At the US Post Office

Reposted from an untitled draft, dated 2017

—– A scam was in process. At least, what I saw and heard pointed in that direction. The man was elderly, wearing old pants with a partially open mid-seam and frayed hem held up by a safety pin. He spoke loudly, probably due to a hearing deficit, and all of us waiting in line could hear. “I just won two million dollars. They told me to send this in by Tuesday.” He seemed to enjoy sharing the news. For sure, he got my attention.

The clerk I’ve known for years, a veteran employee at our tiny post office that sits sandwiched between a boutique dress shop and a cozy coffee nook. She calmly followed his instructions. Certified mail. He needed to fill out a form. Did he want to receive notification that his mail had been received? It seemed likely that he was sending money in order to receive his so-called prize. Recent reports of fraud had involved a similar situation.

I considered congratulating the gentleman and then asking if his children knew of his good fortune. We could have chatted and maybe, just maybe, I could have helped to prevent …… At least it was a noble thought. No, it was not my business. I convinced myself that the mail clerk, who has had years of experience, would pick up on the clues and try to do something, if indeed it were a scam.

Is she able, by law, to question what someone is sending in the US mail? If I were his daughter wouldn’t I be grateful if a well-intended stranger were to ask a few questions? Could anything I say avert an incident such as loss of money to a scam artist? Probably not. I held my tongue. Perhaps the clerk already knew something and would set his letter aside for investigation. My mind was racing……had I devised a conspiracy theory?

The gal in front of me was fidgeting with her phone the entire time. I don’t think she even noticed the man. The young lady behind me was pregnant and attending to a toddler and a stack of boxes at her feet. She had other things on her mind. I decided to quietly wait my turn and then make a nonchalant comment to the clerk about the lucky lottery winner.

“Do you think that gentleman actually won the lottery?” I blurted out. Not so subtle after all. She shook her head in dismay, while counting out my stamps, and replied. It turned out that she and her colleague have been trying to figure this out for some time. His sister died and left him money. Someone knows about it, she said with certainty. The man comes in frequently with the same announcement of having won a large sum of money and needing to send off a letter to confirm it. He lives in his home with a disabled son. Hm…….my concern was not unwarranted.

I don’t need to know if this particular elderly man was being taken advantage of, but my Saturday morning jaunt to the post office highlighted an increasing problem. Americans live longer today than in any past age. They may suffer from declining physical or mental health and need assistance, yet they have the right to age in their homes and try to care for themselves. For many, in fact, there is no other option. They live alone or with an elderly spouse or even perhaps with a special needs adult child. They may not see or care that their clothes are ripped or hems are hanging loose, but they manage. They want to remain independent and make their own decisions. They are incredibly vulnerable.

The gentleman moved away from the counter and walked slowly toward the door, a bit shaky and cautious with each step. Then he turned and called back to the clerk, “See you next time.” And he left. —–

How was your ride?….

It was early. Coasting down a hill and braking near the driveway, I spotted a neighbor who approached with two tall handsome poodles—the trendy breed that looks like a plush curly sweater in shades of honey brown. “How was your ride?” “Great! No one is outside except dog walkers.”

It was a glorious spin through the neighborhood, winding about narrow streets under canopies of trees, then in open sunlight. Walkers nodded a friendly hello, birds chattered in their secret hideouts, and the crisp breeze felt sparkly on my face. Little flags of red, white, and blue waved along garden walkways and peeked out of flower baskets. The 2nd day of our independence celebration was slowly waking up.

How fortunate we are to have an extra day this year to reflect, give thanks, and build hope for a bright tomorrow. May you find time to read a book, meditate in a beautiful outdoor sanctuary, visit a neighbor, hike in the woods, call a distant friend, or ……. Make it an extra special day. And if you decide to take a spin on your bike, have a great ride!

Note – July 5th is considered to be an official holiday when the 4th falls on a Sunday. Many offices and businesses will be closed.

How could I have forgotten….

Another Memorial Day weekend was approaching and my thoughts turned to blue skies, family picnics, watermelon and burgers, American flags gracing porches and gardens, and a joyful launch of summertime. Again, as in the past, I relished the idea of watching the Memorial Day Concert live from Washington, DC, with its array of performers and story tellers reaching out to the nation at sunset.

