Holy Saturday morn

Rain storms during the night have left the Earth green and heavy with moisture.

From my window I see the blue green of Colorado spruce needles, lime green of new sycamore leaves, deep green of pine trees in the backdrop, and delicate light green of spring grasses in their thick tufts and lush stretches.

Tiny streams have carved pathways on the hilly banks. A burst of wind sways the branches and sends a spray of droplets into the air.

Mounds of fluffy white daffodils bounce in the breeze at the house across the way, nodding approval of the generous watering of the Earth.

From their secret hideouts, birds chatter away, as they happily await the sunshine.

On this Holy Saturday, may we too be filled with hope and wonder as we prepare for the amazing joy of Easter morning.

…. for the Living

It was an uplifting evening of beautiful music and remembrance. The concert choir of Henderson High School, West Chester, PA, consisting of eighty-nine talented teenagers had paired with a community vocal group, the renowned Brandywine Singers. Their soaring melodies were supported by a fine chamber ensemble, a blend of high school string players and Chesco Pops musicians. Jonathan Kreamer, director, had selected opioid addiction as a focus for the performance, with proceeds benefiting several addiction treatment centers.
Prayers and poems of various religious traditions alternated with inspiring music which floated up to the high rafters of the lovely Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, PA. Special guests spoke of the opioid addiction crisis including Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs of PA, Jennifer Smith. Ms. Smith referred to opioid addiction as a disease that changes the brain. Recovery is possible, but relapse is common. This is a community issue and we all play a role in the solution. She urged families who are dealing with opioid use concerns to acquire a supply of NARCAN (available at local pharmacies without a presciption). The PA hot line for all to remember is 1-800-622-HELP.
The message was heart-breaking, but it clearly raised awareness among the more than five hundred people in the audience — spell-bound during the presentation. Especially important, in my view, was the fact that many young people were present.
A reverent reading of seventeen names followed, friends and loved ones who were lost to the epidemic in 2017. This was a year in which 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses. Silence followed and then …….. the ethereal sound of treble strings gently entered the space as the feature composition of the evening began. This work was Dan Forrests’s Requiem for the Living.
It was a masterpiece of beauty; the rich sounds of the choir and orchestra, the energy and emotional involvement of the conductor, the magic cast over the audience ……. perfectly fitting for the solemnity of the occasion. Five movements sung in Latin transported us from the Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy, to the Lux Aeterna, place of eternal light.
The joyous proclamation of “Hosanna” rang out repeatedly during the Sanctus. My neighbor in the pew, with whom I had shared a crowded space in the second row, turned with a smile and said, “Isn’t this perfect for the eve of Palm Sunday?” Wiping my eyes, I nodded and smiled. We had shared an amazing event, not to be forgotten.
Boisterous applause and a standing ovation were instant at the close of the performance. Within a few seconds the strings had their bows in place again, and we were treated to an encore of the “Hosanna” portion. Beautiful planning ……. while the urgency of the opioid threat had been imprinted on our minds and hearts, Maestro Kreamer sent us back into the world with joyful sounds of optimism.

Friday Morning

The sign said Fresh Pretzels and Logs. Interesting enough, but what really got my attention was the wonderful aroma of yeast, sugar and cinnamon, plus a smidgeon of savory sausage and melting cheese!

Behind the glass wall, a young Amish girl rolled out dough, stretching and pulling and then cutting it into fist-sized balls, laying aside the extra as she began to shape one portion at a time. Working quickly, she snipped off a long piece, then rolled again, tied a loose knot and flipped the newly formed pretzel onto a large baking sheet.
Without a pause she darted over to trays of freshly baked pretzels, carefully picked up each one with a tong and dipped it into melted butter. As a lineup of customers waited at the counter, mouths nearly watering, the warm buttery treats landed in a drawer of cinnamon sugar and then into small paper bags.

Three little tables stood tucked in beside the glass window on the customer side, fully occupied. One kindly gentleman had an elderly mother at his side; he spoke loudly and tended to her constantly, picking up her napkin whenever it fell and offering her another cup of coffee.

Several mid-aged ladies looked like they were ready for a casual date wearing colorful sweaters, smart leather shoes, and a touch of jewelry. A few sported freshly done hair, as if they had just come from the salon. They looked fit and healthy too, though were eating warm pretzels dripping with butter and sweetness. Several ladies munched on sandwiches filled with meat and cheese. Everyone was smiling.

Not one young person was among them. On the porch outside, I had seen a handsome- looking older couple on old-fashioned rockers, chatting as if it were perhaps a first opportunity. Could these folks be members of Seniors Meet or Match.com for the silver sneaker crowd?

