Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New-found faith

Freewriting exercise

Rick Bragg, Somebody Told Me, p. 186:

“The housing authority found Bill Simpson living on the street, relying on a new-found faith in God and the kindness of strangers.”

Billy’s smile could light up the room. Back then, before Vietnam, Billy Simpson and I danced in his basement. He had one record that he played over and over again on the little record player—Chances Are by Johnny Mathis. We danced real slow on the green and black asphalt tile floor while his mama’s dryer went thump, thump in the corner. Every once in a while we’d stop dancing to eat some potato chips and drink some RC Cola. And every once in a while his mama would come downstairs to put another load of towels in the dryer. She’d chuckle and say, “You two just love that song, don’t you now?” His mama was a real sweet lady. She was a nurse’s aide at the Catholic old folks home and Billy said she held the hands of a lot of old people when they died but she was so used to death that it seemed normal to her and besides, he said, she was real religious and just prayed to Jesus and all the saints when people were dying. Billy said she should have been a nun and he was probably right, except she wouldn’t have had Billy if she’d been a nun. I wondered how she could spend so much time with dying people and still be so sweet. I thought being with someone dead would near to kill me, but it didn’t kill Mrs. Simpson. Billy got a big break and went off to college on a football scholarship but soon he got in big trouble. He had been put on probation at the college for drinking and when he was caught cheating on an exam, the college kicked him out for good. That was bad news for Billy because he then got drafted and soon went to Vietnam. But I heard he started using heroin in Vietnam and the army kicked him out too. Sitting with all those dead people didn’t phase his mama, but the shame that her son brought down on the family killed her. No one was sure where Billy Simpson was when his mama died. Billy’s father tried to find him with no luck. Five years after Mrs. Simpson died I saw a picture in the newspaper of some homeless men eating Thanksgiving supper at a shelter run by Catholic nuns in Newark, New Jersey. I looked closely at the photo. Even though the man in the tattered coat and the baseball cap was older and worn by life on the streets, he had the unmistakable smile of Billy Simpson. I passed on the information to Billy’s family. The housing authority found Bill Simpson living on the street, relying on a new-found faith in God and the kindness of strangers.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Dig the hole. Start climbing out. Dig the hole. Climb out again. I’ve been digging. Through sheer will I think about climbing out but sometimes it’s slippery and cold and I sit at the bottom, shivering. I know there’s sunshine out there somewhere because I’ve been out there recently, warm, walking in the light.

On Christmas Eve I was singing carols, cooking, thanking God for all my blessings. But soon the sense of loss crept in like King Herod, the villain in the Christmas story. I talked to my son and my daughter on the phone but after we talked I couldn’t stop crying. And a dear friend of mine has just been diagnosed with cancer and is about to begin treatment. I missed my dad. This was our first Christmas without our father. He was such a presence, the heart of our family. I just wanted to talk to my dad, to tell him what’s in my heart, to have him reassure me that everything would be alright, to stop me from shivering.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Competitive Christmas

No, the photo isn't my house. Sadly. It's a house down the street from me in Pimmit Hills. Every year it's gloriously tacky, a mixed message of Santas and Smurfs and an occasional helicopter. I love it.

When I was a kid Christmas decorating was a competitive sport. More than a competitive sport actually, sort of like a glittery version of ultimate fighting in Heitmuller Estates. My mother wielded a can of spray-on snow like a deadly weapon and my father spent hours on the roof with a hundreds of multi-colored lights and a staple gun.

Every Christmas Heitmuller Estates had a house-decorating competition. Despite the combined efforts of both of my parents, Trixie Herlihy always won first place. Trixie did things like wrapping her entire house in red cellophane with a big bow on top. The houses weren’t that big, but it still took a boatload of cellophane. So the next year my father put lights all along the peaks of the roof and all the eaves and he made reindeer out of plywood. Trixie had a nativity scene with live sheep. The annual Christmas rancor lived on

One December in the early 1960s my father was called to Florida when my grandfather had a stroke. So my mother decided that she and I were going to do the Christmas decorating on our own and this year she had the idea that was going to whip Trixie’s butt. My mother wanted to make our little rambler in Maryland look like a traditional New England house in the snow. So with masking tape we created panes on our big living room picture window. We used spray snow in a can to simulate the look of snow drifts in each of the “panes” and we used fishing line to hang ornaments in them. Then the pièce de résistance—she had seen it in a magazine—we glued cotton balls to the front door and sprayed them with glitter.

I don’t remember what Trixie Herlihy did that year, but she won again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Heart attack

So I'm innocently browsing the Internet, looking for the Cooks Illustrated infamous recipe for pie dough. It's infamous because the secret ingredient is vodka. Yes, vodka. Is browsing ever innocent when I'm searching for anything to do with pie? Perhaps not. But, as I said, while innocently browsing I stumbled upon Smitten Kitchen's recipe for Nutmeg Maple Cream Pie. "Oh, heart be still," I muttered to myself when I read the recipe and looked at the photos. It's simple--maple syrup, heavy cream, egg yolks, freshly grated nutmeg, and vanilla. Heart be still is pretty accurate. I'm wondering if the pie will cause me to have a fatal heart attack and I'm wondering if it's worth the heart attack risk. I think I'll make it for Christmas Eve dinner, hoping I don't kill the entire family.

Here's the recipe that Smitten Kitchen adapted from the New York Times. Smitten is fabulous.

Nutmeg Maple Cream Pie

3/4 cup maple syrup
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 9-inch pie crust or tart shell.

1. Par-bake pie crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line pie refrigerated pie shell with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until beginning to set. Remove foil with weights and bake 15 to 18 minutes longer or until golden. If shell puffs during baking, press it down with back of spoon. Cool on wire rack. Lower temperature to 300 degrees.

2. Prepare filling: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce maple syrup by a quarter, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and egg. Whisking constantly, slowly add cream mixture to eggs. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a cup or bowl with pouring spout. Stir in salt, nutmeg and vanilla.

4. Pour filling into crust and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until pie is firm to touch but jiggles slightly when moved, about 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Being chosen

In the past few days I’ve been re-reading the parts of the gospels that tell the story of Mary being chosen to be the mother of Jesus. (These are in both Matthew 1 and Luke 1.) As if he was reading my mind, today in worship service Pastor Mark preached about Mary.

What strikes me as simply amazing is Mary’s faith and her acceptance of God’s will. She was just a teenager when the angel Gabriel delivered the startling news that God had chosen her to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. Imagine that—an ordinary teenaged girl. God chose a teenaged girl to bear his son. Being chosen by God did not make her life easy. To the contrary, it made her life much more difficult. Certainly she was ridiculed and considered a sinner for being unmarried and pregnant. And she witnessed the horrors of her son’s unjust crucifixion when he was in the prime of his life.

I sometimes wonder if she ever regretted the decision to accept God’s plan for her. When God chose Mary, she had to surrender any plans she had for the direction of her life. Did she yearn for an ordinary life without the tremendous weight of being the mother of the Messiah? Did she have any idea how God’s plan was going to be played out? Did she wish that her son would just work as a carpenter, marry a nice Jewish girl, and give her grandbabies? Perhaps so, but she accepted the will of God when her son was conceived and she gave her life over to God, not knowing what it meant but with trust in his plan.

Being chosen is risky business. Like Mary, we who by grace believe in God are chosen. We may be ridiculed, we may question our faith, and we not have easy lives, but aren’t we blessed?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Assaulting the senses

I've got a batch of rutabagas simmering on the stove. They stink when they're cooking but I love the earthy taste of rutabagas, served mashed with only butter, salt, and pepper. Perfect for a cold winter day. Like today. The human sense of smell cuts through the brain to some primary memory central. And in this case, the smell of rutabagas wafting through my house reminds me of the persistent cabbage odor in our old apartment in Silver Spring, sometime in the late 1960s.

In 1967 my new husband John and I moved into a swank apartment in a brand-new, elegant, contemporary high-rise building. At least it was swank to us, struggling young students. The day we were married we moved into a fifth floor apartment, bringing with us only a mattress, a second-hand dresser, a small table, and two chairs from Salvation Army. Soon we inherited a cheap motorcycle that John sometimes used to commute to classes. We were afraid someone would steal the motorcycle so we snuck it onto the elevator and into our apartment and kept it in our living room. Eventually we bought a green area rug that some guy was selling out of the back of his truck. I suspect it was stolen or maybe it was a remnant left over from carpeting the lounge of a second-rate country club. The rug shed horribly. Everything we owned was covered in green fuzz.

Picture our living room—beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows, parquet floors, a ratty parrot green area rug, a table barely big enough for two, and a motorcycle. We lived there rent-free because John was the building night porter, meaning he got the emergency calls in the middle of the night when Mrs. Lebowitz’s toilet wouldn’t flush. John knew nothing about plumbing but somehow he charmed himself into the job. From the rooftop of the building, in April 1968, we watched the fires burning in the city during the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

John was in law school and couldn’t be a night porter forever, so after a year in the swanky apartment, we moved to more modest quarters. The only apartment we could afford was a ground-level unit in a musty old World War II era garden apartment complex. It was sweltering. The building's furnace was directly under our apartment and we never, not once in two years, turned on the heat because heat just seeped up through the floors. We didn't need heat and there was no air conditioning until we installed a rusty old window unit in the living room window.

