate in this challenge, I jumped at the chance.
That said, I only completed two whole books this month, but once again, I am happy that I had completed reading two whole books, that spoke into my life and held my interest. In addition to the two books that I am writing to share about, I am 70% through an auto-biography on Audible, and have started reading a book for Advent, that is professional, but also spiritual and enlightening.
Women Rowing North
I bought the book several months ago and moved it from my bookshelf to prop it up against the wall next to my bed. Fortunately, my bedroom floor is not littered with books, it would not be safe. But this book lived, leaning against the wall on my side of the bed, for a long time, like a daily reminder to pick it up and read it. The book? Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as we Age, by Mary Pipher (Bloomsbury Publishing 2019).
When I finally picked it up, having started it once before, it became a frequent companion. It may sound as though it could be depressing, but that is not the case. Pipher skillfully and creatively weaves the stories of several women in a variety of circumstances, with the emphasis on the specific challenges they faced and how they overcome them. In addition, she offers many practical suggestions.
Several years ago, I participated in a two year certificate program. I was 58 when I started. One of our group leaders, a retired pastor, often spoke about accepting her “diminishments.” I did not quite understand; I was still in the fullness of my life and work. Today, in 2021, I am probably the age she was when she was leading our group. I understand a little better today, and wish I had been more compassionate then.
When I am working with couples who are preparing for marriage, (okay, they probably prepare more for the wedding than the marriage), I ask them, “What is the most difficult thing you have experienced together?” In retrospect, I would be inclined to still ask that question, but also send them scurrying to interview their grandparents, or another older couple they know, to have them ask that question to the older couple. Hopefully, it would not scare them off, but generate some deeper conversation.
I think this book would be a good read for the sandwich generation, as well as for those of us approaching our own “diminishments” or those of our spouse or significant other. Perhaps it would offer insight to the struggles their parents face as we attempt to flourish in the face of unexpected changes. Having said that, I do not think I would give it to the couples about to be newlyweds to read.
In many ways this book struck very close to home, as I try to carefully discern next steps in what I call my partly retired life. I am glad that I finally picked the book up and read it.
Can a Book Choose You? As I was getting to the end of “Rowing” I was not sure what my next read would be. There are lots of choices right in my office and on my Kindle, but nothing was popping. I read on somebody’s blog about a “book choosing you.” I think I did anyway. I was skeptical, but it happened to me. At least I walked past a display of books, and a book by Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller (Atria Books, 2013) caught my attention. When I read the inside cover, I knew that my next book had indeed found me.
I love her writing and am always impressed with the amount of research she puts into her novels. I have been working very intentionally on baking bread and trying to move from novice bread baker to a capable baker. It was a small thing, and yet the bread in this novel is almost, but not quite a character. It is of some importance.
There are also morsels of writing process, placed on the mouths of some of the characters. While there is not enough dialogue about writing process to qualify it as a quasi character in the novel, I think this is a “must read” for bloggers and other writers.
One caveat I should share about something that comes up early in the novel. I mentioned Jodi Picoult’s research that she clearly does. One of the characters is a funeral director. Although it must have seemed essential to the plot, I could have gone the rest of my life without feeling the need to know that many details about preparing a body for viewing. Really.
The book was hard to put down. Trying to do it justice without trite superlatives is not easy. And since I do not do “book reviews” all I can do at this point is tell you the ways each of these books intersected my life and begged me follow.
I am sure that I will not end 2021 with a long list of books read, but I am off to a good start of having read and not just listened to, some worthwhile, and meaningful books. I like fiction, and yet many of my reading choices are non-fiction.
If you have read either of these books, I wonder what your impression was, what you found relevant, meaningful or intriguing? Or off-putting?
My next read? In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick.
I was going to title this My Summer Reading Plan, Progress Note, (https://michelesomerville.blog/2021/06/14/my-summer-reading-plan but I feel the quickly draining away of summer, with all of the school supplies on sale, the summer clothes on sale that seem to be heralding the close, or clothes of one season morphing into another. I never did buy enough sleeveless tops to get through the heat of summer, but today I had to go digging for long sleeves, at least to get me through the cool of the morning and the dog’s first walk of the day.
I was at one of my favorite stores the other day and saw an attractive door decoration and was tempted to buy it. But I stopped myself with this thought, a stifled yell from somewhere in my psyche, “Don’t buy that yet, it screams fall and it is only July 21st!”
We have had a lot of rain the last few weeks in North Central Pennsylvania. Every. Day. Rain, storms, flooding and grey skies; definitely not good sunbathing weather, or swimming or other outdoor activity weather.
I admit, perhaps this chatter is to avoid telling you how abysmally my summer reading plan has turned out. And yet, not so bad in the long run. I have read a book that I enjoyed, and highly recommend: Mennonite Daughter: the Story of a Plain Girl, by Marian Longenecker Beaman. https://marianbeaman.com It is available on Amazon, I read it on my Kindle. I have a bad habit of checking out the ending of a book, but it is way to much hassle to do that when reading on a Kindle. So I was pleasantly surprised to find some recipes at the end of the book.
I found it to be well written and compelling and perhaps a must read, but also a potential trigger story, for anyone who has grown up with domestic violence and done the hard work of processing, attempting to understand the perpetrator, and find threads of love and forgiveness. In addition to that, she experienced extreme prejudice and bullying in a toxic work environment. There is a lot of redemption in her story and fulfillment.
It took me a while to get through the book, not because of any failing on the part of the author, but because I can be easily distracted and more importantly, had genuine family needs that required my attention.
I had started reading a second book as well, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. This is a book that is good for writers at any stage, but in order to engage the book best, one needs to read a little and then write. I picked out a notebook to use, but just did not keep up. I intend to return to the reading and the work.
The second book that I successfully completed, was an audio book by one of my favorite authors, Jan Karon, the book was “To Be Where You Are.” I had read the book previously on a vacation, but I don’t go anywhere without an audiobook and I find comfort, encouragement and inspiration in Jan’s writing. It was an excellent companion during the stressful time of my husband’s surgery, hospitalization and recuperation.
My current read, that I am moving through slowly, but finding it important for the stage of life that I am in, is Mary Pipher’s “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age” It is a book I had started on a previous vacation and when I returned the copy to the library (unfinished) I determined to purchase my own copy. It had sat on the floor by my bed for several weeks, where I managed to avoid it, until one fateful morning it seemed to jump up and say, “Hey! Pick me!”
I am also listening to a current political memoir book on Audible, but my Kindle, or the app or my car sync can be temperamental, so I am only about 43% on that one.
So, the truth is I have only finished two books in the last month. On the other hand, I have finished two books this month! Hurrah! I know, it does not sound like much, but in the normal day to day of my work life, most actual reading is professional, which takes precedence over any other reading. It is usually on vacation that I can pick up one book read it, and then pick up another and come home from vacation with 3 to 5 books read. I always listen to audio books in the car when I am alone, so I hear books on average two a month, depending on the size of the book and the amount of car time.
But my goal here is to pick up a book, or my Kindle and READ the whole thing!
Part of my goal that has been most successful is my determination to not sit in front of the television watching endless repeats of shows I have seen. One exception to this plan is Friday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time (U.S.), if Blue Bloods is on, I am there. So I feel really accomplished in that way.
In addition to all the above, I have written and published two blog posts, and have two in process and have been intentional about reading and commenting on other blogs as I am able. Another wonderful part of my reading/writing life is a generally weekly phone conversation with a friend who writes, we share what is going on in our lives, but also encourage each other in writing progress or attempts and our hope to get back on track with our joint writing venture.
So my plan now is to continue the discipline and the reading plan into fall. That will require more intention on my part because the fall season of favorite shows is coming, and I will try to be choosy.
Oh, my other summer reading? Bread recipes! But that is another story for another post. What will my next read be? Tune in. What about you? Do you have a favorite author, or genre?
I initially titled this post, “Sheba the Gentle” yet, I am quite sure that any rabbits that would encounter her would not call her that, but with us, she is gentle, pushy, funny and a string of adjectives.
I wrote in October about my husband’s accident when he fractured his femur and had surgery about how empty the house felt with her at the kennel. I felt guilty, but I decided to leave her there through the end of the reservation period, while Roger and I got adjusted to his injury and care.
I thought she would probably shy away from him when he was using his walker, but wasn’t 100% sure that would be the case. With a new fracture and recent surgery, I didn’t want to risk the possibility that she might knock into him or otherwise trip him. But in the few extra days she remained in the kennel, while we got adjusted at home, the house felt painfully empty.
I was also concerned about how she might react to the parade of home health workers coming in and out of the house, her house and the possibility that it would require her to be relegated to her crate. I needn’t have worried.
She was fortunate, as were we, that each of the members of the home health team, both nurses and physical therapists, were dog owners. They were polite about her curiously sniffing their shoes or boots and bags, her snuffly greetings. On occasion she would even sniff a proffered hand. Then she would find an out of the way spot, either on her pillow in the living room, or the doorway to the living room to watch them put my husband through his paces. They could have required us to crate her during their presence.
