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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Status update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short Term Goals

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

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

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

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

What About Christmas Cookies?

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

Ongoing Struggles and learning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide!

Michele

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

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One Pastor’s View of Weddings

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

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

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

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

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

Invite Us to Bridal Expos

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

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

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

Flower pails decorating pews in a church.
Pixaby by Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church Lady

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

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

Photographic memories:

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is What Happens When You Are Making Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Journey is about more than the destination

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

Searching for Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

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

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

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

My Homecoming Tradition

view from the pier in Onset

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

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

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Life Without a Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unexpected Void

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Emergency Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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A Land Locked Life with a Beach Girl Heart

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Fever by John Masefield*

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

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

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


Mayflower II, photo by Ryan Smith Photography

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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

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#Stronger Than the Cookie~ The Journey Continues

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

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

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

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

Boarding School

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

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

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

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

Say “Cheese!”

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

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

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

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

Learning Goals

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

The Cape Cod Canal on a beautiful fall day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Lessons learned

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

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

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

#Stronger Than the Cookie

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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Settling into a Schedule (of sorts) with Sheba

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

UP and at ’em

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

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

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

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

Her sort of schedule

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

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

Just chillin’

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

Treats and Food

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

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

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

Sort of schedule?

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

I talk to the animals

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

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

Fear and wariness continues

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

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

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

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

Camera shy

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

Bedtime Ritual

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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

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

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Lessons I am Learning in my Cookie-less Life

The Cookie Diary, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaky, buttery homemade cranberry scones

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Stronger than the Cookie

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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On Prayer and the Spiritual Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

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

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

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

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

Photo by Michael Scott from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Prayer

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

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

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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

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Bridges

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks! A lot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

A crisp fall day on the Onset Pier
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The Cookie Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stronger than the Cookie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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On Writing (Part II) The Gifts of Blogging

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

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

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

Photo from Pixaby from Pexels

First Things First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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

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

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

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

But Wait, There’s More!

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

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

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


Sensal Banner

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

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

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

Content and Community

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

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

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

O Humanity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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On Writing (Part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association
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Unexpected Blessings ~ Part II

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAMILY QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COUSINS

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

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

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

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

I took them to see the site where our grandparents’/great-grandparents’ home was and the two homes where I grew up. We hugged, laughed, cried. I cried a lot. There is a Bible quote from Jeremiah about mourning, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears! (Jeremiah 9:1). That day, that was me. The tears came unbidden, but so did the joy.

Picture of some cottages on a sunny day.
Renovated Cottages, Photo Courtesy of Angela Shwom

In the company of my cousins, I felt a balm for my soul, that filled in the empty places that I hadn’t realized were there. I had family of my own. This was a blessing I could not have anticipated.

Although my in-laws (both sets) had been welcoming enough, after my mother died, I felt like an orphan. I felt as though I did not have family, beyond my children and husband, and of course my brother. In that one day, in the presence of these women who had been strangers, but were at once family, I felt like something had been restored.

CLASSMATES
Just before leaving town from our 2 day visit in 2018, I came across the contact information for a high school classmate. We talked for a long time. She told me that our 50th class reunion was scheduled for 10 days later.

I was tempted to get home to Pennsylvania, and turn around and go back, but really, that was a first conversation with her in 10 years. With no contact with anyone else in the class in almost 50 years, it would not have been totally genuine on my part. I had only been part of this class for the last two years.

Nevertheless, she put me in touch with other classmates, through Facebook and I was added to the Class of 1968 Facebook page. I learned a lot about the class members in the year that followed through personal and group Facebook posts and interactions.

I found them to be caring, compassionate and to have a deep love for their communities, including the beaches and the canal. Perhaps because a group put so much planning an effort into the 50th reunion, or maybe they already had it, they displayed a deep appreciation for the gift of life and for each other.

The following year, when they found out I was going to be in town, one of my classmates took the lead in planning a get together, because I was going to be there. Now, I believe the sincerity of that plan and was both excited and honored. But I also think, this is a group that enjoys getting together.

I went to the dinner without great expectations, hoping for some good seafood and some pleasant conversation. But I came away with more than that. I came away with a sense of renewed friendship, a surprising new friendship, a feeling of belonging, or acceptance, and the hope of more visits and continued contact.

There were other opportunities that week for some one-on-one, in person visits. I had plenty of time to walk on the beach, to write and reflect. But if I say more, this post will become a book. Everything about this trip home was more than I could have asked for, or imagined. Perhaps hoped for, but filled with unexpected blessings and grace.

Every day, when I am smart enough to pray, I thank God for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life. I thank God too, for cousins, and classmates, and the time to simply be.

I am just a vintage chic on a journey of discovery and I am

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

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

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Unexpected Blessings ~ Part I

More Than I Could Have Wished For

In the Spring of 2018, months before my retirement, I accepted an invitation to travel from my home in Pennsylvania to Maine, to perform a wedding for the relative of two of my parishioners. I would have done the wedding anyway, was honored to be invited, and had no problem traveling to Maine to do it; I would be retired after all, and had lots of time.

There was an extra added benefit to me personally. When I studied the geography, I realized that my home town was only a four hour drive south from the site of the wedding. I had not been home since my mother’s burial in 1994.

I would do the wedding; but I was going home too. It is not that I had not tried to go home before, just that life always seemed to interfere. I did not anticipate visiting anyone. I just wanted to go and take some pictures walk on the beach and look for seashells and say good-bye.

picture of a woman, young boy and girl in front of a white house, no porch.
Mom, my brother in me in front of the house, about 1953?

I reasoned that a good set of pictures that were current, along with my old 1950’s black and white photos would be all I could need. Then, I would close that door and live out my life.

Plans Changed

About six weeks before my actual retirement date, I accepted a part time appointment (approximately 30 hours a week) serving two churches. So now, my open ended vacation had to change to just 2 days in town. Well, I thought, it would be enough.

To say that I was unprepared for the emotional impact of being at home, for only the 2nd time since 1973, is an understatement. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I was caught off guard. The sights, sounds and smells of the beach, even on a chilly fall day seemed to be attached to something that was almost ethereal.

As we drove around town, visiting and re-visiting the sites of my first home, the home of my childhood, and the Union Villa, the home of my youth, walked on the pier and the beach, I knew that two days, and partial days at that, were not enough. I had to come back.

I needed more time. More time to reminisce, more time to drink in the views, to smell the salt air, and to search, though for what, I was not quite sure.

At every site we visited, standing across the street from the Union Villa, which had been transformed, standing on the street looking at the cottages my parents had built, trying to take in and discern all the changes and wondering if I had the nerve to ignore the sign that said “Private Property.” (I did not). Still, every place we stopped, the word “Write” burned in my heart, and lodged in my throat like a huge lump.

I wanted to write, about home and growing up in Onset in the 1950’s and 60’s, but I was afraid. I had written some of the stories briefly in creative writing classes in college (my minor). I have told some of the stories in sermons and other venues, but to actually write and publish them in some form?

Have I told you that I suffer from Procrastination? Perhaps suffer isn’t the correct word, pretty sure that I have perfected it! And along with the procrastination came a finely honed case of the “What if’s?” Throw in fear of rejection, and a case of writer’s block, and you have the perfect combination of wishing, but not doing.

However, none of those roadblocks, were as strong as the persistent call to write, as I walked on the beach, drove around my old stomping grounds and simply breathed in the bittersweet air of memory.

close up picture of a old fashioned typewriter, with words on the page,' to blog...or not to blog
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

I came out the other end of this journey, promising myself to return, if at all possible, and to start writing with both devotion and discipline.

I have a simple poster on my wall that I printed when I was working on my doctor of ministry thesis; it reads, ‘Write Something Every Day!” But even working on my thesis, that did not quite work, and after my thesis was complete, I could ignore it for weeks on end.

The first surprise or blessing

The pictures that I had gone to take, to either frame or to file, were the first surprise. I had expected the pictures to be what pictures generally are, one dimensional pieces of paper, or one dimensional digital formats.

Rather than being just a piece of memory cut off from the moorings of the past, each picture proved to be laden with memory and meaning. I felt as though I were a participant in a motion picture special effects experiment, transported from the present into the vivid past, while the present seemed to be enveloped in a distant fog.

If I were to show you a picture of my daughter and her family, you might look, nod politely and say something like, “Very nice” “Pretty young woman,” “Cute kids.” “Nice looking dad.” Such polite responses would be appropriate, you have no history or relationship with the people in the photograph. It might as well be a nineteenth century Tin Type picture.

picture of a mother and infant
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels (not my real family)

When I look at the same picture, voices and memories converge. I remember how much my daughter loved shock value, even at six years old. I remember the three separate times in as many years that she brought home stray dogs, and how much she still loves animals today. You have a polite connection with my family picture, I have emotional attachment.

It was the same with the pictures I took. They spoke! They welcomed me to a different reality in which I might find that crucial thing that I had left behind when I moved away for the first time in 1970. And they beckoned me back.

Hoping to return

My hope, which I was able to achieve, was to have a full week in my hometown, plus travel time. It was not about visiting family, I had no attachments near town that I knew of, and no contact with any of my father’s family, since his funeral and my mother’s. If she received Christmas cards from them, she did not say. There were no lingering phone conversations or eagerly made plans between my mother and my dad’s family.

I had not had any contact with most of my classmates since 1969, with one exception. And while we were close friends in 11th and 12th grade, our contact through the years had been sporadic at best. We could always pick up where we left off, but that was it.

Panoramic view of Onset Beach, people in chairs, people walking on beach, boats in the water.
Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

It was okay though, my planned visit was all about place and being. I wanted to walk on the beach at any opportunity, search for sea shells, take pictures, simply be, and oh yes, write. That was it! It seemed like a full week to me. Of course, I planned to visit the cemetery where my parents are buried, but that was not the focal point of my trip. I hoped to spend some quality time by the Cape Cod Canal, which I had to skip in 2018. My absolute goal was to be, just be, and to write and to soak it all up, to drink it all in, to fill up memory banks and sensory banks and maybe eat some good seafood.

Who knew, that I had set my sights too low, and that there were more unexpected blessings to come?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

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Sheba’s Quiet Life

Things about Sheba that make me sad:

Sheba will be six years old on June 25th, at least according to her rescue records, and she will have been with us for a year and a half. I do not know a lot about dogs, just the dogs that we have had. Sometimes I wonder if she misses or missed her puppies. We know that when she was rescued she had recently given birth and was still recovering, but there were no puppies mentioned in the rescue and sixteen dogs were rescued. We do not know if that was her first litter or not, we do not know if it was a puppy mill or not. I just wonder sometimes if she misses them.

Although she lets Roger pet her, in fact she begs to be petted, she still leaves a room when he comes into it, will not eat if he is in the room, and backs up to me, or backs into my office if he approaches. We both share in walking her, she generally needs to be walked three times a day. I had shoulder surgery in early April and could not walk her and my husband did it every time, getting up early to get her out, and feeding her.

I think I have finally figured out that she will approach him when he is sitting whether at the table, at his computer or on the couch. It is when he is on his feet and moving, approaching her on foot or entering a room that she is most likely to run. He noticed that if he approaches her from either side, approaching from the right she is less likely to bolt than if he is approaching from her left. Vision? or Past experience?

Truthfully, I think that his caring for her totally while I was recovering from surgery helped her to be less wary of him, but it is still sad that despite a year and a half of a good and easy life, her past and past abuse seems to haunt her. There are occasions when she will seem afraid for no apparent reason, although I think that happens less often now.

She continues to be wary of strangers and although we need some opportunities to help her get socialized, the COVID-19 Quarantine has limited her opportunity to be exposed to our friends.

Things about Sheba that amaze me: Sheba gets “good girl” treats when we walk her and she has done what a good dog does. It is rare that she doesn’t cooperate on a walk. One thing that amazes me is how gently and carefully she takes the treats from our hands.

When we first got her, she did not seem to know what her nose was for, but now when she gets outside she seems to take great delight in sniffing every possible blade of grass. Every.

Despite her sad history, we learned last summer that Sheba likes, loves being outside. When my husband is working in the yard or the garage, she will hang out in the yard with him, on a tie out rope. She has a good length so she can move around, he makes sure she has water.

How can I possibly know that she loves being outside? She will get up when I approach and is happy to have me fuss over her a bit, but then she returns to her cozy spot in the grass. Even shaking her food dish so that she can hear the food move around in her dish, is not enough to entice her back inside the house. Perhaps that is good for my ego; there is something that she loves more than me!

She also loves being on the front porch and seems happy to watch people, dogs and cars come and go, or just suns herself.

Even though we have “invited her” she will not get on the couch or any other furniture. She is well spoiled with dog beds, but I think she could be really comfortable up there with us and curl up between us and get petted, or just snuggle. She does like close physical contact.

She does not bark! except in her sleep. It is cute and I appreciate it. We have neighbors with yappy, barky dogs who will bark at anything or anyone that moves. They have terrorized Sheba. She is bigger than they are but they scare her.

Picture  of Dog on her hind  legs, looking out the window.
Did something move out there?

All that being said, one day Sheba startled me and scared me a bit. She jumped up from her bed, ran to the other side of the room to the rear window and barked loudly, slamming into the window. I thought she was going through the window. She ran around the dining room panting, went from window to window and back again, barking and slamming into the window. There was a rabbit in her yard!

Things about Sheba that make me smile:

When we go upstairs at night for bed, she races ahead of me and then turns around on the landing to look at me. I think she looks at me with a “grandmother” kind of face and to make sure that I am actually following her, even though I am the one who started upstairs.

I take foolish, chances and take advantage of her stopping there to reach out and pet her face to face, while I am standing about 3 steps below her. That is fine as long as I don’t lose my balance, but it has become a nightly ritual.

She follows me or waits on me. When I am washing dishes, she will straddle the kitchen doorway until I am done. She will wait for me a discreet distance away when I am in the bathroom.

Perhaps like other dogs, or our other dogs, Sheba likes routine. She gets a dental treat at noon, supper at 5:00 p.m. and a rawhide treat at 7:30. Sometimes she seems to be able to tell time, other time it just seems like wishful thinking.

Picture of Sheba standing in front of me on the front porch. A large black and tan dog.
Waiting patiently

Odds and Ends

Please do not think that I never get annoyed at her, pastor, yes; saint, no. She can be very pushy and annoying when she wants something and can seem to put her entire weight into her face that she uses to push my hand. Since she gets walked three times a day, I really try to space it so it doesn’t turn into 4 times, unless the need seems great.

She is stubborn if she wants to go in one direction and not in another. She is very easily distracted, if she sees a person, or another dog, or hears a blade of grass rustle, she will forget why she was outside in the first place.

Did I say that she is afraid of small children? With the schools closed due to COVID-19, she was happy to walk around the whole perimeter of the school yard. But if kids are playing in the play ground, once she hears their voices, she will do a 180 and strain on the leash to go back the way we came.

I did say earlier that she can be annoying? Around 8:00 p.m. or a bit later, when I should have left my office and computer, she will come to get me. Pushing my hands away from the keyboard, as though she were a sheep dog and I were her sheep. She likes us all to be in the living room together in the evening, even though she will not join us on the couch. Annoying, but wise.

Misty, our Beagle adored my husband. She would often sit against him on the couch, throw her head back and look up at him and I wondered what that felt like. She never did that to me; but he was her Alpha male and I was “the other woman”.

picture of a beagle curled up at a man's feet. They are on a couch.
Misty

Sheba sits at my feet when we are on the couch and she will on occasion throw her head back and look up at me. I feel bad because she does not do that for Roger and so often ignores him. But that action, that act of adoration or something, whatever it means is quite lovely and humbling.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright © 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and msomervillesite.Wordpress.com – All rights reserved.

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Let Us Be Part of the Solution

Feeling helpless in the face of the Pandemic Racial Tensions?

It is normal to feel helpless in the face of something as huge as both the Pandemic and the current atmosphere of Racial Tensions. Both are national in scope, and in some cases international.  Sometimes, if you can do even one thing, or more than one thing, it can help make a difference. You and I can help to make a difference right where we live.

The required disclaimer is, that I write as a white woman who is over the age of 55. I do not know what it feels like to be a black person. I only know what I see and hear in the news media and social media. The chances of my being stopped by a member of a police force for simply “driving while white,” is unlikely. That being said, I want to offer some suggestions that I think can help to make a difference.

The second disclaimer is that it is, not unlike the Commandments, it is difficult to phrase them all in positive language. Here goes:

black neon sign with white letters. Words, "Think about things Differently"
Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi from Pexels

Stop sharing negative posts on Social Media. Why? They are designed to stimulate animosity and limit communication and compassion. If you doubt that, pay careful attention to the photograph that accompanies the post, and the responses that it garners. The result is little better than an inflammatory tweet. It is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

There is a difference between protesting and rioting: I do not know anyone who thinks that rioting, looting and violence will solve anything, and those actions are upsetting. They also get in the way of our being able to hear the pain and anger of the protesters. Not all protesters are rioters and not all rioters are protesters.

Some people are taking advantage of the situation and are intentionally making things worse. Please do not let that stop you from hearing, learning, speaking up and acting in positive ways.

Do not engage the haters. They will not listen to you and you will be wasting your breath, and perhaps even making them happy because they succeeded in getting you riled up.

It is okay to “agree to disagree” with someone. It is okay to walk away from an unproductive conversation. I would go so far as to say it is healthy to do so, when you cannot come to an understanding or a meeting of the minds.

Don’t be dismissive. Have you ever shared a story of a deep, personal pain with someone only to have them dismiss your feelings, hurt or experience? Sometimes people say things like, “You think that is bad, wait until I tell you what happened to me!” I know that has happened to me; and I know that I have probably done it to others. It may be unintentional, of course, but it hurts nonetheless.

From an outsider’s perspective: When you look at the protests, riots and demonstrations and ask, ‘How is this helping the Floyd family?’ Try to understand that the initial response that sparked demonstrations was in response to the murder of Mr. George Floyd. It was for many people, the last straw, on top of many other last straws.

There is a significant list of similar deaths that have occurred in the last eight years. I see the demonstrations and protests as responses to a combination of all of that; the murder of George Floyd and many others. Say his name. Learn their names. They mattered. They were somebody’s son or somebody’s daughter.

Seek Understanding: Have you ever said in response to the statement, “Black Lives Matter” “All lives matter,” or “Blue lives matter” or something like that? The “Black Lives Matter” movement is in response to the large number of black people and black bodies that have been murdered or killed by police. It is it’s own statement and does not need to be edited by us. It is a statement that tells a story and deserves to be respected.

It does not mean that all police are bad or evil or murderous. But there are sufficient document cases where this has happened, and for the most part gone unpunished. The last time I checked, the role of “judge, jury and executioner” is not accorded to police at any level. I do realize there are circumstances when the taking of a life becomes necessary in the performance of their duties. Black Lives matter!

Taking a Knee at a football game: People I know, love and care about have been upset with this demonstration of protest in National Football games. I am sorry that I kept silent. I did not want to offend them.

Those I know who vocalized their frustration, and perhaps anger, saw this action as disrespecting the flag. I wish I had said, as often as necessary, that it was an act of silent protest in response to the frequent loss of black lives at the hands of unethical police practices. Protest is still a civil right. Football players taking a knee in protest on a national stage could have started a needed conversation. We just did not hear what they were trying to tell us.

“I am not a racist.” I do not know anyone who is racist. But there is a difference between not being racist and being anti-racist. The distinction may seem subtle to those of us who are not inclined to be activists.

In not being a racist, most of us would not think to do anything against a black person. But it is time to do something positive: Be an ally; educate yourself about the problems of racism, and racial injustice. I will include some resources at the bottom of this post and hope you will seek others on your own. Perhaps through your local library, your church or clergy person.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Make Friends with someone who does not look like you. This can be a challenge where I live and serve, because our communities are pretty white. Our churches are pretty white, too. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been quoted as saying that 11:00 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States. Fifty plus years later, that hasn’t changed from what I can see. So, maybe it takes effort, but it should not be impossible.

Listen to someone’s story of racism. Do not interrupt, do not counter share, that is counter with your own ‘you think that is bad’ story. Just listen. Perhaps if more of us had listened things would not have gotten to this point.

I know that I am not always a good listener. I am such a talker, that I get in my own way. When we listen, we are supposed to be paying attention to the words that are being spoken and the feelings that are being shared, not listening for a place where we can jump in and talk. Just Listen.

Don’t just tweet, or post or make a poster. Resolve to do something positive to be part of the solution. These are all simple ways to overcome that feeling of helplessness and I believe we can make a difference. We can learn to know better and then do better.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Some resources worth exploring:

www.naacp.org

www.blacklivesmatter.com

http://www.raceamity.org

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Timeless Advice from a (somewhat dated) Chick Flick

One of my favorite all time romantic comedies is You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.* Even though the technology featured in the film is now dated, there are some timeless ideas and advice in the movie that have stuck with me through the years. Okay, I also have to add that it has stuck with me through the numerous times I have watched this movie.

picture of a manual typewriter with some stuck keys
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Near the end of the movie, just after a significant turning point, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) visits Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) at her apartment. He says to her in a half-hearted attempt to apologize for putting her out of business, “It wasn’t personal,” he says “it was business!” She respond by saying, ‘Well, it was personal to me! It was personal to a lot of people. Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

I wrote in a previous post about Friendships and types of friendships and pretty sure I just scratched the surface. It seems to be me that most relationships ought to be personal at some level. Long gone are the days when items like milk and bread were delivered to our doors. But mail is still delivered. And many of us still shop “in person” for groceries and other necessities. I am one of those fussy people who prefers to pick out my own food and clothing.

There was a period of time when my then favorite store stopped carrying women’s dress clothes in the store, but there were plenty of “misses” or “Women’s” size casual clothes available. I was told by a compassionate cashier that I could always order online and if an item didn’t fit, I could return it through the store. “Or,” she said lightly, “you could return the item by shipping.” I was crestfallen at best and slightly depressed. While I am not one to try to decide what someone is thinking without their saying so, it felt as if the store were saying to overweight women everywhere, ‘You can’t possibly need dress clothes, the sweats and jeans are…over there!”