The building smelled like a combination of cabbage cooking with a hint of leaking natural gas. The only thing worse than the cabbage smell was the dead cat smell. There was a herd of feral cats on the property. In an effort to eradicate the cat problem, the property maintenance man closed off the cats' access to the utility room under the building. The cats got sealed ­in the utility room and died directly under our floor. The smell was so bad we had to move out for a week.

The apartment was ugly, it smelled bad, and it was noisy. It was on a major road, but the noise of the traffic was more tolerable than the music Herb and Linda, our next-door neighbors, played day and night until the walls shook—the theme song from the film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We survived. We were young, we were foolish, we were delirious from the odors and the incessant Western movie theme.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lil Libby

Writing exercise today. But I slightly changed my rules this time. Yes, I closed my eyes and picked a book off the shelf and, sight unseen, found a sentence and wrote a piece around it. No paragraphs, no plan, just go! But this time I stuck the sentence in the middle.

William Styron, Three Tales from Youth: A Tidewater Morning, from a story entitled Shadrach, p. 42.

“Junk and auto parts were a sideline of Mr. Dabney’s.”

Lil Libby was sitting among the weeds beside the mailbox, just sitting there counting mosquito bites and picking at the scabs on her legs. All that summer she spent half the day sitting by the mailbox, waiting for who knows what. Lil Libby did not get her name because she was petite. Far from it—Lil Libby was huge. Her full Christian name was Lillian Elizabeth Dabney, in honor of both of her grandmothers. Lil Libby dropped out of high school in her first year, not long after she started. She was too big to sit at the desks at Washington and Lee High School and she was sick of being the object of ridicule. So long before she might have learned the Spanish word for water and long before she had a clue what algebra was all about, she ditched school for good. When she wasn’t sitting by the mailbox, she spent her days on the sofa watching The Price Is Right and her soaps. She only got up off the sofa to adjust the rabbit ears on the television or to prowl around the kitchen to find where her daddy had hidden the cheese puffs and the Pepsi Colas. “Doggonit, Da,” she muttered, “A girl could starve half to death in this house looking for something decent to eat.” Trouble is most people would presume Lil Libby was the victim of circumstances, just a redneck who could not rise above her humble background. But Lil Libby came from good stock, from landed gentry who had a couple hundred years of prosperity behind them in Virginia. But her daddy was in a precipitous decline from the status that he was born to. Her daddy didn’t toe the line to honor his family pedigree. He had no ambition beyond catching an occasional big fish and he earned a meager income leasing land to the local chicken processor. Junk and auto parts were a sideline of Mr. Dabney’s. Most of his inventory of junk and auto parts was scattered in the back yard, all the way down to the creek. Lil Libby’s mama didn’t have much ambition either but she had just enough ambition to run far and fast, leaving behind her daughter and her husband. No one knew where she went and in the past 10 years she never once tried to contact the girl. But apparently Lil Libby believed her mama would come back to get her. She refused to give up hope. Hope was about the only thing she had going for her.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It’s the first of December and I don’t want to look into the abyss. It’s a pattern of mine to start a downward emotional slide at this time of year. First comes the pre-dread phase at about the time Christmas decorations appear at Target. By late November I’m becoming anti-social and may stay home alone on Thanksgiving, eating a veggie burger and a bottle of beer for good cheer. But when the first of December comes, the Christmas season is in full tilt and I’m into the nose dive.

In this age of psychobabble and full disclosure (I know I’m part of the problem—I’m writing a blog for heaven’s sake) most people are aware that the holiday season may not be all happiness and light for everyone. The holidays can just be a reminder of the big holes in your life, a longing for family and friends who are gone or who never existed in the first place.

I’ve been reading a great book, a novel entitled The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel. In a passage about Amos, a young pastor in a small town in Indiana, the author writes about longing.

“That wasn’t what he really wanted to say. What he was aiming for was nostalgia, heartache, homesickness. Or stranger yet, the heart’s desire to return to someplace it had never been.” He sees a beat-up old car on the highway carrying an impoverished Hispanic family—parents and six children. He envies them. “And who on earth would want to be those parents? Amos did, and it wasn’t the first time. Certain houses caused the same wave of longing—the look of a particular curtain in an upstairs window, or a bike left on the lawn—and some movies.” He asks himself why this happens. “Because we have abandoned an infinite number and variety of pure possibilities, and perhaps they live alongside the choices we did make, immortalized in the cosmic memory. Perhaps there are unknown lives walking alongside ours, those paths we didn’t take, and we reach for them, we ache for them, and don’t know why.”

That’s as good a description of longing as I have ever seen. But I have a plan. I won’t long for what I no longer have. I won’t long for what I never had. I’m going into the Christmas season with prayer and a new heart and thank God for His infinite blessings. Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mushroom hunt

I'm going to the farm market tomorrow morning. Actually it's this morning but since I haven't slept yet, I'm still thinking of it as tomorrow. Let's just say I'm going when it's daylight. My favorite farm market--at city hall in Falls Church, Virginia--is open all year around. In the cold months, some of the vendors who sell summer garden vegetables take a break for the winter, but there are still many vendors selling baked goods and greenhouse lettuce and winter vegetables. I love Dan, the young man who comes from Baltimore every week with beautiful fresh artisan bread. And there's a lovely man at the farm market who sells a wide variety of mushrooms. Apparently he's able to supply mushrooms into the cold months. I'm hoping he'll be there tomorrow because I want to make a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen--Warm Mushroom Salad with Hazlenuts and Pecorino. Here's a big plug for Smitten Kitchen, the blog that consisently has the best recipes. You can find her mushroom salad recipe at http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/03/warm-mushroom-salad-with-hazelnuts/.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Forty-seven years ago today I was sitting in a classroom at Regina High School when an announcement came over the speaker system that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. We were Catholic girls and President Kennedy was our president, the first Catholic ever elected to office. He was handsome and charming and he had a beautiful wife and two adorable young children. We gasped and cried. I remember thinking that surely he would live, that God wouldn’t let him die. Or maybe it was a mistake, maybe a gun had been fired but our president wasn’t really hit. Minutes later we assembled in the all-purpose room to pray. And soon the principal announced that he had died. The students, the lay teachers, the cafeteria ladies, the nuns—we sobbed in one mournful voice. We lost our idealism, our faith in our strong and noble country, our belief that bad things could not happen to good people. We lost our innocence.

Now we know that John F. Kennedy was not a perfect man, but in 1963 we believed he was good, moral, and invincible. Even had he not been assassinated, I am sure that in time the Camelot myth would have been debunked. But it crashed down so quickly that sunny day in November 1963. Jackie in her pink suit, splattered with his blood. She was stunned as were we all.

It was the week of Thanksgiving. We lived just outside Washington, DC, and my friend Jeannie and I took the bus into the city for the funeral. It was cool and clear and we dressed like we were going to church. We got off the bus and walked a few blocks to stand on the sidewalk directly in front of the White House. We saw Jackie, her faced veiled in black, and the Kennedy family members. We saw national leaders and foreign dignitaries—French President Charles DeGaulle, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, Prince Phillip of England. And the horse-drawn wagon carrying John Kennedy’s coffin. There was an eerie silence—just the footsteps of the mourners, the quiet weeping of the crowd, the clop of the horse’s hooves, and the sound of the wagon wheels on the pavement.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


“Lord, call us to your life!” I wrote that phrase in my bible at Ephesians 4:17. Note to self—be careful what you pray for. You’d better be prepared to respond if you get an answer.

For years I’ve been struggling with finding a church to call home. I went back and forth from the Catholic church, tried a Quaker church, a Lutheran church, and one of those mega-mega-non-denominational Christian churches. Nothing clicked.

In early spring my son told me about a Christian church plant that was just getting started in Arlington. A “church plant” is a new church started by an older established church with the intention that the new church eventually will become independent.

The first couple of times I went to the church, we met in the pastor’s house. There were 20 or 30 people at the service. After a few weeks, the church moved worship services to rented space in an art center. Within a couple of months, attendance grew and an additional Sunday service was added.

The worship services were wonderful, but clearly I didn’t fit in. I don’t live in Arlington and the church has a strong focus on building within the Arlington community. I am way older than all the other attendees who are in their 20s and 30s. Many of them are younger than my own children. They are lovely, warm people, with such faith, but they’re so young. I felt awkward because there was no one even close to my age. I heard myself telling friends that it was like being at a UVA frat party with prayer instead of beer. I couldn’t relate to their iPads and their cable televisions, their loud music, their interest in soccer, and their references to current movies. On the surface we have little in common.

But still, I was learning, inspired, and challenged by the preaching of the pastor, a bright, energetic man who is only 30 years old. What could I possibly learn from a man so young? Apparently I can learn a lot. I kept going. I found that I was looking forward to Sunday mornings. I felt joyful at the prospect of going to church and over time I got to know some of the members. Occasionally it has been a challenge for me to accept some of the church’s teachings (for example, that salvation is only for those who profess to be Christians). I have decided not to worry about that—salvation is not my decision. I’ll just let God sort it out.