I wrote in October that I was surprised by the aching sense of absence I felt with Sheba at the kennel. Perhaps it is because she is seldom away more than one night while we are at home. We learned years ago that if we are making a trip out of town, we get on our way much faster in the morning if we take the dog to the kennel the night before. That, and occasional overnights at the vets. Other than that, we are a package deal.
This time she was at the kennel an additional six days until I picked her up. So the extra days she was away from us, certainly underscored her absence. But it is something more, than the fact that she was not in the house. She was not with me. In general, Sheba is my near constant companion. If I am going upstairs to bed, she runs up the stairs ahead of me. If I am going up during the day for something, she will usually race me upstairs. She still tries to walk where I am walking and will occasionally simply lean against my leg. Honestly, I feel like Mary, who had a little…dog.
Sheba has her own ideas about my behavior too. Admitedly, I stay in my office too late, almost every night. So she has gotten to the point of coming to get me and making a general nuisance of herself until I get up from my desk and go to the living room. She weighs 42 pounds, and when she wants to be pushy, it seems that she can put the full force of her weight into her face. She will come up to me and use her face to push my hand up forcefully for my desk, keyboard or writing surface.
Once I am seated on the couch, she might hang out to get petted, or she might simply lay on her cushion, her mission accomplished.
Confession: I wrote most of this post last fall, and deleted several paragraphs to make room for this update. Part of the reason I did not publish it sooner is that I have a limited supply of good pictures of Sheba. While there are some wonderful free stock photos of other people’s dogs available on Pexels and other formats, this is her story and I wanted to use pictures of her, which I have intentionally spread throughout this post.
Can you tell, that she does not like having her picture taken? I generally use my phone for pictures, so I do not know if it is the phone, or camera feature that bothers her. Just as a test, my husband got his phone out to try to take a picture and she turned away from him, whom she has grown to love. I wish I knew what that was about, because everyone who sees her on walks comments on how pretty sure is, I just don’t get any pictures unless she is unaware. There is photographic evidence here of just how quickly she can move!
But she is my girl, my near constant companion and I wanted to show her off. Well, there you have it. Sheba is, according to the records we have seven years old, she has been a member of the family for two and a half years, but it seems much longer. She has imprinted on my heart.
I spent the first months of the COVID lock-down in Pennsylvania, doing what I have done for much of my life, downing my favorite comfort foods of cake (with frosting), cookies and ice-cream, until a fateful day in June 2020 when I had a wake-up call. You can read that story here: https://michelesomerville.blog/2020/07/21/the-cookie-diary
I met my weight loss goal, ten months and fifty-five pounds later, on May 9, 2021. I knew that after all that work, it would take a plan to stay on track. Here is how it is going so far: my goal weight was 145 pounds. Metabolism will always take us up and down by ounces at least, other things being equal. For most of the days since May 9th, I have fluctuated between 143-144. My hope is that the goal weight of 145 will be the top end, rather than the bottom end of that fluctuation. So far, so good and that between the ups and downs of vacations, my husband’s health issues, which often send me to comfort food, and just normal life.
Thanks to a lot of learning and practice over the last year, I have been able to develop better habits, and to my surprise a new palette. I continue to weigh in every day, count calories and balance types of food. I have increased my calorie intake gradually, not taking anything for granted. I eat foods that I like and have learned to savor flavors, experiment with foods I had never eaten and enjoy occasional treats, just not daily treats. And although I do not cry very often, I have found that a good cry does me more good than a handful of warm, melty, delicious, chocolate chip cookies.
Vacation ups and downs
Having a plan for vacation food was crucial, especially because while food choices were under my control, food availability, not so much. Part of my plan that went well included bringing along Henrietta (my scale) as a traveling companion; I continue my practice of weighing in most days, and did not want to leave this to chance. Also, we brought a variety of fruit and cheese snacks for the hotels. For this particular vacation, all of our meals were restaurant meals. That proved to be a wild card in this time of gradual opening after COVID.
Fast food is not healthy food, but financially, we generally plan two meals a day to be fast food. But one particular fast food chain is doing drive in only. This practice seems to be consistent across the board for that one chain, but with other chains it varies.
I can do the fast food on vacation thing as long as I can sit down for supper and have vegetables as part of my meal. In saying that, I am not assuming all offerings of vegetables as side dishes are healthy, but part of vacation for me needs to be not having to cook or clean up, so these are the compromises and constraints that were part of staying on plan and maintaining my loss in the face of high-fat, high-salt, fast food, and sit down meals.
There is probably a reason that certain foods are called comfort foods, whether the foods are a sentimental dish your mom or grandmother used to make, or traditional dishes like turkey with dressing, or your favorite kind of pie, or food from your family’s culture. For me, my favorite comfort food is ice cream, or cake with frosting, or both together and almost any kind of bread and butter. My list is long; maybe yours is too. My husband had surgery recently, and picking up fast food on the way home from the hospital is tempting, cookies from the hospital snack bar, also tempting. Leaving the hospital tired and stressed was like running a gauntlet made of sugar and spice.
Rejecting those things does not mean that I have turned into some paragon of virtue or self-control. It means that I have decided to make different choices. I love bagels, and I have a preferred brand, they are often my “go-to” breakfast four days a week or as an occasional evening snack. I love cheese, and we generally have an ounce of Colby jack cheese as part of an evening snack. Those simple foods are important to me and I continued eating them throughout my weight loss. So I am not suddenly splurging on them, but continuing to enjoy them.
I love rich creamy ice creams with lots of flavors, served in a cereal bowl, but I am willing to give that up in favor of maintaining my current size. Right now, and I hope for always, a chocolate Dixie cup ice cream a few nights a week, or an occasional small soft cone at the ice cream shop every few weeks in the summer is good enough.
And then there is bread. Don’t get me started. Well, I did start making my own bread a few months ago and I am learning as I go. I know from my own experience and from what social media friends have said, warm, freshly made bread can be a slippery slope. But I am pretty determined, so I slice and freeze the bread for my own use and weigh it, so that I am enjoying homemade bread, but limiting the enjoyment. I hope to write soon about my adventures in breadmaking so that is all I will say about that here.
I admit there have been times in the last few weeks that I have been afraid. I felt as though I were clinging to the wall of a tall building, for fear of going to close to the edge of reason, and falling off into an abyss made of chocolate syrup. So my first few weeks at goal, I only increased my calories to 1300-1350 daily. Now, two months after meeting my goal, I am pretty much holding at 1400-1500 calories a day and it feels like enough.
After all, this is still a work in progress and while I have learned to overcome emotional eating (for the most part) and practice mindfulness in choices and eating, there are some good habits I have yet to achieve. I am still not walking enough, still not drinking enough water and still, despite everything, forgetting to put my fork down between bites. A work in progress.
Determination and grace, lots of grace
Determination, along with a healthy plan and good support systems, have been key in the success that I have experienced. I try to never take it for granted. Some days, and today was one, that I find I am so hungry for something sugar laden, that I wonder if I have learned anything. Today, I succeeded and grabbed some grapes, counted and logged them along with a glass of sugar free ice tea. There is a bag of homemade cranberry scones on the counter, along with the blueberry scones I made for my husband. Planning on a cranberry scone for breakfast tomorrow and the rest will go in the freezer.
I plan to continue writing about this, charting progress and struggles in the hopes that there is something encouraging in my journey for others. And, it is a good way for me to remain accountable to myself at least. Sometimes, when I am hungry, and reach into the frig and pull out fruit, I wonder, “Who are you?”
I still feel the tug of frosting laden treats, but also know they are nothing but unrequited love. I am learning to love myself more than chocolate cake. ,I am still finding my way, and trying to not take anything for granted. I am thankful and still #Stronger than the Cookie.
I began journaling my prayers, essentially writing letters to God, in a composition book in 1998. It has been a freeing spiritual practice for me. This post contains prayers that were written for the post, they are not “ripped from the pages of my prayer journal” but are very much my thoughts, reflections and prayers in this current season of our lives.
A Prayer for Patience
You know that as a person and as a parson, I recommend prayer on a regular basis, especially prayer as a means of a maintaining a relationship with you, a means of two way conversation. So often prayer is regarded, and demoted to simply asking for things, as easily as one might call in an order to a local grocery store. Here is what I want, here is my list! Amen. Or, “inJesus’name,” (yes, that fast!) Amen.
One prayer that I discourage, however, is praying for patience, because it seems to me those requests for “Patience” are really something else. I think when we pray for patience it is because we want the thing we are experiencing to be taken away, done with, or otherwise ended. Pray for patience, and you are liable to be gifted with circumstances that require you to exercise patience and so build up your ability to be patient. That process requires cooperation on the part of the one praying, myself included. But when people pray for patience, my suspicion is that perhaps what they mean or need is endurance, not patience.
So, often my advice is, do not pray for patience unless you are prepared for the result. Pray instead for the ability to endure the circumstances, or at least to be able to discern. But I think there is an element of participation that is involved. I admit, Lord, that I do not know why this fact surprises some people.