Pcture of a woman ina store hanging clothes on rack
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

I pleaded my case with a couple of cashiers, fighting back the tears. It was an hour’s drive, to get there and to my way of thinking, picking out something to try on at the store, is more efficient than ordering online, waiting for the item to arrive to try on and then having to go through the work of returning the item. Much quicker to put it back on the rack in the store; without paying postage or shipping.

I prefer the personal contact. I always engage cashiers in the briefest of conversations, in the hope that I can add something to their day, a moment of pleasantness or even compassion. If you want or need a cynical reason for a personal contact with a cashier, it helps to keep their attention on me and my money or credit card while the transaction is taking place. Rather than them talking with another associate, while ringing up my purchase. I think the personal contact is crucial.

The isolation and social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 virus have made this that much more important to me, and I think, to others. In small towns people tend to wave at each other, even strangers. Sitting on your porch and someone drives by, wave. Walking down the street and someone drives by, wave. And don’t forget to smile.

picture of a woman in a store paying with a credit card
BUt most important is the smile on the cashier
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Does it matter if you smile if you are wearing a mask? No one can see your smile! I recently arrived at a meeting a few minutes early, with the intent of checking my hair and putting on some lipstick. I do not wear much make-up. I realized when I saw someone else who had arrived for the meeting already had their mask on and then I realized that the lipstick was superfluous, but smiling is not. I am pretty sure when we smile, it exercises all of our face muscles and shows around our eyes. Life is tough and has recently gotten tougher. Soften it with a smile.

Beyond that, part of my concern is that fear of the virus and the potential spread and the need for social distancing, has made limited personal contact an imperative. I think, not to sound alarmist, that we are in danger of losing something vital in our society. It has been weeks, months since this all began and there are some things that will not go back to the way they were; in person connectivity should not be one of them. “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

PLAN B for “Brave

Earlier in the story, after an unsuccessful protest and media campaign fails to turn her business around, Kathleen makes the dreaded decision. She shares this with her mother’s friend Bertie and when she tells her she has decided to sell the store, Bertie tells her it’s a brave thing to do. “You are daring to imagine that you can have a different life.”

picture of suggestions pinned to a bulletin board
Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

What happens if your heart is set on a goal that cannot happen? So many factors apply, aptitude, talent, education, but also job market, economy, etc. I got my college degree at 49 years old in 1999. I was already a pastor and headed to seminary. I settled for a liberal arts degree, for reasons that don’t matter here. But I had two academic loves in college; History and English. I had significant credits and course work in those subject areas and it was tempting to either do a dual major or shift from liberal studies to major in one of them. I did not want to teach and I was eager to finish college and get to seminary. But there was also a joke making the rounds at the time: “What did the History major ask the English major?” The answer was, “Do you want fries with that?”

As a much younger person, I started out at nursing school, right after high school. From the time I was ten years old I wanted to be a nurse. I read every youth nursing series that was popular at the time (Cherry Ames, Kathy Martin, etc) and I had been a ten year old surgery patient. It didn’t take more than a few months in nursing school to realize that I did not have the maturity or other necessary attributes.

In Kathleen Kelley’s case, closing the store gave her the opportunity to consider what else she might do with her life. One can have a retirement Plan B, or a career Plan B. It may be good to have a few additional letters in your option basket.

Retirement Plan B

There are some ways I/we did not do a great job of retirement planning. What younger person can think ahead to financial needs 40 years in the future? But I did begin in my last year of full time ministry to begin to prepare, especially prepare myself emotionally; I had watched some friends really struggle with retirement. The planning I did was partly financial (we bought a house) but it was mostly spiritual and emotional. To paraphrase a song from another movie (White Christmas)** “What do you do with a pastor, when she stops being a pastor?” That took a lot of soul searching.

Of the pastors that I know who have served over 30+ years and many longer, many seem content to stop and go onto life fulfilling retirement goals. I had only been a pastor for 22 years and I wasn’t ready to stop, just cut my hours back. The full-time expectation for United Methodist Pastors is 55-65 hours a week (emergencies included) and the closer I got to 65 years old, the more I knew in my bones that I no longer had the energy for full-time ministry. (Slight disclaimer here, this picture was taken at my retirement party and while I may look really tired, I had been crying – a lot!)

Picture of myself and Roger at my retirement party. Interesting, not sure why the dates is wrong in the picture!
Retirement Celebration 6/23/18 ~ Photo by Jean Barber

But I only took 6 weeks off and have been serving part time (about 30 hours a week) for two years. It is not unusual for our pastors to go back to work part time, and it fulfills a need, both for pastors and churches. I am not ready to stop yet, but I am finally at a point in life, when I can imagine something different. I am hoping for another full year. But I know it is getting near time to be brave. Time to develop a Plan B. Time to imagine a different life.

There is one other thing. When I first entered the work-force, the average person expected to retire from the same company they began working at, or at least the same occupation. So where a person my age may have begun a career with that expectation, I think people entering the work force now have different expectations and perhaps begin working with several different letter options in their baskets.

What about you? Have you ever had to rely on your Plan B? or Plan C? Or are there other timeless movie quotes that have become a part of your life?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

* You’ve Got Mail. Director: Nora Ephron. Performers: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Jean Stapleton, Greg Kinnear. Laura Shuler Donner Productions. 1998.

** Song “What Do You Do With a General?” Bryan Darcy, Irving Berlin in White Christmas. Director: Michael Curtiz. Performers: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen. Paramount Pictures. 1954.

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A Sideways Look at Life in Lockdown

I feel compelled to begin with something of a disclaimer. I realize the weight of the pandemic that has caused much of the world to grind to a screeching halt and retreat into a science-fiction-like version of society.

I am embarrassed to say that all this, our time in lockdown, has snuck up on me. Like many, I saw it coming on the news and watched with the wariness that one watches weather forecasts of massive amounts of snow, or none, if the cold front moves in exactly the right way; or a hurricane, unless it moves out to sea. (Or some other natural disaster.) We try to prepare, stock up and pray or whatever one does to get ready for an unwanted event. I am often struck by the messages that people write on the plywood they use to board up their windows in preparation for a hurricane. Go ahead and write, tell the weather where to go and what to do, but please do evacuate when that is called for; do not however, expect plywood or painted words to keep you safe.

Picture of a lighting strike at night, dark sky, black water
Photo by Philippe Donn from Pexels

Just so, I thought the news media was fear mongering and maybe they were doing just that. I do not think we need a steady diet of stirred up emotion, “Just the facts ma’am.” Then our Bishop urged us to close our churches for two weeks in March in an effort to “Do no harm” in the face of the growing pandemic. “Do no harm” is not only an important part of the Hippocratic Oath that Doctors take, but an oath that others take as well.

I thought, and perhaps others did as well, “I will do as I am asked, but I can’t wait until we get back to church and we will…celebrate, and have a party, and have a dish to pass dinner, and a hymn sing, and hug each other…” Then schools were closed for two weeks, and then the “Stay at Home” orders came rolling in, like storm clouds moving rapidly from one region to another. Now school was closed (In Pennsylvania) for the remainder of the school year, and our stay at home order was in place for 30 days and there was no going to church. But there could be church. Online.

I have often joked that I am ‘a-technical’, and so when I assumed the appointment to serve two churches in retirement and learned that it would be my job to prepare the power point each week for the smaller of the two churches, I was indeed stressed. I was glad to be serving a church where power point was expected, but in my recent years in ministry, I was able to expect someone else to do it. Someone who considered it a breeze, a snap, a walk in the park, a piece of cake!

picture of a slice of cake, chocolate, thick chocolate or peanut butter icing and blue berry tooping
Photo by Abhinav Goswami from Pexels

Yes, that piece of cake, comfort food with icing. That was what I wanted. I did not know for instance, how to locate lyrics online, copy and paste and make them fit the power point screen. Tasks that more technically minded people take for granted. You may be surprised to know that it takes longer to type hymn lyrics if you sing them when you type them! Trying to hold open a 2″ thick hymnal so you can see to type the words without the weight of the other pages flopping back down takes coordination and determination.

It took a while and even that “copy and paste” thing is not as user friendly as I would like, but it did help me prepare for bigger things. Now, to record a modified service on “You-Tube” and upload, download, reload, I am never quite sure which load it is. Figuring out which computer is the best option, my desk top or lap top, what room in the house has the best connectivity, and then the big shock. While recording on You-Tube is pretty straight forward, other options were more attractive. It took me at least 4 weeks to figure out that as a-technical as I am, I could learn to edit the mistakes out of the video. But that was more easily done in a different format.

Picture of a young woman in front of  a computer, looking like has a headache or is thinking.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The big shock was recording in a different format and then loading it onto You Tube or another option takes H-O-U-R-S. Meanwhile my stress level is increasing and all I can think of is Sugar, give me Sugar. Chocolate Chips, in cookie form or just poured into my hand. Skip the Jack Daniels, you can have a beer. Just give me sweets! Many of my blogging friends who are into healthy eating are probably cringing or at least nodding sympathetically and thinking, “Ah, Michele, this is why we are stressing health eating in lockdown.”

Then came the Sunday, as I was trying to learn the intricasies of getting a recorded service loaded so I could email the link to those who were not on Facebook and did not yet realize that this other different format was still not going to load in the 10 minutes I had allotted. Instead of a 10:30 a.m. service, some of the flock had checked out other online opportunities, while I sheepishly was unable to load my service until 3:30 p.m.

It has been a process made better by two younger, patient, technically savvy colleague/friends who were able to walk me step by step through the process to some success and talk me off the ledge of chocolate chip cookie overload. Did I say I stress eat?

Picture of a half dozen chocolate chip cookies, lots of chips on a board
Photo by Brigitte Tohm from Pexels

This has been a large part of my ministry-life in lockdown. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful that I have been able to do this and other things to help the churches I serve stay connected and have some meaningful contact with their own church. Let me just add two words: Learning Curve.

I fully understand the seriousness of the situation we have been in and are not out of yet. While I am in a confessional vein though, I confess to savoring the time to simply be home. I was unable to stay put the first few weeks because of impending surgery, physical therapy appointments, pre-op appointments, and the like. So it has only been the last four weeks that I have been able to just savor being at home, except for needed food runs. This has been permission giving, and it helps me look ahead to a time when I will no longer be partly retired and see the possibilities. My husband and I live a quiet, simple life which I relish, when I am smart enough to stay home (ministry is generally not done long distance or only online).

Being at home more, has given me an opportunity to write or to be more intentional and dedicated in writing and reading. While often my “reading’ is actually listening to audio books while I drive to classes, meetings, services and other gatherings, I have been able to hold my Kindle or an actual book in my hands and read it.

Picture of our dog, Sheba, a tall, lean mixed breed, black and tan dog.
Sheba, checking things out

I was going to say something about healthy eating in quarantine, but that “Cat is out of the bag.” I will say, that I am not totally ignoring the advice of blogging friends and have been working at healthier eating, in the hopes that something is better than nothing and while I am not the least bit athletic, our dog Sheba, has to be walked three times a day and that is generally good for a significant amount of steps on my Fitbit.

Sheltering in place at home without going anywhere but the store, has been mostly good. I have not turned into a hermit and there have been a few days when I have been weepy for no apparent reason. Between writing, emails and phone calls I have had lots of social contact, though I miss hugs from friends. I have not accomplished some of the things that I had hoped to do. I haven’t given up on them, just have not gotten to them yet.

Picture of an "oen "ign
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

As of this writing, I have no clue when we will be able to fully re-open churches. I am quite sure no one in my area does either. We want everyone to be safe. I want, for myself and my flock at least, if not our culture in general, to think more deeply about needed changes. Speaking for myself, I have not gotten all the way there yet. I thought I would have a few other projects done by now and I expected to be making loads of homemade bread, but then came shoulder surgery. What am I hoping to gain from what remains of this ‘lock-down time?’

I would like to gain some mastery of the technical tools I need to use in this season, and thereby reduce my stress level and increase my efficiency. I want to laugh more; I want to stay home more (while still earning my keep at church) and I want to bake that bread. Okay, and maybe some chocolate chip-peanut butter-oatmeal cookies too! Perhaps most of all, I hope to reason my way through needed changes before life in lockdown is history and I unconsciously go back to the way things were.

What about you? I would love to hear from you. What has been your biggest learning or gain from this time? Have you been able to use it to your advantage? What do you hope will change, or do you hope everything will change back, as though it had been a bad dream?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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On Friendships

I am thinking about two different themes in this post. How do you, or does one, determine if a person is a friend? And then I also wonder, how do we help our children and young people determine or distinguish about types of friends?

And here is another question, can the category of BFF (Best Friends Forever) be determined in the first months of friendship, or is it something one can determine, only after years of solid history, looking back from the other end of time? Being someone’s BFF can be a lot of pressure.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

The best compliment anyone every gave me as a friend, came many years ago, more years than I want to count. They said that I was very accepting as a friend; that I did not judge them, but accepted them as they were. I liked hearing that, and tried to be that person to the best of my ability. My ability has not always lived up to the ideal described by my friend (what was his name?) so many years ago. See what I mean? I can be very “out of sight, out of mind.”

In addition to that, I procrastinate, and live with the “shoulds.” I should give “so and so a call,” but maybe later. Later, turns into much later until I am embarrassed. As I recently said to a friend of over 40 years, “Well, the phone does work both ways.” I really wish I hadn’t said that. It was immature and even if it is a truth, it does not excuse my failure to call a good friend with whom I have a long term shared history.

Oddly enough, Facebook has helped me to see the need to think about different types of friendly relationships. I think Facebook’s categories are useful, (Friend, Close Friend, Acquaintance and Unfriend), but I also think that is a starting place. To them I would add the following:

FRIENDS FOR A SEASON: I met Gloria in Spanish class at the then, Pensacola Junior College, when I was a lonely and confused Navy wife in Pensacola, Florida. She was also a Navy wife and our husbands were not in Pensacola. She taught me so much, made me laugh and cry. She was Lutheran and I was Catholic and we went to church with each other and bemoaned not being able to take communion in each other’s churches. We spent some real quality time together, but lost touch after I moved way. I am still grateful for her and miss her, but it was a relationship for a season.

Photo by Tobi from Pexels

WORK FRIENDS (Colleagues) I am an itinerant pastor, which means I go where the Bishop sends me for as long as I am sent. It is part of my ordination vows, and something I knew going into the process. I live and serve in a defined geographic area (Central Pennsylvania ~ from the Maryland Line to the New York border). It is not unusual for our moves to create a crisscross pattern, like a team building exercise where a group tosses a ball of yarn back and forth, creating an acrylic web. In the process, I have had some colleagues that fit all of Facebooks’ criteria, but that has also made me think of other criteria as well.

CONFIDANTS That is not a noun I use very often, but, ask yourself this question. Out of all the people you connect with in your life, especially if you are the gregarious, extrovert type of person, how many of them do you trust with your most personal thoughts, experiences, hopes and dreams? As far as I know I have never been burned in this area, but I know people who have been very hurt by a failure to be trustworthy.

I think for many of us at least this is, and probably should be, a very small number, compared to all of the other people who we relate to in various capacities. Twice in twenty years, I responded to a colleague’s question by saying, ‘We do not know each other well enough for you to ask that, or for me to answer.”

I read somewhere that there is a limit to the number of sustainable friendships a person can manage. That makes sense to me. While one can have a lot of acquaintances (should they be forgotten?) close friendships require an investment of time and the development of history. I am not talking about those relationships that are sometimes, truthfully or callously referred to as “high maintenance.”

PROFESSIONAL FRIENDS (Mentors, mentees and others.) Not splitting hairs, but I see this category as a little different than work friends. When I was going through my process toward ordination, I had several very good mentors. At the time we worked together they seemed like friends, and I suppose they were. But our friendship and relationship had time and content boundaries. When that stage was over, and it was a relationship that was assigned by our supervisor (District Superintendent), it was time to move on to the next phase and the next mentor.

Pastors are in a slightly different situation than other professionals, like doctors or counselors. For instance I have had many people say to me in recent years, “You are not just our pastor, you are our friend.” Pastors are, hopefully human, and we are expected to have good boundaries and we are expected to love the people we pastor. We are also expected to move on at the end of our time, and that makes the ‘pastor/friend’ category somewhat challenging.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

FRIENDS YOU LEAVE BEHIND:

Every move that I made as an appointed pastor, I cried the first two weeks in the new place, not because anyone was mean or unkind, but simply grieving the loss of the previous relationships. It was a little bit like housekeeping for the heart, making space in my heart for the new flock, meant setting aside the prior relationships. Not ceasing to love them but ceasing to relate to them for the most part. When I retired, I cried. A lot.

FRIENDS WHO ARE LIKE FAMILY: My brother whom I love, is only six years older than I, but I lived almost half my life in a place he never lived. We have seen each other through the toughest of times. I cherish our relationship. For most of our adult lives we have lived at opposite ends of the country. While that relationship is important to me, I am also very grateful for friends who are like family. Friends I did not grow up with or even know in the first half of my life. But they are a present and ongoing part of my life, work and daily experience. Every time I pray, I give thanks to God for family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.

BLOGGING FRIENDS: A new category! Strictly speaking I have only been blogging since just before Christmas, 2019, although I have been writing for years. I realize that it may seem premature to label the connections I have made with other bloggers as “friendships.” Yet, while these women and men are unknown to me personally, having read their thoughts and experiences and their having read some of my most personal and formational stories, provides an interesting sense of connection. I am grateful for their feedback on my writing and stories. Perhaps because writers need to be readers, and bloggers especially, need to read other bloggers, a new depth and richness has been added to my experience of writing and to my life.

PIVOTING TO AN EXTENSION OF FRIENDSHIP:

Even for all of the categories and types of friendship I have described, I have probably just scratched the surface and that is part of my argument against an early declaration of someone as a BFF. I am not, however, arguing against close friendships; I think that we need them. Further, I think that close, trusted friendships are part of our mental health and are genuinely good for society.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

I do want to suggest before closing though, that the best qualities of friendship can be part of healing the world. We do not have to be friends with someone in order to treat them with respect, honor and kindness. We do not even have to agree with them politically, religiously or otherwise. When I shop, I try to engage the cashier in a brief conversation, ask about their day and how they are being treated during the busiest seasons. I admit to having favorite cashiers, but I never mistake those relationships for friendships. Just simple humanity. A simple opportunity to help make someone’s day better, because it can affect everything that follows.

CALLED TO KINDNESS: My friend Donna says that she sees herself as “Called to Kindness,” during this Pandemic especially. She says that it is not that she is trying to impose that on others, but it defines her understanding of who she is called to be, especially now. There was a movement a few years back, perhaps more than a few years, encouraging people to practice “Random Acts of Kindness” I think now, we need more than Random Acts, but Intentional and Frequent Acts of Kindness. It can make such a difference and it is not superficial. Kindness won’t cure illness or disease, but it undergirds compassion. It seems to me that kindness and compassion ought to be the middle names of a group of people known as humankind. Kindness fueled by compassion and simple respect can be part of healing the world. I.M.O.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Last Call for Alcohol (Jack, Maggie and Alcohol)

One of my favorite childhood memories, in terms of my dad’s drinking, (yes I know how strange that may sound) was the sense of celebration when he got home. After the opening of the suitcases and the giving of presents was done and supper was started, he would go to the neighbors and invite them to “Stop in and have a drink with us, I just got home.” I remember going with him one time, young enough to be holding his hand and knocking on the same doors I would knock on a few years later to sell Girl Scout Cookies. Somehow it felt special to be part of the invitation crew.

Dad circa 1929

If there was any orientation or any preparation needed for living at the Union Villa, it was simply living at home. There would be people who cursed and used bad language at the bar. Dad was a sailor, check and check. There would be people drinking to excess and being drunk. Dad was a sailor, check and check. It was called ‘Celebrating.” In addition there were all the times I accompanied them making the rounds to the local bars, including the Glen Cove Hotel and the Union Villa and several other bars that are no longer in existence. Check and check again.

One thing that made this all bearable for me, especially after I was a teenager, was that I knew there were people who were mean drunks, I had witnessed it first hand, but not from him. Surprisingly, I never felt unsafe. Mom did all the driving, but she also drank. I marvel now, that there were no accidents (or tickets, as far as I know).

Jack and Maggie did not fight, and I am pretty sure she was never embarrassed by him either. There was one time that still makes me sad to think of it. We were out at a restaurant and there was some kind of local community meeting. They were attending the meeting after dinner, and he had already started to drink with dinner. Maybe he had already started before that. At some point during the meeting he got the microphone, but between the hiccups and slurred speech, it just wasn’t pretty. Somebody said (out loud) “get that microphone away from that drunk.” and Mom, was not embarrassed by him, but for him. I still wince to think about it.

Photo by Chris F from Pexels

I have talked about some of this in an earlier post and said that dad drank when he came home (celebration) and when it was time to leave (the goal of feeling “no pain”) and mom would say of those times that she “poured him” onto the train or plane. It was how they celebrated and how they coped. Yet, neither of them were inclined to sit alone and cry in their beer. Drinking was always a social event.

Dad “celebrated” when I graduated from High School, I was the first person in my immediate family to do so. I did not see him before graduation, but after the ceremony, it was clear he was celebrating. I wasn’t worried about any of my friends noticing, but in the picture that someone had taken of him, he was clearly “three sheets to the wind.”

It is not that I never got upset. I learned at an early age that you cannot reason with someone who has had too much to drink or have an intelligent conversation with them. We played a game of sorts when I was in high school. I was old enough to stay at home when they went out, this was in the winter when the bar was closed. I put two Alka Seltzer packets on my mom’s pillow and three on my dad’s. When they came home, they played along. Mom would say, ‘Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my coat, and Dad would say, “Michele, I’m drunk, hang up my jacket.” I coped too.