But I had forgotten…..this holiday is about war. The concert included tales of bravery, along with images of explosions, downed military planes, smoke, and death. I was in tears as professional actors told the vivid stories of human sacrifice. We all viewed film footage of military families parting, little children broken hearted as their brave parents went off to war. How could I have forgotten?

More questions flooded my thoughts. What is the point? Has war ever accomplished anything good for mankind? Is it not possible for courageous men and women to put their talent into peacemaking instead of war strategies? Who wins a war anyway? There is certainly lots of loss.

And then the tough reality….so many lives have been offered over the years to defend our nation on foreign soil and now we find ourselves in the midst of a great domestic divide that is punctuated by gun violence, racial conflict, and elected leaders who vote purely in their self-interest.

I’d rather think about the first sweet watermelon of the summer and the happy family gathering at my table. But the paradox is compelling on this traditional holiday. And the image of the sun setting over our beautiful capital city during the annual concert is downright frightening.

Knowing that awareness is the first step in recovery, may we acknowledge the challenges of today and work together with fellow-Americans of diverse viewpoints for the common good. We owe it to those many fine, brave men and women who gave their lives for our values—those whom we honor today!

May 17th

Published in 1905, the following brief prayer for the day catches my attention:

“Heavenly Father, I pray for the restoration of my lost sense of wonder. I have ceased to wonder at Thy mercies, and the riches of Thy grace. Renew the lost power. May I see the wonderful in the commonplace, and may my daily bread move me into fervent praise.”

The simple, commonplace of life can lead us to wild and glorious praise. At least, that’s how I picture “fervent.” The thesaurus adds other dimensions: eloquent, zealous, passionate. But why do we lose that sense of wonder referenced in the prayer? Are we busy, distracted, worried about the future? This prayer is a call to open the windows, let the fresh air in, hear the birds chirping and feel the warmth of sunlight. It’s time to take in the goodness. May wonder and awareness of God’s mercies prompt you today to feel something very special and to rejoice. Maybe even sing and dance!

source of prayer: Jowett, J.H. Yet Another Day. London: F. H. Revell Company, 1905.

Great Text!

My devotional today highlights Romans 8:31. I love this verse! Whether scribbled on a card and hanging on the refrigerator or embroidered onto the edge of a colorful quilt, the words are powerful. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

In good times we know who our rock is, i.e. our provider, the source of joy and goodness in our lives. In hard times, we lean harder on that strength and find that it holds us up. What a gift to know this, and so I share it with you today.

It has been a while since my last post. Pandemic times have tested us in new ways, and I chose to take several online grad courses— Social Justice, Grant Writing, and Disaster Planning—to provide structure and stretch my mind. Quite the time for a study of disasters!!! I offer kudos to teachers and professors who have scrambled to put curriculum into an accessible format for online learning while keeping it vibrant. They incorporate multimedia, discussions, and group projects. It’s amazing and a bit challenging for a “boomer” like me. In fact, I’m stuck right now on a group power point assignment and waiting to hear from my team. And so, when the Romans text appeared in my early morning reading, I knew it was time to share a message with you.

As for this day, it is a beautiful one in my neighborhood. Birds sing cheerfully, the sun shines warmly, and tiny buds push out from barren twigs. Bright forsythia and daffodils call out in their special beauty. God is among us for sure, even in these times of waiting for the vaccine, worrying about new variants, and wondering about long-term effects of isolation, economic fallout, education of our children….. The list goes on, but we can be assured that there is a strength much greater than any of these problems, a loving God who lifts us up, makes our hearts light, and gives us hope. Just check it out for yourself in Romans 8, verse 31. It’s a great text!

A few more days…

Our nation is perched on a shaky limb, moving day by day in the direction of stability. An unpredictable populist president will leave office and a politician with years of working together with leaders of various persuasions will step up. This is a man who promotes swift action to control the health crisis, strengthen the economy, and curtail damage to the planet, a man who understands the lives of everyday people, a man with a trained educator as First Lady and a Vice President of notable experience and vigor. He has already engaged our trust. It will be a refreshing change for the country and the world.