An athlete who wants to excel in their sport has to participate in physical conditioning, whether it is push-ups, jumping jacks, running laps, or other strength building, endurance building exercicses. Participation in the process is a must.
Now that I have shared in writing, my particular prejudices about prayer for patience, I see that this prayer is actually a prayer of confession. Trusting you to show me the error of my ways.
A Prayer for Patients’ Patience
Waiting for answers is so hard, whether it is for yourself or someone else. Waiting for biopsy results, waiting to see a specialist, waiting to know if they have cancer. Waiting with so many questions and wanting answers right away, wanting the doctors to know everything, because medicine and science have come so far in the last few decades. Today, in 2021, one hardly if ever hears a phrase that was once common place in the 1950s and 1960’s, “exploratory surgery.”
Yet, there are still invasive procedures, there are still times of waiting that seem endless, and questions, so many questions. Do I ask for a second opinion? Do I accept the suggested treatment without researching options? When it comes right down to it, God I am scared. When it comes right down to it, God, it is not the waiting that is the real problem. It is the answers.
And God, please guide my doctors.
An “If there is anything I can do please call me” prayer
How am I supposed to answer that question? How do I even know what I need at this point? What are the limits and boundaries of what is being offered? What things are “off limits?” I am stressed, but I can still cook. Someone else could drive my spouse for treatments, or appointments, but I really need to be there to hear what the doctor has to say.
The truth is I have been on both sides of that offer. I have extended it, without any particular characterization or limits, and I have been the recipient of kind, although vague offers of help. This time around though I decided to act. A family in our community put a notice in a Community social media page offering assistance to “Elderly” families who need help with mowing. Did you notice the quotation marks around the word “Elderly?” that is because I am in denial. I am not convinced that at 71 I am elderly, although I admit to getting older.
“With my husband’s impending surgery and knowing he would not be able to mow, I finally reached out and asked specific question, and set a specific time frame (six weeks). Another friend who said, “If you need anything call me.” got a call, within two hours. I said, what I need most right now, is for you to come visit me. We can sit on the porch and sip tea and talk.” Another family friend prepared and delicious meal that took into consideration our calorie and carbohydrate information needs. Delish!
We are fortunate to live in a caring community, that is it’s own story. Thank you Lord, for the kindness of strangers and friends. Help me Lord, the next time I am tempted to offer a vague, “Call me if you need anything.” kind of offer, to find out what is needed or wanted, or to be specific in what I can do, like “I would be glad to pick up groceries on Tuesdays, or call me any afternoon if you need to vent, or need a ride to an appointment. Help me to never offer anything I do not mean to give and help me remember that helping them is a way of showing your love.
Thank you God, for hearing my prayer. Love, Michele
The hardest prayer
Christian Author Jan Karon, uses a phrase in the Mitford Series and Father Tim books, “The prayer that never fails.” It took me a lot of reading to realize that the “Prayer that Never Fails” is “Thy will be done.” But, God, I am not that mature. I always have a much clearer picture of my will than your will and I do not surrender easily. Help me, God, to be more discerning, more mature and to trust in your goodness, as I pray for others, as I pray for myself.
In sickness and health
When I am working with couples who are preparing for marriage (the wedding, really), there are two questions I am careful to ask. “What is THE most difficult thing you have been through together?” And, looking at the traditional vows to “love, honor and cherish, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health…” I ask them to write down two to three practical ways they will live those vows out. Hopefully, their difficult times will be minimal and the “Sickness and Health” part is a long way down the road. Getting ready for the wedding, it is hard to imagine, and perhaps morbid, too, the debilitating kinds of illness or injury of a spouse, child or family member that can require both a strong stomach and physical emotional endurance, but those things happen all the time.
In retrospect, I would tweak those questions a little bit and say, “if you, yourselves have not had anything too stressful to deal with together, check around your family, your church, your friends’ parents and ask if they will talk to you about the nitty gritty of life with illness or injury.” In almost thirty-five years of marriage, we have nursed each other through various surgeries and illnesses, joint replacements, and worse. When he is the patient and feels bad about the things I need to do, I just smile and say, “In sickness and health, dear.” It occurs to me these days that the long list of traditional vows, loving, honoring and cherishing are component parts of each of the other things. So that honoring and cherishing, are part of the actions needed “in sickness.” It is not sexy, but illness brings its own kind of intimacy and vulnerability that calls for honoring and cherishing, and preserving of dignity. Help me therefore, Lord, to not take cheap shots at the expense of a tender trust.
Thank you God, for your love and presence. Michele
A Prayer for Gratitude
Thank you for the gift of this day, the flowers that bloom, the clouds in the sky that look like floating mashed potatoes (no lumps!). Help me to be a person of gratitude, for my life, for my family and to you. Help me to notice the tangible expressions of grace and mercy. Help me to be thankful and not found wanting. Thank you for the gift of my life and all that it encompasses.
My summer reading plan is more of a how and when, than a what. But first, some background is in order. I love to read, it is an inherited trait from my mother. She was my first storyteller, the first person to read to me and the first person to take me to a book store and buy me grown up books.
We went to Saltmarsh’s, a book and stationary store in downtown New Bedford. New paperbacks cost an average of 35 cents in those days. She decided that I would like to read “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte, and she was right. I also came home that day with a copy of “Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell,” and I loved reading Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”
Fast forward thirty plus years: one of the many blessings in my marriage is that my husband and I are both readers. There were times in our early marriage when we would read the same book. I called it a game of “dueling bookmarks” because I could read when he was driving, he read when I was cooking. In general though, we do not have similar tastes in books. But we have often sat at the dinner table or in the living room reading, and it has always struck me as feeling very companionable.
Clergy, and other Professionals Need to be Readers
In college and seminary, much of my reading was limited to course work and sermon writing. Each class syllabus contained an average of five to six books that were required reading. Unfortunately for me, I never learned to skim or speed read. I was too afraid I would miss something important. So I did my best to read everything that was required, skipping some things, I am only human.
Other resources that were used to write papers, I read just what was necessary. In addition to that reading though, a certain amount of reading is necessary in sermon preparation. There I do not attempt to read entire books, that would be impossible, but I do my best to read the relevant sections of three to five resources (commentaries).
That being said, much of my professional life has left little time for recreational reading, except…except for my audio book addiction. The first few years of college I listened to recorded lectures. By the time I graduated from college (at 49 years old) and started seminary (a three hour drive one way) I had three library cards to support my books on tape habit. In those days they were cassettes.
I would listen to history and some theology or philosophy, but most of my listening while driving was a variety of fiction books. Vacations were made for fiction, my favorite detective novels are a must and if they contain recipes, so much the better.
Being a pastor who preaches on average forty-eight Sundays a year, I have to be a reader. Sermons do not write themselves
Writers Need to be Readers; Bloggers Need to Read Other Bloggers
At this semi-retired stage of my life, I have more opportunity to read, but frequently struggle to make the time. I continue to listen to audio books when driving, even driving short distances when I am alone. Vacations are still made for fiction, although my recent vacation I made an uncharacteristic switch to non-fiction.
I still try to use at least three resources for sermon writing. I try to read at least five other blog posts, some weeks pushing it up to a lot more, depending on how many link parties I join. A link party is a meet up where bloggers share a post and hope that other bloggers will read and comment on our writing. In return, we do the same. While I consider this due diligence, it is not a dull or dry experience at all. Reading other bloggers had net me a sense of community made up of writers from around the world, that never would have happened any other way.
My Summer Reading Plan
Have I told you that I love television? Anyone who knows me well, even many of my parishioners could tell you what my most watched television shows are, and I do not mind watching repeats repetitively. Sometimes when you do that, you catch nuances that you missed the third or fourth time around. There is this other complication. I am easily distracted. When I sit down for some downtime, I am likely to bring along choices, as many as three or four possibilities and still reach for the remote.
This summer I have decided to turn over a new leaf. While I will continue listening to audio books when driving, I need more actual reading time. So my summer reading plan is this: to simply substitute watching repeats of my favorite shows with reading. That should net me eight to ten hours each week, of sitting with a book or e-book in my hand., enriching and feeding a need in my life. That is my how and my when.
One of my goals is to list the books I have read, title, author and date read. I know there are apps for this, but I am an old-fashioned girl. While I use technology to the best of my ability in pursuit of contact with family and friends and also for ministry needs, I like nothing better than to take a pen and notebook and write. I write my sermon research notes, and I handwrite my much shorter preaching notes. I hand write my journal entries, so I will do that with at least a log of my summer reading.
This may be a recurring post and I may tell you what I am reading and what I like about it. If so, it will not be a traditional book review. There are many bloggers I know who do those very well, and others who will still read rings around me, despite the addition of eight to ten hours of reading time each week.