A couple of months ago, there was an announcement about an 8-week Gospel class. I signed up and I went every week. In the class I became convinced that what I had been missing in my former failed church encounters was a sense of community. The pastor stressed the importance of a commitment between the church and the members—members live their love of God through involvement in church life and the church leaders commit to the care and spiritual growth of members. It’s a family centered around God.

So now I’ve been struggling with the decision of whether or not to join this church. I’m afraid of the commitment, afraid that I’ll never fit in, afraid that I’ll be the old Catholic grandmother hanging out with a bunch of Evangelical Christian kids. Truthfully, struggle is much too strong a word. I’m not struggling at all. I know it’s where I want to be. God must have pushed me there, kept me going despite my protestations. I’ve completed my membership application and now I’m praying that they will accept me.

Thank you, Lord, for calling me to your life.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Freewriting today . . . same old exercise makes me work.

Rick Bragg, The Prince of Frogtown, p. 199

“We rode a bus halfway across the country, on faith.”

Carol and me, we were friends for as long as I can remember, even though Carol was a Seventh-Day Adventist. I was supposed to be some sort of Pentecostal but I almost never went to church, not even on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. Grandma hated it that Mama and Daddy stopped going to church because Grandma was such a holy roller. Grandma said there was only one thing worse than those poinsettia and lily Christians—that’s those Christians who only go to church on Christmas and Easter—and that was those that never went at all. “You can’t even call yourself Christian,” she would say to me with a harumpf. Guess I could have gone to church with Grandma but I didn’t bother. Besides, Carol couldn’t play on Saturday and we needed all day Sunday to catch up. We cut out paper dolls and collected bugs in jars and made daisy-chain necklaces. When we got older we spent the whole day looking at teen idol magazines. Once I spent a whole week with Carol at vacation bible school. They showed me pictures of Jesus with the lambs and Jesus smiling at little children. We sang a song—yes, Jesus Loves Me, the bible tells me so. But the food was awful at the vacation bible school—some sort of mushy beans and carrot sticks and green Kool-Aid in a little Dixie Cup. And the church basement smelled bad like Grandma’s basement if a whole bunch of cats had peed there. The smell gave me a headache, I couldn’t eat the food, and I was beginning to think that no, Jesus didn’t really love me. When Miss Hooper, the bible school teacher asked me if I might want to join them in the church, I just looked at the floor and said, “No, ma’am, my Mama and Daddy wouldn’t allow that.” I had no idea if Mama and Daddy even cared, but I couldn’t see myself being Seventh-Day Adventist. Carol and I stayed friends even though I didn’t join her church. By the time we were starting high school even Carol was getting sick of the church thing. She was giving her mama lip about going to church school and she kept getting punished for it. But Carol said she was feeling rebellious and she admitted to me that she wasn’t even sure she believed in Jesus any more. My mama and daddy were bugging me too, but not over the Jesus question, that’s for sure. Mama and Daddy didn’t understand me at all. They didn’t understand that I wanted to see the world, that I was tired of the small town ways and the people who lived there. Carol wanted to go to Chicago because her cousin Minnie moved to Chicago. Minnie had been sending Carol letters telling her that in Chicago people were free to think and feel what they wanted, that kids our age were so much more grown up, so sophisticated in Chicago. We believed that we could become the people we wanted to be in Chicago. But Carol and I both knew that our parents would never let two 15-year-old girls go to Chicago on our own. So one morning in May we pretended we were leaving for school. We took a few things and money we had been saving and we hitched a ride to the bus station. We bought two one-way tickets to Chicago. We didn’t believe in Jesus, we believed in Chicago. We rode a bus halfway across the country, on faith.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Some therapeutic cooking today, another adventure in Indian cooking--I made red lentil dal. Dal is a thick vegetable stew that is especially common in Southern India. It is often a vegetarian dish, a good source of protein. I have added and subtracted from several dal recipes to come up with this version. The coconut milk works well, adding a slightly sweet body to the cooking liquid. Serve as a main course over Basmati rice or as a side dish with grilled meat. This is very curry-esque but not overly spicy so you can add more curry or jalapeno to taste.

Red Lentil Dal

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 ½ teaspoons curry powder (I used Penzey’s Maharajah curry powder)
1 teaspoon dried jalapeno pepper (I used Penzey’s)
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 ½ cups dried red lentils (10 oz)
1 13 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup diced unpeeled potatoes
1 cut diced carrots
½ cup frozen chopped spinach
Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Cooked Basmati rice (optional)

Cook onion in oil in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until edges are golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, one minute more. Add curry powder and jalapeno and cook 1 minute.

Stir in broth, lentils, coconut milk, potatoes, and carrots and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. Add additional broth (or water) if mixture is too thick. (It should be the consistency of cooked oatmeal.) Add frozen spinach and simmer 5 minutes more or until spinach, potatoes, and carrots are tender. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with cilantro if desired.

Makes 6-8 main course servings.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I can barely find words to describe what I did today. I feel like I’m hanging onto the earth as it spins wildly. I feel both horrified by humanity’s cruelty and uplifted by its kindness. I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll just jump in.

At 2 o’clock this afternoon in Fairfax County District Court there was a sentencing for the young man who murdered my friend Lynne’s daughter Siobhan. Months earlier he had been found guilty of 2nd degree murder. Siobhan was murdered a year and a half ago, on Easter Sunday. She was 19 years old and the murderer was her former boyfriend.

Both Lynne and her husband Andy spoke at the court proceedings today, spilling out the pain of parents whose daughter was savagely murdered. Yes, it was savage—he didn’t just shoot her in a moment of rage. The prosecutor made a case for a long prison sentence. A psychologist spoke for the defense, explaining his rationale for multiple mental illness diagnoses for the murderer. The murderer himself spoke briefly, accepting responsibility for his action. No amount of remorse would have been sufficient.

What lingers in my mind is the sense of the quiet and decorum in the courtroom that belied the intense underlying emotion. For two hours the murderer in his green prison clothes sat at the defense table with his attorneys, staring at the table in front of him. He looked like an ordinary young man with glasses and short dark hair. His mother, his grandparents, and a few family friends sat behind him on one side of the courtroom. It was almost as if there was a vapor around the murderer, the foul aura of evil, a demonic presence. Siobhan’s family sat in the front row on the other side of the courtroom, sometimes quietly crying, sometimes sitting and listening intently to the proceedings. And around them were their friends, silently supporting them, comforting them, trying to provide a buffer from the evil that had invaded their lives. I cried for Lynne and Andy and for the horrible fate that befell their oldest child. Yet I also felt the presence of God in the love and support of all the people who cared about them.

The murderer was sentenced to 40 years in prison without parole. It was the maximum sentence.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't move!

For the past few weeks I’ve been giving serious thought to moving. Perhaps I should be proactive and plan for the next phase of my life, a phase in which I can’t do what I’ve been doing on my own for the past ten-plus years. I’m beginning to feel old and beginning to feel that maintaining my little old townhouse is just too much for me. Something always needs maintenance or repair. There are always shrubs to prune, or leaves to rakes, or mulch to be hauled. And the worst—snow, snow, and more snow to be shoveled.

What if I moved to a nice condo with no stairs and a garage? I’d never have to shovel out my car again and someone else would clean the sidewalks and haul mulch. I’d find a place where I could walk to a coffee shop and a book store, and ideally be able to walk to a really good grocery store. And I could just lock the door and travel without all the complications of having someone watch my house.

So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks cleaning out the excess in my house with thoughts of putting it on the market. I’ve done online searches for condominiums in the area, talked to a couple of people about my ideas, and looked at few condos in Annapolis. And I’ve been thinking about getting an agent and getting serious about this move.

This morning I went for a walk. It was slightly cool, misty, and humid. The colors of the leaves were beautiful, softened by the fog that creeps in from the river. I walked a few blocks from my house to Pine Hill Road, a quaint dirt and gravel road with split-rail fences, horse pastures, and dilapidated barns. It’s such a surprise to find this slice of another time and place in the heart of busy, upscale McLean. I realized that I can’t leave this. I can’t live in a busy urban area with too many cars and too many people and too much concrete. I need green and quiet and lovely places to walk. Maybe eventually I’ll have to move, I’ll have to surrender to the effects of aging. But I’m not ready yet. Not yet.

Monday, October 18, 2010


When I first saw this recipe I printed it and put it in the pile of recipes that I need to try. It kept moving to the top of the pile. Thankfully, today I made the cookies, slightly adapted from the recipe I found which was an adaptation of yet another recipe. They are fabulous. They passed the test--I brought them to my Gospel class tonight and they were gobbled up. If there's anything more perfect than an oreo, it's a homemade oreo, crisp and made with real butter and great chocolate. Trust me--you will love them.

So, by request, here's the recipe.

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman, via Smitten Kitchen.

For the chocolate wafers:
1 ¼ cups flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (I used Scharffen-Berger cocoa)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ¼ sticks) at room temperature
1 egg

For the cream filling:
¼ cup unsalted butter (½ stick) at room temperature
¼ cup butter-flavored vegetable shortening
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a food processor thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, add the butter, then add the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.

Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.

To make the cream filling, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

To assemble the cookies, place teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outside of the cookies.

