Cooked

I watched a documentary on Netflix that Michael Pollen wrote and starred in called “Cooked.”  The same Michael Pollen who wrote THE OMINVORE’S DILEMMA.  It was very well done.  There were four episodes broken into the four classic elements: fire, water, air, and earth.  Fire was about roasting and cooking.  Water was about soups, stews, or anything in a pot.  Air was about bread and yeast.  Earth was about microbes, bacteria, and fermentation.  The overarching theme was the contest between convenience and authenticity in food.  The more food is processed, the more profitable to the processor it becomes.  The series dealt with the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and its relationship to fast and processed food, and how it is so much cheaper for calories in the middle aisles of grocery stores.  Poor people can’t afford fresh food.

Missy met with some folks at the local food bank in town and was talking to me about how few people know how to cook and prepare food today.  The people at the food bank told her that many kids don’t understand the relationship of the plants and animals and what they look like before the are processed.  This is exactly what was in the documentary.  As people move further and further from fresh to processed, they lose the sense of what they are really eating.  I guess “soylent green” may not be that far away after all.

Today we opened the food pantry at church.  It is profoundly humbling to be there helping.  I have worked food lines before, and “the hungry” were mostly homeless, addicted, and mentally ill street people who wanted something to eat.  The church food pantry is a totally different clientele — older white women who are stretching their social security check by coming to the pantry to save a week’s worth of food expense.   We give them bags that have, among other things, peanut butter, grits, beans, rice, a can of chicken breast, soup, jello, spaghetti and a can of sauce, a loaf of bread, and a bag of fresh veggies (usually onions, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, bananas, and peppers).  Today Missy cut some rosemary from the gardens at church, and we handed it out.  It was shocking to see how many people didn’t know fresh rosemary and were surprised by its fragrant smell.  Only two declined to get rosemary or sage to take home to season their food.  I wonder how many of them can make a good soup or stew, bake a loaf of bread, or roast a chicken.  Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, but the Spanish folklore tells us, if you give a man a fish he is sated for a day, but if you teach him to fish he can feed himself the rest of his life.

I have wondered out loud whether cooking classes would be a good outreach program at our church.  I wonder if anybody would even care.  It is so much easier to pull up to the drive through window than to prepare a meal.  But they are missing the smells and the tastes that can only come from home-cooked meals, prepared from scratch.  There is a PBS series called “The Mind of a Chef” that follow various chefs around as they cook and explain how they develop a cuisine.  What jumps out is the utter dependency on the ingredients.  If you use high quality ingredients, you get a substantially better dish, no matter how you prepare it.  As the agricultural industry strives for efficiency, the taste and the flavor suffers.  In one of the episodes, it mentions Benton’s smoked hams in Madisonville, TN.  So I drove up there and bought some bacon, ham, and sausage.Savannah red rice  WOW!!  The sausage has so much flavor, it isn’t even funny.  I am sure the quality of the pigs is superior to the mass-produced pork in the grocery store.  But in the same breath the atmosphere in the market area of Benton’s is so much more humble than the “organic” meat market here in Chattanooga.  I can’t breath in there because it is so smug.  What I am saying is that there are plenty of folks out there producing high quality ingredients that are humble working people — farmers, herders, and breeders who are just doing what they have always done.  Now, how do we find a way to marry that to the unwashed masses that are the prey of the processed food industry?  How do we, as a church family, transfer the old-timey skill sets of our grandparents to the apartment dwellers around us?  In my mind, this is true ministry to our neighbors — to equip people so they are able to cook for themselves and give them a space to grow their food.