Photo courtesy of Lynda Ames

We had drop in company when the bar was closed, and it was often invited. I am pretty sure that the fellows who came to visit knew that the drinks were free, and the conversation, jokes and laughter would flow too. In addition, they were good paying customers during the season the bar was open, as well as people who were considered real family friends. The most frustrating thing that happened during that time was the time that one of the guests got so sloppy drunk that he fell into the Christmas tree, knocking it to the floor, hitting it hard enough that the oranges in the Christmas stocking were smashed. I was not happy, to say the least and while it could have ruined Christmas for me, I loved Christmas too much to give it up that easily.

Several years ago, when my children were 8, 9 and 10, they came home from a family visit with their grandparents and my former husband. One of the kids shocked me by saying, “Daddy said Grandpa Jack was an alcoholic.” It does take a lot to make me angry. I was on the phone fast and I was furious. It may, or may not, surprise you to know that I never even considered that as an option. Maybe it was all the euphemisms. It never occurred to me that all of that drinking was something other than normal. It was normal in our house.

I talked about this with my brother shortly after that, and again a few years later and he suggested, and we concluded that mom and dad were “functional alcoholics” and that seemed to fit. After all, in spite of everything else, they worked hard and dad did not drink during the busy season, and mom did not drink at all, not that I was aware of, when dad was drinking at the bar. In spite of this, I believe that my parents were fairly well respected in the community. They worked hard, they contributed to the community and the local economy. And, they were sociable!

Some might ask why would I tell this particular story, or include it in the collection? For one thing, because this too, was part of life at the Union Villa, life in a barroom in a beach town in the 1960’s. Maybe something in this story will help someone else. I write about my own experience. I cannot speak for anyone else in my family or my father’s or mother’s families either.

I do not write this with any intended disrespect or desire to tarnish my parents’ memory. It was what they did, and not all the time, it was not who they were. I loved my parents and love them still. I am glad, grateful that they were my parents.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I was a light social drinker in my 30’s. My husband still likes to tease me about the time I only had one glass of wine, but I kept refilling it and could not for the life of my touch my nose to my face without using my other hand to help. It was New Year’s and we were at home. Wine, cheese and crackers were our New Year’s tradition, until he became diabetic. I am not inclined to drink alone either, now our New Year’s tradition, when we remember is crackers, cheese and lights out before midnight.

When I was leaving home to assume my first appointment as pastor, my pastor told me that I would hurt my own witness if I drank at weddings, etc. Methodism is a dry denomination, (It’s in something called The Social Principles) although not all United Methodists know that. I haven’t had wine or anything else since, except for a few Anglican Communions in seminary. It is always a little startling if you are expecting grape juice, but get a warm feeling all the way down to your toes.

After I had been a pastor for a few years we were invited to a church family’s Christmas party. We walked in and I saw beer cans seemingly everywhere. Pretty sure I blushed. I thought I had not done a good job of teaching my own flock, but it was lovely of them to invite us and we had a good time and drank diet soda.

I know that alcohol can destroy lives and I don’t take that lightly. I often wondered why no one ever confronted me in my youth because all that alcohol my parents sold paid for much of what we had. For me personally, I think moderation may be more important than abstinence. I am much less comfortable around people who have been drinking than I was as a youth. There have been some special people in my life, both friends and parishioners who have worked very hard at their sobriety and I am proud of them.

Mom and Dad behind the bar at the Union Villa circa 1963

The waitress fishes in her apron pocket, pulls out a quarter and slips it into the coin slot in the juke box. I can almost hear the sound of the quarter as it slides into the coin box. She pushes the buttons, the machine retrieves the record and she sings along with Ray Charles, “I can’t stop loving you, it’s useless to try…” Dad grabs a bar towel, soaks it in the water and cleaning solution, wrings it damp and wipes off the bar in circles. He stops, looks at the remnants of the evening crowd and winks. He grabs the bell pull, gives it a tug and along with the ringing of the bell he cries out, “Last Call for Al-co-hol.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

{Song, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” written by Don Gibson, Produced by Sid Feller, release 1962}

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Birthday Blessings

I am a “Baby Boomer” and recently celebrated a significant birthday. Although I have not been greatly concerned about my age through the years (there are a few exceptions that follow), I admit I have been dreading this particular number. You can say, “It is just a number,” that is what my doctor said. I believed her for a while, but then it got the best of me. You can say, “You are as old as you feel.” But I have had arthritis since my mid-thirties. When I found out at the age of 40 that I needed to have hip surgery because my joint was in bad shape, the surgeon said I had the hip of an 80 year old woman. A friend told me to “give it back.” So, I don’t necessarily want to be as old as I feel somedays.

BIRTHDAYS OF MY YOUTH

My first birthday memory was sitting on the kitchen counter next to my mother, while she decorated my birthday cake. I was probably not more than 4. It had white satiny frosting and she used an aluminum cake decorating tube and used pink and blue frosting. I remember the colors. I would like to say definitely it was a blue border with pink flowers but that would be exaggerating the prowess of my memory.

swirly pink krose decorated birthday cake with three curly red and white candles and a bouquet of flowers
Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

We got to choose what we wanted for our birthday dinners, and I realize now, that was a lovely gesture on her part. She certainly did not grow up with birthday celebrations, when her father was wandering around and her mother was hiding from the bill collectors or the gas man.

I have a good friend who was born on July 4th and pretty sure no one ever asked her what she wanted for a birthday dinner, the menu was set by the entire culture, as if it were embedded into the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. In my husband’s family birthdays were an ordinary day, you did not get to choose the menu. My favorite birthday memory comes from the Union Villa. I do not remember if it happened more than once. But I do remember having a few friends over, sitting in the corner both with pizza, soda and birthday cake. Yum! And that was paying customer space.

Typical for her time, my mother did not reveal her age to many people, it was one of those things “a lady did not tell.” Truth be told she may have been sensitive about it, I am not sure. I remember turning around in the car and telling a woman my mom had given a ride to, “My mommy is 26 years old!” and considering mom was 40 when I was born, her passenger must have had a good laugh. A few years later mom started to color her hair, which she did until she was 82. I didn’t know how old my parents were until I was 9 years old. My dad was at sea and he sent a cable to my mom (1959) that said “Celebrating 49 today!”

TURNING 30

I am not sure I have my mother’s senstivity about age, except for two things. When I was approaching my 30th birthday, I did make a really big deal about it. I am sure it involved some whining and complaining on my part. I don’t remember the specifics, but my friends were extravagant, and took me to the National Theater in Washington D.C. to see “A Chorus Line.” I left myself a note on my desk calendar for the next day that said, “You don’t look a day over 29!” I whined and carried on a bit the next year, when I turned 31, and they gave me birthday cards.

picture of a calendar with writing at the bottom.
Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

MY OWN GOOFY TRADITION

I am not sure how I started this, especially with my protests of not being sensitive or worrisome about my age, previous story excepted. Somewhere along the line, I began to celebrate or honor the day before my birthday as ‘the last day to be x years old’ and hanging on for dear life. It is something I have continued to do. But, not so much this year. This year, I have been distracted by the number. I envisioned myself as hanging on for dear life, not unlike a movie heroine, holding on to the railing of a cellar, while a tornado was passing by, trying valiantly not to get sucked into the whirlwind. And then, I gave up. About 3 months before my birthday I began to think as though it had already come and gone and I was already the dreaded age.

MOM in her 70’s

Mom in her 70’s was and is my hero. She finally started admitting her age, I think she realized that she did not look her age. And, it was a different time culturally; Mom was in her 70’s in the 1980’s. She continued to sew, and branched out in new areas. She made and wore her first slacks ever, making her first pantsuits, making blouses, and coats. She planned and organized parties for a group, covering all of the details and not getting (too) flustered. Location, menu, prizes and more. She did volunteer work and was always willing to pick up groceries for neighbors in need. She still drove to Massachusetts, from Baltimore, to visit friends and made a few trips to Washington State to visit my brother.

Mom,, not at 70! always young at heart.

She learned how to swim and started bowling all in her 70’s. I was a struggling single parent with three young children and she went overboard to help us. So much so, that I would be embarrassed to give details. In addition to all the other things she did to help, one day a week she picked up the kids after school, to help cut down on childcare expense. My kids loved her! And she had a wicked sense of humor. She was not a saint, but definitely pretty special.

One day, after I had remarried, she came to stay with the kids while my husband and I went out to a party. My youngest daughter, a sixth grader at the time, began telling mom jokes (dirty jokes) and mom wrote them down in shorthand. She was doubled over laughing and said she couldn’t wait to get home to share them with her friends!

FINDING THE BLESSING

I try to be a positive person and a grateful one. I try to regularly express gratitude to servers and cashiers, family and my friends. In my prayers I thank God every day for the family and friends who nurture and enrich my life and I try to be very detailed in listing out the many things for which I am grateful. I think it is a good practice. But something happened a few days before my birthday this year, that created a significant shift for me, in almost every way. I realized how fortunate I am because I “get to” be this age. Many people would have loved to have made it this far; there is no given or entitlement when it comes to age. And certainly many people wish their friends and loved ones had made it this far. My father was 60 when he died.

Realizing how fortunate I am, that I get to be this age, helped me shift the focus from my birthday, to my birth. The breath of life was breathed into me, the gift of life was given to me. It may strike some as being semantics, but I do not think so. Birthdays are about celebration, gifts, cards, parties and cakes; for those who are lucky anyway. But it seems to me that birth is about something deeper.

I had been afraid that turning 70 would turn me into something else. Someone old, something less than vital; a caricature of someone who no longer had value. Someone considered “elderly” by my community. Someone to need to have help, and not someone able to help. Someone whose day, maybe even hours are numbered. Perhaps it was even in a sense of reticence that I have gotten to the bottom of this post before admitting, I am 70, now. As of Saturday.

a picture of me, the author with my favorite sweater that says 'One Starry Night"
Photo by Donna Lynne Vaux
Me, about 3 years ago, a favorite picture

EMBRACE EVERY MOMENT

I still know that life is a gift and that tomorrow is not given and that anything can happen in the blink of an eye. I have lost loved ones to cancer and seen my husband through a battle with cancer. But I choose a deeper level of gratitude than I have yet lived. In the many birthday wishes I received from friends on Facebook, in addition to cards and phone calls, one phrase stands out. A friend wrote “Embrace Every Moment,” and I chose to do just that. In gratitude.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Things I Learned at My Mother’s Knee

There are three things I learned from my mother at an early age, Faith, Storytelling and stories, and the joys of shopping. I have written about her influence on my faith in other places, but let me share this memory. As much as I love shopping, and that is the confession at the heart of this post, it was always more than a little boring when she was pouring over dresses. What is a little one to do except go in and out of the dresses on the racks, back and forth, pushing the dresses aside as though they were a thicket of cotton, silk or wool? Or, standing on the base of the dress rack swinging back and forth asking the question, “When are we going to be done?”

picture of clothes on a rack in a store
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

I asked a similar question as a young child in Catholic Mass, in between the prayers in Latin, standing, sitting, kneeling and standing again. I tugged on the skirt of her dress and asked in a hoarse whisper , “When’s it going to be over?” The fact that I am now a Pastor, I regard as evidence of God’s sense of humor. Church is never over!

I loved her stories and could listen to them over and over again. She told stories about her childhood, lining the bottom of shoes with cardboard, because the soles had worn out and there was no money for new shoes. In fact, there was no tradition of throwing out old stuff and buying new because you felt like it. Stories of hiding from the gas man, or the electric man who had come to shut off the utilities, because there was no money to pay. She told me Bible stories and stories of the saints. It always struck me as funny since in the 1950’s and even 1960’s Catholics were not encouraged to read the Bible for ourselves, but she had a good grasp of the story of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) and other Bible stories as well.

My favorite children’s book that she read was “The Pokey Little Puppy,’ it was a large Golden Book. (Written by Janette Sebring Lowery, 1942). The first books she bought for me to read were classics, “Jane Eyre” and others. I also read “Little Women” and “Gone With the Wind,” before I was 11. It didn’t make me an eclectic reader, but even back then, I could appreciate the drama in the narrative.

NEW BEDFORD BOUND

It was about a half hour drive from Onset, to the city of New Bedford, Massaachusetts. Mom’s favorite department stores in New Bedford were The Star Store and Cherry and Webb. (The Star Store, and probably Cherry & Webb too, used pneumatic tubes to send money and receipts back and forth between floors. I still remember the whooshing sound as the tubes were sucked up into the works, as well as the thud when the tube came back with her change and receipt. We also hit the Mill outlets, Arlans and the Fairhaven Mills. It was a pilgrimage. I have two trinkets or three that belonged to her, a vase and some smaller pieces that I am not sure if they came from the Mills or the Mediterranean from one of dad’s trips. I also loved going to Cornwell’s Department Store in Wareham, especially the housewares department.

A good shopping trip also involved lunch, preferably at the Star Store lunch counter, but there were other places as well. A good shopping trip also included one of her friends, Abby or Billie. She would call them in the morning, when she was thinking of shopping and ask, “What’s on your foolish mind?” which turned out to be mom speak for “Want to shop?” I don’t necessarily remember her doing a lot of buying, but mom sewed her own clothes and mine and it may be that she was looking for ideas.

picture of dishes, various types with colorful designs
Photo by Eneida Nieves from Pexels

One of the outcomes of shopping with mom as I got older, was a love of housewares, and especially dishes. Ironstone, bone china, it really did not matter. I took accordion lessons at DeRossi’s Accordion Studio (I was not very good and did not advance far). The Studio was very close to the Star Store, and if we got to New Bedford early enough, we would window shop at the jewelry store near the intersection and look at all the china patterns. I fell in love with Lenox China at a tender age. We never bought dishes, not in those days anyway, but we sure looked. I like housewares and dishes so much that truth be told, I would buy a new set of dishes every two years, if I thought I could get away with it. Time for a new pattern!

Maybe part of the reason I don’t remember the buying as much as the looking is that shopping was all about the hunt, the search for that one special something. For reasons that don’t matter here, I got to spend three and a half months with mom, in my early 20’s, the year after my dad had died. We went to Mass on Sundays and 3 days a week minimum, there would be shopping. Mostly in New Bedford, but sometimes we would go to Braintree to the Mall and I loved that too.

picture of a woman holding a and inspecting a winter coat.
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

THE ART OF SHOPPING

We had set on two simple goals for the three and a half months of shopping, we searched for a soup tureen and a glass pedestal cake plate, both for me, with the understanding that I would know what I liked when I saw it, and there was no real hurry. I am pretty sure the soup tureen was mom’s idea and the pedestal cake plate was mine, but I was all about the hunt. And the companionship. It had been a hard year for both of us and shopping was a lovely diversion and quality time together.

All these years later, I still like to shop. And call me reactionary, but I prefer to shop in person. Admittedly, I buy some things online, mostly books but occasionally clothes that I cannot get any other way. I suppose it is not much different from the days when we ordered things out of a catalog. But I much prefer to make my own choices, to see the actual color, feel the fabric, try the garment on and see how it feels and fits and looks in the mirror.

I realize that shopping with children and youth is a whole other game that can be emotionally and physically draining, especially when it has to be fit in between work, rehearsals, practice, scouts and other pressing events. I have my own memories of the challenges of shopping with an infant and two toddlers, and later, with three middle school youth. There was the time when my young ones took great pleasure in trying to fill my grocery cart with frozen turkeys, faster than I could pull the turkeys out. “Lunch! they said with glee. “More lunch!” they said, grabbing another turkey. Middle school mischief makers!

I try to shop locally, or items that I cannot buy locally, within an hour drive. This has become even more challenging in the last two years as more and more chain stores and mall anchor stores have closed. I know it may sound very superficial, especially considering our current situation and need to wear masks, practice social distancing and get in and out of stores as quickly as possible. But, I still love to shop.

Partly, it is about the lingering, the free time to carefully choose and ponder the purchase. Lingering over a decision to buy is the opposite of caving into high pressure sales and instant gratification. That is one of the things that makes me sad at the moment, no time for lingering and socializing is not considered safe. A few weeks ago I saw a woman whom I know at the store and do not see her often. I wasn’t going to rush up and hug her, but I was clearly happy to see her. However, the expression on her face, as well as her body language seemed to say, “Hi-Bye, Stay where you are do not come any closer.” I understood, but admit to being disappointed to not have a six foot greeting and smile. This was before masks became mandatory.

If shopping is about lingering and careful choices, for me, it is also about the human connection. Several years ago I led a group in a prayer walk at a shopping mall during the Christmas Shopping Season. The point was not to preach, or be preachy, showy or pious. The goal was simply to walk around the mall and in stores, quietly praying for the shoppers and store employees and to ask, when possible and practical, how the clerks were doing, how there day was going and how they were being treated.

Because I want to practice what I preach, it is a tradition that I have brought into my every day life. I don’t expect to have a full blown conversation in the check out line or expect anyone to tell me, a stranger, their life story. But it doesn’t take a lot of effort to look the cashier in the eye, ask them how their day is going and during the busiest times of year, sales, holidays, etc. to ask them how they are being treated. Oh humanity! Because I am in the store way too much (eight miles away to the nearest Walmart) it forces me to be aware of the person on the other side of the register and not whisk through the line as they they were not human, or important.

picture of a cashier and a woman at the register
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

One day I was in a check out line and the cashier caught me off guard, she asked me the questions I generally ask the cashiers. I bit my lip just in time. I wanted to say, “Wait! That’s my line.” But I just smiled a grateful smile. It doesn’t take too much effort and it can make a big difference in the life of a busy, hardworking person who often may feel unappreciated and underpaid.

I know that not everyone looks at shopping the way I do. Many people have recently celebrated the shopping plans that Walmart and other stores have introduced, shop online and pick it up at the door, or have your car loaded. It is a genuine blessing that our local grocery store in town has also started making that service available. That would never be my choice, but I have neighbors who have been rejoicing at the time saving factor. Perhaps that shopping program was introduced just in the nick of time for COVID-19.

picture of a woman looking at fruit
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

I admit two things in that regard. I did get a bit anxious about shopping in person, even though we are not in or near the epicenter of the virus and our county has a relatively low number of cases, compared to other parts of our state and other parts of our country and the world. My husband managed to talk me off that particular ledge. When it comes to shopping for food, we both prefer to pick out our own meat, fruit and vegetables. Touch, smell and appearance are important.

My other admission is the fear or concern that this could become an irreversible trend, either shopping online or doing self-check out. I want the personal contact. I want to linger over my choices. Shopping for food or other items is not an area of my life that needs to be streamlined. The more limited my social world becomes as a retiree, the more in-person shopping I will want to do.

picture of mom, myself and my brother.
Big Brother, Mom and Me

It’s my mother’s fault, and of course she is not here to defend herself. She transmitted to me, the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the find, the companionship of the journey and the simple gratitude of human connection.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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On Languages, Accents and Being Home

I am from a small town just southwest of Cape Cod; On our end, the Cape Cod Canal begins in the waters of Buzzards Bay, just outside of Onset Bay. My husband says that people here “talk funny” but that is because I don’t have an accent, not a discernable one anyway. My mother wouldn’t allow it. She wouldn’t let us ‘Pahk our cahs.” For that matter, she insisted on being called “mother” not “mom or mommy.” She did not like nick names. She was from Baltimore, where people generally call everyone “hon” (pronounced ‘hun’ and short for honey) and they go “downey ocean” which means they are going to the ocean, literally ‘down to the ocean’ short cutting the articles and infinitives. Somehow those local shortcuts offended her sense of the English language. But please, don’t stop reading.

Light blue ceremaic mug with small bowl and plate, dark blue outlines and pink flower in the center
Made in Portugal

My grandmother was from Lisbon, Portugal and she spoke wonderful broken English, with a thick Portuguese accent. I loved to hear her talk. I loved my grandmother, I loved the sound of her voice and because of all those things, I learned to love the sound of all languages. She loved the soap operas which she called “her shtories” (that’s not a typo, but an attempt at her dialect) and she would point to a character who was especially bad and say, “Him no good! Him bashta!” Now, I am not sure if that is Portuguese or if it was her mangled English, but it meant that his mother was not married.  My husband though, has a different translation. When I tell him that he is a “bashta” after what I think is some genuine provocation, he turns to me and says, “That is Portuguese for ‘you sweet loveable man.”

I had a lot of opportunities to do overnights with my grandmother and I was enthralled with the slow, definite, way she would do things.  At night she would take the hairpins out of her long, grayish white hair and brush it, probably 100 strokes like many of us were taught. Her furniture was very modest. The couch was a bed with a couch cover and bolster cushions. She had at least one large wicker chair if not both. When I was very little and spent the night, after she tucked me into bed, she would push the wicker chair over to the side of the bed to keep me from falling out.

Picture of my an old woman, a young child holding a baby doll. My grandmother, Mary Perry Marcellino and me.
Grandma Marcellino (Mary Perry Marcellino) and me, circa 1955

I never learned Portuguese and my father who most likely spoke it, never spoke it at home. That worked out in my Aunt Myra’s favor because when I was at Grandma’s and Aunt Myra came over from her house next door and she began to rattle off in Portuguese and they would talk. I never knew what they were saying, although now I am pretty sure that the conversation started with Aunt Myra saying, “Is she here again? Why don’t her parents stay home?”  

I am not sure I can spell my mother’s name the way my grandmother pronounced it, but it was something like “Mahhhhhh ga retttttttttta, you got ‘em cup shugah? ” One of the best accent stories about my grandmother could get me in trouble here; It is the day my grandmother got in trouble with the bus driver. She was taking the bus uptown and wanted to be dropped off at the USO.  But what she said, from the back of the bus was, “Bus drivah, you let ‘me off UASSO?”   She really wasn’t calling him names; it was just how she spoke. And if you are reading this and thinking, that sounds like….you would be correct.