Makes 25 to 30 cookies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Craig's List

Craig’s List can change your life in so many ways. For the past two days I’ve been purging. Not like the vomity binge and purge—the very thought of that kills me. How can people do that? I’m going through my worldly possessions and editing out all kinds of unnecessary things. A few of the things I’m selling on Craig’s List—things like extra subway tiles, a set of white china, a banjo, my daughter’s old flute, and an electric guitar amplifier. But most of the possessions I’m shedding by listing them in the “free” section on Craig’s List.

Whoa! People like free stuff. The ads hit the website and almost instantly the responses begin, like rats coming out of a woodpile. Some responders are nearly illiterate: “yes i get yur stuff wher u liv”—to them I politely answer and say the items have been claimed already. Others are tricky—they seem very sincere and eager to get the free items and then make plans to come, then they ask to reschedule, then they reschedule again, and eventually say their dog got sick and it’s dark and I live too far away. One woman rang my bell, took the electronic air cleaner, and left immediately with no conversation. A man wanted me to bring my old Subaru car mats to him in DC. I don’t deliver free stuff. One woman cancelled (after keeping me home all day waiting for her) because her son’s football game was rescheduled for Monday night. But she was coming Thursday so why was Monday a problem? Never mind, don’t ask.

But truthfully, I’ve been having such fun. Maybe I should heed the warnings of friends not to let strangers come into my house. I gave a bunch of yard tools to a woman who runs the local community center. I gave her rakes and hoes, an ax and a hatchet. So if she’s an ax murder, she’ll have lots of tools to use to come back and kill me.

This morning a lovely woman named Sandra came to pick up some area rugs. She said she wanted to do something for me in return. What could she possibly do? She wanted to pray for me and she did—she held both of my hands and did a lovely prayer of intercession, asking God to protect me and to wrap me in His love. She didn’t even know I was a Christian. But she said she knew it instinctively and felt that it was no coincidence that she came to my house today for some rugs, that it was truly the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe her and I thank the Holy Spirit for leading all these people into my life. Anyone who will pray over me is welcome.

And then there was Vince. Vince was picking up some dumbbells. He’s in the Army, posted at the Pentagon, and just moved here after tours Iraq and Afghanistan. He did bomb disposal. He’s brand new to the area and got horribly messed up in traffic trying to find my house. Let’s just say he took an interesting circuitous route that showed him what Northern Virginia rush hour traffic is like in the rain. And he never gave up, never bailed on me, just kept calling in to tell me where he was and apologizing for the delay. I guess after doing bomb disposal in a war zone the traffic here is no big deal.

So, my advice? Find something in your house that you don’t need any longer and give it to someone who can use it. It will clear your house of clutter and enrich your life in ways you can’t begin to imagine.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I pick up my pen

My book is nearly done. I need to add some recipes, edit, edit some more. I need to call it finished. Soon. Big step toward the final version today--I wrote the Foreword. Here it is.

At the end of the road there ain't nothing but fear
Just a big old room with a big old mirror
The man in the mirror his hair is turning gray
And his hand begins to shake in a funny sort of way

He knows everything you bring forth will save your soul
While everything denied will condemn you to the hole
With his hand on his heart he picks up his pen
To go searching for the place where the dream begins
Searching for the place where the dream begins.

Songwriter Tom Russell from a song entitled Where the Dream Begins

With my hand on my heart, I pick up my pen.

If I tell you my faith is unwavering, don’t believe me. This faith of mine wavers all the time. Usually I’ve found faith just one more time than I’ve lost it. And I’ve lost it more times than I can count. But I come back again and again. Sometimes I just don’t know why I come back, why God doesn’t give up on me, why I don’t give up on God. I suppose it is God’s grace, His limitless forgiveness that brings me to His door. Sometimes I pound on His door. Sometimes I don’t even knock. I just sit on the doorstep with my head in my hands until He opens the door for me one more time.

Prayer has evolved in my life. It has gone from that loud pounding on God’s door, asking for favors or miracles, to quietly sitting in His presence. And it has gone from being something that I do in desperation to being infused into everything I do.

Prayer is so much more than saying words to God. We are always in God’s presence when we are celebrating life, weeping, cooking, dancing, talking to a friend. Author Kristen Johnson Ingram was photographing Native American dancers at an Oregon pow-wow when one of the group leaders asked her to stop taking pictures, saying, “This is the prayer the dancer is doing.” We too can find holiness in ordinary things. For me playing music is a form of prayer. Cooking is my way of thanking God for life and the people I love.

This book is a prayer, a prayer of family, friendship, faith, heartache, laughter, and food. These are the things that have given substance to my life. It is a prayer of supplication, asking God to keep safe the people I love, to mend my broken heart, to bring peace to this troubled world. It is a prayer of gratitude. Lord, thank you. Thank you for the people I love. Thank you for the earth that sustains all of us. Thank you for giving me this body—I pray that it will hold together long enough, until my work is done. Thank you for giving me my mind—I pray that it will be open to learn what I need to know. Thank you for my heart—though it has been broken, with your grace it heals. Thank you for my soul, my soul that belongs to God. Thank you for everything, even the things for which I sometimes curse you. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ugly dress/ugly husband

It’s a wickedly mean thing to do to my dearest friend Toni. I need to consider the consequences.

Yesterday Toni and I buzzed through Nordstrom Rack before getting lunch. We have a long-standing tradition that involves my picking out horribly ugly dresses in stores and holding them up as she groans in response. And we laugh our fool heads off. There is a never-ending assortment of ugly dresses. Our underlying understanding is that she will be my maid of honor if ever I get married but I get to pick what she will wear for my wedding. Toni is stylish and pretty, size 4 tiny, and petite. I pick huge sequined things with feathers and enormous molded bosoms. If she says it’s too big, I say I’ll tuck it in with safety pins. I pick zebra-striped shocking pink hooker dresses with leather studs. If she says it’s too sexy to wear in church, I find a multi-colored vinyl raincoat for her to wear over it. I pick colors like glow-in-the dark yellow because Toni looks like an alien in yellow. If ever I get married I’ll probably wear jeans and Chucks so that Toni can be featured in any photos. I want her to steal the limelight. I hate limelight.

It’s not likely that I’ll ever get to pick an ugly dress for Toni because the likelihood of my getting married is slim to none. My children are aware of the understanding Toni and I have about my wedding and her maid of honor dress. And my traitorous children have entered a pact with Toni that if I can choose her dress then Toni can choose my husband. Now she has much more power than I have. An ugly dress is just for a day. An ugly husband is for a lifetime.


Monday, October 4, 2010

The carpenter

Consider how we all sometimes do things that we know are going to end badly. Like I know I’m going to get a stomach ache if I eat popcorn, but I do it anyway. Like you know if you see that guy you once loved that he’s going to pull at your heart strings and bring you down emotionally, but you do nothing to avoid him, walk toward him with your eyes wide open. Maybe you want to feel the hurt. Maybe heartache is the closest thing you have to love.

What if you knew every detail of your life that has yet to unfold? What if you knew that you were headed for tragedy or a painful outcome? Would you continue to move forward, knowing that you were walking off a cliff?

Jesus knew. He knew every detail of his life that was about to unfold. He learned carpentry from Joseph, his earthly father. I read somewhere that it was quite possible that Jesus and Joseph did carpentry work for the Romans who ruled Jerusalem at the time, that Jesus and Joseph built crosses for the Romans to use for executions. So it’s possible that Jesus built the cross upon which he was crucified.

I am stunned by this thought—that with his own hands Jesus built the cross where He would give his life. Perhaps others were killed on the cross as well, thieves and murderers whose blood was mingled with his blood. And Jesus built the cross with full knowledge of the will of God. This is more than passive acceptance of the will of God. This is active participation in God’s will, fully embracing it. It makes me cry to think about it. To think of a young man building a cross, aware of the will of God, knowing his fate, yet moving forward with courage and conviction. Simply amazing.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I love Zatarain’s

Two days ago, on Friday, at the height of evening rush hour, I went to the grocery store. Since I have the luxury of much unscheduled time, usually I go grocery shopping in the middle of the day when things are less frantic. But on Friday I had to wait at home all day for a plumber to come and unclog my basement floor drain. (The good news is the drain has been fixed.) So there I was in the crowded grocery store with all the single guys getting frozen pizzas and the poor harried working moms gathering provisions for the weekend.

There was a woman, in her late 30s or so, pushing an empty cart down the aisle, looking a little forlorn. She picked me out of the crowd and said to me in a tired voice with a slight Spanish accent, “Excuse me, madam, but could you tell me how to make fried chicken?”

Do I look like an old redneck white woman who has been cooking greasy fried food for most of the past century? I guess so.

So I told her about my shortcut that’s really delicious, less fatty, and much less messy than frying chicken. I told her to get some chicken. Then I walked with her to find the crushed cornflakes. I scanned the shelves with her until we found my beloved Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning. A dozen containers were on the top shelf beyond our reach, bound together by a large sheet of plastic. The forlorn woman found her preteen son and got him to jump up until he could reach the seasoning on the top shelf. She pulled out one container, smiled wearily, thanked me profusely, and headed for the check-out line. I went to the frozen food aisle and bought one diet macaroni and cheese and a bag of frozen petite broccoli florets. I wished I had offered to follow her home. I had a sudden craving for my fake fried chicken.

