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 ( 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 I would love to go to the seminar. Maybe it can help me learn to use those old wings.