Vacation afforded me the opportunity to finish reading a book I had begun several months ago, but set aside. It was the story of the marriage of Martin Luther and Katherina Bora. Katherina and Martin Luther: The Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Radical Monk, by Michelle DeRusha www.michelederusha.com. I was able to find a quote from Martin Luther that I heard in seminary, but out of context, and the book filled in some information about the harshness of women’s lives in that time period and gave me a greater sense of gratitude for the freedoms I have. But I also found much of it shocking. I may have set the book down initially because I found it slow going, but this time around I was captivated. Favorite quote from Martin Luther? “Marriage is a chancy thing.” Agreed.
The first book that I started and finished! in this regime is blogger Liesbet Collaret’s first book, Plunge: One Woman’s Pursuit of a Life Less Ordinary (I tried, valiantly, to be able to post the book covers for these two books, but got stuck on the technology. I hope you will take the time to look them up.)
I hated to put it down and couldn’t wait to pick it up again, to see what happened next. In the course of reading this book I have smiled, smirked, laughed, wept, worried and wondered. She has a way of bringing you into the story and sharing a bit of interior monologue as well. You just might want to read it with a handkerchief, to wipe away the salt water from the waves and wind, to wipe the occasional tears from your eyes, or to cover your mouth in mock shock. Seriously though, I was struck with admiration for her knowledge and ability to do the work of sailing, in partnership with her husband Mark. Liesbet blogs at Roaming About.
Doing something a little different today, by participating in a Virtual Book Tour to help promote author Darlene Foster’s newest book, Amanda in Malta. I hope you will check it out!
Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents. Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?
Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.
There seems to be an animal in every book. Is there any significance to that?
Amanda loves animals, as many young people do. She would love a pet, especially a dog, but her parents say they are too busy to look after a pet. She makes a friend of Ali Baba the camel who she meets in Amanda in Arabia. In Amanda in Spain, she helps a Spanish rescue her dancing pony, Pedro from horse thieves. In England she meets a Maine Coon cat who lives in a bookstore and in Holland, Amanda and Leah find an abandoned puppy who they try to find a home for. In Malta, Amanda visits a Falconry and gets to hold Tinkerbell, a sweet tawny owl. Amanda may not have a pet at home, but she meets special animals in her travels. Her love of animals displays her kind heart
Excerpt from Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady
They had arrived at the Falconry Centre. After a short walk, they entered a spacious enclosure and were greeted by a friendly guide.
“My name is Allan. Merhba. That’s welcome in Maltese. If you’re lucky and the wind dies down, we will provide a show for you. In the meantime, you can view the birds and even hold some if you want. We’ve rescued most of the birds here. Often they’ve been found with a broken wing, so they can’t be released. Some we’ve raised ourselves. Follow me.”
He continued talking as they walked past massive cages. “Our aviary includes various falcons, hawks, eagles, vultures, and kites, as well as a number of owls. Malta has a falconry tradition that dates as far back as the thirteenth century. Emperors from all over Europe used to send their royal falconers to obtain highly-prized birds of Maltese origin.”
He stopped in front of one cage. A noble bird with a black head, blue-grey back, and white- striped under-feathers, perched on a branch.
“This, my friends, is the well-known Maltese falcon, or peregrine falcon as it is also called. Well known for its speed, it can reach over 320 kilometres per hour, or 200 miles per hour, during its hunting high-speed dive, called the stoop. It’s the fastest member of the animal kingdom and has been used in falconry for a long time, more than 3,000 years. Because of the widespread use of certain pesticides, the peregrine falcon became an endangered species in many areas of the world. But I am happy to report that this iconic bird is making a comeback here in Malta.”
“Do people hunt these birds?” asked Caleb.
“They used to. Malta was required to halt bird hunting in order to join the European Union in 2007. Sadly, there are still those criminals who think that they are above the law.” Allan clenched his jaw and looked down. “In fact, two white storks were shot just last week. They are a protected species too.” He shook his head.
“Oh, no.” Amanda’s eyes widened. “I saw a stork by the St. Lucian Tower earlier today.”
“They have a nest there and we have been keeping an eye on it. Hopefully, there will be little storks soon. Would you like to hold a bird?”
“You bet!” exclaimed Caleb.
“Yes, please.” Amanda beamed.
Allan handed them each a large glove. “Here, put on this leather gauntlet to protect your hand.” Then he opened the cage, walked in, and took out the falcon. He placed it on Caleb’s gloved hand and showed him how to stroke the bird with his other hand.
Caleb couldn’t stop grinning.
“This is Sonia. She is much larger than the male falcons.”
He looked at Amanda. “I have just the bird for you.”
Allan went to another cage, brought out an adorable owl and placed it on Amanda’s gloved hand. “This is Tinkerbell, a tawny owl. We rescued her from a restaurant where she was kept in a small cage and never let outside.”
Amanda squealed with delight. “She is sooo precious.” She held the bird close to her chest and stroked the owl’s soft brown feathers.
Be sure to read all the books in this exciting Amanda Travels series! 1. Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask 2. Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting 3. Amanda in England: The Missing Novel 4. Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone 5. Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music 6. Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind 7. Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action 8. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady
Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, where her love of reading inspired her to see the world and write stories about a young girl who travels to interesting places. Over the years she worked in rewarding jobs such as an employment counsellor, ESL teacher, recruiter, and retail manager, writing whenever she had a few spare minutes. She is now retired and has a house in Spain where she writes full time. When not travelling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, she enjoys spending time with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.
This is the most unusual post I have written, partly because it will be SHORT! But I am putting this together with the plan to submit it to the link parties I try to participate in regularly, but also other followers will see this and comment.
I love my Word Press site and not looking to leave it. But because I am so new to blogging (almost a year and a half) I did not understand what to do with the “About Me” section or the contact page. I admit I share a lot of personal information in my blog, it is a memoir after all. But I have hesitated to put anything more specific in terms of contact, my exact geographical location, phone, etc. I have listed my personal e-mail, because one account is plenty to keep up with for me.
I have come to realize that as a result of this lack of knowledge, I did not really have a functioning menu, or a helpful one.
A fellow (sister) blogger recently mentioned that my “About” page was impersonal. I was not insulted by that at all, in fact I was challenged and then inspired by her comment. Inspired enough to take action. Another blogger several weeks ago mentioned an inadequacy about my contact page.
I looked at the blogs of several people that I follow to see what their “About” page lists. It was helpful. I decided to try something I hope is creative, and a little different from everything I have seen. I used a lot of picture and attempted to “show” in pictures and “tell” less in words. I did use my words, I am a writer after all.
My hope is that looking at my “About” page give you a good enough idea of what you are likely to find inside the blog itself.
I am so pleased to have a functioning menu. Part of being new is that I acted under the assumption that interested readers would go right to the post without checking out the home page or menu.
What I have done is not set in stone, and I am not married to it. Like my writing, which is almost always long, there are a lot of pictures. Because of the nature of my blog is memoir, some of the pictures are old and worn. I am a little too!
I like planning ahead, especially when it comes to planning Sunday services and sermons. Last summer, and moving into fall, as all of the tension in the United States seemed to boil over, side-effects perhaps of necessary lockdowns due to COVID, affects on the economy, racial tensions spurred by the deaths of several persons of color at the hands of police, to name a few causes of unrest. Add into that mix a host of difficult to distinguish trouble makers and rabble rousers happy to make things worse, to say nothing or as little as possible about the viciousness of the rhetoric leading up to the Presidential election, and you have several problems crying out for peace. Because of all of those things, or each of them together, I began to think about doing a sermon series on peace for the weeks after Christmas.
Part of what I presented in that sermon series was a number of practical ways to live a peaceful life. I write from the perspective of a Christian pastor, rooted in stories from the Bible. My hope in sharing some of these points is that even if we do not share the same faith or approach to faith, we share the same humanity.
Throughout the years, when I have read the phrase, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God” (Matthew 5:9) I thought it was about professional peacemakers, diplomats and other power brokers at an international level. But as I began to consider this passage again, it struck me as much closer to home, more individually and with a sense of obligation. I think too about the song, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth” (See author info below) and the last line that is often sung with such passion and gusto in church, “…and let it begin with me!” Do we mean that? It is a little like the words in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us as we forgive…” Do we mean that too?
As those phrases and that question, “Do we mean it?” came to me several practical ideas began to weave together, and present themselves to me, so I offer them here for your consideration. Lofty ideals need to be tethered to practical applications.
1 – Everyone is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) even those with whom you profoundly disagree. Look for the gifts that God has given them. This might take some work. Ask God to help you see their gifts. Take it a deeper step, and ask God to help you see individuals as God sees them (yes, even your annoying neighbor, in-law, or co-worker).
2 – It may be stated differently in other Christian denominations, but in the United Methodist Book of Worship and Hymnal as well, one of our Baptismal promises reads: “We promise to accept the freedom and power God gives us to reject evil and injustice in all its forms.” This is a solemn promise. I do my best to rely on that promise in my every day life. Some days I fail, but I believe that God will give me the grace and power to keep that promise. It does not happen by osmosis though, it is a promise that requires our willing participation.