So, here’s a rough idea of how I make the chicken. I forgot to tell her to add parmesan cheese. Do you think I can find her?

Oven-Fried Zatarain’s Chicken

Cornflake crumbs, about 1 cup
2 – 3 teaspoons Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning (I like a lot of it, but you use it to taste)
About ¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)
Chicken (I use 3-4 boneless, skinless breasts, but you can use whatever you like)
½ cup melted butter or margarine

Mix cornflake crumbs, seasoning, and parmesan in a shallow plate.
Dip chicken pieces in butter and roll in crumb mixture until evenly coated.

Place on baking sheet and bake in 375 degree oven for about 35 – 45 minutes, depending on size of chicken breasts.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Triumphant unhappiness

Recently I was reading a newspaper column where a person wrote for advice on dealing with a friend with a very negative attitude, what the advice seeker termed her friend’s “triumphant unhappiness.”

I love that phrase—triumphant unhappiness—and I totally understand it. I’ve used the term “righteous indignation” before for similar behavior. But triumphant unhappiness and righteous indignation really are not the same thing. Both terms imply a legitimate reason for unhappiness or anger, but I think triumphant unhappiness is more pervasive, more deeply rooted. We all know people who have this trait and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been there too. It hasn’t been pretty recognizing it in myself and it’s not easy to stop it. But I’m trying.

It all boils down to changing my attitude, basic cognitive therapy in psychotherapeutic terminology, positive thinking in more pop-psych terminology. Yes, I’ve been wronged in the past. People have mistreated me; life hasn’t always been fair. So what? I’m sick of hearing my own internal tape on rewind. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past because it has been done, over, written in the book of time. It doesn’t even matter if any of it was unjust. Maybe I’ve earned the right to be unhappy or angry, but so what? Would my unhappiness or anger change anything? Of course not. Would it make anyone feel sympathy for me? Even if it does, it doesn’t matter because the worst thing that happens when I replay the triumphant unhappiness tape is that it hurts me. It keeps me stuck in that downward negative loop.

I’m reminding myself that my own personal joy is a choice. It’s how I choose to look at my past and my present. It’s how I want to walk into my future. I don’t care how righteous or triumphant my unhappiness has been because it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. I’m optimistically kicking it to the curb.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

God dances

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “I would only believe in a god that knows how to dance.” This is the same man who said he abhorred Christianity and who declared that God is dead. What a sad way to live one's life. Nietzsche’s dead god doesn’t dance, but the living God of Christianity surely dances.

And I’ll bet Jesus danced when he walked the Earth. Jesus loved his family and friends and he rejoiced in their joy and wept with them in sorrow. We know that he changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, but don’t you think he also danced at the celebration? And maybe he danced when he was visiting with friends Mary and Martha and other followers. He’s probably dancing still in heaven.

I think perhaps we Christians could learn something from the whirling Dervishes. Dervishes are a particular group of Muslim ascetics in Turkey who dance in order to attain religious ecstasy. Maybe we can dance to express the joy that we feel in our faith in God. Maybe dancing can be a form of prayer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010



Karen Hesse, "Out of the Dust" p. 153.

“The hard part is in spite of everything if I had any boy court me it’d be Mad Dog Craddock.”

Ollie was annoying the bejeebers out of me and I told him so. But he said that he couldn’t annoy the bejeebers out of me because bejeebers can only be scared out of a person, not annoyed. He was annoying me only more by his silly talk. I have known Ollie almost since the day I was born since he has always lived next door to my cousin Wanda. I was hanging out down at Wanda’s house, waiting for her hound Moose to have another batch of puppies. I thought Moose would have been puppied out since she had had about five litters before but for some reason she kept getting herself knocked up. I just didn’t understand the appeal of having all those puppies, but Moose never listened to anyone, especially to me. Moose was loveable on occasion, but not often. Apparently some wandering male dog must have thought Moose was loveable enough. So Wanda, Ollie, and I were keeping an eye on Moose who had crawled off into the corner of the garage. Wanda and Ollie pulled out a big piece of plywood and they were practicing the tap dance routine they were doing next week at the end of the year performance at Miss Rolanda’s School of Dance. I never got the appeal of dance classes and never understood why a certain group of people in our town thought Miss Rolanda was so sophisticated. In the front room of her school Miss Rolanda had a bunch of pictures of herself dancing at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. She was about 100 years younger in the pictures. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but she was a lot younger.) I guess the professional dancer thing impressed some people. Others (you can guess who they were) thought Miss Rolanda was so beautiful with her dyed black hair and her sparkly tops and high heeled shoes. I never got the appeal. I just thought she was stuck-up and used too much hair spray. I especially couldn’t understand why Ollie wanted to take tap dancing lessons with Miss Rolanda. What a weirdo. He and Miss Rolanda’s son Raymond were the only boys at the dance school. Raymond specialized in ballet and modern dance but Ollie was the tap specialist. I didn’t get why Ollie wanted to be clomping around in taps shoes and doing routines with Wanda while the cool boys like Mad Dog and Willie and Bucky were playing baseball and pulling engines out of cars. Ollie strutted across the plywood clicking his taps as loud as he could, waving his arms, and teasing me because I wouldn’t dance. Wanda said that Ollie acted all goofy around me because he had a crush on me, but her exact words were, “Ollie’s got a notion to come a courtin’ and he’s a gonna come a courtin’ you, little miss.” She was teasing me and copying the way our Gramma talked. Gramma was always interested in whether we were attracting boys or not and she had this way of looking at some boy in town, then looking at Wanda or me, saying, “He just might be the one,” like she was some sort of old-time matchmaker who thought we should be hitched before we were 16. And trouble was Gramma liked Ollie. She liked his silly tap dancing and his show-off ways and she probably thought he was “the one” for me and she would be thrilled if he wanted to court me. So when Wanda told me that Ollie wanted to court me, I said I just wasn’t interested in courting and I especially wasn’t interested in Ollie. But that was only half true and I hated getting attention from the wrong boy. The hard part is in spite of everything if I had any boy court me it’d be Mad Dog Craddock.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

RIP Part Time

In a rather morbid sense of community connection, I like to read obituaries in The Washington Post. I grew up here and have lived here all my life so it’s likely I’ll see that someone I know or a family member of someone I know has passed on. The obits are my version of a society column except the parties generally aren’t as festive. (The Irish notwithstanding.)

Today’s obits didn’t feature any names I recognized. However let me express my condolences to the family of Frederick Paul “Part Time” Dyson, age 58, of Washington, who died last week. Part Time is survived by three children and an ex-wife. I can’t explain why the ex-wife is listed as survivor. Part Time must have believed in Jesus because his funeral service is being held at Union Temple Baptist Church. Part Time died too young and I’m guessing that he was a great guy and his children (and perhaps his former wife) will miss him. But permit me to ask the obvious question—how did someone who was named Frederick Paul at birth ever get the name Part Time?

Does this imply that Mr. Dyson was himself only on random occasions? I can relate because there are times when I don’t want to be myself and would be pleased to assume another identity. Does it imply that he only worked part time? I can totally relate to something less than full-time employment, especially since it has been five years since I worked full time and over a year since I worked any time at all. (Sigh.)

I figure Part Time must have been well loved by his friends and he probably was the life of the party. How else could he have been honored by such a great nickname? Now I wanna be Part Time too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lord, ha’ mercy

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath . . .

In the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy . . .

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1, 185

I was walking outside this morning, thinking about being saved/unsaved, thinking about the nature of God, and thinking about mercy. I know that Christian theology holds that a person must believe in Jesus Christ in order to spend eternity in heaven, but I’m having a really hard time with that concept.

Because I’m a parent, I can relate to God as the ultimate parent, the father of us all. And I know that I always will forgive my children and want them to be in my life. God loves all of us equally. (You know how people say that mere mortal parents cannot truly love their children equally? That although parents may deny it, they have a favorite? God’s not like that.) So if God can love that nasty man at the fish market who beats his dog just as much as He loves Mother Theresa, then God is indeed the perfect father.

Undoubtedly people will go to their death not accepting Jesus, either because they refused to believe or they were never exposed to Christianity. Since God is the ultimate father, won’t He forgive them? I know that in biblical terms it may be just to deny eternal bliss to a non-believer but isn’t mercy a higher quality than justice? Won’t God cut them a break because of His ultimate mercy?

In the Old Testament, Habakkuk prayed to God, saying, “. . . in wrath remember mercy.”
Hab 3:2

God loves all of His creation, so I figure He wants all of us to be with Him for eternity, whether we’ve toed the line or not. If my teenage son flunked physics and came home past his curfew and was growing marijuana in his room, eventually I would forgive him. And if he flunked physics and came home past his curfew and was growing marijuana in his room and pleaded with me to let him go to the family reunion in Altoona, I’d let him go. Because I love my son and I want him with me, even if he has been a jerk.

I want to believe that God’s mercy trumps His justice. I want to believe, although I will never merit salvation, that God’s mercy will get me through the pearly gates. And I want to believe that His mercy extends even to those who don’t believe in Him.