Grandma wasn’t the only one in the family to get in trouble or embarrassment over accents and languages. I recently checked into a unit for vacation and two men were discussing the best location to set the new thermostat. They were rattling away in a language I didn’t recognize, and so I asked them what language they were speaking and where they were from?  Imagine my embarrassment when one of them said, “we were speaking English!” He was polite, I was red faced. He said he was Turkish, and his friend was Albanian. As embarrassed as I was over this little international incident, it also made me wonder why we could come from 3 different backgrounds, have a conversation in which one of us had committed a social guffaw (that of course was me) and walk away peacefully without retaliation?

I can’t say that I have a studied ear for accents but when I hear any accent that is not native to the particular locale we are in, I generally ask “Where are you from?” and it can be a good conversation starter. When my husband and I made our first short trip to Massachusetts, after he ordered breakfast and the waitress walked away, he looked at me and said, “These people talk funny.” I really don’t remember what I said in response, but what I wanted to say was “Shut up and let me listen!” Because that accent sounds like home to me. 

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal, clouds reflected in the water.
The Cape Cod Canal on a Sunny Day in October, 2019

I recently made a phone call from home in Pennsylvania to a local businessman in Wareham to request his services. We talked for a bit about when he could do it, etc. and I wanted to say, “just keep talking.” I just wanted to listen, not so much for the sound of his voice, but to the sound of his accent. But I didn’t want him to think I was flirting, so I concluded the conversation and hung up. 

 Even though my husband says that I do not have that accent and therefore do not ‘talk funny’ he has said for years that when I get tired my “A’s” get a little broad. He says that when I am referring to the Lord, it would be spelled “G-a-w-h-d” and then there is the little matter of the liquid one uses to make tea, coffee and the like. It is probably not strictly a Massachusetts accent but something I picked up from the Philadelphia nuns who taught school at Sacred Heart, near Plymouth. “Wart-er” has crept into my conversation. In one of the churches I served, every time I would say “Wart-er” the youth in one of the families would nudge their parents, as if to say, “she is at it again.”  Indeed, I am. One night last October, I had dinner with 11 of my high school classmates, and to hear them talk! Really, you should hear them talk! It was wonderful, it was music to my ears and heart.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association
Featured

Life with a Tentative Dog

When we brought Sheba to our house, she had not yet lived in a traditional home. That is, if the hoarding situation she had been rescued from was a home, it was a home filled with stacked dog crates. Then after she was surrendered/rescued she was in the local animal shelter for about two weeks. The staff was kind and gentle and it was a good transition.

She had missed the learning curve on a whole lot of things, relationships and, living in a house, just to name a few. When we took her outside she was scared; she stood still and shook. She did not attempt to sniff anything and did not move. I think, perhaps it was too much wide open space for her, even standing on our simple patio.

We had a crate for her in our room, but because of her background we didn’t want to force her to go there and we let her have the run of the house within reason. It didn’t matter much. She spent most of her time in the dining room. We had a large oval table and put a bed for her under the table near my chair. She spent most of the time there, unless she was eating or “doing her business.”

First night in the living room after being here for 7 weeks

We watch television in the evening and would routinely invite her to come in. She would stand in the doorway and look, and then went back to her bed. We put a dog bed in the living room too, but she wasn’t having any of it. She would allow (that is the right word) Roger to pet her, if he was physically close. If she saw him coming, he would not get the chance to get close.

He loves dogs, he is even more of a dog person than I am, which is probably why our first three dogs gravitated to him, although in theory they were mine. Finally one day, when she wasn’t looking, he got on the floor on the other side of her bed, so she was between my chair and him. He just lay there looking at her. Eventually she reached out her paw to him, very tentatively, and he petted her. Then he pulled back until she did it again. That went on for a while that day and for several days more. I have a picture of this, but as I have said in the previous post about Sheba, dark dog, dark bed, dark house, you can barely see her. But here is a slightly fuzzy picture showing Sheba reaching out to Roger. This was after her being with us for seven weeks.

First Contact

The truth is that Sheba had visited the living room several times before, but not to visit. We started paper training her, thinking that would be the best starting point. At the beginning it seemed like she was getting it and we thought she was about 90% there, when she started having accidents and/or failing to discriminate between the paper and the carpet. We soon had puppy pads on one-third of the living room floor, in addition to pads in the dining room and kitchen.

It was discouraging, to say the least, and a lot of clean up. Most of the traditional things that people suggested did not work “Move the pads closer to the back door, so she knows she needs to go out there.” Did not work. “Walk her around her yard.” Nope, not that either. “Spray part of the yard or use one of those incentive sticks so she gets the scent and understands.” We did, she didn’t. “Give her five minutes in the yard, if she doesn’t go, put her in the crate for thirty minutes, then take her back outside.” She just looked confused. Then, as summer went on, when my husband worked in the yard or in the garage, we would take her outside and she loved it. She would lay on the grass and stay there for hours while he worked. But she would not “go.” It seemed to us that she thought it was holy ground.

I admit, I briefly got jealous of my neighbor, who could take her little dogs out to the yard, tell them “Go pee!” and they did! But jealousy is not an attractive trait and Sheba would not go on command. After several months of this, we figured out that if we walk her, she “does what a good dog does” on her walks. We walk her three times a day and there are occasional accidents, but for the most part, the walks work. She likes long leisurely walks and now she sniffs everything; E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!

Walking Sheba is an adventure on its on, at least for me. Truthfully, I dreaded having to do it in the cold winter, especially walking on ice and in snow, but we managed. I talk to her when we walk. I try to say encouraging things, praise her when she is good. Some days I say things like, “Come on Sheba, please!” (read that with a whiny voice). When she acts afraid I tell her I will not let anyone hurt her.

One day I did this and a lady I know was walking into the school building. I said, ‘She is not going to hurt you.” She responded by saying, “I am not afraid of her,” to which I said with a laugh, “I was talking to the dog!” Because Sheba is afraid of everyone, the football players that walk near our home on the way to the field, the teachers and staff going into the building, the children in the playground, the neighbor dogs, regardless of size, small dogs, everything and everyone.

She likes to be near me and in small spaces

I have received the largest amount of Sheba’s attention and affection. I have never experienced that before, and it does feel good. But there is a flip side to that that is hard and heartbreaking. Of all the things she is afraid of, it is mostly men, and my spouse ends up paying the price for something he never did. After Fourteen months of having Sheba with us, she consistently leaves the room when he walks in, or moves in the opposite direction.

Often she runs to me when I am here. When I am not, she lets him take her for walks, he can pet her, she will go to him to be petted when I am busy, but I know it hurts. Imagine if you had this experience with a person you lived with, who every day, every time you came into the room walked out. And yet, she gets excited to se him come, rushes to the window when she hears his truck, rushes to the door, then rushes to me. She backs up, but her tail is wagging happily. It is as if she wants to engage and play, but as with humans, the tapes of her negative experiences seem to be the louder voice.

I love this dog and cannot imagine my life without her. I believe she has found a good home with us, but I also believe that every day we live with the long term affects of her previous life, of someone’s thoughtless cruelty and it is frustrating at best. Life with Sheba is a delicate trust and a delicate balance for a tentative dog. She has come a long way, and maybe she has come as far as she is going to come. Sometimes she will shake for no apparent reason, and all we can do is pet her or talk to her. I wanted a dog that needed us and that certainly is her. We get to offer her love, security and the necessities of a dog’s life and I hope it keeps making a difference.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Faith Journeys

When I began my process to explore the possibility of becoming a United Methodist Pastor, I heard many people refer to a “Faith Journey.” “Tell me about your faith journey” the interviewer would say. I do not know if other traditions both Christian and non- Christian use a similar phrase, or if it is particularly Methodist phrasing, but it is one that makes sense to me. Before I tell you why, please don’t stop reading until you read this disclaimer. My faith is as much a part of me and who I am, as my heart is to my body. Yet, I am not writing these stories to convert you to Christianity, or Methodism, any more than I am writing stories about alcohol and bar rooms, to convert you to Alcoholism. They are just stories of my life and humanity that I hope might touch you in some way. Perhaps they are things you can relate to, or better yet, that bring to mind your own stories that have been on the back burner of your life.

picture of hikers on a forest path, tall green trees, moss and other green growth.
Photo by Ben Maxwell on Pixels

When I hear the phrase “Faith Journey,” I think of God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you I will make of you a great nation, and I will less you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So, Abram went, as the Lord had told him…” (Genesis 12: 1-4a) I also think of a twisting, winding trail, that darts in and out of thicket, near a lake or river and away from it. In other words, not a smooth, easy journey. What fun would that be?

GROWING UP CATHOLIC

I was raised Roman Catholic, and although I have chosen a different denomination to live out my life and faith practice, it was foundational for me. It was not an easy decision to leave that Church behind, but it was made easier by the fact that I was divorced but wanted to remarry. Some of the things I gained from my Catholic childhood and youth are a love and appreciation for the sacraments. I like liturgy (the formalized process of prayers and ritual in Sunday Church Services). There were three things that especially marked my life as a child growing up Catholic. Two of my mother’s sisters were Catholic nuns, members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. They were teachers and they wore habits, (What the dresses and head pieces were called) broad, starched head covers that were lined with white. (See picture). In addition to my two aunts, there were two cousins who were also nuns, members of different orders (organizations of Catholic sisters) and my mother’s brother was a Priest as well as one of her cousins and one of my cousins.

Black and white picture of my family, circa 1952.
Mom’s family including Uncle Jim (Fr. O’Hara, Sister Hilaire SSND and Sister Lucitta SSND) and others

I am a baby boomer, so I was young when the Catholic Mass was still in Latin, and I remember when the Catholic Church was making the transition to dialogue Masses. We had cards that had the Latin printed on one side and the phonetic phrases printed on the other side, (transliteration), so that the people could respond to the priest’s statements in Latin. We could read them phonetically, even if we didn’t understand what the words meant.

One of the changes in the Catholic Mass that I especially appreciated in the 1960’s was the Folk Mass, the introduction of Guitars and more contemporary songs instead of hymns and by that time the Mass was said in the language of the people.  There were things of course that I did not understand, and things that later in life I came to disagree with, but one thing my background as a Catholic helped me see is that I am a “denominational kind of chick.” What I mean by that is that I value the structure and accountability of denominational life. In addition, I suppose that part of that structure and accountability that is important to me is the inclusion, practice, and understanding of Communion and other sacraments.

BOARDING SCHOOL

It didn’t take my parents long to figure out that perhaps living at the Union Villa 24/7 wasn’t the best environment for a young girl, and so while I was visiting family that summer in Baltimore, mom got me registered for boarding school. I attended Sacred Heart School, in Kingston, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth, from seventh grade through tenth grade. When you hear the phrase “Boarding School” you might think “Rich girl prep school” but you have to substitute the words “Catholic Boarding School”, in order to get a clearer, more accurate picture.”

There were lots of things I did not like, but one of the big benefits was that it was a life that was book-ended by prayer. Not only did we pray in classes, every Friday we got up early and went to Mass, we went to chapel for rosary after supper before going back to study hall and in the evening after we were ready to bed, we padded our way down the hallway to the choir loft of the chapel for evening prayers in our pajamas, robes and slippers. In addition to all of that, the whole school had Mass in the auditorium the first Friday of every month.

Looking back now I would say it was not so much the specifics of the services and the prayers, as much as it was the sense of a life of prayer that is my “take away.” One other important “take away” came from a visiting priest who told us in a retreat that at some point in our lives the faith we were given by our parents, had to become our own, but not without thinking it through, growing to a mature faith that was accepted as an individual choice, but not forced. Faith is chosen, not inherited.

picture of a rosary, white beads, gold chain light colored wood background.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I went to Sacred Heart from September of 1962 until May of 1966. We wore uniforms, black and white saddle shoes, Navy blue knee socks and Navy blue jumpers in 7th and 8th grade. We felt really grown up when we graduated to navy skirts and blazers in high school. Although it didn’t really happen often, I remember at least once when the nuns lined us up in the hallway and measured our hems. Some girls would roll the waistbands of their skirts to make them shorter.

Things like going steady, teasing one’s hair and the wearing of paten leather shoes were not allowed. Going steady could get one thrown off of student council, should the infraction be discovered. And then, there was this rumor that during school dances, the nuns would gather and watch the dance from the mezzanine of the gym and if they saw couples dancing to close, they would point it out to the sister on the gym floor, who would tap the couple and the shoulder and remind them to leave a foot of space between them for the Holy Ghost. “Foot, foot for the Holy Ghost,” we would say to each other and smirk.

LESSONS FROM MY MOTHER

My mother did not get her driver’s license until she was about 43, maybe a little older. All those trips that we left on, to take dad to work in Hoboken, New Jersey, to go on to Baltimore, Maryland to visit with family, were nerve wracking for her. I learned how to be a white knuckled driver from her. Truly! There are some times after a long trip when I wonder why my hands are so sore. my first thought is arthritis, but the reality is “White knuckled driver!” There were times when mom was driving and she would second guess herself, think she had missed an exit or got anxious about something that I would shake my head.

picture of heavy traffic 
on a highway with on and off ramps, city in the background.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Because of all that nervousness though, she prayed. As we left home, she would pray and as we crossed from one state line to another she would pray. Now, because we were Catholic, the prayers that she prayed were The Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer to us Protestants), the Hail Mary and maybe the Glory Be. But at the end of those prayers she would say, “Thank you dear Jesus for bringing us safely through Rhode Island, please bring us safely through Connecticut.” I have adopted that prayer in my own fashion and love it when I am traveling with a friend, even for a shopping trip, or to a seminar or conference when we begin that journey with prayer.

The other two major faith lessons my mom taught me were in her example. She had open heart surgery at the age of 82 to have a valve replacement. I was able to be with her in her room before they took her to surgery and accompanied her to the outside of the OR. When the attendant stopped her gurney so we could say good bye, she sat up and said, “What can I say but, Lord, Into your hands I commend my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46a). She did not remember saying that, but I have never forgotten that she did. Then two years later, the day before she died, I visited her, she told me to take her birthday flowers, she didn’t need them. She handed me her pocket book, and then most profoundly, handed me her prayer booklet that she used and said, “I don’t even have to pray anymore, I just have to wait.” Life lessons for me, for sure.

picture of a womans wriest with a bracelet with the word Faith encircled.
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

While I claim a love of liturgy, as a Protestant Pastor I also appreciate the potential for informality that exists in worship in my denomination. For instance there are some prayers and traditions that qualify as liturgy, because within a given Sunday Service, there can be some back and forth conversation between the pastor/worship leader and the congregation; laughter, joking and tears are all acceptable interactions. Yet there is an order, or ritual, to the service that includes prayers, readings from the Bible, singing of hymns or choruses, sharing of joys and concerns with the congregation and reading of written prayers but also spontaneous prayers. Because of all of that, the order of worship, with the potential for conversations, laughter, tears and other spontaneous happenings, I self-identify as “semi-liturgical”. I do not want to trade formality for the Spirit. Sometimes people even shake one another’s hands or greet each other with a hug. And the use of reason!

“Reason” maybe one of the reasons that I am United Methodist. Not that Methodists, or even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism invented reason. But Wesley held, and we still teach that there are four main ways we learn about God: Scripture, Tradition (the teachings of the apostles and early Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith), Reason and Experience. The fact that I can apply reason, question, doubt and understanding and question again to the teachings of my faith are priceless to me.

I have posters on every door in the church (including the bathrooms) with the church’s mission statement, and signs on the doors going out of the church that say, “You are Now Entering the Mission Field” The signs I should also put on the doors going into the sanctuary though, would say, “Please do not check your brain at the door.” Being able to question faith, preaching and the Bible are important. It is how we learn. There is a “song” that I “sing” often. I know many people will say that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you do believe. For me personally, that is way too generic. My song is, “It is important to know what you believe, why you believe it and where it came from.”

If you have gotten to the end of this blog post, I hope in some way it has inspired you to give some thought to your own faith journey, the ups and downs, joys and frustrations, the times you have felt near to God or a higher Power and times that God has seemed far away. I hope that it has inspired you to think about what you believe, where it came from and why you believe it. And thanks for sticking with me to the end. Since I first wrote this post, the COVID-19 has become a pandemic, and each of us are trying to find our way through uncharted territory. Can there be a better time to think about what you believe, why you believe and where it comes from? Might this situation we find ourselves in be an invitation to do just that?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Featured

How Will You Use Your Time?

Responding to cultural quarantine in a time of crisis.

I believe that time is a gift. It is a gift that I often waste, breeze through and forget to carefully plan. Sometimes I waste good time by working too much. Other times though, I waste it by spending too much time on social media, or too much time on the phone and then, time is the thing I lose. Perhaps most frustrating of all, I do not always do a good job of anticipating how much time a given task will take. Yet, I have also learned that time is precious. When I was a young person, even a young adult, I would often say, “I can hardly wait until________.” But now, I can wait. While I am tired of being cold, it is still winter in Pennsylvania in mid-March, at least temperature wise, and I do not want to wish my life away by wishing it was another season or time. Time is something I have finally learned to save and to savor.

picture of a yearly planner with a pen
Photo by Plush Design Studio from Pexels

How many sayings about time can you recall? “Time and Tide wait for no man (sic)”, “Time’s a’wasting” I asked that question of my Facebook friends recently and got a lot of responses, many were different from what I expected. Here are a few of their comments: “A day late and a dollar short,” “For such a time as this…” (From the story of Esther in the Bible, Esther 4:14), “time after time,” “How many times do I have to tell you___”, “Third time’s a charm,” and “Long time no see.” Poll your friends, make your own list, and see what you learn.

I had a friend years ago, who had a home made sign on his wall that read, “What is time for?” or, it might have read, “What is it time for?” Either way, it is a worthwhile question. As a pastor, I have a lot of freedom to set my own time schedule (except of course for Sunday mornings or if I had a Saturday evening service). I don’t punch a time clock, can choose my own day off, and while I do periodically report to a team about how I spend my time, there is a lot of freedom given.

Within that freedom though, there are certain expectations. Although denominationally, leaders are trying to be more realistic about time commitments, the average expectation for my 23 years of full-time ministry was 55-65 hours a week. And John Wesley, the founder of Methodism had some interesting things to say about time. Basically, ‘Be on time,’ ‘Do not waste time” and, ‘Spend the exact amount of time needed, but not a minute more; paraphrased, of course.

Every morning, since I have become a pastor, I have one important tradition or ritual. My second favorite ritual is sitting on the edge of my bed, clutching my pillow to my chest, while trying to make myself move. Wait, maybe that is my first favorite ritual. But before that, I have to ask myself these two crucial questions: “What day is it?” and “Where am I supposed to be?” As long as I give myself the right answers, everything is good. But there are times I wake up in a panic, Is it Sunday?

picture of an alarm clock with roman numerals and a bell on top.
Photo by Krivec Ales from Pexels

Please do not put too much energy into analyzing this, but, my recurring nightmare for 23 years has been that I overslept and arrived at church so late, that there were only a few disgusted people left in the building who were on their way out, and I had no reasonable explanation for my behavior! Fortunately that is not an every week dream, but I have lost track of the number of times it has darkened my door in 23 years.

But my chief concern in writing this piece is to ask you, not your favorite expressions about time, but how will you spend the gift of time in these days of chaos, fear and toilet paper purchase power? I say that, not belittling the enormity of the crisis before us, which is indeed worldwide, but attempting to look at the gift of time that is hidden in all of the closings. Please do not yell, or think me thoughtless, I realize that there are huge financial/economic issues tied to those closings. But one important reality is that many of you, like myself, can act as though you are “human-doings” and not “human-beings. ”

Picture of two people at a square table, one has a cell phone in hand.
Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

When those who work come home, those who cannot work are still there, and there are no distractions of meetings, games, events, concerts, dinners out, what will you do with the extra time you have been given? How often have you wished that you had more than 24 hours in your day, wished that you had more time to read, relax, visit, bake, write, build, play, opportunities to do good to those around you? In addition to all the things this crisis has handed us, fear and chaos, to name a few, it has also handed us a temporary gift of time.

In addition, although we have never been here before, we are not the first generation to face such a daunting challenge. We can learn a lot by studying how our grandparents or parents, made it through World War II, The Depression, and other major social disruptions. Many of us have gotten so married to our conveniences, that the basic skills of cooking, canning, gardening, sewing, baking from scratch, using hammer, nails and screws or heavens, “making do” by using things up until they are beyond repair, and an unheard of discipline, of not buying big ticket items until we have the cost saved up. But I think some of us are planning to rekindle those disciplines out of necessity. Not only is the bread aisle empty in our local grocery chain, so is the flour, and yeast!

Picture of a little girl learning to crack an egg into a bowl.
Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

Some families I know are teaching their children such basic skills as a matter of course. But this thing that has happened, this awful virus with unknown potential and forced closings of schools, dining places, churches, non-essential businesses and gathering places, can bring couples and families together; perhaps in new ways. It is somewhat ironic that the tools of social media that have blocked real conversation, can actually be life-lines to connect with family and neighbors in the midst of self-imposed or government imposed quarantine.

This crisis will tell the world and speak volumes about who we are, depending on how we handle the challenge. Can we take care of “our own,” and still be mindful of the needs of our neighbors, the vulnerable among us? Will we be compassionate people or fear driven hoarders? Only time will tell.

I would love to hear from you. How are you handling time in the midst of crisis and social distancing? How are you staying connected to those you love and care about when you are not in the same house? Where have you seen acts of compassion? What opportunities have you had to show compassion?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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INTRODUCING SHEBA

Sheba is our fourth rescue dog in thirty years. When we lost Misty in the Fall of 2019, my husband and I had an unspoken agreement, or assumption, that we would be adopting another rescue dog. There were certainly some concerns, we are not young (sigh!), we are retired, well, partially retired in my case, and I was pretty sure that a puppy was out of the question. We agreed that we were going to look for a senior dog.