May we move peacefully into this change. May the people who have been innocently mislead by wild claims of the out-going leader come graciously to see the truth. May we as Americans understand the same essential realities, while sharing our diverse viewpoints and finding solutions together. May respect for others be primary. May love of nation and fellow countrymen rise above anger and resentment. May those who have been dealt a hand of prosperity share generously with those whose cards have not yielded abundance. May our new leader and his team be blessed with wisdom. May we all be safe from harm. And may the man who is about to step away from the oval office discover a small inner light of goodness in his heart. May this light spread to others across the nation and bring us healing.

This is a lot to ask….but it is my fervent prayer today.

Thanksgiving 2020

Memories of past Thanksgivings flood my mind and it occurs to me that this holiday has always centered around abundance. Piles of pumpkins, squash, and canned goods lined shelves of the “harvest home” display in my childhood church. The food items were delivered after the Thanksgiving Eve service to needy families in the community, so that everyone had a full belly on this special day.

In our home, savory flavors of the roasting turkey filled every nook and cranny as my mother busied herself with basting the bird, preparing veggies, making homemade Parker House rolls, and setting out pickles and apple butter and her tasty cranberry-orange relish. We kids helped with small chores, my favorite being to set the table in the dining room with beautiful china and freshly polished silver that made an appearance on special occasions.

Later as a mother myself, I kept the tradition of preparing a delicious feast and sharing warm fellowship around a festive table. There was always a special place for Grandma and Grandpa and plenty of room at the table to host other family members. The more the merrier! Adding to the excitement was the traditional football game between rival high schools on Thanksgiving morning.

Abundance was everywhere, from the crowds of people cheering at the game, to the array of delicious food on our feast table and, most special of all, the hugs and laughter and stories that filled our day together.

Thanksgiving 2020 is strikingly different! Many families are hungry and wondering when their next paycheck will arrive. Following guidance to stay home and help keep everyone safe, I’ll enjoy the memories of years gone by and celebrate quietly. A few favorite foods—my mother’s crab bisque recipe, red cabbage slaw as a reminder of gifts of the earth, homemade foccacia bread, and spinach salad garnished with candied walnuts and crisp apple slivers—will provide nourishment. The rest is yet to unfold and that is just fine!

My morning reading on gratitude reminds me that as Christians we give thanks at all times, not just during times of abundance. Perhaps this is one of the lessons of Thanksgiving 2020. A scripture on the topic in Habukkuh 3: 17 – 18 reads as follows:

” Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail, and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will have joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.”

This is it! Thanksgiving is about a loving and caring God, not about the abundance we see around us but rather the faith we have in His love, the joy He provides, and His strength. For this we can be always grateful.

In that spirit, I wish for you a safe and joyful Thanksgiving, like none other. And now, I better go start that foccacia bread!

There is Hope!

Good news is spreading in my sleepy college town in Southeast PA. Not blaring reports broadcast through a megaphone, but the kind of news that finds its way into phone conversations and texts with friends and permeates the atmosphere with a sense that positive change is on the way. Things are going to be better.

Even the weather promoted a sense of well-being. On this day, early morning haze vanished as the sunlight broke through. At 10:30 AM it was 72 degrees with 58% humidity—pleasant conditions for this often steamy corner of the state.

My morning walk at a nearby park was delightful. Some people weren’t wearing masks, and this normally disturbs me, but I simply kept mine in place and politely stepped off the trail for those coming straight toward me. The huffers, aka joggers who spew  breath everywhere, often stayed in the middle of the paved path. That was ok on this day. I didn’t mind moving aside into the shade as they passed, …. for hope was in the air.

You see, the Democratic National Convention was launched last night—a dignified and encouraging event. It was a mid-pandemic occasion that will surely go down in history, along with so many things these days. In place of balloons and banners, rousing applause and the hoopla that in previous years likened the affair to a championship football game, tech gurus worked their magic quietly behind the scenes. Citizens watched from the comfort of their homes.

Children sang en masse, at a distance from each other, perfectly coordinated and full of joy.  The invocation by Fr. James Martin, a prayer to “respect the dignity of all life,” provided a poignant backdrop for the opening sessions of the DNC 2020.  Speakers transitioned seamlessly, one to another, addressing the nation from their front yards, personal libraries, or living rooms. One even spoke as he stood at the juncture of two lanes, depicting the great divide in our nation today and his decision to take a new path and join the other side.