Jesus’s own words: Blessed are the merciful. Matthew 5:7

Friday, September 10, 2010

Granddaddy and the dead man

Freewriting . . . .

Haven Kimmel—“A Girl Named Zippy,” p. 38

“I thanked her for rescuing me by bringing her her favorite lunch: MoonPie and a Pepsi, and she wasn’t mad at me at all.”

Granddaddy was old and blind when he told us the story for the first time. He was old and blind but his brain was just fine and he remembered things way back to when he was a boy. Mama said that sometimes old people get a bit tetched and they forget what happened a few minutes ago but they remember everything from when they were little. But Granddaddy wasn’t like that at all. Mama said he just saved the story until the time was right. Granddaddy said it was summer and he was about 11 or 12 years old. Bubbie Link, the county sheriff, came by Granddaddy’s house early in the morning and asked him for his help with a hard job. Granddaddy said he was feeling strong and grown-up and thought there was no job too hard for him until he heard what the job was. There was a dead man down at the inlet and Bubbie needed his help bringing in the body. It was foggy at first light. Bubbie and Granddaddy went down to the beach and got Bessie, Granddaddy’s rowboat. They pulled the boat into the Bay and Bubbie rowed down the shore and up the inlet that separated Granddaddy’s beach from Breezy Point. Down the inlet, before the marshes, there was a rickety wooden bridge that crossed the inlet from one side to the other. There was a man’s body hanging upside down from the bridge—one foot caught between the wooden slats of the bridge and his head in the water. Bubbie said he thought the man was a drifter, probably drunk, who had tried to cross the bridge during the night, fell through the bridge, got his foot caught, and drowned in the brackish water trying to free himself. Granddaddy said the man was wearing a soggy woolen coat, brown pants, and lace-up boots with holes in the bottom. His long hair was flowing in the water. Bubbie got up on the bridge while Granddaddy kept the rowboat under the body. When Bubbie released the man’s foot from between the wooden slats, the body fell with a thud into the rowboat. Bubbie rowed the boat back to shore and they laid the man’s body on the sand. Granddaddy said he never knew the man’s name or where he was from, but remembered seeing his body through the fog and remembered the man’s hair flowing in the water. Early one morning last week I needed to row old Bessie down the inlet to pick up some crab pots. As I rowed down the inlet I thought about Granddaddy’s story and I was grateful that the old wooden bridge was gone so I didn’t have to picture the drifter with his foot stuck in the bridge and his head in the water. Still, it was foggy like the morning Granddaddy got the body and I knew that the inlet would always make me think of the dead man. I got the crab pots and was rowing back when the wood around the oar lock split and somehow I managed to drop one of the oars in the water and it floated away in the current. The harder I tried to reach it, rowing with one oar, the faster it moved from my reach until it was gone. I couldn’t get the dead man out of my head and with one oar I couldn’t row out of the inlet fast enough. I heard the putt-putt of a small outboard engine and big fat crazy old Miss Dixon came through the fog up the inlet. Miss Dixon scared all of us kids because she could be mean as a snake and I thought she’d be mad to have to rescue me, but she just chuckled when she saw the fix I was in. She said nothing and attached a line to old Bessie and towed me back to shore. I thanked her for rescuing me by bringing her her favorite lunch: MoonPie and a Pepsi, and she wasn’t mad at me at all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Leaving home

“This is my home, this is my only home
This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known”
—Dave Carter

Home has been on my mind. I just returned from Washington state where I spent 10 glorious days in Seattle and on San Juan Island with my children and grandchildren. I can’t recall ever being in a place as beautiful as San Juan Island. Yes, Mom, including Hawaii. I awoke in the morning at first light to a breathtaking view outside my bedroom window—green grass and lavender in full bloom and Griffin Bay and osprey and bald eagles and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance. I loved it and I loved being with the people on this Earth whom I love most. But still, it wasn’t home.

I flew home on that long flight to the other Washington, reading Marilynne Robinson’s novel entitled Home, and thinking about what home means to me. I have always lived in the Washington, DC, area. Maybe I always will. I haven’t left home, but in a sense I feel that my home has left me. The town where I grew up no longer exists. The metropolitan area used to be a city where we could drive from one end to the other in less than an hour. Rolling hills and farmland were just beyond our neighborhood. Although I lived in a suburb, I could have walked three blocks from my house to a full-time running farm with cows and chickens and fresh summer corn. Now high-rise apartments have been built on the farm land. We rode the trolley into the downtown part of the city to go to department stores. Ladies wearing white gloves operated the elevators and announced what was on each floor of the department stores: ladies lingerie, shoes, linens. We knew who lived in every house in our neighborhood—everyone’s name, their religion, their dog’s name, and what color bike they rode. I beat up Danny Corridon down by the mail box because he hurt my little brother. I got hundreds of bee stings. It felt like home.

Now my little house feels comforting to me, but my neighborhood is just one small dot in a huge sprawling metropolitan area that extends for 50 miles in any direction. Traffic is horrendous. Little remains of the sense of belonging, the familiarity that once existed. People are rude. It seems that many people move to Washington for work, perhaps to advance their careers, but they never intend to make it their home. They treat one another like strangers and they intend to keep it that way.

So, what do I do when my home town has slipped away? I’m beginning to revamp my sense of what home means to me. I can’t make time stand still. I can’t make all these “newcomers” who have moved here since 1960 move away. I can’t take away the Metro and highways and bring back the chickens.

What does home mean to you?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pink cashmere

More freewriting today.

Marilynne Robinson—Housekeeping, p. 199.

“The sky was a strong, plain blue, but the light was cool and indirect and the shadows black and precise.”

I just realized that I am probably not going to die in anyone’s arms. I don’t know who put that crap in my head, and put it in there rather solidly, that belief that the end of a life well lived brought you a deservedly poignant and strangely romantic death. I’ve read too many romantic southern novels I suppose. In my death fantasy I pictured myself, beautiful in my old age, though terribly pale and thin, lying on the sun porch on the chintz chaise lounge, covered with a pink cashmere throw. My grandchildren were playing noisily on the lawn below the veranda. The sky was a strong, plain blue. The children played a game only they understood—a game called the glorious green fish wish. There didn’t seem to be anything glorious or green or fish-like in the game but they hid in the shrubs and giggled and tied my old linen napkins around their heads. And I, though weakening fast, smiled wanly at them and enjoyed the unbridled joy of being a child who had no knowledge of the crazy old grandmother dying in their midst. Well, most of this is a fantasy. The crazy old grandmother is dying but it’s just an annoyance to them. There’s no romance, no knowing smiles about the good old days, no chaise lounge or pink cashmere throw. It’s just me alone, slowly rotting. My family has retreated. I no longer have friends—all of my friends have either died or I have pushed them away. The Jamaican woman who comes to care for me just watches television all day, game shows and soap operas. I can’t hear what she says to me so she stopped trying to have a conversation. She gives me tea and toast for breakfast, soup for lunch, and soup for dinner. I want to drive to the beach and feel the warm sand on my feet. I want to dance in the moonlight. I’m not as crazy as they think. I have a plan. Tonight after the Jamaican woman has gone I’m going to gather my strength and walk into the woods. I’ll sit under the split oak tree by the creek until I fall asleep. And I’ll dream long and deep. I’ll dream the fantasy where I was on the sun porch on the chintz chaise lounge, covered with a pink cashmere throw. My grandchildren were playing noisily on the lawn. The sky was a strong, plain blue, but the light was cool and indirect and the shadows black and precise.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mr. Fish

Feeling restless and I need to write something, anything. It’s going to be a freewriting day. [Let me explain again what I do. Without looking, I grab a book from my bookshelves, open to a random page, put my finger down, and find a sentence. That sentence becomes the final sentence in whatever piece I write. I don't go back and rewrite, don't do paragraphs, just let something come out. When I start writing I never know how I'm going to get to that sentence.]

John Irving—A Prayer for Owen Meany, p. 183

“Mr. Fish, perhaps to compose himself, was humming the tune to a familiar Christmas carol.”