3 – If you want to make peace with family, friends and neighbors, and if you want to teach peace by example, stop using labels for people. Labels belong on cans, people have names. Do not call a person “retard” or “retarded” or any other name. Do not use generalized political descriptions like “far left” or “radical right.” That has become a very accepted pattern of speech, but I tell you that it is name calling and dismissive. When you refer to a person like that, they become less a person in your eyes and more the enemy.
4 – Watch your words, not just cuss words. Words can inflame or inspire. What do you want your words to do? Think before you speak. My favorite image for this is that of a tube of toothpaste. Like toothpaste that cannot be put back into the tube, once we have given voice to hurtful words, we cannot simply withdraw them. Like arrows that have left the bowstring, they can wound and cause irreparable harm.
5 –Humility is essential and sorely needed. Micah 6:8 says “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (New International Version of the Bible) or “Do justice love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (New Revised Standard Version). My ethics professor in seminary said it was always important to have the humility to know, and admit, that you might be wrong.” I think most of us would rather push our rightness than to exercise humility.
6. Respect! Treating all of humanity, including your family, pets, neighbors and people with whom you disagree with respect is crucial. In my work preparing couples for marriage, I stress respect as the most important thing. You might think it is love, but love that does not show itself in respect is empty. (As an aside, I am totally not sure how smashing wedding cake in your spouses’ face shows love, or how the tradition got started).
7. Practice gratitude, every day. Recognizing your blessings from God can put you in a much better frame of mind to deal with conflict and to make peace.
8. If you have wronged someone, admit it to them, do not make excuses. So, do not say, I am sorry, but…and ask their forgiveness. Accepting responsibility for your words and actions can be much more effective.
9. Exercise compassion. Everyone you meet is dealing with something, so be kind. The 2021 theme for the National Random Acts of Kindness Movement is “Make Kindness Your Norm.” http://www.randomactsofkindness.org
10. Suspend judgment. It is easy to judge another person’s actions, without knowing their background, or their story.
11. You don’t have to like someone, or agree with them to make peace. You need common ground and a willingness to agree to disagree.
12. Listen! Listen to what the other person is saying about how they feel, what they believe or want, and why. Have you ever been in a group of some kind, where instead of listening to the person who was talking, you got caught up in thinking about what you would say when you got a chance to jump in? That is not listening. Sometimes friends do that, classmates do that and couples do it too. Try to zero in on what the person who is speaking is saying and ask clarifying questions.
13. Look for common ground. You might assume there is no common ground, but if you can put some of these foundation stones in place you might be surprised.
I have had the nuts and bolts of this post on my computer and in reserve in my blog, but just procrastinated. I thought perhaps I had waited to long and these words would not be needed; but peace does not seem to be on any horizon, so I offer these thoughts in the hope that they can help.
It is Mother’s Day in the United States, May 9, 2021. It has taken one month to lose the last two pounds. I have been hovering over my goal weight of 145, up and down the decimal points, for about a week and a half. One day 145.2, the next day 145.6, back down, back up, but I have stubbornly refused to call it goal until this morning; 145.0! Yipee! I know that water retention, metabolism and other things will keep that needle playing up and down as though it were a zither, but I have to declare it a goal achieved. With gratitude, relief and a tad bit of fear.
The fear may seem senseless, after working so long to achieve this goal, but sometimes it is there, looming like a monster in the dark. But checking under the bed, or behind clothes in the closet will not bring it out into the open. It has to be driven back by persistent, mindful eating and exorcised by talking back to the fear. Just because I failed to maintain a weight loss other times, does not mean I am doomed to gain the weight back this time. Achieving this goal is a cause for celebration, but not a cause for mindless eating.
I am moving ahead cautiously. The next few days I will stick between 1200 and 1300 calories. I know that I can eat anything I want. But I also know that one of the benefits of these last months of discovering a new palette is the subtle taste of sweetness that had been previously masked by the extra sugar of cookies, cake and large servings of rich ice cream.
I love cake with frosting, lots of sugary frosting and my favorite moist chocolate cake that I have made for countless church suppers and funeral dinners is my all time favorite. Well, then there are those wonderful cakes with frosting flowers and a little bit of ice cream, give me a corner piece! But, no. I have decided to let them be a thing of the past and to treat them like an old boyfriend who never loved me as much as I loved him. The unrequited love of chocolate cake.
It is not that I will never eat cake again, but I hope I will continue to eat good foods and to make choices that make sense for me. There are some foods I am adding that might not make sense to others. I live in an area with a lot of maple syrup producers. Real maple syrup is more expensive than store brands or even national brands. It has more calories (200 calories vs 100+/- for a serving), but it also has lots more flavor, and no preservatives. Syrup is not a daily food but an occasional food. I chose the real thing, not the watered down version.
I have not sworn off chocolate, but the light flavor of a chocolate Dixie cup ice cream, every few weeks, or occasional homemade brownie bites are enough to satisfy my desire for chocolate. The same thing goes for my much loved cranberry scones. Occasional.
The almost daily foods I want to continue, I have not removed from my diet, only limited them. I love bagels, especially a certain brand and if a bagel and margarine put my breakfast calories at 300, I am fine with that. The same goes for my almost nightly treat of Colby jack cheese.
Fresh fruits and vegetables continue to be a priority for me, and savoring food rather than inhaling it will continue to be important. In recent months in this process, I have limited, though not eliminated, highly processed foods, and foods that include sugar (like ice cream cups and brownies). I have also let go of condiments, shaving calories and choosing unadulterated taste over coverups.
All this might strike some as overthinking, yet I know it was mindless, emotional eating that got me to where I was, through much of my adult life.
I know that this side of my goal, I cannot figure out the whole path moving forward. These are baby steps. I plan to write once a month and fill in some details, and experiments, and to let you know how things are going. It is also a way of keeping myself honest and accountable.
Thank you to my family, but also my blogging connections and other close friends who have been so supportive of me in this journey.
It is September 1998 and we are traveling. We have come to the far end of Missouri, my husband, Roger, his father Jim and myself. We are odd traveling companions I suppose, but it has been a priceless journey. We drove for two days, stopping to stretch arthritic limbs on foreign mattresses. Pausing for rest and respite from the merciless drive.
Even in 1998 the scenery is desolate, empty and depressing. The only thing that breaks up the monotony of the flat lands are the overpasses and the trees. I think about the pioneers who made this trek before us, and am suddenly ashamed that I am grateful for the break in the scenery that the overpasses provide.
We make a lame kind of game out of the names on the road signs, as though we had really gone astray from our intended route. We wonder how we got so near to Harrisburg, when we thought we were in Indiana; how we got to places like London and Lisbon, without crossing the ocean.
We crossed Licking Creek, Nameless Creek and the Blue River, which is really a creek, or creek sized. We crossed the Wabash, the Monongahela, and the Mississippi rivers. We have crossed the Missouri River three times while traveling I-70.
We crossed the Platte River that James Michener built his story Centennial around and I thought back to the story when I saw that sign. Maybe it is Michener’s fault that I cross rivers wanting to get closer, but on my own terms. His fault, too, that I think of people who have gone on before us, living off the great rivers and traveling them. I keep my thoughts to myself rather than give voice to my frustration that there is no time to do the exploring and sight seeing we would like. There is no time, so there is no point. We will make this journey again, my love and I and then we will take our time.
We make small talk with his father now and then. He will lean forward in his seat, stick his head between us, and ask questions or talk until his back can’t bear the position. Then he sits back in silence. He doesn’t offer to drive, and we assume he is glad to sit back and relax. I think to myself it is just as well. He is 70 and hasn’t mellowed much. I’ve heard stories about him out running state troopers in his younger days and I am just as glad that he doesn’t offer to drive now. He does not read, except to browse through hunting magazines. One good novel would make the ride more bearable. But he does not read, not on this drive anyway.
It is a long drive from North Central Pennsylvania to St. Joseph, Missouri. He has traveled out of state before, but probably not this far. We were not at the far reaches of Pennsylvania, into Ohio before he asked the age old question, “Are we there yet?” To this day, I am not sure if he was serious or joking, but we broke up the monotony of the drive by telling him every time we had gone another 100 miles. Not there yet Dad, but another hundred miles under our belts.
I took vacation from church to make the journey; but school was still in session and I had to bring homework with me, some of which I resented. Jim came to our room the first night in St. Joseph, and his visit was a welcome interruption. He stayed a long time and talked about his childhood. He talked about growing up in a large farming family on the edge of poverty, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I was glad that I was daring enough to ask some questions. I know about beaches, but I do not know anything about farming.
I’ve known Jim for twelve years, but not well. It is more realistic to say I have been acquainted with him and these days of traveling together, have revealed glimpses of the man. He is an old-fashioned “good old boy,” a hard worker, a mountain man and imperfect. But he is also honest, wise about many things, passionate, and very stubborn.
When he was thirteen years old, he could lead a team of horses to plow a field. Even when the snow was six inches deep they would plow, because his father said the snow helped keep the moisture in the ground. He was one of eleven children and they slept three children in one bed. No wonder they are close. Most of the siblings who are alive live within a few miles of each other.