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The Glory Days

I was in a fraternity in college, reluctantly if I may say so.  I had a hippie girlfriend who didn’t approve, and since she was the source of many good things… well, you get the idea. That, and I didn’t want to get trapped into a small group of buddies as I started with in college. I wanted to try everything:  radio, theatre, clubs and groups.  Anyway I fell into this group of good buddies and had a wonderful time during my four years of college.  I mean a really great group of guys.  Through the years we have slowly drifted apart as the demands of jobs, families, life, etc. trumped the desire to reach out and catch up.  We would see each other at college reunions and compare notes of how we were faring in life.  Then the digital age happened, and we began to reconnect through emails and Facebook.  I remember early in the FB days somebody told me it was a great way to find old friends for reunions and what have you. So I joined.  Within three minutes both my son and daughter let me know of their outrage that I would be in “their space” and to get off this very minute.  A fraternity brother wondered out loud on Facebook what kind of a pervert had I become. Sigh….so I was off Facebook for about three years, and after that time, most every mom in America, nay the world, was on it, so I felt like it was safe for me to re-enter the world of Facebook.  Fast forward.  I was invited to a small gathering at my fraternity brother’s lake house with a few other guys.  I had to decline as I had some kid obligation that weekend — a parent weekend or a football game.  It went on like that for several years; the weekend of these gatherings would always be in conflict with a family command performance, and I would miss it. The stories of some epic gatherings made me pine for a simpler time when I all had to worry about was debauching myself with a group of frat boys doing really stupid things that seemed like a good idea at the sigma_nu_fraternity_decal_9ec59fedtime.  Well three years ago, my wife and I  finally made it to a Snu reunion.  It was at the Homestead in western Virginia.  I was a little intimidated as this was my first gathering of Snu’s in a long time. Needless to say, it was a good thing we were all wearing name tags as for a couple of the guys — I had no clue who they were.  As things settled down, we had a chance to catch up in a more intimate setting, the bar.  We shared triumphs, defeats, bucket-lists, stories, and of course, memories of our time together in college. Some of the events I had long since buried in my subconscious, hoping everyone else had forgotten them as well but no,  the stories were retrieved and recounted with inappropriate embellishments (at least to me), not just recounted but told with great gusto.  It is pretty humbling to have people remember so much about me.  It is scary that I am so much a part of their memories and their stories.  (Now, if any of those guys read, this I will be excoriated for saying something sentimental like that.)  But we had so many formative experiences together in that brief four-year span; it is a little mind-boggling.  The reunions are such a disconnect in the time space continuum because in so many ways we have reverted back to the mid-seventies yet we are who we are now as well.  My wife has high school friends who experience the exact same thing.  If left alone, they are once again sixteen at their lockers chatting while doing so in their sixty-year old selves.  Now that the kids have moved out, the dog is dead, and we have a little extra coin in our pocket, we are re-connecting more often with our high school and college friends to recount, retell, and relive the glory days, and I love it.  I am meeting a college buddy for lunch in Atlanta next week to dredge up even more memories, hopefully ones Missy won’t be bothered by.

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Sous Vide!!

Missy and I went to one of her high school classmate’s 60th birthday party in a gorgeous setting in western North Carolina.  The view from the deck was simply amazing.  It was a wonderful weekend as old, both long tenured and aged, friends re-united for a celebration of a milestone.  Missy shares the same birthdate as our hostess so it was especially intimate.  Three other couples joined us, all passing the 60th lap around the sun this past year.  Our host’s husband had arranged for a chef to come cook the birthday dinner Saturday night, what a treat!  I had walked into the kitchen for some ice, anova-wifi-cooker-product-photos-5imagine that, and noticed the sous vide machine on the counter.  I asked him about it and he told me how simple it was.  Hello Amazon.  I found the brand Anova and ordered two, one for me and one for my daughter and son-in-law.  This machine is very versatile. Not only does it protect your investment in expensive cuts of meat but it can cook an egg like nothing else you have ever had, the slow poach.  Wow!!  A quick aside,  what the machine does is heat the water to an exact temperature and then hold it right there until you tell it to stop.  While technically you can’t over cook foods, you can go too far, but more on that later.  So as I looked for more sous vide recipes I found what has to be the coolest website I have found in a long time; Serious Eats  This site is a combination of Cooks Illustrated, Cooking for Engineers, and Alton Brown.  These folks research, try out recipes, gear, techniques.  It is a one stop shop for home chefs.  The deeper you dig the more cool things you find.  I have my eye on a backyard pizza oven they recommend for birthday/Christmas this year.  I really want to master pizza and it is so ubiquitous that you would think I can do it.  But for whatever reason I have pizza dough block.  I will do like these guys and just keep on making it until I get it right.  But back to the sous vide machine, it can tenderize meat by holding the temperature to an exact degree for hours, the meat is cooked through and through and then a quick char on a super hot grill or cast iron skillet and it is perfect.  At Serious Eats they break down what various temperatures do as well as different length of times cooked.  This helps you find the sweet spot for your palate.  Fish, veggies, it is all good in the sous vide bath.  Anova is coming out with a new model, the Nano this fall and the price will be under $100.  Now you can buy that expensive cut of lamb, beef, fish and not worry about overcooking it.  Enjoy.

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Grantland Rice

I read a very funny albeit snarky piece a few years ago at the (click the link to read for yourself) Everyday Should be Saturday website that was making fun of the difference in sports journalism now and what it once was.  In today’s environment, sports writing is more political than it is about sports.  ESPN is falling faster than the odds of the Jaguars Grantland Ricewinning the Super Bowl.  Why?  Because we turn to sports to not have to deal with politics.  What is funny is that the millennials who might agree politically with the commentators, don’t pay cable bills, they stream if they want to watch.  FOR FREE.  It is old guys like me who can afford to pay the cable bill, and still think that is the way one watches sports on TV but don’t want to hear the social justice warrior crap.  So these sports pundits go out and alienate the bill-paying clientele like me, and now must deal with  a shrinking market share and thus face layoffs.  Here they think they are smarter than the rest of us, but don’t get economics 101;  I just don’t get it.