The most remarkable thing about Orville P. Fish was his ears—huge bulbous ears with earlobes nearly reaching his shoulders, ears far out of proportion to the rest of his body. It seemed that he tried to distract attention from those monstrous ears by letting his hair grow long on the sides. But he was three-quarters bald and the skimpy hair on the sides of his head could never hide those ears. He had the beady eyes of a civet and a pencil-thin mustache just above his upper lip that appeared to have been drawn carefully with a charcoal pencil. He was a short sinewy man who wore the same clothes every day—a white shirt buttoned up to the neck and shiny black trousers belted much too high above his waist. He never smiled, never laughed, barely spoke to anyone in town. One could say that Mr. Fish was not a loveable man. Mama used to tell me that everyone had once been some mother’s angel child and I must try to see the good in everyone. So I tried imagining Mr. Fish as baby and all I could see was those beady eyes and those horrific ears. I wondered if he had the mustache when he was a child. I wondered if his mother dressed him in white shirts and black pants pulled up under his armpits. Even as an imagined baby, he was a fearsome sight. For as long as I could remember, Mr. Fish drove the local Wonder Bread truck, delivering bread to markets and diners all over the Eastern Shore. That’s really the reason that the story came out. Mama’s cousin Billy McEntee moved to the other side of the bay, down near Lusby, and he had a Wonder Bread route too. Billy used to tell us stories about delivering bread to Peaceful Shores, a nudist colony that was part of his route. It was a Saturday morning just after Thanksgiving and Billy was delivering an order of bread to the kitchen at Peaceful Shores. Christmas music was playing in the adjoining dining room and some of the members were putting up a Christmas tree and stringing multi-colored lights around the room. Billy was saying goodbye to the cook when he came out of kitchen door, smack dab into the bare buttocks of a man on a ladder stringing lights. The ladder wobbled a bit and the man stepped down and turned around, chuckled, and said, “Whoops, almost got me there, but I’m okay, I’m just fine, it’s just part of the spirit of Christmas.” There was no white shirt, of course. There were no black trousers pulled up to the armpits. But the beady eyes, the mustache, the hair, and the ears—those one-of-a-kind monstrous ears—were unmistakable. It was Mr. Fish in all his natural glory, wearing what he was wearing when he came into the world as his mama’s angel child. His civet eyes froze when he saw Billy. Billy said not a word and quickly gathered his empty bread trays as Mr. Fish climbed back on the ladder. Mr. Fish, perhaps to compose himself, was humming the tune to a familiar Christmas carol.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Be still

"Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10)

I’ve written a book entitled Learning to Pray. This blog is called Learning to Pray. Yet am I really learning to pray? Am I still working on it? Am I putting enough effort into growing in faith?

On Sunday Pastor Mark spoke about going from a cognitive understanding of faith to a true heartfelt faith, the concept that in order to get true faith we must first “yearn to yearn” for God. We must want Him; we must want to believe. We must understand the difference between having doctrine and living doctrine.

I was reading a Jewish website (aish.com) where a reader wrote asking the rabbi how to have faith. Here’s part of the response:

A young man, a congregant of our synagogue stood spellbound as he watched my brother-in-law Rabbi Shloime, of blessed memory, totally absorbed in and transported by the experience of prayer. At the conclusion of the services, he approached Rabbi Shloime and asked him how one can access the remarkable level of connection and faith that he had witnessed. Rabbi Shloime replied "with a lot of hard work."

Most of us erroneously assume that the most important things in life such as spirituality, love, creative inspiration, etc., should be spontaneous -- a flash, a gift, a bestowal. We are a culture that is paying dearly for the terribly misguided romantic notion that relationships can be engaged and based on the "love at first sight" premise. We believe that creative endeavor can be successfully negotiated by a mere flash of inspiration, without the requisite input of toil.

I am not surprised by this response. Anyone who wants something badly enough must learn that hard work will be required. Yes, faith is a gift, a blessing bestowed on us through the grace of God. And how do we work toward that kind of true heartfelt faith? We pray. We pray, we read Scripture, and we pray some more. We find stillness and listen for God. How can He deny a struggling soul who truly wants faith and works hard for it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Copy cat!

The heat index today is something like 120 degrees. I'm exaggerating, but not by much. So what did I decide to do? I cranked up my oven and baked. Sometimes things I do make absolutely no sense.

I was determined to duplicate (or even improve) a date almond sesame scone that I bought from the baker at the local farmer's market. The first one I bought was so delicious that I went back the next week and bought another and asked the baker what was in them. "Dates and almonds," he said with a sly grin. No more details. I could see the sesame seeds so I had at least three ingredients figured out.

So I searched online and found a recipe that calls for 50 grams of treacle. I didn't know what treacle was (sounds like seaweed, but I discovered it's a form of corn syrup) and I had no idea how to measure 50 grams so I totally improvised. They're good, but not quite as good as the baker's scones. I'm going to have to buy one again this week and see if I can figure out his recipe.

Here's what I did.

Date Almond Sesame Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup chopped dates
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup buttermilk (may need more)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar in large bowl. Stir in chopped dates. Cut in butter with pastry knife. In small bowl, mix buttermilk, egg, and almond extract. Pour into flour mixture then stir in chopped almonds. Flour hands and turn dough onto ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Pat gently into circle 1½ - 2” high and score into 8 scones with floured knife. Sprinkle top with sesame seeds and lightly pat sesame seeds into the dough. Bake in preheated oven at 375º for 18 – 20 minutes until top is light brown.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Living a better story

I just finished reading Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”—highly recommended. He writes about how each of us has an opportunity to compose the story that is our life. The book got me thinking about what I’ve done with my life until now and about what I would do to live a better story for whatever time I have left on this planet.

So far in this lifetime I’ve had successes and failures. I didn’t do so well with the marriage, but I think I had tremendous success being a good mother. Being a mother was my primary career until the children were grown. But the career outside the home faltered. Last year my employer changed my status to “as needed” and I’ve been needed only two weeks in the past 15 months. I realize this is my opportunity to do something else, to find a cause, something that touches my heart, somewhere I really am needed and devote my energy to that new endeavor. Still it scares me.

What happens when an old butterfly past her prime leaves the safety of her cocoon? Will her wings fail? Will a sassy young crow swallow her whole? Or will she start fluttering those wings as best she can and create a new life? If she doesn’t take the chance she’ll never know. It’s time for me to take that chance and figure out where I am needed, even though I’m scared. I need to write a better story for this part of my life.

There’s a seminar in Portland, Oregon, in late September called Living a Better Story. (You can get information on the seminar at www.donmilleris.com/conference.) I would love to go to the seminar. Maybe it can help me learn to use those old wings.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sir Mick

Happy birthday, Mick Jagger! The boy can still rock. Happy birthday, Rick Bragg! Happy birthday to everyone who shares this day with me. Yes, it's my birthday too.

I have a theory, yet unproven, about birthdays and the afterlife. It's in the unpublished manuscript that I call my book. I'm feeling lazy today so I'm just going to cut and paste. Here it is.

Birthday Theory

I’ve got a cockamamie theory about birthdays and the afterlife. As with all other theories about the afterlife, it can’t be either proved or disproved, but I see no reason why it can’t turn out like I imagine it. Besides, I have another corollary theory about the afterlife—that you get the heaven you want/deserve. So if your idea of heaven is sitting around for all eternity with Jesus and all of your former pets, while eating jelly donuts, playing backgammon, and listening to klezmer music, then that’s what you’ll get. So there’s no reason to believe that my cockamamie birthday theory won’t materialize.

Here’s my theory: When you die, you get categorized and sent to a section of heaven based on your date of birth. It doesn’t matter what year you were born, just the day and the month. So, if you were born on January 1st, you get put into the first section with everyone throughout all time who was born on January 1st. (Don’t ask me to explain what happens to people born before the Gregorian calendar, or those born BC—it just confuses me. I’m sure God has it figured out.) The sections will roughly end up having equal numbers of people, except of course for the smaller section for February 29th. Those snobs in the February 29th section are going to be intolerable. But I’m not sure how much we’ll interact with other sections anyway.

I would not have developed this theory and steadfastly held onto it if I weren’t planning to be in good company in my little heavenly birthday pod. I was born on July 26th. Here’s a partial list of those who share my birthday:

§ Mick Jagger—Sir Mick is the one who got me started on the theory, the emperor of rock

§ Carl Jung—how cool is that, all that collective unconscious theory and dream interpretation

§ Aldous Huxley—author of Brave New World, should be an interesting conversationalist

§ Rick Bragg—one of my favorite writers, among other things wrote All Over But the Shouting

§ Kevin Spacey, Helen Mirren, and Vivian Vance (Ethel from I Love Lucy)—actors so we can do skits!

§ George Bernard Shaw—he’ll write the skits

§ Jean Shepherd—he wrote A Christmas Story so he can write more skits

§ Hannah Kirkman—a sweet child in my extended family

§ Colleen Reed—an old friend of mine

Those co-birthday celebrants I knew about, but I went online and did a search for other famous people who share my birthday, and thus will spend eternity with me. I thought it was a good idea to be prepared. Sort of like going to a cocktail party and asking for the guest list ahead of time to be able to (1) know how to make small talk, (2) know which guests could be boring, and (3) know to avoid sensitive topics. Some of the others:

§ Gracie Allen—wife of George Burns, “Say goodnight, Gracie”

§ Salvadore Allende—former Chilean dictator

§ George Catlin—painter best known for his work with American Indians

§ Joseph I—one of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire (I’m anxious to see how he gets along with Mick)

§ Mary Jo Kopechne—the young woman who died in Ted Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick (maybe she’ll tell us what really happened)

I’m hoping there are some other fascinating but less famous people who share our birthday. For example, we’re going to need a fabulous pastry chef to make our birthday cake. I’d like some great musicians. I wish Yo-Yo Ma had been born on my birthday, but alas, he was born on October 7th. Trust me—I looked it up and I would lie about it if I could. I also wish Mary Cassatt had been born on July 26th, but no such luck. Still, I’ll be in great company and rumor has it that heaven is a place of perfect bliss, so I won’t miss them.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Freewriting exercise

Bob Dylan—Chronicles, p. 276

“I’d think about this later in my dumpy apartment.”