The event was an informal convention of retirees, it seemed. Very likely, in fact. According to data, ten thousand Americans turn sixty-five each day, and they are the healthiest and best educated generation in our nation’s history. They are out and about. Well-tuned representatives of this population were snacking on freshly-baked pretzels and enjoying their Friday morning, right there in the local farmers’ market.

I was on a speed visit to get a few donuts for the weekend, but decided to slow down and take it all in: a stroll through the country furniture aisle, a sample of home-made pickles, people-watching at the gourmet wing counter where at least eight different flavors of chicken wings created some drama, a leisurely visit at the corner shop that sells everything from buckwheat pancake mix to chocolate-covered strawberries.

Of course I remembered the donuts, warm with sticky icing and fresh cream filling, and then made my way to the door, again passing the pretzel and log shop. The tables were still full, customers still smiling. I was tempted to ask them the name of their club but decided to simply come back next Friday and take a place at one of those tables. After all, I’m retired too!

Still Work to ……

It’s a stately old mansion, especially at Christmas. Each room is outfitted with damask and velvet, richly-colored Persian rugs, and solid wood furniture with scrolls and marble tops. The dimensions outdo any modern home, even the exquisite ones.

A fireplace in each room once kept residents toasty on cool winter nights in this country estate, just south of the Mason-Dixon line. Today the immense mantles hold collections of glistening balls in tall glass jars and lush arrangements of cream silk flowers with flowing vines. Candles and exotic porcelain vases line window sills. Gas log inserts replace real wood, but flames flicker as before and warm the spaces.

Staircases abound, but the one in the “receiving room,” with balusters and broad steps leading upward on three sides around an immense crystal chandelier, …. It is majestic! Oil paintings hang everywhere and a large window overlooks the garden.

It’s almost time for breakfast, which I ordered last night from the menu attached to the room door. What a treat it was to review the options and select my favorite, along with a choice of serving times. Would I also enjoy coffee brought to my room?

As I write and sip my early coffee, the cook is preparing fresh fruit compote and an organic omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions, plus fresh herbs grown on the property. This will be served with cranberry-orange juice, coffee, and a slice of banana nut bread warm from the oven. Guests will find small round breakfast tables in the dining room today, rather than on the terrace. White brocade table coverings reach to the floor, adorned with candles and fresh flowers.

This is a world apart—one that I step into on occasion. I feel joy here, peace, comfort, even love as I settle into a different time and leave the cares of today on the country road at the entrance.

The amazing thing is that my first visit was decades ago. As a young teen, I spent time at a place called Koinonia, near Baltimore, helping a family with young children. They had rented a cottage on the premises in order to attend a conference focused on Christian mission work. Known as the Koinonia Foundation, the organization that owned the property sought to evangelize and educate by going into undeveloped places of the world. They believed that education combats poverty and leads the way to world peace, and it all begins with literacy.

Dr. Frank C. Laubach made Koinonia his USA home-base, as he led the efforts with his “Each One Teach One” method, well-recognized in literacy training programs today. Based on pictures linked with words, his simple, common-sense model required that each learner should teach another. Laubach spent years working in remote villages of Asia and is said to have impacted millions of people.

The occasion of my one-week stay at Koinonia (now Gramercy Mansion) marked the 80th birthday of Dr. Laubach. He was present for cake, and countless guests who knew him personally or knew of his work shared in the celebration. To this day, I am honored to have been there—a young babysitter caring for two children. Little did I know that one day I would again come to the big old house where significant thinking and planning took place, where like-minded individuals pondered what they could do to advance peace and humanitarian causes.

The birthday cake was probably delicious, but what I recall most is the fellowship with young idealistic Christians from all parts of the world. There was international folk dancing in the great hall, and each encounter was a geography lesson as I met people from distant places. This surely was formative in my life, as I later pursued a language teaching career, developed exchange programs to promote cultural understanding, ….. and am still wanting to save the world in my own small way.

The breakfast at this lovely place is delicious, but the memories are second to none. The old mansion house has been repurposed, but its lofty spirit remains. I’ll go home refreshed—-ready to look at my dreams and set new goals. There is still work to be done!