We also were going to wait until the first of the year, because we already had planned to go away for a week after Christmas and did not want to bring a new dog into the house, only to have to kennel it before it had been here long enough to get adjusted. And, although many people consider “Christmas” a pastor’s busy time of year, it is actually the entire four week season of Advent and leading up to Christmas Eve that constitutes that “Busy time of year.” I knew that I was going to need to focus.

In the interim, we looked online, especially to check the dogs listed at our local animal rescue center, looking at older dogs. Finally, one January day, we showed up in person, looked through the book of the dogs they had in residence and asked to see Sheba.

Picture of a tall, lean, black and tan dog.
Sheba, checking out the driveway.

If you have been following my blog, your first thought might be, “That is not a beagle!” True. Sheba is a long, lean, black and tan dog of mixed parentage. She weights about 45 pounds, and when she thunders down the stairs in the morning, you would swear it was a horse! Why, when I love beagles so much, did I not get a beagle? My answer, might only make sense to animal lovers. I know that in theory, animals do not have personalities. Wait! If you are an animal lover of any kind you are amazed at the ability of your pet to express any range of emotions: joy, happiness, anger, fear, annoyance, betrayal, stubbornness, to name only a few traits. Scientists, psychologists and any number of specialists can have, well, scientific explanations. Here is mine. I did not want to adopt a dog who might look like Misty, or Sammy, as much as I love beagles and it seemed like the best way to allow our newest family member to assert it’s own “personality” and not be mistaken for Misty or treated like a “Misty II” was to adopt a dog that was totally different, not only in temperament, but also in looks.

There is no mistaking Sheba for Misty. Sheba is younger than we were thinking. Not a puppy, but not a senior either. She was four-and-a-half when we adopted her, she will be six in June. Her story, is not one I have ever put in print, although we have shared it with people verbally. Sheba was one of sixteen dogs surrendered/rescued from an animal hoarding situation. It may have started out well meaning, but all sixteen dogs were kept in crates, stacked up on each other, maybe 2 or 3 crates high and I suspect she was surrounded. Sheba, as big as she is was, was probably in a crate that was on the bottom. It may or may not have been a “puppy mill” but she had recently had puppies within a month of her surrender, but there were no puppies when the dogs were handed over. That is really all that we know about her background.

She had been at the shelter for about 2 weeks, when we arrived to visit. When they brought her into the office to meet us, it was clear that she had made friends with some of the female workers, but Sheba did something I have never seen a dog do. As she came into the office, and saw that there were strangers there (us), she lifted up each paw and held it in the air before putting it down and lifting up the next one, and she shook. Well, she wasn’t a senior dog, but she was definitely a dog that needed us. I could have held out for another dog, but I couldn’t. She was so timid and scared. When we brought her home the next day, my husband wisely suggested that one of us sit in the back seat with her and the other one drive, instead of leaving her back there on her own, cowering, As it turned out, perhaps I should have been the driver. But I was the “back seat with the dog person.” I petted her and talked to her all the way home.

That was fourteen months ago. She has truly come a long way in fourteen months, but we often wonder if she has come as far as she is going to come. Here is a rare picture of Sheba:

picture of a black and an dog getting a bath at a groomer's
Sheba at the dog groomers

What makes this picture of Sheba so rare? It is the only time she let the groomer pick her up and put her in the sink! The next time we went, she took 5 treats out of his hand, but then hid under my chair when he tried to pick her up. Sheba is afraid of ________, fill in the blanks. She is afraid of men, small dogs, children, strangers, men, sudden noises, men, the football players from the nearby school who walk by on the way to the football field. She is afraid of everyone but me. There is a meme/prayer on Facebook that says, “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” My husband says, that would be impossible, because Sheba seems to think I am perfect. Fortunately, we both know I am not. He is as good to her as can be, and she will take treats from him, allow him to pet her (sometimes), beg him to pet her when I am not giving her enough attention, or if I am not here, or if I have stopped petting her in order to try to accomplish something. But sad to say, when he walks in the room, she runs in the opposite direction. I am far from an expert, yet everything about her affect and behavior seems to shout trauma.

It would not be accurate to say that she is an affectionate dog, but more accurate to say that she soaks up affection, loves to be petted and fussed over. She is funny, needy, stubborn, challenging on many levels, and I cannot imagine life without her. One other thing for now, that you might notice in the top picture. She is a black and tan dog, living in a brown, tan and gold world. Every room in our house is paneled and every room has different paneling: all shades of brown. The carpeting in the living room and in the bedrooms is brown and dark gold. We foolishly (I) picked out a dog bed that is dark brown. It can be difficult to tell her apart from the dog bed, the floors and her indoor surroundings. She blends in.

Picture of a black and tan dog partially hiding under a desk
Sheba half under my desk.

I wish that we knew more about her life, some days I wish any pet could talk and then there are days I am glad she can’t. We just keep offering her love and care and a good home and do our best to be up to the challenges. There is so much more to tell, but that is it for an introduction.

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

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A Slice of Pizza and a Slice of Life: A Union Villa Story

A little over two years ago, when I was in the middle of a December baking frenzy, I went to the local grocery store to replenish my supply of flour, sugar and butter. When I got my change from the cashier, it included a red quarter. She said, “I’ve never seen a red quarter before.” I was a little startled to see one myself, it had been years. I told her I had seen one before and asked if she would like to hear the story? The last time I saw a quarter like this was probably late summer of 1968, although I used to see them on a regular basis. Jack had a roll of quarters that were painted with red nail polish on both sides. They were used to prime the pump, as it were, to encourage customers to also play songs on the juke box. Not unlike bar snacks, it encouraged participation.

picture of several quarters on a desk top including one with red nail polish.
The Red Quarter

It was great for me, because I could ask him for a red quarter, almost whenever I wanted, and he would give me one. It was a bonus to be able to chose my own music, since living there forced me to listen to everyone else’s music. The other benefit was that when the owner of the juke box came to collect the money in the coin box, he not only returned the red quarters to Jack, but he would give me the records that he was changing out. It was a nice way to build my collection of 45’s, and even if it wasn’t all my kind of music, the price was right. I hadn’t thought about red quarters in a long time. You can be sure this one is staying with me.

ALL THAT AND A BAG OF CHIPS

There is a slightly awkward story, that I am going to share with you anyway. It is awkward, somewhat embarrassing and true. There was a potato chip rack at the end of the bar that held small bags of potato chips and other similar items. I remember the vendor coming in, the metal clips that held each bag in place, and no, I did not get leftover potato chips when he came with new ones. I am not sure I ever ate potato chips at the Villa, especially when I could have pasta and pizza any time. But for some reason that I credit with living at the bar, or visiting all those other bars before my parents bought the Union Villa, I love the smell of potato chips, especially when a new bag has just been opened. It is very seldom that a bag of chips comes into this house without my getting to open the bag, and inhale the aroma before the dispensing begins. See, I told you it was somewhat embarrassing, but it is also true.

I don’t know if “décor” is the right word for a bar, most of the decorations were neon lights advertising the selection of local beer. There was a player piano, off to the center and a stage area for the band. There was a brass ship’s bell on the wall behind the bar next to the shelves of whiskey. That, of course, was a slight nod to Jack’s career at sea. In addition, there was a wooden sign above the porch that read, “The Union Villa” and above those words were added the words, “Jack’s Port O’Call.”

Post Card of the Union Villala Hotel circ 1880
The Union Villa in the early days, Courtesy of Angela Dunham

The first winter they replaced the orange and green wooden booths with “new to them” booths and tables that had bought in a restaurant sale. The booths were wooden, brown, highbacked booths with light ivory colored padding. They also bought black metal tables with silver stripes on the side and standard wooden bar chairs with seat backs and seats that Maggie re-covered. To all this, they added light colored paneling in both the bar room and the pool room. If you do not know this, paneling was all the rage in the 1960’s. Mom had just had the living room paneled in our house in Point Independence a year or so before we moved to the Union Villa. As a side note, that paneling salesman must have gotten around because our retirement home is paneled, and I suspect it too, was done in the 1960’s, but that is another story.

Although the quality of the pictures is very poor I want to share these with you. The picture on the left is Jack and Maggie, my dad and mom. She must have come out of the kitchen to have the picture taken and they are clearly, standing behind the bar. At least, it is a close up. These pictures, as old and beat up as they are, are the only ones I have of Jack and Maggie at the bar. The pictures are held together with love and plexiglass and a picture on the other side that I am afraid to move, lest they all fall apart. The picture on the right was taken from the other end of the bar. You can see the old metal cash register on the left, Jack is behind the bar in a plaid flannel shirt. You can also see the faded hand of someone pouring a beer and one of the customer’s smoking a cigar. If memory serves me correctly, it was one of our regular musicians.

Two faded pictures of a man and a a woman standing behind a bar, and in the other picture some of the customers at the bar.
Home

The television in the corner was a very big deal because it was color t.v. That television traveled up to our apartment for the winter, where the three of us could enjoy it. That must have been a big deal to Dad, because he would even watch “Bozo the Clown” because it was in “living color.” That of course, was something he would only do in the apartment. The television traveled back downstairs to the bar by the April 1st opening, so the patrons could watch the game in color or whatever else they were interested in watching. When it wasn’t busy, I could sit at the bar and watch Star Trek Episodes. The original.

Picture of two pislner glasses on a bar
Photo by Matan Segev from Pexels

While it may sound odd for a bar, they did their best to keep it a family place. That is if the noise of the juke box, clinking of glasses when the bottle of beer hits the side of the glass were sounds you might expect on a typical family night out. You would not hear the sound the foam makes as it bubbles up to form a head on the beer. You would hear instead, the shouts and cheers that came from the pool room and the sound of the cue ball breaking up the recently racked billiards. You might have heard the clatter of someone stepping heavily onto the wooden pallet at the bottom of the steps and the sound of the screened swinging doors being pushed open. Jack or one of the regulars at the bar, would call out a greeting to whoever came in, if that could be heard above the laughter that occasionally erupted from “The Dirty Corner” (see Life at the Union Villa). And maybe, if you were lucky, you would hear an old roofer named Lou exclaim, “Merciful heavens” as though he were laughing the words.

I am always interested in learning how or where people learned how to do the things they do, whether it is in earning a living, doing a craft, playing an instrument, installing anything and repairing equipment. It seems that the combination of Jack’s early life as a rabble rouser, a young seaman, a boxer, being an officer on a merchant ship, in charge of crew, placement of cargo and other things, and being a life long social drinker prepared him for the occasional work of being his own bouncer. He would not tolerate lewd behavior, or language, and he had no problem shutting someone off who had too much to drink, or was otherwise out of line. On rare occasions, the local police came to the rescue. While it would be an exaggeration to say that he flew across the bar as needed, he could move pretty quickly around the bar and out front for a fifty-something stocky guy.

Picture of a person's hand  holding a slice of pizza.
Photo by Kenneth Carpina from Pexels

SATURDAY NIGHTS IN THE SUMMER

Saturday nights in the summer were “All hands on deck.” There was one waitress, Jack behind the bar, plus an additional bartender, Maggie in the kitchen, plus one additional cook. For reasons that I can’t quite explain, I played hostess. I spent Saturday afternoons with my hair in curlers and sometime after supper, took the curlers out, brushed out my hair, donned my favorite dress and went downstairs to the bar. I greeted customers and on occasion when it was busy would ask some folks to share a table, if I knew that they knew each other. I could help take pizza orders and just visit with people. No one asked me to do it and there was no expectation that I had to work. Although, pizza boxes, that might have been an expectation that I fold pizza boxes. Even though my parents were way too busy to talk, it was much less lonely downstairs in the crowd than it would have been upstairs in the apartment, watching “Saturday Night at the Movies” on the black and white television alone.

The most difficult thing about Saturday nights was the smoke. With so many people smoking cigarettes, cigars and occasional pipes, the smoke was thick enough to burn one’s eyes. I would end up going into the restroom several times in any given Saturday night, pull some brown paper towels from the rack, soak them in cold water, wring the water out and hold the cold, damp paper towels over my eyes. Then I would go outside for some fresh air, and back into it all over again.

Every night at the bar would end the same way, whether it was a busy, hopping night, or just a slow evening. Around 11:45, Jack would stop wiping down the bar, walk over the where the ship’s bell stood, grab the rope pulley and yank it against the side of the brass bell. After the bell sounded, he would lift his voice above the din, and call out “Last Call for Alcohol!” He called it out as if each word had extra syllables, and while it was not musical, it sounded as though there were a crescendo to it, with a drop off on the last syllable.

When our loved ones have fought the good fight, battled cancer and other demeaning and debilitating diseases, we could not wish them back to suffering. But I tell you, I would love to see those sights and to hear those sounds again. To see Maggie in the kitchen again, decorating a pizza with slices of onion and pepper and other things; to hear the background noises, the conversations, the juke box, the ship’s bell, and Jack once more raising his voice above the din, “Laaaaast Callll for Al-co-hallllll”

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Jack and Maggie in Business

I received some obvious but important advice from a friend two years ago, as I prepared for my fist trip to Onset in almost 25 years: “Expect everything to be different.” Well, yes. of course. In my excitement about the trip, those obvious words were helpful. There were lots of surprises and changes. That was a good thing. Rather than be disappointed by the changes, I met them with a measure of relief.

Picture of woman, boy and little girl in front of a home.
Mom, my brother and me, about 195., before the porch was added to the house.

When my parents officially moved to Onset, around 1944, or a little later, they bought a house in Point Independence. It was a large corner lot on an acre of ground. The driveway went around it in a horseshoe configuration, and there was a dirt road from their property all the way to the beach.

THE COTTAGES: MARCELLINO’S REAL ESTATE

I don’t know whose idea it was to build the cottages, Maggie’s or Jack’s or both, but it was a pretty smart idea. Between the proximity to Onset Beach and the proximity to Otis Air Force Base, they had no problem renting them, either to “summer people” or to young Air Force couples.

The cottages were modest, mostly two bedrooms with eat in kitchens, small bathrooms with showers, not tubs, and they were furnished. Jack did much of the outside work, along with a neighbor who was retired Air Force and a local contractor.

Maggie did the inside work; she picked out furniture, made curtains and couch covers, laid linoleum, (flooring), cleaned the cottages between residents and handled most or all of the renting duties.

She also handled the bills, contacted local contractors as needed and at least on one occasion, crawled under one of the cottages to wrap frozen water pipes.

picture of cottages in the back yard. mom, Aunt Millie, Phillip and myself.
Mom, her sister and my cousin, and myself on the right. Cottages number 5 & 6 in the back circa 1955?

There were times I know she was afraid: there were times I know she was lonely, but in all times I knew she was competent. I don’t know how she knew how to do most of the things she did. She took the commercial course her one year of high school, that was where she learned typing and shorthand and other office skills.

She learned how to sew when she was in fourth grade, and sewed all of her life, until about the last two months before she died. She did not have any special training for running a business, but growing up in the poverty of the early 1900’s, she learned a lot about being careful with money. She would never have seen herself as a businesswoman, yet she was.

She and Jack were both young working adults by the time of the 1929 stock market crash. She must have liked making curtains and spreads because it is something she did a lot. Even years later in retirement, in her own apartment, she would make curtains and bed spreads to match and changed them two or three times a year.

picture of cottages on maple Street
Taken October 2019, looking left to right, cottage 8, 7, 6 and 5. Compare with the previous picture from 1955. Photo courtesy of Angela Shwom

THE UNION VILLA

Maggie worked hard, and truthfully, some of that came with the territory. She did not get a clothes dryer until 1970! Prior to that, everything had to be hung outside to dry, even at the Union Villa. Ironing clothes and sheets were standard, and most things had to be sprinkled before you could iron them.

I still own an iron and an ironing board, but only use them when I am desperate. With the fabrics of most of our clothes, and linens, that kind of work is not needed. There was no dishwasher either, not even at The Union Villa.

Some of the work she did was just necessity, and some of it was how she coped. I did grow up a little spoiled. When I tried to help with ironing my own clothes she said I was taking that away from her, and she needed to do it. I was about 16 and dad was back out to sea. Now she was lonely in a much bigger house, a five story hotel, and I was still away at boarding school during the week.

Jack worked hard too, but when the bar was closed and they were working on projects in the winter, he would stop working a few hours before her and say, “Come on Maggie, why don’t you knock off?”

I was never aware of money growing up. I know that my dad made good money in the Merchant Marine, and we had what we needed, but they reinvested everything back into the business and there was no real luxury. They didn’t go out and buy themselves things, the money they did spend on themselves was mostly on entertainment, dinners out and yes, all those drinks.

When they bought the Union Villa, it was much the same. Maggie, at 52, was on her hands and knees laying linoleum in the hallways of the hotel, and hanging new curtains in the rooms.

They spent the winters replacing old furniture in the bar and remodeling. It wasn’t anything extravagant, but it looked nice. Most of all, as much as possible, they did their own work.

When the bar was closed for the winter and everything else was cleaned, she took the curtains down from the windows, took them to our apartment and soaked them in the kitchen sink repeatedly, until the water turned from dark grey until it was finally clear, with all the nicotine washed out.

When we returned to Onset in 1994 for my mother’s burial, we had less than 40 hours in town. (My first trip back to Onset in 21 years). I did notice that the cottages had been renovated and improved, some had solar panels in the roof. I didn’t have a lot of time to sit and stare. You can drive on the road, but there is no street parking, only private driveways.

When we returned in 2018 I had more time to look, and even more time to spend walking around and taking pictures when I was there last fall (2019).

In 1994 the Union Villa still looked like I remembered it, but it was mostly empty. The bar was no longer there, but there was a Real Estate office in the corner of the downstairs. When I was home last fall, it was completely different. It was no longer The Union Villa Hotel, Bar and Restaurant, but the U.V. Apartments.

The U.V. Apartments
The U.V. Apartments 2019. There are now 10 apartments that are full time rentals.

WHAT ELSE CHANGED?

In the intervening years, the cottages have been totally renovated in some cases rebuilt from the foundation up. A few of the cottages added a second floor, many have solar panels and decks and most have a second door, which was probably a legal necessity as housing codes were revised.

The funniest change I experienced however, was in 1994, when we returned to town for the second part of my mother’s funeral. I had been talking to my husband about the wonderful seafood we used to get from Besse’s Seafood Market, just across the stone bridge.

Locals who are old enough remember, you could call up and order fried seafood to go, fish, scallops, clams and more. Or you could go in and order it and watch them prepare it.

I still remember watching them toss the seafood in question in the egg wash, and milk, the flour, watching the cooks shake the wire mesh basket up while the flour flew every which way. I remember the smells, the lobster tank, the sizzling sound of the basket going into the deep fryer.

Or, if you wished you could buy fresh seafood and cook it at home. I talked about it so much that my mouth was watering. I couldn’t wait to get there. I took my husband and daughter and we pulled up into the parking lot, of … a closed ice cream shop. I think it is a Real Estate office today, but if I am wrong I am sure someone will correct me.

CHANGE IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD

I said in the beginning of this post that I was relieved by the changes I saw. Change is essential to growth. Truthfully, I love what I see in both the cottages and The U.V. because real people live there!

The really hard thing, would have been to arrive in Onset and see that the buildings had been abandoned, torn down or otherwise dilapidated. But people, investors, have loved them into new life! I love that! I love the fact that the two “mom and pop” businesses that were the heart of my parents’ work, livelihood and energy, are still that for someone. And I am not saying it is because of them, it is not because of Maggie and Jack.

The present incarnation of both of those places is because others have looked at those sites, those buildings and seen new possibilities and invested funds and energy and hope and loved them into a new existence. But because of Jack and Maggie’s vision and work, seeing what those places have become fills me with hope, joy and gratitude.

Sometime soon, I will show my hometown some love, and share with you some of the good things that are available in Onset today. Summer is coming with all kinds of opportunities for family vacations and getaways.

In the meantime though,

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Author’s note: Look for more Jack and Maggie or Union Villa Stories on this site.

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Misty

When we lost our dog Roxanne, in April of 2012, I said I was not getting another dog until I retired. That anticipated retirement date was six years in the future. I lasted a little more than six weeks. I meant what I said, and I was determined, but I was somewhat unaware. I was unaware, or had not realized, what a huge void Roxanne’s death would create in our home. She had been part of our family for 14 years. She was a living presence with traits, traditions and a relationship history with us! So her absence was keenly felt.

A picture of Roxanne laying behind the couch. She is a big, long dog who looks a little bit like a beagle on stilts.
Roxanne

I know that some people have more than one dog at a time and while we had considered it, we never did it. There were reasons, expense mostly, but also each of our dogs has seemed to be like “only children” who wanted all of our attention and did not want to share. Some folks, when they realize their family pet is well into old age and may leave at any time, bring a new pet into the household and we weren’t going to do that. Plus, even though Roxanne was almost 15, we didn’t sense the end coming. So we agreed, and I said it, “No new dogs until I have retired and we are in our own home.” But then…

But then one day a friend and parishioner came to our home with his roto-tiller to till garden space for us and brought his beloved Lucy, a friendly, loving Bassett Hound. They were at our house for a relatively short time, but when they left, and Lucy went with her master, I began to have a deeper sense of what was missing in our home. Puppy love; but more than that, devoted presence, dependent distraction from the cares of life?

Well, we were getting ready to go on vacation, so no decision, no adoption yet. But once again my sweet spouse began to read to me from the classified ads. A shelter near us had a Beagle that needed a home. His name, I think, was Tucker. He read that more than once, and we talked about it a little bit, and said, perhaps, when we got home from vacation, we would visit the shelter and check it out and take a look see at Tucker. Then we went on vacation. I don’t remember the details of where we stayed, or how long we were gone, except that while we were away, we visited two families who are friends, who also had sweet affectionate dogs. Doxie loved hanging at our heels and being petted and was generally sweet. I was in trouble.