At the time I thought Henry Luce Willston McElroy was the love of my life, but he shouldn’t have been. It was such a waste of precious time and energy, time and energy I wish I could get back. But it was what it was and there ain’t no going back. The Reverend Henry Luce Willston McElroy claimed he was ordained a preacher in the Gospel Church of the Savior when he was a young man. He said the Lord appeared to him and told him what to do and he just followed the Lord’s command. He was pretty convincing. I used to watch him on the TV, screaming and crying and making people fall back under his power. He seemed all humble and Christ-like when he asked viewers to send him money, but when he preached he seemed more like a ferocious angel, barring wretched sinners from heaven. Years later Daddy claimed he didn’t never trust Henry. Daddy said, “He weren’t God, he just played him on TV.” But Mama believed every word he said and she’d save her egg money and put it in an envelope and send it to the reverend. I was only 15 the summer he came to Easton with his Gospel revival tent. Daddy was off for weeks cutting timber and I can guarantee you that what happened would not have happened if Daddy had been at home. Mama got me and the little kids all scrubbed and shined and we went off to the revival meeting. And there was the reverend! His presence in real life was even more powerful than it was on the TV screen. He was a force, a big man with a shock of white hair, wearing a white suit, soaked in sweat, and aflame with the fury of a righteous God. He convinced us that we were going to burn in the fires of hell. And he called us to come up to the altar, confess our sins, and swear to him and the Lord Almighty that we were going to amend our ways and follow the Lord. Mama dragged me, trembling, up to the altar before him. He laid his hands upon me and prayed in tongues. Mama fell on her knees and he said, “Rise up, rise up, woman, for you have been called by the Lord.” Then he whispered in Mama’s ear, told her to bring me to him behind the tent after the revival service, that he had a special message for her. So when the crowd departed the tent, Mama stayed behind and told one of the reverend’s assistants that she had been told to bring me to see him. He was sitting in the dark, his jacket removed, a wet towel around his neck. He told my mama that she was blessed, that he had seen an angel of the Lord hovering over my head, and the angel told him that I was go with him as witness to the power of following the Lord’s will. Mama wept, but took me home, gathered my things and put me on the bus with the reverend and his assistants. I was only 15 and I didn’t know love. Henry told me I was the chosen one, that the Lord himself had chosen me to be with him, that it was written in the stars at the beginning of time. He said his love for me was second only to his love for God and my salvation was tied to his, that we would be together into eternity. He told me that my body was but a tangible manifestation of the love of God. I believed all of it. But then came the dark days, the fear, the wrath of God turned against me. And I got left behind somewhere outside of Phoenix with a suitcase and a $10 bill. I wondered what it all meant. I wondered if there’s really a God who speaks through men like the Reverend Henry Luce Willston McElroy. I was trying to figure it out, but I knew that I’d need to think about this for a while. I’d think about this later in my dumpy apartment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Competitive closet cleaning

I see that Pioneer Woman is having some sort of contest where she gives away her own beautiful used clothes to lucky readers. Someone will be getting Nanette Lapore silk leopard print blouses and other lovely little designer items. She's a hoot--so creative. (See her giveways at http://thepioneerwoman.com/homeandgarden/2010/07/cleaning-out-my-closet-item-5/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+pioneerwoman-full-rss-feed+%28Pioneer+Woman+FULL+RSS+FEED%29?)

Okay, two can play this game. Now I admit that my clothes are going to be a poor substitute for Pioneeer Woman's glamorous clothes. Just wait until you see the baggy jeans and the hippy things I own that embarrass my daughter. She recently made me take my MC Hammer pants to the Salvation Army. Forget designer blouses. I'll give you the equivalent of a size 8 pair of pink high-t0p Chuck Taylor Converse high t0ps from my collection, but I'm going to make you work for it. Here's a photo of the shoes. Write me a brief essay on why those chucks will be happier with you than with me. Keep in mind that they've been worn for some pretty funky musical performances and they were among the earliest in my collection of Chucks so there might be some social order issues in the shoe closet. And keep in mind there are nine pairs of brothers and sister shoes that might be broken hearted.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Farm Market

Every Saturday I go to the Falls Church Farmers Market. I love it, love the ambiance, love getting ideas about what I can cook with all the beautiful fresh food. My brother is here for a visit and we had all of tonight's dinner bought at the market today--home-made Santa Fe chicken sausages, cooked on the grill. Roasted white corn, wrapped in foil with butter and Old Bay seasoning, cooked on the grill with the sausages. And a simple salad with multi-colored heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and dash of balsamic vinegar. Dessert--fresh melon and peaches.

And now I'm inspired to do a ratatouille next week to take advantage of the beautiful variety of eggplants. And I'm bound to reproduce the baker's yummy date/sesame/almond scones.

Had to post a photo I took of a charming little girl who was at the market. Wearing a tutu and crocs, and boldy eating an entire raw zucchini with all the delight usually reserved for an ice cream cone. Love this kid!

Friday, July 16, 2010


If you don't like peaches, don't even speak to me. I mean it. There has to be something inherently wrong, like psychiatric diagnostic code kind of wrong with a person who doesn't like peaches. It's a great peach season here in Northern Virginia and I'm using them every chance I get. Sliced on cereal, mountain peach pie, or eaten unadorned with juice running down my arms. You should see me trying to lick the juice off my elbows.

I posted this a couple of months ago but it's worth repeating now that peaches are in season. I developed this recipe using fresh peaches in a tossed salad. You may not have thought of using peaches this way--I was inspired by my daughter-in-law Rachel who is a great foodie. If you like, you can even add cut-up grilled chicken for a perfect cold summer meal.

Salad With Curried Dressing and Peaches

¼ cup good quality olive oil
2 tablespoons orange champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon chutney
1 teaspoon garam masala (can substitute sweet curry powder)
1 ripe peach, unpeeled, chopped coarsely
1 small Persian cucumber, sliced thin
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup dried sliced bananas
2 tablespoons roasted pistachios
1 head lettuce—tender lettuce like butterhead or green oak
Handful of pea shoots

In mini food processor, mix olive oil, vinegar, chutney, and curry. Blend thoroughly.

In large bowl, gently toss lettuce and pea shoots with peaches, cranberries, cucumber, and bananas. Pour oil/vinegar mix over lettuce/fruit mix and toss. Top with pistachios.

Serves 4.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


No, I can’t believe I’m writing about this . . .

I was cleaning toilets today (everyone should clean a toilet from time to time for a dose of humility) and I thought about the time a visitor to my house neglected to flush the toilet and it went days undetected. I’m not referring to an “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” water conservation situation but an “if it’s brown, baby, it should go down” situation. I should have called the county health department for an emergency intervention. If you were a visitor at my house recently do not fear—it wasn’t you. Trust me.

Things like this can cause a lifetime of hard feelings. Take, for example, our family story about my grandfather. He was visiting a cousin somewhere near Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Apparently my grandfather was in the house alone, used the bathroom, and left the house without flushing. The cousin presumed that my grandfather left the toilet unflushed as a silent message of scorn. My grandfather claimed it was just an oversight. The cousin refused to believe him and they never spoke again. The Hatfields and the McCoys have been feuding for decades over less than an unflushed toilet.

Remember to flush.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sleep-in for peace

Hell, no. I won’t go!

I’m feeling 60s. Not 60s like my age, but 60s as in 1960s. Yes, I participated in protests back in the 60s, but that was a lifetime ago and in recent years I’ve become soft. It’s high time for me to make a difference, to step up and be counted, to organize my own personal peace protest. (Organize may be too strong a term.) Perhaps I’ll reach back into classic protest history in honor of the 1969 John Lennon-Yoko Ono Sleep-In. Do you think I can get some press coverage if I spend a week or so in bed in pursuit of world peace?

I’ll allow a few select individuals to visit me. They can bring lattes and almond croissants and peaches. The peach harvest is fabulous this year. That can be a sub-theme—peaches for peace. They can bring me trashy magazines and DVDs. I could use a manicure and a pedicure since I’ll spend a lot of time just staring at my feet so a manicurist must be summoned, hopefully early in the week.

No, I’m not lazy—I have a cause. Give peace a chance.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Pain is such an all-consuming experience. I went to physical therapy today for my shoulder. The pain was so bad I couldn't speak. Tears were running down my face. The therapist asked me something--I can't even remember what--and I just muttered some one-word answer. I was trying meditation, trying to just be in the moment and accept it, to analyze how intense it was. I don't know anything effective for dealing with it. I know that I had a vacant stare on my face.

I've been told that I need to get through it, that ultimately it is the cure for my almost frozen shoulder. But in the course of four sessions of physical therapy, the pain has become increasingly worse, and considerably worse than it was when I began.

Now, hours after the treatment, the pain is still intense. I've taken prescription and non-prescription pain relievers. I used ice packs alternately with heat. I've paced the floors because I couldn't sit still with it. The pain has migrated now to include my shoulder, my entire right arm, my neck, and occasionally my other previously painless shoulder. And I have a splitting headache.

And whom do I trust? Do I trust the orthopedic surgeon who saw me three times, handed me a sheet of exercises that he never explained and said come back if I want to? Do I trust the chiropractor/physical therapist who says just to stick with it and bear the pain because if I don't I'll be in much worse condition?

I think I'm going to trust myself and stop getting treatment. I'll stretch, do yoga, just do what feels right and keep it moving. I hope I'm not wrong.