Back to Grantland Rice, a real gem to dig out of the dustbin, if you know what that is, and re-discover his beautiful writing style.  He was born in a different era, a hardscrabble agrarian lifestyle that made one tough, persistent, and patient.  I have pasted a couple of his poems here for you to enjoy.  We have read his account of the Notre Dame vs. Army football game, “the four horsemen” piece referenced in the article I linked to above.  He wrote about life as well, and what it means and holds.  Take a look for yourself.

The Vanished Country by Grantland Rice

Back in the Vanished Country

There’s a cabin in the lane,

Across the yellow sunshine

And the silver of the rain;

A cabin, summer-shaded,

Where the maples whispered low

Dream stories of the southwind

That a fellow used to know;

And it’s queer that, turning gray,

Still a fellow looks away

To a dream he knows has vanished

Down the Path of Yesterday.

 

Back in the Vanished Country

There’s an old-time swinging gate

Through the early dusk of summer

Where a girl had come to wait;

And her hair was like the sundrift

From the heart of summer skies

While the blue of God’s wide heaven

Crowned the splendor of her eyes;

And it’s queer that turning gray,

Still a fellow looks away

To a dream he knows has vanished

Down the Path of Yesterday.

 

Back in the Vanished Country

There’s a dream that used to be,

Of Fame within the City

And a name beyond the sea;

A dream of laurel wreathings

That came singing through the night

The story of the glory

Of the victor in the fight;

And it’s queer that, worn and gray,

Still a fellow looks away

To a dream he knows has vanished

Down the Path of Yesterday.

 

Two Sides Of War (All Wars)

“All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.
But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.
Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life’s vanished toys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.”

Grantland Rice was renown in his day.  Today I bet only a small handful of sports fans would know him.  They could be prompted to remember him by the last couplet in his poem Alumnus Football; “…For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name—He marks—not that you won or lost—but how you played the game.”  Or Casey’s Revenge when the mighty Casey struck out.   Grantland Rice was somebody who felt that sports wasn’t just an outlet, an escape if you will, but a reflection of man’s character and metaphor for his struggle in life.  He wrote about golf, horse racing, boxing, baseball he covered all the sports.  It was his unique perspective and softness of language that separated him from his peers.  I wonder if any of the smarter-than-the-rest-of-us knucklehead sports writers could pen a poem with any intellectual depth whatsoever.  If you have an extra minute read some of Grantland Rice’s writings, columns, and poems you could be a better person for having done so.

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I can stand a little rain….

imageJoe Cocker

Well, gentle readers, it has been over five years since the last post so I have some catching up to do. The other night I watched a documentary on Joe Cocker and re-discovered his album “I Can Stand a Little Rain,” released in August of 1974.  The album was a re-entry into the music world after the crazy Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour. The title song’s lyrics provides me a vehicle to re-enter the blogosphere.

I can stand a little rain.  The other day Missy and I were in the yard working. Well, I was working, and Missy was directing me as I transplanted nandinas into the no man’s land between my driveway and the neighbor’s yard.  After a little while, my neighbor Caroline was out walking around.  I braced myself for what I thought would be her criticism of my planting in the no man’s land.  She never said anything, and then a little later came into our yard and told us her husband has terminal pancreatic cancer with maybe six months to live.  She asked that we not tell the neighborhood.  Wow.  Then I saw him in the yard — he was orange.  His liver had already begun to shut down, and he was completely jaundiced.  I have lived next door to them for six years.  I know something about them but not much when you boil it down.  I am certain there is a story there but either they didn’t tell it, or I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear it.  This happened just a week after Easter when we retell the paschal story year after year, just like the Jews tell the Passover story year after year.  But what about all the forgotten stories?  When we have lost parents, we have family pictures but don’t know who all the people are, we have snippets of stories affiliated with memorabilia but no complete stories that we hand down.  Gone, just like that.  When we bury our neighbor, who will tell his story?  Who will listen?

I can stand a little rain. My mother passed away during my absence from writing.  She fell, tripping on her oxygen tube, and injured her back.  She told me she knew she had hurt herself.  She began to self-medicate for the pain with the anti-depressant  drugs which led to much drama and exacerbation of the situation.  Long story short, my sister was in the middle of wedding planning and just didn’t have time to deal with it. Evidently they had had a fight, and mom was alone.  Mom’s help didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation.  My brother and I are both over nine hours away and really not tuned into how bad it really was.  She was finally hospitalized, and surgery was scheduled.  It was a Hobson’s choice, fuse the vertebrae in her spine and risk the complications of surgery on an eighty-year-old, or do nothing and leave her in excruciating pain.  When we visited her post surgery in the hospital during the wedding weekend, it was awful.  She was contorted in pain, semi-conscious and, by any definition, a basket case.  She was sustained in that state of misery for another few weeks before she passed away.  Sadly, when I asked about last rites, my sister told me that she, my sister, wasn’t there yet.  Mom died the next day.