Then there was Maggie, my friend Carol’s dog. Maggie was a big dog, a Labradoodle and although she was routinely cautioned away from us and the table, came around and loved to be petted. Perhaps it was me and not the dogs who needed to be warned off. They should have met us, me especially, at the door with signs that said, “Hi Michele, DO NOT PET THE DOG! But they didn’t and I did. When vacation was over, I probably asked more than once, “Well, do you want to go to the shelter to see if they still have Tucker?”

So we went, but Tucker was at the other facility getting some needed medical treatment. But they did have another Beagle. A few actually. They brought Misty out to meet us and I knew I was in trouble. In puppy love. My husband says too, that he knew as soon as Misty pranced into the room, that she would be going home with us.

Picture of a beagle with a harness, sitting on the back seat of my car.
Misty the Wonder Dog

Misty was a popular dog at the shelter and on outings to schools or when school children visited. Everyone loved Misty and loved to feed her. She had acquired a nick-name among the shelter staff: “Porkchop.” She got some exercise and a more regular diet when she got home with us. She loved to be taken for walks and she loved to hunt. Unlike Sam, our first Beagle, she would go diving into the brush, through the woods, on a trail, no matter. Misty had been a hunting dog, part of a pair (a brace) of dogs and been surrendered when her human was getting to a place in life when he could no longer care for her. He kept good records though and that was nice to have, especially since we had no information on Sammy at all.

I did make two mistakes with Misty that cost me, but it was okay. We filled out the paperwork to adopt her, but had to come back the next day, to give them time to check our references. It gave us time to, to get a dog crate, leash, collar and all the things one needs for a new dog. None of that was a mistake. The problem was I had to leave for a conference 45 minutes after we brought Misty home. I was gone four nights and three days, which was plenty of bonding time for her and Roger. When I got home, she was already his, or, truth be told, he was hers. A good friend referred to my husband as “her (Misty’s) Roger.”

To make up for what I missed, when I got home, I let her get on the couch. I wanted to be able to sit with her and pet her. We had not let either of our other two dogs on the furniture. Not that they never found their way there; but they were not invited or given permission. Since I gave Misty permission, she assumed that she owned the couch and was never dissuaded. Did I say that she adored my husband? She would get onto the couch, throw herself up against his side, throw her head back, looking up to him in total adoration. It soon became clear that where Misty was concerned, I was the other woman.

picture of a white bowl with scraps of gingerbread.
Gingerbread house scraps

Despite being the other woman, she was my constant companion in the kitchen, especially during what I lovingly call “The Gingerbread season.” If you are making gingerbread for houses, it plumps when you bake it and you have to trim it while it is hot, or the pieces won’t fit together correctly. She was always willing to get rid of the evidence. She ate her food very fast, vacuumed it out of the dish. That probably came from being one of two dogs and competing for food. The funniest thing she ever did where food was concerned though, was the time I gave her a little bit of leftover chili and rice. I thought it was a treat. She barked at it and would not touch it!

One day, when Roger and I were both sitting on the couch, she came up to me and put her paws on my knees. That’s sweet, I thought, she wants me to pet her! No, that wasn’t it. She used me for a ladder to climb up onto the couch and promptly went over to him, threw herself against in and looked back up at him in adoration. Admittedly, I was gone a lot, meetings, classes, gatherings, etc. and I was working on my Doctor of Ministry Degree which meant two weeks in January in Rochester and two weeks in June for three years. Roger was home.

She did get back at me though. One time Roger was away for a few days and I was working on homework. I had to leave her alone 3 times in one day to tend to different pastoral functions. The first two times she was great. So I didn’t pen her in. She never did like or adapt to the crate. The third time I left her was not the charm. She got a page out of my notebook that I had carefully written notes about my reading, and chewed it a bit but mostly tore it up. But I am stubborn. I taped it together and took it with me to school to prove that even at a post-grad level, my dog ate my homework!

To be fair, I was always greeted warmly enough when I came home and it’s not that she didn’t like me. Sometimes, it really did hurt. In theory she was my dog, in reality he was her master, her hero. One other time she climbed up on the couch on my side of the couch and I thought I was going to get some attention, but no, I was just convenient. She practically ran over to him on the other side of the couch. But I could not have not loved that dog. And for many reasons, but here is one. The picture below is not as clear as I wish it was, but it is important, and worth way more than a thousand words.

picture of a beagle curled up at a man's feet.
Misty the Comforter

In 2015 my husband was diagnosed with cancer and our family doctor told me to prepare myself. It was a rough go round and I know many have gone through that. The treatment made him sick, and almost killed him, the side-effects did the same, and then the treatment for the side-effects was no picnic either. We were fortunate in many ways because he was the first patient in our health system to receive a newly approved cancer drug and he is alive today because of it. But through those rough, weeks and months, Misty was faithful. Never underfoot, always near by and ready to cuddle up with “her Roger.” How could I not love a dog like that?

Picture of eagle curled up on a blanket
Another picture of Misty, curled up at Roger’s feet.

In March of 2019 we learned that Misty had an inoperable tumor in her bladder. We weren’t sure what to do at first, because despite the diagnosis, she seemed pretty normal, ate and drank and played and showed no signs of pain. The vet gave us medication that would help minimize symptoms and we agreed to monitor her. She had six good months that she might not have had, if we had reacted immediately. When it came to her last day, it was pretty clear it was the end of the road. Our vet was very compassionate and we never let a dog cross that rainbow bridge alone. We held each one, cried and mourned.

Why Beagles? I don’t know how to answer that. Many are bred for hunting, but I am not a hunter. I think they are really cute and the dogs we have had, have been great members of the family. I am glad that we were able to give her a home and she gave us laughter and so much more. I blame Lucy, our friend’s Bassett Hound. I blame Doxie and Maggie too. But I guess most of all I blame Lucy, or maybe the right word is credit, for encouraging me especially to visit the shelter and adopt a dog who needed us as much as we needed her.

(Photo credit for featured image at top of page: Photo by Arteim Beliaikin from Pexels)

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Last Day of Vacation

It is my last full day at home, and I have come to the Canal for one last look. I have taken several pictures with my phone, sometimes needing to point, shoot and hope, because the glaring of the sun obliterates any view on my phone screen, and I am no photographer. When I think I have taken as many of these “seeing, yet not seeing” pictures as I should, I tell myself that it is time to go, gas up my car, work my way through my vacation rental gathering and packing anything I won’t need in the morning and prepare for the trip home.

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal taken at the Herring Run Recreation Area, facing the Sagamore Bridge. Clear sky, blue water, green grass
Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

It is time to be efficient and mature and say good-bye to the Canal and leave, but something catches my eye and it freezes my feet to the ground. So, I return to my car to retrieve my notebook and find a place to sit. The wind seems to swirl the water a bit, but there are no waves. I learned that this is caused by the current and not the wind. They swirling circles are eddies, pulling in the opposite direction of the current. None the less, the water passes, moving east to Sandwich at a fair clip. Yet, the movement of the water is smooth and reflective like glass. The sun shines on the water and it shimmers in places. The current moves the water along, as if to say to the water, “move along, there is nothing to see here.”

There are many eddies of different sizes and I wonder if I would stare at them long enough if a fish will push through the water or if I tried to focus on one eddy, how long I could keep it in view. Occasionally a bird, a Canada Goose maybe, will sweep down across the water as though it were coming in for a landing but not quite touching it, looking for food, I imagine. Then, as quickly as it arrived, it takes off again. By now, the eddies that passed by my spot are probably at the Sagamore Bridge on their way out to sea.

Clouds reflecting in the water of the Cape Cod Canal, stones along the water's edge.
A beautiful clear October Day at the Cape Cod Canal

I want to take a few more pictures or buy them. I want pictures of the Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay and the Bourne Bridge and the Sagamore Bridge that cross the canal, taking countless visitors to Cape Cod. The bridges were both built between 1933-1935 and are some of the most familiar landmarks of my childhood. Seeing them for the first time makes me draw in my breath. I want pictures of my childhood homes too, but there is not enough wall space in my home, so I will have to carefully catalog these sights and store them in my heart.

picture of a sail boat on the canal, a square, wooden picnic table and the fence along the park.
My last look before leaving the Canal

Perhaps what I long for most of all is a video of this gracefully moving water that I can play it over-and-over again. There are some wonderful pictures posted on Facebook taken by good photographers with expensive equipment and daring shots. Colorful sunrises and sunsets, and nighttime pictures of the Railroad Bridge. I admire them and am grateful that a friend has shared them with me in my newsfeed. But this is the view right here, the blue glass water, the sun shining on the canal making the water shimmer, the blue sky and white clouds, the gentle breeze and the persistent current.

This is the picture that I want. The sound of the traffic on the road behind me cannot tarnish the feel of the breeze and this sight on my being. Sitting here, I think I understand how Robert Frost might have felt when he wrote “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I do not want to go. But home, family and work beckon; so I grow up, gather my things, including a perfect half of a mussel shell and leave behind a tear.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Water Works

I grew up on Onset, Massachusetts. We did not have a park or a playground in the section of town that I called home, Point Independence. We had something much better: the beach. Onset sticks out into Buzzards Bay, like chubby fingers on a child’s hand, spread out in the Bay so that each finger is surrounded by water on three sides. It is difficult to drive around Onset without catching glimpses of the Bay. My street ends at the water, ending about two feet above the beach sand. In the years since I left home the boat population has soared and what used to be Janes’ Yacht Yard (Now Safe Harbor and Onset Bay Yacht Sales) and the Point Independence Yacht Club have both grown in size. We used the Maple Street drop off as one way to get to the beach, at low tide that is; at high tide the water comes up to the drop off.

Picture of Onset Bay and Point Independence with an Inn
Photo of Point Independence Inn, Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

There is a lane directly down to the beach from our old house and that was always a better choice to get to the beach, otherwise one would have to walk a couple of blocks on the main street to get to a better access point for the beach. Yet, thanks to the finger effect of the shoreline, there is a lot of tourist friendly beach in Onset. The shore was so curvy, that it gave the impression that it had been laid out by a capricious artist, who carved and chiseled the shore, curving this way and that, at whim. The part of Onset Beach that we claimed, west of the Point Independence Yacht Club, was a low frills kind of beach. There were ropes with flotation devices to denote the swimming area, but no life guards or rafts, that I remember. Those were at the main beach in town that attracted the tourists who didn’t rent houses in Point Independence.

Having grown up near the inlet waters of Buzzards Bay and so close to the Cape Cod Canal, I have always had a fascination-fear relationship with water. Most of the bad storms that came our way were nor’easters, and they can be pretty bad. Plus the fact that we always lived close to the beach probably increased the fear factor. In Point Independence, the beach and thus the Bay were about two hundred yards down the lane. When we lived at the Union Villa, we were just across the street from the beach and the pier. For me at least, that proximity to big water made it that much more fearsome.

If you do not live in New England or the Northeast, you can learn more about Nor’easters from the National Weather Service. But let me share a picture. I arrived home in Onset on October 17th, the day after a Nor’easter had gone through the area. Actually, it lasted a little longer than a day. It was sunny but very windy when I blew into town. The water was only a little choppy, but it seemed like more than a typical high tide, and the water was an angry green. I had to take the picture from my car because the wind was strong enough I could not get my door open more than a few inches.

Picture of the beach, the day after a storm. Picture was taken from my car window.
Photo from my car, taken on Onset Pier, October 17, 2019

There were hurricanes that made it up to Massachusetts in the 1950’s (and certainly later too). One memorable Hurricane in the 1950’s lifted up one of the snack bars in town off its moorings (Kenny’s Salt Water Taffy). There were booklets published with pictures of all the local storm damage. As young as I was, I still shiver when I think about the high water mark of those hurricanes. There was a beach front house that had a large privacy wall. It was the last house on the left of our lane at the beach. Walking past that wall and seeing the high water mark that was several feet above my head, in a place that normally the water didn’t even reach at high tide, gave me shivers for sure, as well as a healthy respect for water. Perhaps that is where and how my fascination-fear of water was born.

The dirt lane that went from the edge of our property all the way to beach front served was a good path down to the beach. When I remember those storms, mom is still my hero. She had a knack for making it seem like everything was okay, or trying to make a game out of it, even if she was scared. The wind drove the rain sideways as it pelted our windows. We couldn’t help but wonder if the water would make it all the way up to our home. Mom moved the overstuffed chairs from the living room to the dining room to be closer to the heat and we sat at the table playing parcheesi and rummy and probably even fish. The storm windows were full length windows, with thick wooden frames and they latched over the regular windows somehow, and shook and rattled in the strong gales of the hurricane winds and shook our bones as well.

In June, July and August, the beach was a great place for sounds as well as sights. You could hear the voices from a hundred different conversations going on at once, blended in with the static from transistor radios. The voices of life guards calling through megaphones to kids fooling around on the rafts, were mixed in with the cries of circling seagulls. There were other sounds as well coming from the snack shack, that were noticeable as one stood inline to place an order. You could hear the sizzle of hotdogs or hamburgers frying on the grill, the boiling sound of the oil, as baskets of French fries and onion rings were dunked into them. Then of course, there was the ca-ching, ca-ching of the cash register being rung up, and the occasional sound of coin wrappers being hit on the side of the register to break them open as the coins fell into their holders. Even today when I see a cashier do that, I think of an egg being cracked open and its contents spilled onto a hot griddle or frying pan.

A picture of Onset beach in the summer, with people on the beach, umbrellas, lifeguard stands, etc.
Onset Beach, Courtesy of the Onset Bay Association

Beaches are inviting places, even to the locals and when we went out to play during the summer, it was most often to play at the beach. 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, not unlike the tourists.

We went to swim or wade in the water, dodging seaweed and crabs and the gasoline rainbows left by the motor boats and yachts. We even collected sea shells and carried sand pails. As a rule, the locals didn’t own or carry beach umbrellas, we sold them. We didn’t wear tee shirts that said “Cape Cod Massachusetts,” we were there for the duration. Not that we resented the tourists; that was how many families, including mine, earned a living. But in a sense, the tourists were fair-weather friends. When the warmth was gone, the wealth was too. Maybe that’s why we called them “summer people.”

The Cape Cod Canal on a sunny day, the clouds are reflected in the water, the rocks line the side of the canal.
Cape Cod Canal, October 2019

It was in Onset that I first learned about the musical qualities of water. I remember the woosh-swish sound of the water, rising and falling on the beach, as though the bay were breathing. Although I moved away from there almost fifty years ago, it takes very little effort to recall the sound of the water climbing and falling up the gentle slope of our little beach. It is streams and creeks that are most noticeably musical. If you stand besisde a creek long enough, you can begin to discern the sound of notes and tones as the water rushes over various shapes and sizes of stones, rocks, boulders, sticks and fallen trees. The creek seems to sing as it passes by, the larger the rock, the deeper the tone: it is the music of the earth and sea.

My connection with water is undeniably sentimental and very much rooted in my childhood, but it is so much more. It is a connection with life itself that is both sensual and spiritual. I cannot drive by water without wanting to stop and admire it, whether it is a stream, lake or ocean, man made or natural. I want to know every stream I cross; I want to know the width of the stream, and the quality and depth of the water. I steal looks as I pass by, snatches of observations, to peer into the clear water and see the outline of every rock that lines its path. I don’t name the streams or call them mine, but I notice when they are low, when the huge rocks often covered with speeding water are dry and bleached looking. Sometimes the streams overflow their banks with café-au-lait colored water, moving at a clip that would suggest it was being chased by something much bigger, more fearsome than itself.

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal at the Herring Run Recreation area, just above the Sagamore Bridge.
Herring Run Recreation Area, The Cape Cod Canal, just above the Sagamore Bridge

As a child I learned to ride in the car with one eye on the road and one eye on the canal or bay and that is the way I drive now. One eye on the road ahead, and one eye out for any body of water that does me the kindness of running parallel to the road on which I am traveling. Often, it is the Susquehanna River. Sometimes it is Sugar Creek, Towanda Creek or the Tioga River. I drive with a sense of longing, wanting to stop, to ponder and drink in the view, though I can’t drink the water. When the river and streams are overflowing, muddy and moving fast, that same 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 do not drive on without noticing or longing. In Psalm 42:7, the Psalmist wrote. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Deep calls to deep, and so it is with me.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Home

As I sit at my computer, I think of some of the sayings or expressions that people have penned about home. I wonder if I will appear to be too trivial, if I mention them, like a middle school student who begins an essay with Webster’s definition of their particular subject. Perhaps no one cares what Miriam Webster defined something as, because there are so many online sources for definitions and descriptions. For myself, as much as I like and use social media, this blog, for instance, my “sort of smart” Android phone, Google and other search engines and my Kindle, I still prefer the heft and feel of my dictionary.

As a student in both college and seminary, I learned to keep my dictionary close enough that I could reach out my arm and get hold of it. This was an act I frequently found necessary, because if one tries to simply go on context one could get derailed. Maybe I needed a dictionary so often because I am not as smart as I think I might am. But the main reason, is that scholars who write text books seem to feel or be driven to show off their vocabularies, throwing multi-syllable words into every paragraph. I would circle those words in my own books to force myself to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what they meant and would be better off looking them up. Why all the bother about dictionaries and definitions? Because when used, they can open doors and windows to meaning that deepen understanding.

picture of a woman sitting on stone steps in front of an old house. A young boy sits next to her and a young girl stands facing her.
Mom, my brother and me circa 1953

But what of home? When I was growing up, I only had two homes in eighteen years, the one on Maple Street, the home of my childhood, and the Union Villa, the home of my youth. In the years since, I have lived in more than eighteen homes, in five states in fifty years. When some people leave home, they never look back. That wasn’t me. It is just that having left home, with the change of circumstances over the years, going back was, well, difficult. I wasn’t raised in a family that did much in the way of cemetery visits, none that I knew of at any rate. So, the first time I visited my grandmother’s grave was on the day my father was buried. Two years after dad died, mom moved back to Baltimore to be close to her family. As a result, the second time I visited my father’s grave (and my hometown) was twenty four years later, when my mother was buried, next to my dad.

Picture of a tomb stone in a cemetary.
Grandma and Grandpa Marcellino

We had less than 40 hours to be in Onset, so it was a quick but sentimental journey and then there was so much to get back to: packing up mom’s apartment and moving everything out, going through pictures and making decisions and then everything got busy. In the months that followed, my youngest daughter graduated from high school, the other two had long flown the nest. We moved from our four bedroom, four story rental to a two bedroom apartment and prepared for my daughter’s move to Florida. A little over two years later, we were packing again and moving to a parsonage, as I had been approved and licensed as a newly appointed United Methodist Student Pastor.

The following eight years, I was an obsessive full-time student, serving three churches (part-time?) and barely lifted my nose from a book except to preach sermons and other pastor-like tasks. Letting anyone know where I was, except the post office, and our immediate family, did not even occur to me. It is not that I never missed home (Onset) or never got home sick (boy did I). I missed my parents, who were gone, I missed the place I loved (Onset) but did not think there were any options for visits.

picture of open books and a note book on a table
Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels

Years later, we were finally able to plan a vacation home. I was excited, to say the least. We planned a few days at Old Sturbridge Village and the rest of the time at home in Onset. That trip had to be cancelled at the last minute due to a health crisis. By the time my husband was released from the hospital there was precious little vacation time for such a trip. We tried again a few years later, I registered for my Fortieth High School reunion but, once again we had to cancel due to health reasons. During all these years, I really did not have any contact with classmates or my father’s family, so it was all about place, but not people.

After cancelling two trips, I told my husband the next time I wasn’t going to plan, we were just going to go. Spontaneously. Ten years past. As I prepared for retirement in the spring of 2018, a life changing invitation came my way, though I didn’t realize how big an impact it would have. I was invited to do a wedding in Maine, that summer. I readily accepted. Not long after accepting, I realized that the location in Maine was just four hours north of Onset. I was going to do the wedding and I was going home. Because I would be retired at the time of the wedding, I assumed we could take an open ended vacation. However, after the details were set, I accepted an appointment to serve two churches part-time. That changed my open ended vacation to once again, only have 2 days to be in town.

The primary image for the Beach Girl Chronicles. Onset beach on a cloud day. sand, seweed and water with an old building to the right.
Onset Beach, September 2018 ~ The Beach Girl Chronicles

We arrived in Onset on a cold, cloudy, sometimes rainy day. I did not care! I drove around and around, stopping, walking on the beach, taking lots of silly pictures of gulls on the beach, on the Onset pier and pictures of home. When my husband and I talked to a friend after our return she asked about our trip. His response, “Well, let’s see. We saw the house where she grew up, we saw the beach. We saw where her grandmother’s house used to be and the Union Villa, and we walked on the beach. We saw the house where she grew up…” I suppose he was bored. It’s okay; but I could not get enough of drinking in views and memories, sights, scents and sounds. A beach on a cloudy day is better than no beach at all, and clouds and drizzle do not prevent the search and rescue of a few sandy seashells.

picture of an old home. it is the same house as in the previous picture with the woman, boy and girl, but 65 years later.
Home from birth until March 1962, when we moved to the Union Villa

I had really thought this trip home would be a once and done. After all, I had no contact with old friends, did not know any of my dad’s family or have contact information for them. This trip was about memory and place, and a slice or two of pizza and at least one seafood dinner. It was a bittersweet trip, because while there were people in town who vaguely remembered the Union Villa when it was a bar, there was no one in town, fifty years later, who could say, “Oh yes, I remember Jack and Maggie.” Bitter. Sweet. But there was this surprising, nudging, nagging thought. Every place we went, every place I set my feet, that thought came as a simple word: “Write!”

And I understood that ‘once and done’ was not going to work. I wanted more; I needed more. So, I began to hope, plan, plot, dream, calculate and wonder if there was a way I could return. I did not expect such a profound pull on my heart, on my whole being to return. I had thought it was all about memory, but I think now it was about something larger. I began to wonder if I had left something behind when I moved away, something more significant than the things one fails to grab and throw into a suitcase before checking out. While I could share simple answers to that soul searching, the truth is that journey continues.