We heard messages of sorrow, disappointment, chaos, and grave warnings about further eroding of our democracy. Former first lady, Michelle Obama, shared truth and wisdom. She reminded viewers that we have given this man, #45, a chance to rise to the occasion, and he hasn’t! He cannot do the job, she continued. Former Republicans shared their stories of crossing over to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to save our nation from further decline.

Yes, on this day, hope is in the air.

Last night we heard messages of compassion for everyday citizens and a compelling desire to bring our nation back together, a longing for the soul of our nation to be restored, stories of experience and leadership and character, teamwork, and yes, ….. love. Love for family, for our country, for our people of many colors and origins.

Indeed, there is new hope in this land. Please help pass on the good news!

 

 

The kayak glided gently…..

…. by cattails and wildflowers as I quietly dipped into the water, one side, then the other. I stayed near the shoreline, to slip in among tree branches that bow over the water and observe the habitat and vegetation. It was shady there … and cozy. 

Shrubs and wildflowers in shades of blue and purple, saplings along with knobby old specimens, floating logs, and an occasional upturned tree with its massive root system exposed provided a fascinating “shore-scape.”

There were birds to observe, even a snake hanging from a tree limb. Turtles sunbathed on protruding rocks and then slipped away into the dark water. Families of ducks drifted along, all in a row following their mother. From the lake-side trail a dog barked.

It was a hot sunny day during the pandemic and the state park was more crowded than usual. In the normally deserted cove, I found people secretly tucked in along the shore line among bushes and trees. They had hiked with lawn chairs to find a perfect spot by the water and take in the beautiful vistas across the lake. One sturdy-looking man sat alone with an open cooler by his chair and cell phone in his hand. I could hear his business meeting going on as I slipped by. Around the bend two women sat on a little outcropping of flat rocks in the shallow water, absorbed in chatter about kids and mothers.

Further down the shoreline a dad was busy showing his young son how to cast a fishing line. Luckily, I avoided getting tangled in their line. Two women in kayaks passed by at a distance and, surprisingly, their conversation carried over the water, clear as a bell. One had a new boyfriend, a nice man, she said, and she hoped this one would work out. I decided to turn away to explore the bulrushes.

Of course, there were other sounds on the lake on this bright summer day. Groups of teenagers had rented paddle-boards and were laughing and falling into the water. How good it was to see them having fun during such a challenging summer! On land, handsome young men wearing prize-winning tans and masks moved about the concession stand area, matching up customers with rental boats and handing out life preservers.

Then there were the old-timer fishermen, some on land, some in small boats. silently threading worms onto hooks and casting into the deep water.  They appeared to be serious about their sport, though I didn’t see any fish dangling on lines. Like many things in life, the value of fishing may be largely found in the effort, rather than the result.

The lake was especially beautiful and peaceful on that hot August day.  I vowed to return soon and headed toward the sandy beach for the final balancing act of getting out of the craft without tipping. Accomplished!

What followed was robust work—dragging the kayak up a slope and getting it on top of the car. And then, just after the last shove to get the kayak onto the roof rack, a young woman appeared and said, “You look fit, but is there anything I can do to help you?”  How sweet of her.  “I think I’ve got it! But thanks so much!” was my reply, and we both smiled.

 

Sweet Memories

Dear readers  ……

A little camping or cabin excursion may be the perfect pandemic getaway for your family. Perhaps this account will give you inspiration. It was originally published in Ruby for Women, 2018, as “Cabin in the Woods.” Thanks for reading ……   Cindy

It was quite a week! Seven days in a cabin nestled among hardwood trees with a sunny glade in front and paved lane below. Perfect for children with scooters and bikes, the lane became a playground for bunnies and deer in the evening. Nature provided sufficient music for the week, with swells of chirping crickets, piercing bird calls, and strange sounds at night. It was a delightful setting in which all four of us—three granddaughters ages six through thirteen, and one Oma, aka grandmother—were eager for adventure.