Christmas Magic

The little envelop had been tucked behind my screen door. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” it said in bright red. I knew this was from the trash collectors. Each year I notice it and set it aside for a day or two. Before long, Christmas has passed with its rush of activity and I realize I have not thanked the service people who show up faithfully every week to remove my discards.
It was early this morning when I heard the truck rumble around the corner. Still in my robe, I quickly grabbed the envelope, stuffed cash into it, and darted to the curb where the blue recycling bin had just been emptied. The two men, quickly moving on to the next home behind their trash-laden truck, paused to say “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! And God bless you!” I heard the last greeting twice and it rang in my ears. Tears filled my eyes and I quickly responded with my own “And God bless you too.”

A curbside blessing at 7 AM on a bitter cold December morning. The younger man accepted the envelop with a gentle smile. Was he amused by the fact that I was wearing a big fluffy robe? He seemed to be truly grateful. The older man, all decked out with a long grey beard (almost like Santa himself), waved to me with his blessing, continuing to heave a garbage bin with the other arm. This all lasted about a minute.

I wonder how many people show appreciation to the service people in their lives. There are many possibilities, if you stop to think about it.

As a classroom teacher I enjoyed the little surprises that quietly showed up on my desk at Christmas. They included chocolate dipped pretzels with red and green sprinkles—a perfect pick-me-up for a tired teacher during the hectic days before holiday break. One year there was a lovely necklace in a box, another year a colorful Christmas tin filled with buttery hazelnut cookies, homemade. This was a treat that I took home to share. The building principal even stopped by with a gift to show appreciation for my work. There were personal cards, sometimes in German, which delighted me no end, and kind verbal greetings as the students left the classroom on the last day.

At the hair salon I see boxes of candy with bright red ribbons from appreciative customers. Sunday School teachers deserve recognition, as well as mail carriers, gas meter readers if you can catch them at their work, the plumber who comes just in time to fix a problem before guests arrive for the weekend.

If in each encounter we do or say something special to show appreciation, peace and good will could be spinning around in our communities like never before. Christmas magic that lives on and on. Now that would be a good thing!

Everyone is doing it…

 

……. whether it be drinking beer, as reported yesterday by a man who has been nominated to serve for a life-term position on the highest judicial court in the nation, or whether it be expressing sadness, anger, or disappointment over this event.

Here find my view on the hearings yesterday. My sympathies are with all parties involved.

I believe that:

#1 Not everyone is drinking beer or drinking it in excess. To give that impression is simply wrong.

#2 Questions and answers about what one recalls from the experiences of being blacked out or asleep are inconclusive. When I’m asleep, I am not aware of what I’m doing. My understanding is that being blacked out is also a state of non-awareness.

#3 The Senators should consider this question: What message is being sent to our nation, especially our young people, about responsible decision-making? If the judge is confirmed in spite of allegations and statements in his own testimony, an important message is LOST, that is, to think of consequences before you act. The belief that “everyone is doing it” does not make it right. Consuming a substance in the name of fun to the point of falling asleep or blacking out is foolish. Anything can happen. The decisions we make along the way determine our future path.

#4 The honorable judge has an opportunity now to graciously step away from the nomination, in order to protect his family and the families of his opponents from additional harm, in order to allow the president to make a fresh nomination, in order to free himself from continuing entanglement of power-seeking and pride and to free all of us from being drawn into this ugly situation, and in order to give the American people, whom he wishes to serve, a renewed trust in our government. This would be a wise decision—one of integrity and honor. It would be gracious and generous and right.

The above thoughts come from an ordinary American citizen who is a teacher, mother, grandmother, thinker. I welcome your views.

Creation

The rain began ……

… as a faint rustling, barely noticeable. It was Sunday morning, early. Gardens and fields were already saturated from the long, wet summer. It could not be raining again! Inside, the house was cozy and dry. I pulled open the sliding glass door to check the conditions and decided this was a writing moment…….

Wrapped in a warm fleece robe and sitting by the open door, the contrast was stark with cool air swirling in around my legs. The raindrops became steady and gently washed the earth and found their way into ponds and rivers, already overflowing their banks. Lucky for me, my house sits high and drainage is good. Not so for many people.

A recent hurricane brought high winds and heavy rain to coastal regions of North Carolina and neighboring states. Hundreds of people remain without electric power and still others have abandoned their homes due to dangerous floods. The natural phenomenon known as Florence will be recorded as one of the most devastating storms to land on our shores.

Meanwhile, Western Europe suffered a hot, dry summer, also a record for the history books. Wheat crops were decimated in some areas and the price of flour has already increased in a society where bread is a staple. In addition, communities are trying to assist thousands of asylum-seeking immigrants who have fled war zones in the Middle East and beyond—these folks need bread too!