Serendipitously, I found contact information for a high school classmate before leaving town. It turned out that I was two weeks shy of being in town for the Fiftieth Class Reunion. Coming back for the celebration was not an option, but she put me in touch with other classmates and we connected through Facebook. I am grateful for that in more ways than I can say. When I was able to return to Onset for an entire week, to visit, take more pictures of gulls on the beach return again and again to my childhood home, connect with family I didn’t know I had and write, “Write!” I learned some important things. Many other people in the last fifty years have come to rightly claim Onset as their home. Some of them are quite active in supporting their town and helping it be what it is today and they are doing great work. (See http://www.onsetbay.org) I know that in that sense, Onset is only where I am from, it is not where I live. For me, it is home in the past tense. Yet, not.

Light blue ceremaic mug with small bowl and plate, dark blue outlines and pink flower in the center

I know some people who have never wandered far from home, who have at least lived in a discrete small radius from home. This applies to most of my in-laws, except one who left the state for his education and whose work keeps him darting all over the map. But most have stayed close. I know some people who have either bought what they lovingly refer to as the “old homestead,” or who never left it. My brother and I both left early on, both traveled differently but permanently. My children also left the nest behind, each of them in their late teens. My fault, I admit. I raised them on tales of my adventures, leaving home to visit my brother, getting my driver’s license at 19 and getting my first apartment. But I also tried to nurture their dreams and not hold them back with apron strings.

My husband and I have been together longer and lived together longer, than anywhere we have lived in our lives or anyone we have been with, almost thirty-four years. Two years ago, just before my retirement we bought our first home together. Every day I thank God for our home. It is a simple, old house, for a simple old couple and a goofy dog. It too, is home. Thirty four years ago he said to me, “Anywhere I hang my hat is home,” and then later, “Anywhere you are is home.” That is an important, yet humbling reality.

As a pastor, and a pair of parsonage dwellers we lived with a realistic sense that every home was ours to use, part of the benefit package, but not truly ours. Home. But not home, until the Bishop determined otherwise. Three such homes in twenty three years, to hang our hats and be together, not rooted in place, just simply tethered.

Picture of a brown turtle on green grass.
Photo by laura parenti from Pexels

Like a turtle that carries its home on its back, so I have carried home with me, in seashells and beach sand, cranberry scoops and Portuguese Pottery. I have carried them from house to house, state to state and some thing more precious than even those. Some thing that does not require bubble wrap, or shipping charges. Some thing that will not fade or crack like an old photograph and some thing that the heart might not be the right combination of delicacy and strength to hold. These are the things I have carried in my soul. And that begs the question: is home where you live, or something much more?

I am just a vintage chick on a journey of discovery, and I am not, NOT holding back the tide.

Michele Marcellino Somerville

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Life at the Union Villa

Life at the Union Villa, when we lived there, was like a cross between “Joe the Bartender” from the Jackie Gleason Show* and Cheers.** My dad was definitely “Joe the Bartender,” well, “Jack the Bartender.”  “Joe the Bartender” was a regular skit on the Jackie Gleason show. As each scene opened, the doors of the bar would part, to reveal Joe wiping off the bar and singing “My Gal Sal” although it was barely recognizable. He would pour a drink for Mr. Dunahee, whom the audience never saw, and start a conversation. Eventually Joe would invite a local named “Crazy Gugenheim” to join in the conversation. “Crazy” was played by Frank Fontaine.

How was life at the Union Villa like Joe the Bartender? Joe was a big guy, wearing a white dress shirt, wiping down the bar singing off key and holding forth with the customers. That was dad. Although he would not drink during the busy season of Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the off season he would have a few drinks with the fellas at the end of the bar. When he had had enough to drink, or rather too much, he would sing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” while wiping down the bar.  That was dad and I had no doubt then, or now that he was singing it for my mother!

Picture postcard of The Union Villa circa 1945

The similarities with Cheers was mostly in the downstairs, although it was just three steps down, not a whole flight, and in the special group of regulars that hung at the end of the bar. They nick-named themselves “The Dirty Corner.” I have no intention of being crude here, just describing the atmosphere and my family.  Dad would hang in the corner with them when it wasn’t too busy.

There were some customers who came in for a beer or two on their way home from work, but these guys stayed, for hours it seemed. They were always nice to me and careful around me and in many ways, some of the guys seemed like extended family, especially Dick and Hoppy, and others to some extent. They were not only regulars at the bar, but they were regulars in dropping in for a few free drinks at the apartment, when the bar was closed for the winter.

I never felt that I wasn’t safe around them and there was a lot of good-natured teasing. When they decided they had exercised enough restraint and wanted to let lose, there would be a chorus of “Good Night, Michele!” Letting me know it was time for me to move along.

picture of the writer in a white cap and gown on the steps of the Union Villa June 1968,
Me on Graduation day, 1968 on the steps of the Union Villa. In the far distance you can almost see the water of Onset Beach

A word about language and liquor: If you have been following along on my blog you know that my Dad, Jack, was a sailor. He talked like a sailor and there were probably more cuss words than non-cuss words in his general conversation.

Although I have no doubt that he knew the word, I have long been grateful that the “F-Bomb” was not one that I heard from him. When I hear such language, I wish that I could hand out small pocket versions, not of Gideon Bibles, but of dictionaries or Thesaurus’ or some other type of resource for the clean-language deprived. 

When it came to alcohol, my social world as a child was filled with it; the only difference between living at The Union Villa and life before we moved there, was the numbers of people who were imbibing. I think I became immune in some way, and I always understood that this was my parents’ business and livelihood.

picture of shelves in a bar with wine and  hiskey bottles
Photo by Chris F from Pexels

There were many perks to life at the Union Villa. I should say that biggest perk was that my dad was home, and not at sea. It was especially a bonus for my parents. They worked hard and had a good strong work ethic. In the early part of the season, and after Labor Day, they did everything themselves, which meant that dad was the only bartender and mom was the only person in the kitchen.

Once a day mom would tend bar, so dad could go upstairs to shower and change. She did most of the cooking, but dad made the spaghetti sauce and the meatballs.

Mom made the pizza sauce, the pizza dough and made the pizzas as well as sandwiches (Meatball Subs, and Italian subs, and occasionally she made stuffed Quohogs.) The first year, she sliced peppers and onions and made a design on each pizza.

After that she got wise and chopped everything up and kept things moving. I wish I had her recipe for the pizza dough, just for sentimental reasons, but it made 36 pizzas and I have never made more than two at a time.

picture of garlic, red and green pepper chilis, mushrooms and pasta on red and white checked table cloth
Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

In theory, all our meals could have been pizza or spaghetti and I have not outgrown my love of pizza. Mom made sure to cook real meals for us, so that we ate well, even though we couldn’t sit at the table and eat together.

In the busy season, from Memorial Day until Labor Day, there was extra help, an additional bartender, one waitress and one extra person in the kitchen. I helped where I could and I wanted to, I never felt required to do it.

On occasion, I made pizza dough and could roll and make a pizza, if it wasn’t rush time. I mostly folded pizza boxes, but not at the rapid pace I have seen on recent television commercials.

On a busy night in the summer, they might make as many as 100 pizzas or a little more. I know that is nothing today, but it was a barroom that sold food, not a restaurant that sold liquor.

My father could be outrageous. When a friend visited, dad would ask him, in front of the whole bar, “Young man, what are your intentions toward my daughter?” There were only 2 boys I knew who could stand up to that kind of treatment and still come back, my best friend, and the boy I eventually married, who was my best friend’s college roommate.

Once a boy came to see me and ordered a pizza. Dad said, “I’ll give you the pizza free if you go get a haircut.” (1965). Not surprisingly, he did not come back.

For my own part, I could be a bit of a brat. Sometimes when I had a quarter to put in the juke box, I would play, Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” though I never meant it.  When dad was drinking during the off season, I would take a magic marker and mark the line on the Jim Beam bottle (his preferred drink) before I went to bed. And when I went behind the bar to kiss him goodnight, I would ring the ship’s bell. I knew that would only be annoying if he had a hangover, but I did it to be, well, a brat.

picture of a pepperoni pizza and pizza boxes
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Some of the more selfish perks to life at the Union Villa were that I could have pizza with my friends whenever I wanted. I could also have all the soda that I wanted, but that wasn’t as wonderful as it might seem. In the 1960’s soda bottles came with bottle caps that required a bottle opener. There were rubber stoppers with metal handles that would be inserted after the bottle was open. But I was pretty sure then, and still feel now, that dad gave me the soda from the bottom of the bottle that was going flat.

I have never been much of a picture taker and most of the pictures I have that my mom had taken were from the 1950’s. I have only two pictures of my mom and dad behind the bar and they are so old and beat up they would not show very well.

They are Polaroid pictures that I keep in a plexiglass frame and seldom remove them lest they totally fall apart. One of them is a long shot down the bar, showing many of the regular customers and dad at the other end. The other one is mom and dad in a closeup, with dad in a pressed white shirt and mom wearing a skirt and sweater with a frilly apron.

Mom wore uniforms in the kitchen, but always pretty colors. Not sure she owned any casual clothes and I never saw her in slacks until she was in her 70’s and those were pantsuits that she had made for herself. So, many pictures of mom and dad, especially at the Villa, are in my heart. All I can do is show you snapshots through stories.

 It was an interesting way to grow up, not particularly good or bad. I had many blessings and some trials. Some days I marvel at the fact that growing up in that atmosphere I did not become an alcoholic, which in some sense, seems to be a family disease. I was relatively sheltered in the midst of all that alcohol and other things. I remember the smell of stale cigarettes and beer.

I remember the noise of the bar, the sounds of the band and the player piano, Dad with a wad of chewed up cigar, not too discretely tucked in his cheek, dad ducking his head in the window to the kitchen to holler in a pizza order, “Two plain pizzas for red-shirt.”  I remember the sting of cigarette smoke in my eyes on busy Saturday nights.

I have carried these memories and stories with me for years, carefully storing them as if in a secret compartment and only hinting at them with the simple statement, “I grew up in a bar.”

Most of all, I remember life at the Union Villa with mom and dad, Jack and Maggie, during the most formative years of my life, as if it were yesterday.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

**Cheers http://www.imdb.com › title

Created by James Burrows, Glen Charles, Les Charles. … The regulars of the Boston bar “Cheers” share their experiences and lives with each … 3:49 | TV Program

*The Jackie Gleason Show https://g.co/kgs/CH8epX

Copyright © 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com – All Rights Reserved.

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The Collection

Don’t get nervous! Although I am a pastor, it’s not the Sunday offering that the title refers to, but the pitfalls of being a collector.  Although my most cherished collection is my seashells, I have collected one other thing in recent years; turtles. Not live turtles but carved, ceramic, glass, resin, steel, all kinds of turtles. It started with a simple purchase of a small carved turtle that I named “Spots”.  He was the inspiration for a short story that I wrote over the course of a few lunch periods. I kept him on my desk as I wrote, and as I wrote Spots became more and more real to me.  And, because of the story, I had lots of opportunities to talk about him.

Picture of a turtle with yellow and red  spots on his shell and body
“Spots, my first turtle”

You know what happens when friends, relatives and others find out that you have something “collectible”?  Turtles started showing up. The variety of turtles that I mentioned above doesn’t even begin to describe it. One good friend gave me a turtle lamp for Christmas, the “shell” (carapace) was amber glass and the body was bronze colored metal. It had a “night-light bulb”.  Another friend gifted me with a large colorful, fleece turtle pillow, about two feet by three feet.

Turtles would occasionally show up on the pulpit or even in the offering plate.  I had turtle jewelry, a turtle backscratcher everything but turtle clothes! ( This is not a request for turtle tee shirts!) Two rules I set for my family and friends were, no live turtles and no artifacts or items that were made from real turtle shells.  When my seashell collection was on a respite, I lined the windowsills of my office with my turtles.

Just to be clear, one of those windows was a picture window with two smaller windows on either side, plus a regular sized window on the other wall. So I am talking significant window sill space. Once, a couple came for premarital counseling and the groom said, “look honey, an infestation.” He wasn’t far from the truth. Another friend also gave me a turtle lamp, an exact duplicate to the one I had but what could I say? Thank you, but no thanks? Although Spots was the first turtle in my heart, my second favorite turtles are Sea Turtles so predictably a few sea turtles made their way into my collection. 

Picture of a seat turtle with the sun shining through the wter
Photo by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels

One day, a parishioner very thoughtfully brought me a “new to me” turtle lamp. They were cleaning out a closet at school and she thought about me when she saw it. This one had a pretty blue glass shell, but other than that was just like the other two turtle lamps. It was so thoughtful, but I knew the time had come to do something about my growing collection of turtles. I was running out of display space and we were getting ready to move.  The ladies’ group at church was preparing for their annual rummage sale, so I gathered some donations and discretely placed one of the turtle lamps in the box. Surely someone from the community would buy it, or maybe it would even go home in a box lot kind of situation. Nope, one of my other parishioners, who knew I collected turtles saw it, and bought it for me!

 Over the years I have given a way a few turtles but still had a pretty significant collection. In my quest to declutter and downsize, I put my turtles out in our yard sale last spring and was thrilled when a young couple who love turtles bought them all. They listened very patiently as I told them where each of the turtles had come from (one from Mexico, one from Corning Glass, one was the kind of turtle you hang over the edge of a planter or flowerpot.) Some of them were just pretty, but I do not have the space to display them. All my shelf space is needed for books that I haven’t found the courage to let go. So, the yard sale finished, I came in the house, sat at my desk, moved a few papers and low and behold, there was my blue, bobble-head turtle. I think he was hiding!

A group of different turtles. Spots, Blbble-head, magnet and leather.




Now, this presented a dilemma. I had just enough turtles left to warrant starting a new collection, or, not. Of course it is no question that I am keeping Spots. And my husband made the leather turtle with the googly eyes for me. Can’t give him away either. That does beg a question though, when does a collection become a (mindless) accumulation? Or just as pressing, at what point in your life do you begin to let go of copious possessions so someone else does not have to do it after you are gone? Or, how much stuff do you have to have before you decide to declutter?

Sister Mary Jose Hobday (1929-2009) was a Roman Catholic sister and an elder in a Seneca tribe. According to her obituary she traveled about 75,000 miles each year, giving talks, leading retreats and seminars. She visited my seminary one year and while she imparted a lot of spiritual wisdom to us, it was the tangible, practical simplicity of her life that struck me.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels.com

At the stage in her life when she came to Rochester, she was not living in a convent but in a small home on a reservation. She kept her possessions to a minimum. She told us that she owned 3 skirts and 5 blouses, and that was her wardrobe. It was interchangeable to be sure, and easy to pack for all her travels. In addition, she said that while she always kept a few mementos in her home, anyone who gave her a gift understood that she would keep it for a while, but would eventually pass it on to someone else. That might be one of the most challenging parts of ending collections. When you know someone collects something, it takes the guess work out of gift giving. But when someone gives you a gift and you pass that gift on, what happens if they visit and don’t see it prominently displayed? I know this isn’t an issue for everyone, but it is for some people. Some of you are cringing right now.

When I was a child I had a fairly large collection of international dolls, most of which were not intended to be played with. I had two very large dolls with “big hair” full skirt dresses that could be spread out like a fan. Every time dad came home from a trip he would bring gifts for each of us and I watched with anticipation as he opened his suitcase or other package to see what he would give me. But at the time that one outgrows such things, or maybe later than usual, I gave all of my dolls away to a younger girl whose family frequented the Union Villa: Barbie dolls, the 18 inch tall teenage dolls that my mom had made clothes for, and all the dolls from India, Italy, Greece, Turkey and other ports that dad had brought to me. It was the right decision, but there have been many times over the years I wish I still had them. As with my turtle collection though, a few things fell through the cracks. I have one dancing lady doll, from Turkey I think and two leather camels and those three simple gifts from my dad, someone else will have to deal with, because you have got to draw the line somewhere.

a close up slightly blurry picture of my bow legged one hump 60+ year old camel.
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The Gift

I was never the kind of mother that painstakingly folded her children’s clothes, matched and rolled their socks and lined them in their chest of drawers once they were old enough to do those things for themselves. In fact, I felt a burst of independence when my children were old enough to begin doing their own laundry. They already knew how to cook and at 12, my youngest was solo cooking family dinners. That meant dinner was ready when we got home from work, and I could get her to special events that much sooner.

So, it surprised me shortly before she turned 13, that the sting of being less than needed assaulted my sense of motherhood. Fear of the unknown, parenting and step-parenting five teenagers, gnawed at my bones. I began to feel an emptiness, a nagging void in my life that I was sure could only be filled by a dog, preferably a beagle.

I began to hint outrageously for a dog. You see, I not only wanted to nurture nature, I figured this dog should be a gift too. I had a birthday coming, it would be the perfect gift. I asked, begged and continued to hint with great enthusiasm. From time to time I would read the pet section of the classified ads out loud, while my husband drove us home from work. My husband would interrupt my reading and say, “Gee , honey, I don’t know maybe next year.” But I was an optimist and remained undaunted.

All through supper the night of my birthday, I’d look up from the table hoping to see a beagle, with a bow on its collar, working its way down the hallway to the dinning room. It never happened. After supper, I drew in my breath as Roger took my plate and replaced it with a coffee mug sized box. I pulled off the wrapping paper and tried to conceal my disappointment as I opened the box. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings just because I was disappointed.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

But when I opened the box, I had to choke down anger. Yes, I had been obnoxious in my hinting, but there was a stuffed animal dog in the box; that was cruel! If he was trying to be funny, he sure had missed. I lifted the dog out of the box, about to protest, when my eye caught sight of a piece of paper in the bottom of the box. Training paper I thought wryly, as I lifted it out of the box. But then my eyes saw these words, “This coupon entitles the bearer, Anne Michele Somerville, to the dog of her choice from Animal Rescue, signed Roger Somerville.” Tears rolled down my face. The kids came in the dining room and asked Roger was I was crying, but I couldn’t say a word.

The following Saturday we visited Animal Rescue and I did indeed find a beagle, a three year old named Sammy. He was a sweet and funny dog. We didn’t have any information about his past but he fit in just fine. It took him awhile to get us trained properly. Like many dogs, he was afraid of thunder storms. When the thunder started roaring, Sammy started shaking. He would look for the smallest possible places to squeeze himself into, including places he couldn’t get himself out of, like getting stuck under the china closet. More than once in our apartment, he crawled through the opening under an end table and squeezed himself behind the couch.

He was not afraid of heights though, once when we were gone he let himself into the parlor, pushing through the swinging door, climbed onto the recliner, to the top of the recliner and grabbed the peanut butter cheese crackers from the top of the book shelf and had himself a feast. His bag of peanut butter dog treats was open on the floor by the book case, but they were untouched. When we got home later that day we found the evidence, a few empty wrappers, on the landing of the steps, his favorite perch.

Sammy had what I considered an amazing sensitivity, in this respect. My mother would visit from Baltimore and had to bring her oxygen tank, which was not very portable back in those days. My family had had a dog in the 1950’s, but she was long past being used to being around a dog. She was fighting leukemia and she didn’t let her oxygen tank keep her down. But Sammy, instinctively I think, did not get under her feet as she walked, did not jump up on her, although he let her pet him and thankfully did not chew or step on or do anything to her oxygen tubing. As wonderful as our other dogs have been, I don’t think they would have had Sammy’s sensitivity. In truth, Sammy was pretty laid back and we used to joke that he was a California beagle.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

After the youngest graduated from high school and we moved from our house to a two bedroom apartment we decided to get a crate for Sammy. There were no teenagers living at home to look out for him while we were still at work and felt he needed to be more contained during the day. At this point we had had Sammy for five years, which made him about eight years old. In two weeks or less, he was not only used to the crate, he would go in there for a place to relax without being asked.

Sammy also traveled very well. A little over two years after moving into the apartment I was approved and appointed to serve three United Methodist Churches in North Central Pennsylvania. Sammy comfortably road on the front seat or the floor of the front seat of my car for the four hour drive. We moved in, to what turned out to be Sammy’s last home. I wanted a dog to fill an empty and aching spot in my heart and we found just the right dog and hopefully, he got just the right family.

When I say nice things about my husband, he teases me about tarnishing his carefully built reputation, but he was so right to point me in the direction of a rescue site. If you have a home full of love and room in your heart, I hope you will do the same. I am glad that we didn’t get a puppy from a pet store, but got a slightly older dog who needed to be part of a family.

I learned something from Sammy that I am only now beginning to understand. When we got Sam, I foolishly told my husband that I didn’t think dogs understood English. Actually they learn at least the basics of whatever language their family speaks. They can also tell time, well they think they can, especially when it is time to eat, or time for a snack. I wanted a dog to love and care for, but I had no idea that Sammy would begin the tradition of carving out his own space and become not just a pet, but a part of the family. I didn’t know when a pet died that it hurt in many ways as if it had been a family member; because that is exactly what Sammy was, family. He truly was the best gift.

Sammy was the first of four rescue dogs that have carved out space in our hearts and home in thirty-one years. And we have been the better for it!

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Jack, Maggie and The Union Villa

It Wasn’t a Sand Bar

When I say that I grew up in a bar, it is a slight exaggeration; but, not in the way you might think. My parents bought the Union Villa Hotel, Bar and Restaurant in December 1961, just after it closed for the season. In mid-March 1962 we moved to an apartment on the first floor of the hotel above the bar. We lived in that apartment until they sold the business in November of 1969. Dad tended the bar and mom ran the kitchen, making pizza, subs (grinders), spaghetti and meatballs and stuffed quahogs. (Pronounced Co-hogs). If I wanted to spend time with my parents, it had to be in the bar, so yes, I really did grow up in a bar, but it wasn’t just The Union Villa.