I can stand a little rain. We have buried far too many people over the five years.  A sibling-in-law, two priests, an old friend, a beloved pet, and the list goes on.  When my sister-in-law was killed accidentally, it completely shattered our paradigm. Early one November Wednesday evening, Missy received a call from a police officer that her sister was in the hospital while I was out walking Zeke our Basset hound.  After the officer explained who he was and why he had Beppy’s phone, he asked who Missy was to Beppy.  Let’s face it a male voice coming from a call on Beppy’s phone was odd, and the officer wanted to see who she called all the time. The officer gave Missy directions to the hospital and off Missy went.  I stayed and contacted her sibling and sent her directions.  By the next morning from all over the country, her siblings and two of our children were at Beppy’s bedside at the hospital.  The decision was made to give what organs that weren’t damaged to Donate Life for transplanting.  I returned home to our dog, and Missy had her birthday dinner with her brother and two olDonate-life-flagdest children.  They drove home and left for Jacksonville the next day. Somehow we put together the funeral, wrote the eulogy, and coordinated collecting the two youngest children to bring them to the service. The suddenness of an untimely and completely accidental death traumatized us in ways we didn’t expect.  It made each day seem more important, more fragile.  Beppy died just a few weeks short of her 60th birthday.  So, the birthday party, for which the invites had already been mailed, became a celebration of remembrance.  My brother-in-law tasked me with eulogizing her at her burial service and the memorial service on her birthday.  It was heartbreaking, and what was particularly freaky were the sirens and lights on the road outside the venue near where she was killed at the time of her death.   It rattled me, it still does.  We light candles for dinner every night because you just don’t know what tomorrow brings.

I can stand a little pain.  When my sister-in-law died, the service was at the family parish and the priest, the Dean of the Cathedral, if you will, was just outstanding in her pastoral care for the family.  It was extremely trying and everybody was exhausted.  When it was over, Missy was ready to return the to the Episcopal church, apostasy be damned.  We can be salt and light.  Happy pew potatoes.  So we attended a church that was downtown and very sparsely attended.  It was adequate, no in your face sermons, just kinda empty.  About nine or ten months in, we got an email that the priest had been removed.  No explanation, no dialogue, just gone at the whim of the bishop.  Wow!  So we didn’t want to stay there.  We visited another church, one that I had visited when I first moved up here since it was just blocks away from the apartment.  The priest was just amazing.  He was engaging, knowledgeable, personal, and pretty much everything you could want.  All is good.  So we went to Peru to visit our third child and sent him a picture of us at Machu Picchu with instructions for his eyes only, which he promptly put on the church Facebook page.  Sigh.  When we got home that Saturday morning, we napped, and then went to the grocery store.  The phone was ringing when we walked in with news that our priest was dead.  He had suffered a heart attack and died.  Staggered we went to church the next morning and just cried with the other members of the congregation.  What now?  What now?  After a series of supply priests, we were on the verge of running out of priests.  Then we were sent an interim priest, a woman whose husband had been arrested for child pornography.  She had been at Sewanee trying to figure out what had happened to her world.  She came down to our congregation and was being emotionally healed when she suffered a stroke.  We nursed her back to health and pretty much complete recovery, and she accepted a call to become a rector in another state. The diocese sent us another interim priest, who coincidentally we had known in Jacksonville in the EIGHTIES!  It was fun to be reacquainted with him and his wife.  We played golf and enjoyed the fellowship of two old friends.  We got word just the other day that he had been killed in a motorcycle wreck.  It makes me wonder what are we being prepared for? In God’s economy there is no waste.  So somewhere there is a lesson; I just need to identify it.