Often they would plow or do other work in their bare feet, because they could not afford shoes. They’d plow, plant corn, go through and pull bugs off the corn to protect it. They would harvest the corn by hand with a corn knife, haul it back to the barn in a wagon and husk the corn in the winter. When they were done husking the corn, it was time to start over. They would do the haying all by hand. The boys would fork the hay into the wagons and put it into the barn. They milked the cows, let the milk set in the container util the cream rose and his mother would make butter.
They worked all day from sun up until sun down. in the winter, the children would go sledding down the long snowy hills until 11:00 p.m. In the summer the whole family would walk two miles to visit a neighbor and stay late. Then, they would walk back home in the dark. The older children would carry the young sleeping ones. They worked together, they played together, and they slept together.
When Jim was sixteen, his father developed a brain tumor. he had been kicked in the head by a horse when he was younger. The brothers took turns sitting with their dad at night and would often have to hold him down, because he would flail violently in bed.
Jim dropped out of school to work, after his freshman year, so his older brother John could finish high school. The family could not afford for both of them to go to school, so he made the sacrifice. I was going to ask him if he ever resented it or held it over John’s head. But fifty years later, Jim is as close to John as he is to his surviving siblings. He is a big tease, and I would not be surprised if he hadn’t teased his brother about it now and then. But there is no resentment or meanness in the teasing, or in him as he talks about it.
He came here with us to attend his granddaughter’s wedding. She is his first granddaughter to marry, and I do not think he would have missed it. It has been a tiring trip, 1200 miles, one way by car. It has been a hard trip because his wife, Roger’s step-mother, was not able to come with us. They are not joined at the hip, he leaves her several times each year for hunting trips. Yet, there is an emptiness beside him here in Missouri, because she is not.
It is that persistent sense of what family is, and does that draws him here in the first place, and that is something I know more fully, because he has shared the journey with us. He has shared some space, a few stories and a huge chunk of his time that is normally otherwise invested. Some of the stories, my husband tells me, he has never heard before. Roger was raised by his mother and step-father, and has other siblings on both sides of the family. I often joke that when his parents had him, they broke the mold. But one look at that picture shows the apple did not fall far from the tree. The six days of our journey are more time than father and son of have had in a lifetime. They were worth the drive.
I am brought up short to realize that at this writing, my husband and I are a little older now, than Jim was when we made this journey. I thought he was old! We lost Jim a few years back and my strongest memory is sons, daughters, spouses and grandchildren around his bed and of course his beloved Shirl. Strange as it sounds, we ate our lunch there, waiting for other grandchildren to arrive, and told and listened to stories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
First, for any close family, friends or followers, let me begin by saying that neither of us were hurt in this misadventure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One day I visited a colleauge who was preparing to retire and move out of state. She very graciously invited me, and others to look through her office and help ourselves to any props or items we might find useful. There was a beautiful but simple, multicolored long dress and a pink and grey water jug and a ruby red glass bottle with a glass stopper. I took them and thanked her. I hung up the dress in my office and set the water jug next to it and thought, “I could be………………anyone. I could be, the Woman at the Well.” And so I was.
A young boy gave me the gift of a green stuffed frog, after I had done a family study with him and his family around the story of Moses and the Plagues and the Prince of Egypt. That young boy is a young man now, perhaps close to 30 and while I have let other such things go, the Frog still sits on top of the second row of books in a bookcase. After all, one never knows when one might need a frog!
Yard sales can be great places to find props. One time when I was driving past a yard sale, and stopped because I saw an interesting stuffed sheep with a black face and a floral bow. I rescued him from the place of dishonor, sitting among discarded items for all to see. In talking with his previous owner, I learned that he had been made by someone, whose last name was Murray. So I bought him and brought him home to my office and named him Murray. Murray was quite companionable in my office and caused no trouble at all. Occasionally he visited church with me. For a relatively little guy, he is somewhat heavy, and I wonder if he doesn’t have some wire in his legs.
Later that year, at Christmas, we were staging a play that called for someone to throw stuffed sheep, but I did not want to subject him to that. After launching a search for gently used sheep and coming up empty, I made a small purchase and bought two lovely small sheep from Amazon and since it was Christmas time, I named them Frankie and Goldie (although, for the life of me I keep wanting to call them Frankie and Johnny). So, I had Frankie, Goldie and Murray (Myrrrrrhy). Frankie and Goldie became flying sheep. They were quite acrobatic. Murray watched approvingly from the sidelines.
Then, last year at Lent, Murray, Frankie, and Goldie got to guest star in a presentation of the Shepherd who left the 99 sheep in search of the one lost sheep. Other sheep have been added to the flock since then, including one with a rather wooden personality. All it can seem to do is sit there. Lambchop came to join the crew but met with an untimely end. It seems that Lambchop was a dog toy in disguise with a wonderful squeaker and was given to the dog! Just unspeakable, the drool, being sat on or waved about the room between the dog’s teeth, left to finish its days on a stinky dog bed.
Christmas time saw two new residents at Shepherdess Shelley’s Home for Wayward Sheep. Orphaned they were, left on her doorstep in a pretty Christmas bag, their previous owner trusting the Shepherdess to do the right thing and take them in. The mamma sheep was named Baaaath-sheep-ba and her little one was named Leg-a. Now about this time, I began to think all these gifts of sheep might be the slightest bit prophetic and began wondering if I shouldn’t try to accumulate some additional stuffed sheep. After all there are many stories in the bible about Shepherds and Jesus as the Good Shepherd and of course, the 23rd Psalm. If the Lord is our Shepherd, that must make us some kind of sheep. Plus, there are Messy Church* groups that use crocheted sheep and stuffed sheep to promote their activities, so there are lots of wonderful applications and opportunities. All this at a time when this pastor is trying to downsize, but I continued to contemplate putting out a call for more sheep.
I had lunch my friend who had given the previous sheep, except of course for Murray, Frankie and Goldie. After lunch, my friend reminded me to take back a canvas bag I had sent over with books in it. I grabbed the bag by the handles and low and behold there was a fluffy momma sheep and a little baby sheep stuffed into the bag. Their names are Emmmmm-i-ly and Alllllll-is. Without further delay I put out a call on Facebook for some gently used stuffed sheep. That raised a few eyebrows and question marks, let me tell you. My sheep sharing friend’s response was “Be careful what you wish for!”Continue reading “A Pastor and Her Props”
When I was a little girl, my mother taught me this bedtime prayer, “God bless mommy and daddy, Steve and me and all my relations. Please let daddy have a safe journey…” I do not remember how the prayer ended, or if it simply ended there with an “Ah-men.”
We always prayed for dad to have a “safe journey” because he was in the Merchant Marine, and at sea more than at home. And because when storms came, it was not unusual for people to pray for them to go out to sea.
I haven’t thought about “…all my relations” for a long time. Both of my parents were from large families. We lived near some of my dad’s family in Massachusetts, but we saw much more of my mother’s side of the family and most of them were in Baltimore.
Although I occasionally saw Marcellino cousins, it was my O’Hara aunts, uncles and cousins that I knew best and saw most often.
After both of my parents had passed away and I had moved on and out-of-state, I frequently commented that “I wouldn’t know any of my cousins if I fell over them.” And I also said that while I thought my father was very loving, I thought his family were a bunch of cold fish. I had my reasons. (Sorry cousins!)
I should say however, that I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, my dad’s mother, when I was quite young, and I loved her. She was from Lisbon, Portugal, and spoke beautiful broken English with a thick accent.
She would talk about ‘the old country’ and because of her, I love the sounds of all languages. And my ears tune in to the sounds of regional accents wherever I may be when I hear them.
Something happened recently to make me think again about “all my relations” and to see them with new eyes. The “Something” was that I had an opportunity to go to Onset and spend a whole week. It was the first time in 45 years that I had more than two days in town for a funeral or a quick visit.
I had a few unanswered questions about my father and his family before heading home, and when I posed them to my brother, he put me in touch with some relatives I did not know existed. They are, in a sense, new relatives.
We have always been related; we just didn’t know each other existed. I would have known sooner, had I shown my brother’s interest in our family heritage and culture, or even if I had shown interest in the research that he was doing.
One keen example of this is when we went home for our mom’s funeral service, besides walking around our home town separately, he and his family went to the town hall to look at birth records, and I went to the beach to look for shells.
But several relatives, including my brother and the grandchildren of some of my dad’s siblings have taken advantage of the offerings of Ancestry.com and other similar organizations and started digging.
In some cases, the cousins who were doing this research have been at it for years, in other cases; some of us have only recently turned our attention to our father’s or grandparents’ family, and have only recently come to the party.
I did not know that they existed!
I had not known that the cousins my brother put me in touch with existed; what was more shocking to me was taht I did not know that their grandfather, my father’s brother John had existed either. It took me a while to wrap my head around that. Suffice it to say, that my father’s family was not close. And my Uncle John died before I was born, so he was never mentioned.
I suppose that sections of dad’s family were close, but visits were few and far between. no family reunions that included everybody and many of the siblings moved far away from home.
