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!!!

Evening in Advent

Invitations had been sent for a little soiree after the Christmas concert, to be held at my house. Musicians always like to relax together after a performance. “What a great audience! Did you see the little boy in the elf costume? Santa was especially talkative this year.”

Wassail punch would be warm and festive on a cold December night, along with assorted sandwiches, my usual Polynesian crab dip, and the gorgeous chocolate cake I had been eyeing for months at the local bakery. It would serve at least twenty people, so this was the right occasion. I had never dared to purchase it before, but trusted it to taste delicious.

The house was ready: tree glistening by the fireplace, five stockings hanging from the mantel, and candles in place. Menu items were prepared and arranged on Christmas platters and bowls, with tiny labels on the dining room table to mark where each would be placed.

Then the snow began, just a dusting at first. It was beautiful, and I enjoyed watching birds at the feeder by the kitchen. Performance clothes were laid out and a hot bath waiting, when the email message arrived. “Concert CANCELLED due to inclement weather.”

Of course, this was a good decision for the sake of safety, as two children’s choirs were performing with the orchestra and many people would be driving on treacherous roads. As for the soiree, my house was ready, food in place, and Wassail punch fully prepared, just waiting to be warmed. A final to-do list lay on the kitchen counter—just three simple items. The beautiful chocolate cake sat on a silver platter anticipating hungry guests.

The evening turned out to be quiet and reflective, actually quite enjoyable. I was tired after all that work, and the snow continued to fall in its peaceful loveliness. I decided that getting ready for the post-concert gathering had been a meaningful process. And then it came to mind.

Preparing for a party is like Advent—anticipation of something very special, a time to prepare our hearts to receive the gift of the Christ Child. God’s own son would enter our lives, be a guest at our table, enjoy our company and the humble offerings we have for Him, and turn our lives around. He would impact the world as none other has done.

Fortunately, there was no cancellation of His birth so many years ago. Regardless of weather conditions and over-booking at the inns in Bethlehem, the Baby Jesus arrived safely. And the musicians performed. “Suddenly there was with the angel a heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men.’ ” (Luke 2:14)  Now that was a celebration, and it has been going on for more than two thousand years.

On that recent snowy night, one dear friend braved the weather and came by. We made a dinner out of the holiday party foods and cut two slivers from the scrumptious-looking chocolate cake. It was a perfect Advent evening!

Precious Seeds

The sunflower is looking better. This is no ordinary plant. It grew from the seeds my mother gave me one bright summer day a few weeks before she died. She moved precariously that day, but with the stability of a walker we navigated safely through the large automatic door of her nursing village. We both squinted in the bright sunlight. And then began a tour of her outdoor world: raised bed gardens that residents could reach, bird houses and feeders gathered near large windows, neatly mulched beds by the porch filled with colorful zinnias and all kinds of hosta. Bright white-painted rocking chairs moved in the breeze. A pretty wooden bench beckoned to us, so we sat and rested a bit. I loved those times with my mother.
Then we moved along further and found the sunflowers. It was already late summer and several of the plate-like bursts of color had faded and presented seeds. She ceremoniously reached out to pluck off a few and gave them to me. “Here. You take these. You can plant them in your garden.” She was reaching right into my heart but only later did I fully understand. You see, my mother and I shared a love of gardens, beautiful flowers and herbs, and the practice of cultivating something lovely.
I have never forgotten that day. With time, sadness came as she became ill and eventually left us. But I kept those seeds in a little baggie, a few brown pods that she had gently pressed into my hand from hers, for the day when I would plant them. The time came; the seeds found their way into my little “Secret Garden” and one robust leafy sunflower plant emerged weeks later. Before long it produced tiny buds that grew and grew.
Then one morning as I visited the garden the buds were missing! A deer from the woods nearby had likely smelled the scent of those luscious young morsels and had himself a delicious dinner during the night. My first order of the day was a stop at the garden shop. Before long, a fine spray to safely deter deer and other critters became part of the daily garden routine.
Thankfully, the precious plant has produced more buds. This lovely reminder of my dear mother speaks to me of her courage and resilience, her beauty and strength. The sunflower will live on, along with the memories, and I will guard it with greatest affection. She too lives on in her Heavenly home, where she is surely enveloped in the brilliance of a magnificent field of sunflowers.