But when the rain comes through the floorboard,  So in the next four years, we closed three households.  It was challenging in three different ways.  One was the sheer volume of stuff, sixty years in one house can cause some accumulation.  Trying to get everyone on board to deal with it was a far heavier load than the stuff itself.  The house had sat empty and unoccupied for almost five years.  Engaging Missy’s siblings was a struggle but eventually it was done.  As all the memories were unpacked, then repacked and given away, thrown away, or just moved to a corner to deal with later, it occurred to us that so many stories were being put away.  A funny call from Missy’s brother happened when a neighbor had brought him a diploma from the University of North Carolina earned by a grandparent.  He was put off that this had been thrown away and blown out of the can and picked up by a neighbor.  Missy asked, “Do you want to keep it?   If so help yourself.”  “Well no, but it just shouldn’t be thrown out.” was his response.  “If you want it keep it, otherwise it is being thrown out.”  What else is there to do with a diploma from two generations ago?  Her sister was a pack rat, and that had its own challenges.  Again, imageas we went through piles and piles of papers and files trying figure out if it was important enough to keep, we learned a lot about Beppy.  We read letters, notes, and cards trying to determine if they should be kept or pitched, and  that gave us a framework to her many and very diverse friendships.  We packed up her travel mementos and mailed them to her friends with a note explaining that the trinket would be much more valued by them than the Salvation Army store.  Missy is so kind and thoughtful that way.   My mother’s estate, well, I should say my sister is tough.  Both of my parents had their will changed within six months of their passing.  My attorney friend says that does more than raise an eyebrow at Probate Court.  Anyway, my sister was named the executrix of the estate, and she wasn’t afraid to use that power over my my brother and me.  She can be passive aggressive it to put it mildly, a pitiful victim in one breath and a fire-breathing dragon the next..  It was not a happy dissolution nor distribution.  Let’s just leave it at that because that is what I did.  I thought about fighting it but the higher road seemed the better option.  Where I am going is we now have three storage units of stuff.  We feel like we need to save and honor the legacy and not just throw out.  Then Missy read me an article about millennials.  They don’t want our stuff nor their grandparents’ stuff.  It has no sentimental value to them and most likely won’t match the IKEA furniture they love so much.  So we are left with trying to dig through what might have value at some time in the future and what we need to tell the truth about; nobody wants it.  We are digging through our emotions too, as the pieces are pitched or donated, so goes another piece of the story.  Will anybody even care?

I can use some rest, For my 60th birthday present to myself, I bought golf clubs.  I played as a teen and really liked it.  I put away the clubs when I married and hacked onlycallaway strata clubs occasionally.  So I ordered a set of clubs highly rated for beginners.  I have really enjoyed going back to the course.  I joined a little club near the house and have taken some lessons.  The pro said I have an old school swing.  Going out in the late afternoon and just hitting balls or playing a round is so relaxing.  I don’t get frustrated when I play.  I hit some nice golf shots and I screw up royally when I rush or don’t think about my swing.  So I just hit another ball, no biggie.  I can break 100 now and hopefully by the end of the summer, I will break 90.  It is so restful to be out in the quiet and concentrating on something as unuseful as golf swings.  It clears my head as I can’t worry about other things when I am trying to swing the club correctly.  I love grabbing an ice cold beer after a round and the smell of the bathroom cologne in the locker room  It is just so old school and male.  I love it!

I can stand a little sorrow.  My dog died this year.  It has really wrecked me emotionally.  I keep wondering if there was something more I could have done for him.  I slept downstairs on a couch beside him for almost three weeks.  I knew he was slowing down but I wasn’t ready to let go.  The vet heard a murmur in his heart right away, andzeke old man the x-rays showed how his heart was extremely enlarged.  We tried some meds but he never got back in the game.  We had him put down at home that Monday afternoon.  It ripped out my heart to say goodbye to him.  But he is out of pain, and I know he had one hell of a good life.  Here is my eulogy I posted after he died:

After one week since Zeke passed away I feel called to share some thoughts on Zeke, but first thank you to all of you who took the time to express your condolences to us. Zeke was a wonderful pet, and he changed me in so many ways. As I look back, he was pure Bassett — independent, willful, playful, friendly (except to cats) and on the furniture. His first 5 and a half years he basically ran wild on Mill Hill Island. He perched in the door to keep watch on the neighborhood and more importantly the driveway so he could monitor arrivals and departures. Every day he was waiting for me to return home from work. We would play and wrestle as I got out of the car. As I reflect, what a wonderful ceremony to transition from work to home. No matter what had happened that day, playing with a puppy was the first thing that happened at home. Most days, he would go “swamp dogging” and come home covered in mud, and Missy would have to get the hose and wash him off. The year I moved to Chattanooga and Missy stayed home to honor her teaching contract he was her companion. They would come visit and then he would wait on the porch hoping I would come home like I had some many afternoons before. When we moved, we are on a much busier street so I began to accompany him on his walks. Well that became the routine. He taught me patience, as he smelled every single smell. Or if he found a cat to growl at for what seemed like hours. He got me out, and I met all of our neighbors as a result. We know EVERYBODY on the street as well as the other dog walkers and runners and joggers. Zeke and I became fixtures in the morning and evening out on the street. Zeke knew how to get comfy. His morning nap after the walk was on the couch on the sunporch so he would be warmed by the morning sun. Missy would take him out around noon for a “smell-a-thon” as she described it. In the late afternoon he would be in his chair on the sunporch monitoring the driveway. When I pulled in, he would jump down and run to the stairs to the basement and garage. If you have ever watched the videos of soldiers returning home from an extended deployment greeted by a dog that was going crazy in happiness that is what we did every single evening. He was ready for dad to play and wrestle and more importantly get out on the street to walk. He was my charge and my responsibility. I had to set aside so many emotions, urges, distractions to honor my commitment to his little routine that made up his world. I am going to miss him in so many ways. He was determined and persistent and annoying about getting his way. He took his time and did it his way. I acquired many coping skills as a result. But most of all he was an expression of my sense of duty. Losing Zeke doesn’t hurt any more than watching the brake lights dim as a child drives off into their future. Life is about saying good-bye when the time comes.

