Opportunities

One week has passed since the turning point. Schools have been shuttered, malls and  restaurants locked up except for food take-out, social distancing the common practice. A trip to the bank was needed, so I wore gloves when touching the cylinder that magically gets sucked into nowhere at the drive-through. An ordinary errand … but not ordinary at all. Folks understand and expect this strange new way of interacting, except perhaps the spring breakers still crowding the beaches of Florida.

A new reality is setting in. One elderly neighbor has pneumonia, and her mystery care giver slips into the driveway each day wearing a protective mask. News reports remind us nonstop of the threat of the COVID 19 pandemic. Each day is different from the one before.  Self-quarantined folks rely on texts and phone calls to stay connected. Church leaders send devotional messages that provide hope and comfort.

Looking for opportunities in the uncertainty, I’m compiling a bank of encouraging changes, ways of doing things differently that may improve our way of life. Here are a few observations;

  • The planet is healthier they say, already! Fewer cars are on the roads, lower level of emissions, cleaner air….it sounds like a pretty picture.
  • A mother of teens reports the atmosphere in her home is calmer than before without all the deadlines and places kids have to be. Dinnertime has become a leisurely family event. She wonders about the myriad of activities we build into our children’s lives.
  • A friend decided to clean her windows on a recent sunny day while sequestered in her house, bringing more brightness inside.  On my list too!
  • Another friend is removing 5 layers of paint from a porch rail—a job she has been putting off.
  • On my daily solitary walks I see families in backyards playing ball together and kids walking with their parents.
  • My grandson cooked an entire dinner for his family and his sister has taken up pie baking.
  • Gardens are being prepared for summer — with happy thoughts of a more carefree time. My indoor collection of sixteen cherry tomato plants and one lush basil pot is thriving at the window. Black-eyed Susan vines are next!
  • A friend is making coffee tables in his barn workshop, in case the outdoor farm market, his livelihood, is not able to open for business.
  • A Facebook acquaintance posts “I’m cooking real meals! Never realized how much fun that could be.”
  • My neighbor worries that she’s gaining weight. “All I do is cook…eggplant parmesan, meatballs, … and then I eat.”
  • A young mother is planning family movie nights, a time for putting down individual devices and sharing a screen together, along with popcorn.
  • Another young mother who normally falls back on fast food restaurants on busy days discovered she could create several meals from one chicken. Her entrees sound delicious: roasted chicken with veggies and taco salad with shredded chicken.
  • A teacher / coach who’s designing and delivering instruction at home wonders how the face of education will look in the future. He finds joy in his hobby—running in the great outdoors.

These seem like healthy, happy pursuits. Perhaps our busy schedules have failed us and it’s time to rediscover the joys of simply being in our homes and gardens.

While practicing vigilance to safeguard families and communities, let’s see the opportunities for positive change, little bright spots that warm our hearts and promise a better future. This is my prayer for you, your loved ones, and all those I hold close.

Feel free to share the bright spots in your days in a reply below, so that we can lift each other up.

“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

 

Shortage in the Ice Cream Aisle

There was evidently a run on mint chocolate chip ice cream! I’d heard about the toilet paper race and didn’t even enter that aisle. It was to be a quick trip to the store, with efforts to stay away from people. I did speak with the lady in the meat section, only to learn there was nothing left in the butcher’s stash behind the mysterious swinging doors. Quickly gathering up a ham from the bin, I headed for the dairy section. A few containers of milk, one carton of eggs, and a supply of cottage cheese lined the shelves. And then, on to the ice cream aisle before I’d escape to outside air and the safe haven of my car.

Creamy green mint sprinkled with chunks of dark chocolate…hm….I could already see it melting and dripping down the sides of a cone.  There were at least eight brands of ice cream and a decent number of options on the shelves, but not one mint chocolate chip remained.  Wanting to move along to the cash register, I hastily selected a runner up—butter pecan—and found the quickest line. Alas, the young man at the register was scratching his nose. Oops…I slipped over to another line and gladly paid for my few items and got away.

Life will probably not be the same when we get beyond this virus. I’ll use my own clean stylus when signing the screen for a credit card purchase, and avoid picking up a pen that hundreds have used before me. A friend decided to wipe down each grocery item with a mild bleach solution, after they had been hand-delivered from the food market. Sterile wipes will be in the car in case I find myself at a fancy restaurant with valet parking—not likely in the near future. However, my steering wheel could use a good wipe-down right now.  I’ll never stop hugging my grandkids, but if anyone is ill, we’ll use a hand gesture from the heart. Or at least try.

Little do we know all that will change, but I suspect education/schools will not be the same. Travel, a beloved activity of so many Americans, will be affected. Cultural events in concert halls and theaters are at risk, along with countless business venues such as restaurants and shops,….

Sad and unexpected as the current health crisis is, we can try to see it as an opportunity. A closer sense of community may grow out of the dismay and uncertainty, as we support each other at a distance. Families will begin to spend more time together playing board games, watching movies, cooking, just talking. Church leaders will invent new ways to connect with their flocks, and teachers will reinvent their skills and curricula to reach students with online instruction.

As for me, I’m quilting and have challenged myself to create a new quilt top each day. My blog, asleep for several months, will be a venue for communicating. Thanks for reading this, by the way. A friend texted to say she’s watching movies and cleaning windows. Another is binging on cross word puzzles to keep her mind stimulated.

Dear reader, I hope you’re taking care of yourself, staying at a distance until this passes, finishing an old project or two, reading a good book, and eating ice cream. If you happen to have mint chocolate chip in the freezer, please enjoy a spoonful for me!

 

 

 

 

Tragic Weekend

By all reports it should have been wonderful. The weatherman had predicted perfect summer weather, just right for a picnic in the park or kayak excursion on the lake. I had invited friends for dinner: the house was ready, shopping was complete except for garden veggies from the local farmer, and freshly baked oatmeal-nut bread was cooling on a rack.
The table was set with blue willow china, a gift from my mother, and I had even dusted and reorganized the shelves of the old corner cupboard. It has a beauty of its own and displays impractical but beloved items, such as a large crystal bowl given by a friend, a pair of tiny Blumenkinder figures purchased in Germany, and white china dessert plates edged in platinum. During the dusting process two of the delicate plates slipped from my hands and shattered on the floor. No worries…”I’ll just clean up the pieces. There are still four plates left and others stacked in a cubby in the kitchen.”
Then breaking news appeared on my phone. Another gun event, known as a m… s…, as if it should have a common name. How many times does it take? Proposed legislation that would help deter such violence gathers dust on desks in fancy offices while our elected leaders enjoy their summer leave. Shock and collective sadness, prayers, and conversation occur after each event, and yet nothing changes. Shortly after the first reported shooting, another occurred in a different city. Unbelievable!
How will history books record these times? I shudder to think of possible chapter headlines.
Mass shootings became commonplace, Americans killing Americans
Gun industry stocks rose at the expense of human life
Politicians were unable to act for the common good due to powerful special interest groups
USA became a dangerous place: freedom without responsibility
The possibilities go on, including Mental health crisis led to frequent mass killings or Violence in the media desensitized citizens.
My little dinner party took place as planned. Guests were jovial, telling stories of good old days and discussing the future. No mention was made of the tragedies that had occurred only hours before. Out of courtesy I let the conversation take its own path during the evening and we enjoyed our friendship! But underneath it all, we knew there were shattered families in sudden grief over lost loved ones, countless individuals suffering physical injuries and uncertain about the days ahead, communities torn apart, and an overwhelming sadness that this is where we are—here in the nation we call home.
I welcome your comments.

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.