Learning Curve

Being a digital immigrant, I admit that time, courage, and patience are needed when it comes to trying new technologies. This refers not to using a drone to photograph the family reunion or writing a new computer language. No, by new “technologies” I refer simply to adding color, changing the format, or (when I get really brave) posting pictures or drawings that enhance my writing. So I am experimenting with options. Since the last post ended up mysteriously with no paragraphs  and other unexpected changes, I am committed to working on this, and it will only happen if I play around.
So here we go. Thanks for your patience.

On Music, Life, Faith…

 

It’s springtime and there is music in the air! Lately I’ve been thinking about all that goes into a music performance, specifically that of an orchestra. Of course, there are the musicians who have practiced long hours over many years, purchased expensive instruments, and given up soccer games and chat time and all sorts of life events to attend rehearsals. Indeed, an orchestra requires a conductor, who has studied under the tutelage of other esteemed conductors and passed numerous benchmarks of excellence prior to reaching the podium. This journey has been competitive and demanding.  These are the obvious ingredients of an orchestra—the things we notice when sitting in the audience.

However, music performance requires many behind-the-scene tasks, often unknown to the typical concert-goer. Before each rehearsal and performance, someone must clear the stage of debris and set up chairs. The grand piano and array of percussion instruments must be carefully pushed into place, as well as music stands and microphones. Proper lighting is important so the performers can see their leader and their music.

The list goes on. Backdrops that help direct sound, risers, loud speakers, projectors and screens for special effects, unique devices in the case of live looping……. After the performance all of this must be undone as a courtesy to the next performing group.

Music teachers who attend to the endless details of performance day in our schools deserve a special “shout out” of gratitude. In addition to the above, they teach teamwork and responsibility, explore new compositions, design interesting programs, order and file music, …… AND patiently endure the squawks and squeaks of young learners.

Another lesser-known preparation for performance that occurs behind the scenes is the marking of music. For example, the section leader for the string players normally provides markings in advance of the first rehearsal. This requires skill and time. I just spent forty-five minutes with my coffee and computer, copying tiny symbols from screen to paper, each with an important purpose. Does the bow move upward or downward on this pick-up note? Do we slur four or eight notes together? A typical page of 1st violin music contains as many as twenty-five markings. Is this passage suddenly louder as indicated by the publisher or does the conductor wish to keep the volume at mezzo forte. There is an important pause at the end of bar three. I better pay attention to that. This fast section is best played in the fourth position. Better circle the D #.

Recently, while marking my violin score, I began to think about life. How well prepared am I for the next phase? Have I marked the fast sections and slow in my score, the boisterous and the sublime? Is the fingering written above the notes so that a smooth transition can occur between passages? Are dramatic pauses built into the plan?

Yikes! I am not the least bit prepared if readiness means having every detail in place. In fact, the opposite is true. Spontaneity is a part of my days, and in it I find joy and excitement. Of course, having a plan is important and success is usually related to good organization. However, plans change, other people show up, the music stops and starts again in the middle of the dance. One thing is certain: trust in a loving God makes it possible for me to adapt to the changing rhythms, even sometimes to just take a day at a time. The master plan is not in my hands, to be sure.

So then, how is living life like performing in an orchestra? I can’t imagine an ensemble in which everyone chooses on the spot what dynamic to play, how to finger a passage, or whether or not to extend a note for dramatic effect. This would be chaos. Maybe the analogy is: it’s important in life to set up the stage and anticipate critical landmarks. Beyond that, we simply must trust the conductor.

Common Threads

Young or old, male or female, immigrant or Native American, educated or not, those of various religions and preferences, we are all human and share a great deal in common.  Sadly, it has been difficult recently to find the common factors.  The divide shows up among once jovial neighbors, friends who share a monthly bridge game, family members at the dinner table, co-workers in the staff office.  The parting of ways manifests itself dramatically on social media where unbridled frustration and fear appear at every click.  Uneasiness is apparent in polite conversation, as people try to be kind and avoid tricky topics.