Zeke’s time snuck up on me. I should have noticed him slowing down and his body not able to do things it had done for so many years prior. I didn’t notice him laboring to be there for me. We just lived our routine, so it was a surprise when the vet explained his heart condition. I thought Zeke would live for several more years, it turned out to be only weeks, and I was caught off-guard. Now I have that second cup of coffee that I had so longed for when he would be insistent that we leave for the walk — NOW. I was not prepared and the sting of that really hurt. Missy and I are getting better. She is a little nervous that all the time, attention, and affection that went to Zeke will now be directed her way. Yikes!! I will be able to leave to play golf now without having to get home to feed and walk Zeke. Missy and I can take off for a quick overnight trip anywhere now. But at the end of the day, even though life has unfolded as it should, I miss my little buddy.

I can stand it till tomorrow. Tomorrow seems so far away at times.  It is so easy to get caught up in the drama of today.  I have learned how to forgive.  I have forgiven my sister, I have forgiven the Episcopal church, I have forgiven my past.  As I stand in the present, I want to learn to be unencumbered with guilt, anger, frustration, and expectations.  Missy and I have turned 60, we know how to do a funeral, a wedding, and a party.  We have prepared for retirement, we have embraced a more healthy lifestyle as we prepare for tomorrow.  We are looking at trips to take, and things on our bucket list to check off.  We have been through a lot, yet we have been obedient, we have tried to do the right thing.   Sometimes righteousness is nothing more that doing what we have been taught to do — feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the shut ins, and  turn away from what we know to be wrong.  We can endure a lot; we have learned that.  We have learned to be grateful, no matter how small the blessing.   We have learned to learn from life; there are wonderful lessons if you just look hard enough.  We have learned to listen.  We have learned that there may not be a tomorrow.

I can stand a little strife. After our priest died, we had a parade of supply priests.  One was particularly liberal both politically and theologically.  He was pretty in your face about it. It seems that is the norm now, to get in somebody’s face.  I look at the Antifa movement, and all I see is the Klan reincarnated.  The fact is they just seem eerily similar.  imageThey don’t care what you think, believe, or know; they are there to silence you, by force.  The threat of violence is the intimidation factor.  They wear masks just like the Klan.  They lead everyday lives the rest of the week but put on their masks and instead of burning crosses, they use crowbars and mace to tear up property and hurt people they judge to be wrong in their thinking.  They aren’t to lynching yet, but give it time.  I saw an article about the Dalai Lama and politics.  He says the biggest barrier to conversation between the two sides is contempt.  We hold those with whom we disagree in contempt.  I do too; I admit it.  I find the intellectual laziness of so many on the other side of the discussion contemptible.  Don’t they have any curiosity?  Don’t they want to explore the science and run the experiment to see what happens?  It has been shown over and over that the data is jimmied so as to produce the desired outcome.  It is very frustrating.  So I think we need to listen more, to hear their story, to understand how they arrived at that conclusion.  That could lead to a different outcome, and different ending to the story.

Just another taste of life  It is weird to be in a gym again and working out regularly. Missy gave me the gift of good health for Christmas this year.  We go to a gym called Orange Theory Fitness, and it is wonderful, wonderfully hard.  You wear a heart monitororangetheory-fitness-squarelogo-1424757655395 that tracks your heart rate.  The idea is to push yourself to around 84% of your maximum heart rate and try to maintain that pace to increase anaerobic metabolism to facilitate weight loss.  It is working; I am down 25 pounds and feel great.  But the best part is being around the young staff.  These kids are my kids ‘ages, and it is so fun to banter back and forth with them.  I like to hear their stories about how they came to be a coach and what they did in college.  Most are former jocks and like the athletic lifestyle.  It is a 55 minute routine of pure hell, but then I just feel fantastic.  I have changed my diet to accommodate the work outs and accelerate my weight loss.  It is a wonderful change in my routine from watching tv to watching a monitor with my heart rate on it.

I can stand a little love Welp, we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary this year.  That is a long time, yet it seems like the time has just flown by.  We have lived into our imagemarriage and partnership by throwing ourselves into our collective life.  The curious thing is that the intimacy has increased while the ardor has dimmed a little.  We know each other so well, and we understand the value of compromise in many more ways than just conflict resolution.  We embrace the chance to learn from each other in ways that surprise me at times.  When I get frustrated and impatient with Missy, I just picture her as her six year old self.  I know what a mess she was from the stories I have heard, and I just embrace that little girl and the impatience fades and appreciation grows.  Well that and going outside to sit in my chair with an adult beverage over lots of ice helps, too.