Nevertheless, one day in October 2019, eight of us met for the first time in Antonio’s (Portuguese) Restaurant in New Bedford, Massachusetts, https://www.antoniosnewbedford.com/ for a long, leisurely lunch.
With spreadsheets, cell phones and pictures, we compared notes, histories, stories that had been passed down, shared myths and worked our way through “myth-information.” We talked about old conflicts that had torn the family apart, inherited diseases, longing for knowledge and healing.
We found love and hope, in the open hearts of our cousins. We walked each other through some of our individual family stories and helped each other pick up loose threads. We made decisions to repair the breach, to not carry old wounds but to heal them and to go bravely into conversations that perhaps our parents and grandparents would have wished we had left “well enough alone.” We laughed, cried and embraced, scoured the cemetery where the grandparents’/great-grandparents are buried and took pictures.
For me personally, the knowledge I seek is more about my father’s siblings and their children and grandchildren, than it is about those who came before. Because those who came before, are people I can learn something about, but the cousins who are descended from my father’s siblings are people I can know. In getting to know them and their stories, I can see something of my father and grandmother and hopefully, learn something about myself along the way.
So now, I need to pick up something of my old bedtime prayer and say, God bless mom and dad, Steve and me, my spouse and our children and grandchildren…and all my relations. I think about my “new” cousins and a smile breaks across my face and a tear glistens in my eye and there is a spring of sorts in my step that wasn’t there before. I am a vintage chic on a journey of discovery and determined to press on.
It’s fall, and the cranberry harvest in Wareham is about done, I have fresh cranberries in my freezer, and waiting for time to make cranberry bread and cranberry scones, so I thought I would re-publish this post from January. Maybe it will send you to the store for fresh cranberries!
Onset is a village in the town of Wareham, Massachusetts. Onset/Wareham boast two main industries: Tourism and Cranberries. My whole upbringing was rooted in the tourist industry, but there is a special place in my heart for cranberries. If I had been formed from the earth, the clay used to make me would have been part peat and part beach sand, just like the makeup of a cranberry bog.
Cranberries grow on short sturdy vines that are planted in bogs. The bogs may be square or oblong plots of ground, depending on how old they are, but the oldest bogs take the shape of the wetlands in which they were built. Low lying marshy places are the best base material for the vines to grow. The swamp is filled in and built up, with a solid layer of soil, covered by a mixture of peat soil and beach sand. The planted area is surrounded on all four sides with a ditch, which is surrounded by a dirt road.
An aerial view of a cranberry bog gives the illusion of a picture, even if oddly shaped. The picture would be the cranberry vines surrounded by a mat (the ditch), framed by the road or dike. Everything about the bog is practical. The ditch is part of the irrigation system that allows drainage after the bogs have been flooded. The roads provide access for the heavy equipment that is needed for harvest. **
Cranberry bogs are flooded in the winter when the temperature goes down to the twenties, to protect the vines. Frozen bogs are also great ice-skating rinks and that is how I learned much of this in this in the first place. Although in the distant past harvesting was done by hand and with the use of large cranberry scoops, now the bogs are flooded during harvest time and cranberry scoops are decorations and memories of a time long past.
In July, the cranberry bushes flower and the bogs are colored with a delicate pink blossom. I honestly don’t remember noticing cranberry bogs in the summer, probably because by July, we had long since deserted the bogs for the beaches. When the cranberries are ready to be harvested, the bogs seem to be covered in maroon velvet.
For a while in the 1960’s we called the color maroon “Cranberry” and I am not sure if that was a fashion trend, or merely a local idiosyncrasy. It is the maroon velvet look of the cranberry bogs that is most prominent in my memory.
It was hard to drive around our area and not pass cranberry bogs or beaches. I went to boarding school near Plymouth from 1962-1966 and once you turned off Route 24 in Middleboro to get to Kingston, it was like driving on Cranberry Road. The cranberry bogs were on the left and the Miles Standish Forest on the right. I hated boarding school, but I loved the ride to school.
Back in the day, Ocean Spray had a factory and warehouse on Route 28 in Wareham that was active. In the front of the warehouse there was a coffee shop, gift shop and bakery. I worked there my last two years in high school and discovered so much folk lore surrounding cranberries I was sure it was advertising propaganda. Not only that but everything sold in the bakery was made with cranberries, not just my beloved cranberry bread; but, pies, cookies, fudge, muffins Danish and something wonderful called “cranberry crunch.” That was nothing compared to the variety of juices and jams that were sold, all made with cranberries, in combination with other fruits. Even the waitresses and other sales staff wore cranberry colored dresses.
I got my enthusiasm for cooking from my mother, but she was never one to spend much time baking. It was sampling breads at Ocean Spray that led me to try making my own. The first time I made cranberry bread, I made it with my best friend, when I was 17. We were dating two guys who were good friends and were freshmen in college. Believing the adage that “The way to a man’s heart was through his stomach” we baked up a storm together. We made hermits, chocolate chip cookies and cranberry bread, all in one day.
Baking anything from scratch can be a slow process and cranberry bread is no exception. First, you must make sure the berries are fresh. When you can drop a cranberry on a counter from a height of 12 inches, it will bounce several times if it is fresh, like a miniature basketball being dribbled by an invisible hand. If it just lands on the counter with a thud, throw it out. Of course, you are not going to attempt to dribble 2 cups of cranberries individually, but if you are in doubt about any single cranberry, try it out.
I would encourage you to cut the berries into small pieces, so they don’t just sink to the bottom of the pan. The only reasonable way to do this is with a blender, food processor or other food chopper. Even then it takes time. I have on more than one occasion attempted to cut the cranberries by hand. This is a situation only the late Lucille Ball would have attempted. First, place the lone cranberry between your thumb and forefinger. Then, using a steady hand and a sharp paring knife, attempt to quarter the berry without injuring yourself.
I don’t know anyone who has enough patience to do this through two cups of berries. I tried! I couldn’t even get through one-eighth of the berries chopped before giving up. At this point one wonders why cranberries can’t be diced like onions. But it would take a special invention I haven’t seen yet. You would need a cutting board with sides, to prevent rolling objects from escaping go onto the floor into the waiting mouth of an eager dog, or worse yet, the nose of a toddler. The cutting board would have to be large enough to accommodate a chef’s knife, and you would still need a coating of honey to hold the little berries in place.
The best way however to get the cranberries chopped but not mushed is to run them through a blender, a half cup at a time. By the time the cranberries and the walnuts are chopped you are ready to move on to the next task. In addition to bouncing and chopping the berries, there is the traditional scooping, sifting and blending. Once the flour and sugar are mixed, you add shortening and cut through the mixture with knives or use a pastry blender, as if you were making pie crust.
Once the shortening and flour are mixed, you add the liquids. We tried to speed up the process by mixing two batches at once; but discovered that bread didn’t come out as well. Perhaps it was due to our own impatience in blending the flour and shortening that the taste didn’t seem right. The bread was too heavy and floury. We decided then and there, never again to mess with perfection. Because of that, I never mix more than one loaf at a time, even if I am making two or three loaves.
Cranberries are harvested in the fall and although I can buy them dried and have them any time, I prefer fresh. Several years ago, I picked up a bag of cranberries in the grocery store and was startled and thrilled to see that they were grown and packed in Wareham. I had to have them. I went home with two bags. I suppose that is where my cranberry bread ritual began in earnest. Every year since then, I have bought at least one bag of fresh cranberries and make cranberry bread.
One loaf stays out until it has been demolished, slice by slice, while the balance goes into the freezer. I enjoy the bread one loaf at a time but when it is gone, it is gone. I don’t attempt to lay up a year’s supply because it wouldn’t be the same if I could have it whenever I wanted it. Cranberry bread is more tart than sweet, and a little bit goes a long way. It is wonderful with cream cheese, but margarine or butter will do.
My life has changed in ways I never dreamed from the vantage point of my friend’s kitchen when we were 17; even as a semi-retired country pastor my life is full and busy. Still, I will make time for making cranberry bread. It’s the process and the memories that mixing and stirring the bread stirs up in me; and the ritual has become more important miles and years from home. Usually I consider baking a solitary pursuit that requires only time, space, quiet and perhaps a dog to catch whenever may hit the floor. Taking the time to make cranberry bread is one of the things I do just for myself. It’s a sentimental journey without the pricey ticket. It is a tangible connection with memories that are as bittersweet to me as the bread itself. It is part of who I am, where I am from, and once a year, my kitchen smells like home.
Cape Cod is a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean as though the collective towns and tourist traps were either flexing a muscle or waving an invitation that says “Come play with us!” Depending on where you slice the peninsula in your imagination, people all the way up to Boston will say that they live “on the Cape,” but the locals consider the Cape to be everything east of the Canal, and rightly so, I believe.
Point of view, prejudice and pride are funny things. I had always thought of the Canal as starting just out side of Onset, but not ending there. Wherever it starts or ends, the Cape Cod Canal serves as a shortcut from the Cape Cod Bay to Buzzards Bay and makes the trip from New York to Boston much shorter, and safer, for any ships that are making the trek.