Two weeks ahead of time, preparations began: cooking and freezing meatballs and homemade cinnamon rolls; getting out the camping bins to check supplies, restocking paper towels and plastic bags; and adding a whisk and can opener.

Pots and pans are always essential for life at the cabin…..

  • small pot with lid for boiling eggs or water for coffee
  • large pot for cooking corn on the cob, making soup on a rainy day, and rinsing hand-washed dishes (No fancy dishwasher on site!)
  • favorite cast iron griddle for pancakes, French toast, grilled cheese, even scrambled eggs if stirred gently

Speaking of coffee …. it’s a ritual for Oma, first thing in the morning when the children are still asleep. Hot water, paper filter fitted into a large mug, and ground coffee work just fine for that early morning comfort. It’s especially lovely while watching the sun rise from the rustic porch of the cabin or curled up in a comfy chair in the living room with a book or journal. Before long, squeaking bunk beds and the patter of little feet remind me to heat up the griddle and mix up a batch of pancakes.

Not to be forgotten in the preparation is a stash of matches, best stored in a tightly screwed jar, along with a sealed bag of fire starters. These are torn up paper egg cartons. They’ve been covered with candle drippings, to be placed under the kindling of the campfire. During the winter, I repurpose Christmas candle stubs and egg cartons from holiday baking into fire starters.

At least one meal will be cooked outdoors—hot dogs, Bratwurst, burgers, barbeque chicken—and of course it would not be a cabin week without s’mores. Campfires are not just for cooking! They’re for imagining and dreaming, especially enchanting in the cool of the evening, and perfect for sharing stories and songs.

The above-mentioned s’mores consist of graham crackers, roasted marshmallows, and melting chocolate and always cause a sticky mess. My best solution: the large cooking pot filled with warm sudsy water and brought outside to sticky fingers along with a fresh towel to help control the mess, if there is anything like control in this situation.

I’ve learned that plenty of towels is a bonus in many regards. Things can get damp in the woods and there is nothing like a clean drying towel to make the cabin kitchen feel like home. A fresh towel after a hot shower is also a treat!

Now this was a unique week. It rained every day, at times in heavy downpours. We sat at breakfast one morning and discussed an emergency flood plan that included climbing onto the kitchen table, swimming over to the top bunk bed, or climbing one of the gigantic trees by the cabin. One child said she couldn’t climb that high, so we decided to use a strap to connect her to the strongest of us to keep her safe. No one would be lost.

Luckily, the drainage was good. The cabin sat up on a little hillside and streams of water flowed downward all around us. We could see water running off into the woods below. Being at risk was unlikely, but having an escape plan is always a good idea. And, it’s smart to pick a cabin or tent site on high ground!

The sun made an occasional brief appearance, and at each opportunity we got out the scooters or took short walks. One day we enjoyed a quick picnic by the lake, another a jaunt to the playground. What we eliminated from the plan was the lengthy hike to a fire tower—not a good place to be caught in a thunder storm.

Crafts, cooking projects, and inside play became the focus. We painted bird houses and ceramic mugs, acted out fairy tales and hero stories, played board games, and even completed a 500-piece puzzle on the last night. Culinary efforts by the children resulted in a delicious breakfast egg casserole, cinnamon pretzels of unique shapes, and a dinner of black beans and eggs prepared by the eldest granddaughter, who had just returned from Mexico. Every meal tasted delicious!

There were several visits of friends and family, one unexpected cabin lockout that required a volunteer to climb in through an open window, naps among the trees in the hammock, and friendly chats with neighbors. Our gregarious and thoughtful teen suggested next time we should bake cookies early on the first day to take to families as they arrived at their cabins.

One day was sunny from the start with no storms predicted. That was the day we went to the pool. Soaking in the sunshine, splashing and playing games in the water, …. we had a wonderful and totally exhausting day. At bedtime, one child asked: “Oma, did you pray and ask God to give us sunshine so we could go swimming?” She had begged every day to go to the pool regardless of the weather. “I asked God to give us a good day,” I replied. “And He did! Isn’t that wonderful? We can be very thankful.”

Now, with the grandchildren returned safely to their parents, I’m doing laundry, reorganizing the supply bin for next year, taking naps….and feeling grateful!