I can stand a little love Our oldest child, a daughter, was married last year while I was away from all of you.  She met her husband during her hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Given the camp counselor I am married to, and the outdoorsy couple getting married, I will give you three guesses on the venue where they got married.  Yes, Western North Carolina in the hills, yes at a camp, and yes the camp the bride attended as a child.  I think the visits to other venues were a ruse to make me feel like they were open to other type weddings.  At the end of the day, it fell to where it was meant to be.  The wedding was planned, I mean NASA level planned. Thank you, Google Docs.   I would watch Missy’s computer screen and see all the edits to the spreadsheets and documents by the bride, her sister, and Missy.  It was amazing.  As a result, we only suffered errors of omission during the weekend, and little ones at that.  It was gorgeous. The weekendimage started with a reception for our guests, then the rehearsal dinner in the camp dining hall, followed by a Contra Dance.  Saturday was full of activities, just like you would expect from the head counselor and her team.  From hiking to boating, to lectures about the AT to yoga, to painting, to corn hole.  Then the ceremony.  Funny thing, I was the one holding it together.  I knew if I emotionally slipped in the slightest, we would all be crying.  The reception was beautiful, the food outstanding, and we capped the night with fireworks from across the lake.  It was a true celebration of the persona of the bride, groom and most importantly the M.O.B (mother of the bride)

But when I am on my last go-round  Faith, hope, and love.  Paul tells us love is the greatest of those but I don’t know. I think faith and hope are pretty darned important.  I have had another friend commit suicide.  I think that brings the total to around six or seven.  It is as devastating as is it heartbreaking to hear of another human giving up, giving in to whatever demons that are terrorizing them.  I have no doubt that the use and misuse of anti-depressants contributed to several of these suicides.  Malcolm Gladwell has written about the contagiousness of suicides.  It is scary.  But these people didn’t know each other.  They are all from different orbits in my life.  I can say that the ones that talked with me, that shared some personal aspects of their story, it was full of frustration, disappointments, unrealized dreams, and unmet expectations  with no likelihood of a dream ever coming true.  Some of it was circumstantial but a lot was self-inflicted, bad choices that made things harder, and the dream more elusive.  I grieve for my friends; I miss them and wish I could pick up the phone and talk with them again.  I strive to be cheerful, to help people see the sunny side of life.  I can’t bring them back; I can only share their story and try to keep their memory alive in my life.

I can stand another test  I was asked to serve on our neighborhood association board,  and this has proven to be a test, a test of my patience.  The board’s average age must be mid-seventy, and that includes a couple of forty somethings.  You can do the math.  We sit down every month to rehash local issues and discuss possible solutions.  I can describe it in one word, tedious.  I don’t mean to be cranky; I really don’t.  That is why I stopped blogging before.  I was getting too cranky.  Really folks, it is why I stopped being a liberal, nothing ever gets solved, EVER!!  We just revisit and talk more.  I think back to my attraction to the altruistic pipe dream that tells us we just need a little more government spending and programs and we can reach the idyllic utopian place of universal love and prosperity.  It has been heartbreaking to discover the cynicism on the part of the politicians and operatives who find it in their best interest to NEVER solve ANYTHING.  You think back to Johnson’s war on poverty and the transfer of trillions of dollars from the wealthiest to the poorest, and it has made no difference whatsoever.  In fact in some census data, the rate of poverty has increased (remember to be skeptical of all data anymore since all that matters is the agenda).  Education, another trainwreck of government policy gone wrong.  Some pundit described our education system as a vast money-laundering scheme; taxpayer dollars to education, teachers union dues collected, unions reimburse the politicians who vote for more spending on education.  What works is what Jesus showed us, one at a time. The Holcomb Rucker Pro Tournament in NYC imageand its basketball park has a motto, “Each one, teach one.” What a wonderful expression, teach one.  Teach values, teach dreaming, teach skills, teach education, teach manners.  I need to practice patience and see what I learn at the next board meeting.  Maybe I need to be open to somebody teaching me.