Having grown up on the inlet beaches of Buzzards Bay and so near to the Cape Cod Canal, I have always had not so much a love-hate relationship with water as a fascination-fear relationship with it. Beaches are inviting, even to the locals and when we went out to play during the summer, it was, as often as not, to play at the beach. Not unlike the tourists, we went to lay on the hot crystalline white sand, to dig in the water-logged sand at low tide and try our hand at sand castles. We went to swim or wade in the water, dodging seaweed and crabs (from the small white crabs that would take a shortcut across your foot if you were wading, to the horseshoe crabs that lumbered along) and also dodge the occasional gasoline rainbows left by the motor boats and yachts. We even collected seashells and carried sand pails.
But as locals, we also weathered hurricanes and ‘noreasters there, and I still shiver when I think of the high water marks of the hurricanes of 1953 and 1954. I can remember the water beading on the windows of our house, the cool confidence we feigned as we tried to assure ourselves that the water would not make the 200 yard trip up from the beach to our house. Such experiences taught us a strong sense of caution and respect for the water and that is how I approach any body of water today.
Buzzards Bay is the name of a village, as well as the body of water, and it is at the town of Buzzards Bay that the Canal actually begins. The Massachusetts Maritime Academy is the first landmark inside the Canal. You can see part of the Railroad Bridge that crosses the Canal in the distance. Happily the Academy has built up considerably in the years since I left home. It is now a full four year college, with both male and female cadets. The old Quonset huts that housed the male students back in the 1950’s are gone and new classrooms and dorms and from what I hear a wonderful library have been built on the site. The dock pictured above left used to be all open, but there is plenty of access to the water for fishing.
My dad was in the Merchant Marine and although he did not attend the Academy it is a site that has a lot of pull for me. Before his ship sailed for the Indian Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea, it would make what was called a coastwise trip, from Boston to New York, Baltimore, Norfolk and Charleston and back to New York, to pick up or unload cargo. One memorable time when I was about five years old, we went to the dock and were there when his ship was scheduled to pass through the Canal. We stood on the dock, and he was on the deck of his ship, the S.S. Exchequer, dressed in his khaki dress uniform, megaphone in hand and he called out to each of us. I stood there unaware of much else, attempting to play him a song on my toy accordion. It was amazing how fast that ship could go. I never understood speed in terms of knots, but it seemed to my five year old self that the ship went through the canal and past our site too darn fast.
When dad was at sea, every now and then Mom would decide to take my brother and me for a ride to Buzzards Bay to get ice-cream. It didn’t matter if we were ready for bed, we could make this trip in our pajamas. She’d get us each a cone and drive to the dock at the Maritime Academy and look at the Canal. At the time I just thought it was a great treat. I was so young, I didn’t understand how sad or lonely she must have been or the pain she must have felt as she looked out at the empty water.
The revetments on each side of the Canal are lined with large boulders, making the Canal seem partially landscaped as well as landlocked. It is not unusual to see fisherman standing between the boulders with their lines cast out into the Canal. I saw my first star fish on the rocks by the Academy as well as the shimmery purple black mussel shells that clung to the rocks..
There are three bridges that cross the Canal; the first bridge is a vertical lift railroad bridge, less than a mile from the Academy. It is one of five bridges of its kind in the United States. At the top of each tower, the bridge looks like an upside down ice cream cone, only this cone is made of latticed iron, toped with red and green lights in place of cherries. The Canal is under just eight miles long and is about 32 feet deep and is mostly straight; there is a gentle curve as the Canal leads out to the waters of the Cape Cod Bay. It is really quite a sight and while for years the sight of the three bridges seemed so ordinary to me, on a recent trip home I was amazed at how much the sight of them stirred something deep within me. I wanted to sit and drink in the site and do it all over again.
The other two bridges are twins of each other. The Bourne Bridge crosses the Canal at Bourne on Route 28, one of the two main road on the Cape. The Sagamore Bridge, crosses at Sagamore on Route 6 which is the other main road on the Cape. The road from Buzzards Bay to Sagamore runs parallel to the Canal and there are three overlooks or vistors’ areas where one can pull over and take in the view. As a child I learned to ride in the car with one eye on the road and one eye on the Canal, and that is the way I drive now. One eye on the road and one eye out for any body of water that does me the kindness of running parallel to the road I am on. Often it’s the Susquehanna River, sometimes it is Sugar Creek, or the Tioga River. I drive, always with a sense of longing, wanting to stop, to ponder and drink in the view, though I cannot drink the water. When the River and streams are overflowing, muddy and moving fast, that same childhood fascination-fear pulls at me to stop and gaze. But I drive on as though some weight were holding my foot to the gas pedal. Though I seldom stop, I don’t drive on without noticing or longing to notice the quality of the water. “Deep calls to Deep” the Psalmist says, (Psalm 42:7) and so it is with me.
I had been a single parent for 10 years when I met my second husband. When I had moved into my own apartment ten years earlier, I had signed the lease when I was “great with child” with my third child. I waddled into the rental office and to this day I am convinced they had me sign the lease quickly, so they could get me out of the office before I went into labor. When I moved into the apartment, the baby was three weeks old, her big sister had just turned three years old and her brother was just a bit over one and a half.
This was the only apartment complex that would rent me a two bedroom apartment with three children. All the other places I checked insisted that I had to have one bedroom for each child and there was no way I could afford that. I had a high school diploma, but no work experience and no technical training or education of any kind, and at that stage of things, very little confidence. I did have a determination to survive and to take care of my children.
Over the next six years, I did get some training in office skills and some secretarial work. That was how I figured out that secretarial work was not my strong suit. I was able to continue working part time while I got an Associate Degree in nutrition. After graduating from the local Community College, we moved to Baltimore, Maryland to be closer to my mom. I got a job in a nursing home as a part-time dietary supervisor and we got a town house apartment in a relatively poor part of the county. Much to my surprise, despite the poverty and depressing nature of the housing near us, we were the only single parent family in our section of the town houses.
I did have some good supportive friendships and my mom’s support and encouragement were unfailing. She would show up at my doorstep with a bag of groceries and insist it was all on sale and would say, “I couldn’t go wrong.” I worked at keeping good relationships with my former in-laws for the children’s sake. I never wanted them to be able to accuse me of keeping them from their grandchildren, especially since I had moved us an hour away and to a different state, so that I could be closer to my mom.
My next door neighbor became my baby sitter and my mom kept the kids one day a week, on Wednesdays, to help keep childcare costs down. At this point my children were 9, 7 1/2 and 6. When it came time for our first Christmas tree, we had a short, artificial tree, that was a little worse for the wear. I set it on a trunk in the living room and was ready to decorate it myself when they kids went to bed, but my son laid an amazing guilt trip on me. He said he had seen a cartoon on G. I. Joe about Christmas and one of the soldiers talked about how disappointing it was not to be allowed to help decorate the Christmas tree when he was a child. Guilt. Trip. I caved.
Please note, the above picture, is a lovely photo from Pexels, and was not our Christmas Tree. Think more “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” and you have the right idea. But I couldn’t pass this one up!
After the lights were on and the tree was decorated, they wanted to show the tree off to their baby sitter, so we invited her to come over to see it. She was politely enthusiastic, especially when the children told her they had helped to decorate it. There were no gifts under the tree, but that didn’t worry me. I knew my in-laws to be very generous and my children would not feel the sting of poverty. In fact my former mother-in-law was prone to over-kill in that department so I knew the fact that there were no gifts under our tree didn’t mean there would be no gifts. My job was to provide food and pay rent.
The following Wednesday I picked up the children from my mother’s, after a particularly tiring and frustrating day at the nursing home. I opened the door to our house and stared into the black hole that was our living room. Even in the darkness I could see that our tree was missing. Who in the world would steal a Christmas tree, especially one so scrawny, with no presents to steal? I could hear the children’s voices behind me, “Hey! Where’s our tree?” They saw it too, or rather they didn’t see it too. But something in the corner caught my eye, a red glow that we all seemed to see at once.
In the corner of our living room was a beautiful tree. It touched the ceiling and filled the corner. It was the tallest, fullest most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever seen. And it was real, and decorated, with lots of shimmering lights. They had used our decorations and added some. There was hand lettered note on an 8×11 piece of paper precariously placed on the branches that said “Merry Christmas” and the floor was littered, loaded with wrapped presents for the children. I could not figure out how one person had done all that. The knock came quickly. Bobbi had been waiting for us to come home so she could share in our enthusiasm and the oohs and ahs of the children. She had reached out to her large family and shared the story of what she deemed our paltry Christmas and got every one involved.
She did not have to do this, but she certainly had the heart to do it. What she gave our family that year was something much more than the tree and presents. She acted with great kindness, generosity and compassion. She was in a sense, a Christmas Evangelist. She told her whole family the news and got them involved in giving great tidings of joy. She offered us hope in a time of genuine sorrow. Although we lost touch, I have never forgotten her kindness. She was our Christmas Angel.