My blog is about the journey—particularly about taking on new risks and adventures in the final quarter of the game. So why am I writing about the above?  Because it’s inescapable — and it’s part of the game.  What’s going on in our country affects the lives of our children and grandchildren and we need to pay attention.  I don’t pretend to have a solution to the divide we’re experiencing, but do suggest eight first steps:

  1. Listen to many voices, i.e. access varied sources of information

Intentionally read papers and watch news broadcasts that are known to be of the opposite political leaning from your own.

  1. Avoid hasty conclusions about people

Adopt a “no conclusion, no judgment” posture.  Period.

  1. Go out of your way to meet new people, especially those who have a different appearance, nationality, religion, or lifestyle

If you are Christian, visit a mosque. If you are Muslim, attend a Christian service.

  1. Smile more

This actually feels good and is perhaps the easiest way to say “Welcome to my world.”

  1. Take the time to hear people’s stories

Preconceived ideas about people (aka prejudices), especially about certain groups of people, usually vanish when we actually get to know a person.

  1. Give second chances

We are human!

  1. Choose gentle language

How differently we might view the  national health care discussion, for example,  if the plan were called a ”pilot program,”  which any new initiative is, to be reviewed and improved, rather than a “failure,” to be repealed.  Words are powerful and can be neutral or inflammatory.

  1. Be empathetic: imagine walking in the other’s shoes, figure out what makes that person tick

This may require all of the above. Experience a softening of the heart, let go of rigid beliefs, and become a more compassionate person.

Perhaps the above steps will help make a difference. It’s worth a try!

~ Post Script ~

For social media posters who share cute pictures and uplifting quotes, thanks for brightening my day.

For friends who approach me directly with honest respectful dialog about difficult issues, kudos to you for giving this a chance.

For leaders who take a stand for what is right in the face of repercussions, I congratulate your bravery.

For those who pray, please pray fervently that we will overcome the divide and again find the common threads we share as Americans.

It has been a week…..

…..and I am thankful. Thankful that Election 2016 is behind us. For months we were bombarded with negative rhetoric and ugly visual ads. Facebook throbbed with new posts, one more outrageous than the last. Terms such as crook and misogyny became part of everyday vocabulary in reference to our soon-to-be chosen president. The focus was on criticism rather then optimism, negative findings of the past rather than creative ideas for the future, exclusion rather than inclusion. I don’t know about you, but I was sad about the whole process.

Finally November 8th arrived, and I had the privilege of working at the polls with a fine group of people. We arranged tables to accommodate voters efficiently, hung customary notices, reviewed our assignments, and began the day with a long line at the door. Smiles and cheerful greetings welcomed our neighbors as they arrived. One dear elderly lady carried out her civic duty with the help of a patient daughter, others had moved to another part of the community and needed directions to their new polling location, a kind restaurant owner delivered lunch and then hours later dinner. Quite a few voters brought children and teens,  and we welcomed them eagerly as young witnesses to the democratic process. First time voters received a round of applause and cheers, much to their surprise. Some of us worked from 6 AM until closing at 8 PM .

After a full day at the polls, I returned home to view the colorful map and hear the earliest results coming in from the East Coast. Like many, I was very surprised. Late evening stretched into night at which time the map was complete and it was clear that the ever-intensifying nightmare of the campaign season had culminated in a victory for one candidate. Unprecedented protests followed along with fascinating commentary and many questions. Will campaign promises be fulfilled? Did the public receive false impressions from postings on social media? How did mainstream leaders miss the cries of a mass of the population that evidently feels “left out”? What impact will the new president in the White House (or on 5th Avenue) have on European nations teetering on the brink of electing far right leaders?

Only time will tell, I suppose. I hope and pray that thoughtful consideration and wisdom will play a role. Now one week later, there is another question. Should I prepare my mother’s cranberry-orange gelatin salad or fresh whole berry sauce? This is a question I can handle. And it gives me much joy!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!