Long before they bought the Union Villa, my parents were avid social drinkers and it was one of the main social activities when my dad was arriving home from sea (Celebration), spending time in the community (everyday life) or getting ready to go back to sea (saying goodbye). When I was very young I obviously did not go along on those outings, but stayed with my grandmother, but as I got to be 6 or 7, some of my earliest memories are sitting in a booth in any given barroom, coloring, reading, playing with paper dolls, or for a brief time, trying to learn how to knit, while my parents sat at the bar visiting and drinking. They made the rounds and so did I. I could recite or sing most of the current beer commercials before I was 10. 

Most of the bars no longer exist, although I remember where they were. There were three bars in Onset that were part of their regular stops, The Union Villa, The Glen Cove Hotel, which has been renovated and reopened. https://glencoveonsetbeach.com/ and Henderson’s Bar. I liked Henderson’s Bar too because it was right next to Lowell’s Drug Store and I could sometimes get permission to go there and get an ice cream cone to take back with me to Henderson’s. I watched in fascination as Mrs. Lowell turned the cone upside down and dipped it in chocolate jimmies, wondering how the ice cream managed to not fall in or off.

There was Nickerson’s on Route 28 , right next to the White Rabbit Restaurant (I think that is a gas station now) and the China Maid Restaurant and Bar, and a bar in Middleboro, a neighboring town. I think it was the Fireside Inn. I liked that place because they had vending machines in every booth, where it was possible to get a hand full of pistachio nuts for a nickel.  The China Maid had table side juke boxes where you could turn the pages and play 3 songs for a quarter. I have more memories of being in the Restaurant at the China Maid than in the bar. Imagine, not all bars welcomed children!  Dad was an Elk too, so a trip to the Elks was often, but not always, part of the regular circuit. When we went to the Elks, I had to sit in the lobby and was not allowed in the bar at all. While they didn’t always hit every stop on the circuit, it was seldom one stop and then home.

Mom was excited. She sent this postcard to her sister.
Picture postcard of The Union Villa and the back of the post card with a note in my mom's handwriting.
The union Villa Postcard @ 1945

At some point in the late 1950’s all this bar hopping turned into research and “what if” conversations about buying a bar. They certainly had a lot of experience as customers, and a good supply of experienced bar owners who were willing to share their knowledge.  I know they had conversations back and forth about which one of the bars they frequented might be available for purchase, but by 1961 had settled on The Union Villa. I have vague memories of mom spending time with the previous owner to learn how she made the pizzas, learning how to make the dough and sauce.  This purchase was a dream for them because this was the business venture that allowed dad to retire from sea and be home all the time.

Picutre of my first home, a two story frame house, with a car parked near it, picture taken from my car window in 2019
My first home, as it looks in 2020

There were many times when the party came home. When we lived at the house in Point Independence, it was not unusual for dad to invite neighbors to stop in and have a drink, or two or three, and celebrate with him because he was home. After we had moved to the bar, there were some friends and customers who visited our apartment in the winter when the bar was closed. They knew they would get free beer in the off season and during the season that the bar was open, they were regular paying customers.

It may have been more of a semi-retirement, the first three years Jack and Maggie spent the off-season making improvements, getting rid of the old orange and green wooden booths, and putting in newer black and silver tables and booths, getting rid of antiquated equipment.  I was especially glad about that. The apartment only had one bedroom so the first year I slept in the living room. I could hear that old beer cooler that was directly under where I slept, it was noisy. There were times I wondered if it was going to explode.  They spent the off season working downstairs, making improvements during their first three years of ownership. They extended the bar by a few feet, creating a more private entrance from the bar into the kitchen. They paneled the barroom and pool room; paneling was all the rage in the 1960’s, and finished updates on the kitchen equipment. After that work was complete, dad returned to sea during the off seasons when when the bar was closed.

They were 51 when they bought the bar and  it was tiring work on their feet, for long hours; but they were together, and that made all the difference.  The night they opened the bar however, my mother ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery. Dad tended bar, there was nothing else he could do. I sat on a bench directly in front of the bar, but on the floor where dad could work and make sure I was alright. And yes, I was scared. I was 11 years old and it was noisy, and my mom wasn’t there. All this took place in April of 6th grade. It did not take very long for my parents to decide that maybe it would be better to send me to Catholic Boarding School, than have me be around the bar all the time. So that September, I went to Sacred Heart School in Kingston, from seventh grade to tenth grade; but I was always home on weekends and the summer, the busiest times in the bar.

Brick path through a park that overlooks the Onset Pier
This park over looks the beach and is directly across the street from the U.V.

The second year we were there, they made a doorway between our bathroom and the hotel room that had served as a linen closet, and that became my bedroom. Although it was the linen closet for the hotel, it was a full bedroom. At least my bed was no longer directly over antiquated equipment but my bedroom in general, was located above the juke box. Do you know what often happened when people were drinking a lot and were unhappy? They fed the juke box with quarters and played the same song over, and over again. Please don’t think less of me when I say, that is how I learned to dislike country music and some singers.  I will not tell you the unkind things I thought and said about Johnny Cash when I was 14, but today in 2020, I love the sound of his voice.

Close up picture of a juke box
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I am not saying any of this for shock value or pity, it was just where and how I grew up. I was fortunate to have two parents who loved each other and worked together very well. Admittedly, there were drawbacks; our apartment was directly over the bar, the pool room and the kitchen. When it was time to say goodnight to my parents, they couldn’t just stop work to walk me “home.” I said goodnight to my mom in the kitchen and slipped behind the bar, just long enough to give my dad a kiss on the cheek, then walked upstairs by myself to the first floor of the hotel and let myself into our apartment. Sometimes that felt scary. There was a measure of freedom in that, however; I would sometimes read with a flashlight after my bedtime or stay up late watching television. One of them always came upstairs to check up me, but they didn’t come upstairs together to stay until the bar was closed and everything was cleaned up, which was close to 1:00 a.m. As a result, I watched the Tonight Show a lot when I was 12.

One of the biggest drawbacks for me, was being around so many people who had too much to drink. You cannot reason with a person who is drunk. You can’t always understand slurred words or slurred intentions.  All these years later, I still remember what stale beer and cigarettes smelled like. I think that I had a lot more patience and understanding being around so many people that were drinking or had too much to drink when I was 15, than I might now. 

Picture of a pepperoni pizza in a box with other boxes on a table.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

In many ways I was limited in how helpful I could be, but I spent a lot of time folding pizza boxes, cutting 40-pound blocks of cheese and running it through the grinder and occasionally helping to make pizza dough. When it wasn’t busy, I could make pizzas. I could empty ash trays and liked helping people find places to sit when it was busy, but because I was under 21, way under 21, I could not touch a beer bottle or empty drink class.  It was alright though, my parents had to work, and if I wanted to spend time with them, I had to do it there, downstairs. I never felt forced, however; but making myself useful was the best opportunity to have their company.

There were no family dinners. Mom would cook as good a meal as she could so that we didn’t live on pizza and spaghetti, but cooking a meal was one thing, eating together was impossible, so we ate in shifts, myself included. We did go to a local restaurant for breakfast together every morning before the bar opened. Mom had tried cooking breakfast that we could sit and eat together, but invariably a customer would lean over the booth where we were sitting and say, “Gee, Maggie, that looks good. Can you make one for me?”

There were no cell phones and we did not have any phone extensions so if my mom wanted my attention or wanted me to come downstairs for any reason she left the kitchen, went into the pool room, grabbed a pool stick, and you guessed it, she knocked three times on the ceiling if she wanted me. Long before the song made famous by Tony Orlando and Dawn. (“Knock Three Times” as written by Larry Russell Brown Larry Brown Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Spirit Music Group).

 It was a different way to grow up, but for better or worse it was home. My parents worked hard, and their work provided a good living. Even more than that, it gave them the best opportunity to be together nine months of the year for those seven years. I am pretty sure they wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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Proof of Life

No, it’s not what you might think. Perhaps I should have written”proof of having lived.” Except for two years in a two-bedroom apartment, my husband and I are living in the smallest home we have ever occupied in our thirty-three years of marriage. I love our home, and truth be told I still have a lot of things that I am attached to emotionally. I have a college degree plus two post graduate degrees, which means I have a lot of books. Many of my books are professional in nature; far more non-fiction than fiction. In addition to all the books that are left, I have a kindle with about 100 books on it, give or take and a library card. Okay, two library cards.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Books are still the hardest for me to get rid of, even if they are not emotional attachments. I serve two churches in retirement, so I have held onto all my preaching resources.  In addition to writing this blog, I write monologues and other stories for use in Biblical Storytelling, so any academic resource about women’s lives in biblical times is still on my shelves.  When I retired and we bought our own home I had to leave behind the wonderful built in, wall to wall, bookcases that were part of every parsonage we occupied. My office in our retirement home is 8’ by 8’ and contains a computer desk, an old oak teacher’s desk and three bookcases that are only a little over 2 feet wide. They do not hold nearly as many books as any parsonage I have ever inhabited. I have given away books to friends and colleagues, I have culled my books and donated some that might be useful to the local library and done so several times. Everything in me abhors the thought of throwing books away.

Sometimes I have given books away, only to wish I still had them. After carrying my high school year book with me for fifty years with no contact with any of my classmates, I grit my teeth and threw it out, just before our retirement move. Five months later, in October of 2018, I reconnected with a few former classmates and in October of 2019 sat down to dinner in a restaurant with 10 of them. No yearbook.  In another case I had a book on my shelves that was written by a local colleague many years ago. I bought it because he had written it, and it might be useful in a different context but never read it. It too went into a give-away pile. It was a smart move. Yet, ironically shortly after doing so, I was appointed to serve the very church he had written about!

I once knew a woman who lived in a camper and the rule of thumb she and her husband practiced was if something new came into the home something else had to go; blouse for blouse, book for book. Stockpiling anything was not allowed.  Now, near the end of my first year of retirement and my first year living in our own home I am working intentionally to make my possessions fit our space and not the other way around. I don’t want to feel boxed in by stuff, or by boxes containing stuff. I don’t want to add more furniture to hold the stuff that won’t fit anywhere else. But combing through my possessions, whether it is clothes, books, knickknacks, gifts or even paper files it is just not easy.  And let’s not even get started about family pictures.

Photo by Liinnea Hansen from Pexels

When it comes to keeping or eliminating possessions, being an itinerant pastor has been an advantage. We move when and where the Bishop sends us, by agreement. It is so easy to accumulate additional possessions without realizing it, they generally just fit into places, or storage boxes, or closets and we hardly notice, until it is time to pack. So, with each move we have made since we were married, we have, without any argument, held yard sales. In our first big move we sent two loads to a local auction house and held two yard sales. In addition to the sales, we have donated to local thrift stores and gotten rid of anything that was broken beyond repair. The most difficult time we had was during our first pastoral move when after the moving truck had left and we loaded everything we could fit into our two vehicles, we resorted to leaving the things that would not fit on the curb or in the trash. (We still haven’t replaced that Hibachi Grill).

Photo by Mister Mister from Pexels

Make no mistake, this is not easy physical or emotional work. Many of us are so prone to hang onto things we might one day use. That beautiful dress I haven’t been able to fit into for 15 years might still be in style when I lose the weight that I have gained. Or, that table you might get around to fixing, the chest you might one day refinish…you get the idea.

Parting with clothes is another obstacle to downsizing. A few years ago, at the beginning of Lent I grabbed on to the popular “give 40 things away” trend and used that for my Ash Wednesday service. We even rolled up black trash bags and tied them with red ribbons to give out along with the imposition of ashes.  Because I try to practice what I preach, I attacked my own closet with robust determination. Have you ever had to put your hands together as in prayer, and use those hands to forcibly push coat hangers and their clothes apart so you can pull something out to wear? I did, but I don’t anymore. I kept at it and until I could see the clothes that were in my closet and not have to pry clothes and hangers apart with superhuman strength, just to get dressed.

Not perfect, but greatly improved

Now, I am no “clothes horse”, so this is relatively easy, but not totally. On my days off I tend to live in jeans and tees or sweaters, depending on the season. My wardrobe for Sunday worship is likewise simple, black dress slacks, colorful polo shirts with the names of the churches and denominational seal embroidered on the shirt. That might not work in every church setting, but I am a retired pastor serving rural churches.  In my current setting, our retirement home, I am resolved to keep only those clothes that will fit into my dresser, my closet and one tote of off-season clothes.  In addition, I have a few items that pass for professional dress as needed for funerals, weddings and other official things. Despite all this, I really do like to clothes shop, but I try to be careful that if I bring something new into the closet, something else must go.

The most difficult possessions I have ever parted with had lived in my china closet. I had carefully collected, a simple set of Lenox China, a service for eight. It was the most inexpensive pattern, the silver band on the rim of the plate and I bought them one place setting at a time after my youngest child was born.   But we hit some very lean times when our children were teenagers and I came to the difficult conclusion that one cannot eat sentiment. So, they were sold in a yard sale.

 Then there was a lovely, heavy cut glass punch bowl that my mother had given me, bought for me. I used it a few times and loved it. But as we prepared to move from our four-bedroom four story rental to a two-bedroom apartment, I grit my teeth and let it go in a sale. It still makes me sad because it was a gift from mom. But in truth, I cannot think of one time in the last twenty-five years when I might have used it. It would have stayed in the bottom of a china closet collecting dust.

When my mother died, we were certainly left with some difficult tasks, funeral details, cleaning out her apartment and disposing of her things but she had done much of the emotional work for herself.  In the weeks leading up to her final health crisis, she began going through her china closet and deciding who she wanted to have the things that were there. She went a step beyond carefully packing them and mailing them or preparing them for the mail. She also did one final read of all my father’s letters to her and destroyed them. I had read many of them as a teenager and I admit I was disappointed not to find them. But I appreciate the fact that they were her personal possession and her right to do with them what she wanted.

My husband is a wise man and he is the one responsible for my current train of thought. He began getting rid of cards and other sentimental things. At first, I was hurt, but then I realized the wisdom in doing that.  But that wisdom also begets this question: When I finish getting rid of all the things, I should get rid of, will there be any proof that I have lived, that I have passed this way? And If I want to leave some kind of “’proof of life” behind, what should it be? I am not trying to be morbid, and as far as I know, I am not currently actively dying. But these are decisions that I should be making for myself and not leaving to my spouse or children or strangers.

Light blue ceremaic mug with small bowl and plate, dark blue outlines and pink flower in the center
Made in Portugal

The work of downsizing or decluttering can be so hard. I have had modest success but am sure that I will never be a minimalist. These are a few secrets to the modest success that I have had:

First, a determination to ruthlessly evaluate every possession. Second, a determination to not be surrounded by boxes filled with stuff. Third, a determination to practice what I preach. Fourth, gritting my teeth and just doing what needed to be done. Fifth, I agree with organizational experts who insist that the way to declutter is not shiny, new closet organizational structures. The way to declutter is to ruthlessly eliminate things you no longer need, want or use so that others might be able to use them. Sixth, I have tried to adopt a mindset that says if I have enjoyed something for thirty years (pictures, mementos of all varieties) it is time to let someone else have the pleasure.

So, what about you, dear reader? Do you have suggestions or advice that you would add to this list?  There is no danger that I am going to pick everything up that I own or ever touched and throw it into a dumpster. I am carefully combing through books, papers, trinkets, etc. and giving them away, or taking them to the neighborhood thrift shop or trying valiantly to find a home for them. I have a long way to go but I am trying to do the intelligent, emotional work of limiting my possessions and being careful about the choices. But I also don’t want to lose myself in the process. If my son or daughter were to come into my home after I am gone and see the things I have chosen to leave behind, I hope they would say, “That is so mom!” 

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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All My Relations

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.

Two children and two women in the foreground of some beach cottages
Cousin Phil, Mom’s sister Millie, Mom and me

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.

The park above Onset Pier.

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.

women sitting at a table in a restuarant
Cousin Day!

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 that 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.

woman standing behind parents headstone at a cemetary

One of the simple joys of the day for me, was meeting cousins who share my maiden name: Marcellino. 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.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Featured

At Home in Onset: A Jack and Maggie Story

There is a funny, but perhaps universal thing about children and their parents.  We tend to think our parents had no lives until we came along, born or adopted, we think it is all about us. Truthfully, there are some things we do not want to know about our parents and perhaps that is as it should be. I say this because it occurs to me that while I know my dad was from Onset, it never occurred to me that he lived anywhere but onboard ship once he went to sea at thirteen until he and my mom got married. He was thirty-one when they met and married.

Older man, older woman, young man in a suit, holding a cigar.
Anibal, Mary and Jack

It strikes me that it is an unrealistic assumption that he did not return home for visits. Although a cousin recently shared with me that there was a period of a few years when no one in the family was sure where he was. Again, these were things my father never talked about. It does make sense though, that before he was signed on a ship at 13, that his father must have ensured that he had some skills. As one of the older children in a large poor family, he could not have been coddled or spoiled. It also makes sense that in those early years there was an expectation that all or part of his salary went to the family. Sometime in his youth he began boxing and he also learned other skills at home that he would not have learned at sea. For instance, at least two of his brothers were masons and there is considerable proof that he learned masonry from somewhere, whether it was from his brothers or some other source.

Dad sailed for American Export Lines as a Chief Mate in the 1950’s and 1960’s, which later became American Export Isbrandsten Lines. Regular trips to the Mediterranean Sea were about three months long. In between trips to other countries and a coastwise trip, he would sometimes have a week off to be home before sailing. A coastwise trip, was a journey up and down the east coast to drop off imports, or pick up products for export. Trips to the Indian Ocean were much longer, as long as five or six months, so again with some time at home in-between trips and six weeks of vacation a year, he was gone much more than he was at home. I have vague memories of him going to work on my uncle’s turkey farm on those breaks, including a time he had stepped on a nail and had to get a tetanus shot.

 While he had traveled all over the world as a sailor, both in the Merchant Marine and the United States Navy, my mother never left Baltimore, until their honeymoon. He took her to Onset to meet his parents and family. They lived in Baltimore, or rather mom did. Dad sailed out of Hoboken, New Jersey and traveled to Baltimore for the first few years they were married. Then, when my brother was not quite two, they moved to Onset and bought a house on an acre of ground in Point Independence, just up the street from the beach, and a few blocks away from my grandparents’ home. Mom had saved up the money that dad sent her, literally “socked it away” in a sock, so they had the money at least for the down-payment if not the whole thing.

 They built eight cottages on the outside edge of the property in a horseshoe configuration. Dad laid the foundation for the houses, and he also put in the cesspool himself. He worked with a neighbor and local contractor to build the cottages. They were primarily there for “the summer people” who came to visit the local beaches, but the cottages were winterized and soon there were more Air Force families than summer people living there.  Mom did the painting, made slipcovers for the couches and handled most of the business and rentals.

A young man in a suit holding a cigar

They worked together well, and it gave mom plenty to do when dad was at sea, which was most of the time. They were proud and grateful to have the land and the business. Mom also got active in the local PTA and made friends. There were no Marcellino family gatherings or parties, just occasional individual visits, but no real companionship or encouragement. I think if it were not for her two best friends, one from Onset and one from Wareham, mom would have been lost. She missed her family in Baltimore, and she missed dad at sea.

There was a black iron grate in the ceiling in the hallway that went upstairs, for heat and at night we could hear the sounds of her at the typewriter, typing letters as she wrote letters to dad, or to her family at home.  Now, one does not generally hear someone typing a letter on a computer, unless you are sitting near them. But in 1950, there were no electric typewriters, let alone computers, but old standard manual typewriters that made a racket, especially if one was typing with great emotion or in a rush, and one could always hear the ding of the carriage return. Sometimes we would hear the typewriter and sometimes we heard sobs.

Woman and boy sitting on the steps of a house, toddler girl facing the woman
Mom, my brother and me 1952

 The separations weren’t easy for him either. People made a lot of assumptions about the lure and romance of the sea, but by the time he and mom met and married he had been a sailor for almost twenty years. It was a job; it was how he earned his living.  He often said after the first two weeks at sea, everyone was all talked out. Except for doing their best in building and investing in the cottages, I doubt he saw any way out. So, they would drink their goodbyes, and mom would say that she “poured’ him onto the bus, train or plane, depending on how he was going to get back to New Jersey before it was time to sail.

Sometime after 1953 she got her driver’s license and then was able to drive him to Hoboken and they could spend his off hours together, before he sailed. I would stay with my grandmother or with family friends. Sometimes though, we would all go to Hoboken and spend family time when he wasn’t on duty and then after his ship sailed, we would travel on to Baltimore to spend some time with mom’s family before heading home to Onset.

My best memory of doing that happened when I was in high school. We were living at the Union Villa at that point, and dad went back to sea in the off season. He was scheduled to be in New Jersey shortly before Christmas. School wasn’t out yet, but it would be shortly. Mom was getting dad’s things ready to pack. A thought popped into my head and I asked, “Why can’t we just take dad to Hoboken and then go on to Baltimore after he sails?” I did not have to ask the question twice; we were packed, and in the car, heading for Hoboken in 45 minutes.  That is why in my High School Class Will it states, “Michele Marcellino leaves on another trip to Baltimore.”

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Featured

The Cranberry Bread Ritual

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. **

Picture of workers standing in the middle of a cranberry bog, using water to coral and harvest the berries.
Wet harvesting cranberries 2020. Photo by Esther A. Roe, used with permission.

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.

A close up picture of cranberries floating in water, trees in the background.
Photo by Esther A Roe, used with permission

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.

a bowl of frozen cranberries

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.

A close up o cranberry orange scones.
Cranberry orange scones

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.

close of up cranberries
Photo by Esther A. Roe, 2020 used with permission.

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.

A loaf of cranberry bread, with one slice showing on a white plate.
Have some cranberry bread with walnuts

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.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

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

** Special thanks to WHS classmate and cranberry farmer Carol L. Pierce for details.