Extreme heat and dry conditions have caused dangerous wild fires in our western states. Glaciers are melting, beaches are eroding, ….. Is this normal? Do we learn more about urgent natural situations today than in the past, due to the high level of info sharing? And the speed with which news travels? And the ability of meteorologists to predict weather changes? Have such extreme conditions always made appearances from time to time throughout history? Some folks believe this.

Perhaps I’ll stay here by the window for a few days, quietly observing, drinking tea, and reading. The rain will surely end and the sun will again cast bright dancing patterns onto the balcony and grass beyond. Warmth will flood my little space.

It sounds idyllic. Yes, I’ll wait patiently for the sun to reappear, and my footsteps will be lighter when it does. But also, I’ll read widely to learn from experts who study climate change and the impact of human choices on our planet. I’ll support those who want to protect the environment. I’ll try to live in a way that helps assure a beautiful and healthy world for my grandchildren and their children.

And, I will pray that God gives us the wisdom and courage to stand up for this beautiful creation He made for us. It’s time.

A Nor’easter arrived…..

…. as predicted. Fancy meteorologists with their latest equipment and unmatched hour-by-hour precision were among the most excited, next to school children! Wet snow fell furiously during the turbulent periods of the storm and changed the landscape with its heaviness on bushes and trees. During lulls in the storm,  children gathered with sleds and mittens to travel the slopes in the neighborhood. Dogs pranced around in the snow among the children and a few brave Dads stood by.

What to do on such a day? Once a teacher, always a teacher. Of course, I checked the school closings early in the morning, cup of coffee in hand.  Then I began to work in the kitchen! Homemade bread was first on the list, my grandmother’s recipe for oatmeal whole wheat bread. Yeast, just enough sugar to help the yeast rise, two kinds of flour, a pat of butter, warm water, a little mixing….and the dough was complete, rising in its safe warm place.

Next came the soup, just waiting to happen with a turkey carcass leftover from Christmas in the freezer. While the yeast dough rose in my slightly warm oven,  simmering turkey remnants, veggies, and herbs filled the house with a light, savory aroma. It was a recipe for coziness.

As the day went on, the soup broth became rich and reduced. I removed the bones and strained the broth. Additional vegetables, including diced carrots, chopped celery and onion, lima beans, and a nice sprinkling of quinoa and cute curly pasta found their way into the soup pot, along with tasty chunks of turkey  from the bones. The soup simmered on.

Back to the bread…..having risen to double in size, it was ready for the next step. I prepared the pastry cloth with ample flour and turned out the dough to be kneaded and shaped. This is a special step of bread-making for me. It’s a hands-on experience, literally; a chance to imagine; a promise of something yummy to come; and an encounter with the magic of transformation (the yeast). This time, I added chopped pecans and dried cranberries, slightly moistened in a cup of water for a few minutes. Two medium bread pans would provide the form today (one to share with a friend and one to enjoy myself). Then another time of waiting followed, aka the 2nd rising.

The beauty of bread-making is that the baker has free time between stages. The down side is that one needs to be home to get the timing right, perfect for a cold snowy day when weather gurus have said “Stay home!”  Before long, the timer went off and the bread was ready for the oven. Aromas filling the house turned to yeast and warmth and all kinds of delicious. How else does one describe freshly baked bread? Not able to resist, I sampled the treasure while still warm. It was just right!

Dusk came, the meteorologists warned of freezing slush and slippery roads, and evening cancellations scrolled across the screen. My soup and bread supper was  delightful!  The day had been somehow festive—watching the outdoor world from a warm perch inside, doing things I love to do, creating something useful and nourishing—and I was grateful.

In case you’d like to bake bread during the next Nor’easter, I share my recipe here. It comes from my grandmother’s kitchen, where she often served it with butter and fig preserves. The bread is best warm from the oven or toasted.

1 pkg yeast dissolved with 1 tsp sugar in 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water – Let this sit for a few minutes while you complete the next step

Place in bowl: 1 cup quick oats, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp soft butter, 1 scant Tbsp salt

Pour over the above 2 cups hot water. Mix with electric mixer and let cool until warm. Add yeast mixture. Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and then enough white flour to make a firm dough, 3 to 4 cups. (not too sticky but soft)

Let dough rise in warm place covered with a damp clean cloth until double in size. Knead, form, and place in buttered pans or onto baking sheet. Let rise again until double and bake, starting in 450 oven for 10 minutes and then 350 oven for about 30 minutes. I test bread for doneness by tapping. If it sounds hollow and crust is nicely browned it’s ready to remove from oven, cool a few minutes, and turn onto a rack. Enjoy!!!