I can stand another test  As I described earlier Missy and I have too much stuff, mostly items inherited.  As we join the “downsizing movement” of our generation the test of knowing what to keep and what to pitch has consumed us recently.  It sure feels good when we clean out another rat’s nest.  Our daughter, a designer, has a mission statement “Make information beautiful” our mission statement has become “Make stuff accessible.”  We save because you never know when you might need it.  I mean we could put together an entire theatre company costume set from the back of our closets.  You just never know. We have cleaned out three households in a five-year span.  Whew!!  The big takeaway has been we need to get rid of stuff; that will be our biggest gift to our children.  The rub is that you don’t know what the future holds, and it just seems wasteful to throw out lp-sears-lge-1perfectly good items just because we haven’t used them in the last ten years.  I mean really?  Well Missy has embraced the minimalism movement.  I showed her the J.P. Sears video on the subject.  She gave me a big harumph and moved on.  Here is another test, the hard part, accepting the fact that what we hold dear has little or no meaning to our children.  They just don’t want it.  Our oldest, she loves vintage things so some of the pieces are attractive to her.  Our son want shiny and new.  He wants to buy it, and he wants it new.  Our little girl may never settle down and need anything at all.  Our youngest son wants only our most unique pieces.  So as we go through things, it is the emotional component that has been hard.  We have been taught, ney drilled into our psych, the need to respect our legacy and these pieces are part of that legacy.  It is hard, but then we tell the truth to each other, load the car and go to the Salvation Army with another load

Cause I made it before   “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson  As I stand mid-way or so on the back nine of my life (do you see how I use golf metaphors now that I am playing again?) and look back,  I think about how some of the life decisions have turned out, and I really can’t complain.  I have had people I didn’t recognize come up to me and thank me for some small favor I did for them years ago.  I have helped injured motorists out their wrecked cars twice.  I have more friends than I deserve, and some of them really are pretty intelligent.  Not to get too snarky, but my children can get really affectionate when they need something.  So, yeah, I have made it before.

and I can make it some more  I like to be in the arena, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech in Paris. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The creditPresident_Theodore_Roosevelt,_1904 belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  I have blown it, and I have made it when I got back up.  I was in a Sunday school class and the lesson was about how Joseph was a righteous man.  I thought about other men in the bible described as righteous.  Noah, and David come to mind.  In their cases, they weren’t perfect, they were wholly human.  After the experience Noah survived, I would have gone on a bender, too.  And David, well he had an appetite to say the least.  He paid dearly for his sin, and it left a pretty good sized scar on his heart.  But both men kept turning back to God, both knew right from wrong and struggled to do the right thing.  If I continue to struggle to do the right thing, I know I have made it.  The interesting thing is that Missy and I have become aware that we do live lives of service — to our kids, to our families, to our neighbors, to our church, to our world.  You might just say I have made it some more.

 

While the song continues with the refrain I made it before I will make it again, I feel like I have been able to catch you up, gentle readers, and get back to blogging some.  I hope that my rants, thoughts, and observations will bring you some fresh perspective.  I am remarkably content with my situation, so hopefully that will be reflected in my posts. I have blogged before, and I will blog again. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rubrics Cubed

This week I read two articles that were thought-provoking and salient given the issues of today’s political climate.  First is the hullabaloo surrounding the mandated birth control, either contraception or abortion paid for by the Roman Catholic church, albeit now through an insurance company intermediary.  This mandate has sparked great debate about “rights” and religious “intolerance” in the public arena.  My thought is this, religion is voluntary.  Nobody makes you believe, nobody makes you wake up on Sundays to go worship.  It is an act of submission to a higher authority, the entry into a covenant relationship.  A covenant relationship is by definition an agreement between a party with the power to protect an inferior party who agrees to follow the rules of the superior party.  So, as the understanding of the rules has been honed by tradition in the Christian faith in Rome for the last two thousand years the “church” has the authority to interpret the covenant relationship it is there that today’s believers turn for clarity.  On the protestant side, for mainstream denominations mostly, if it feels good do it seems to be the theology.  So with that set up let’s look at the articles.

The first is from the arch-bishop of Philadelphia.  He was speaking at a convention for right to life of some kind.  Specifically he was addressing children with Down syndrome.  He was addressing the church’s position that all life is sacred, whether that life is a chromosomally challenged fetus in the womb or an aged parent rack by Alzheimer’s disease.  Here is a portion:

Here’s what that means.  Catholic public officials who take God  seriously cannot support laws that attack human dignity without lying to  themselves, misleading others and abusing the faith of their fellow  Catholics.  God will demand an accounting.   Catholic doctors who take God seriously cannot do procedures, prescribe  drugs or support health policies that attack the sanctity of unborn children or  the elderly; or that undermine the dignity of human sexuality and the  family.  God will demand an accounting.   And Catholic citizens who take God seriously cannot claim to love their  Church, and then ignore her counsel on vital public issues that shape our  nation’s life.  God will demand an accounting.   As individuals, we can claim to  believe whatever we want.  We can  posture, and rationalize our choices, and make alibis with each other all day  long — but no excuse for our lack of honesty and zeal will work with the God  who made us.  God knows our hearts better  than we do.  If we don’t conform our  hearts and actions to the faith we claim to believe, we’re only fooling  ourselves.

And he goes on to say,

My point is this:  Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s  weak.  When it gains the upper hand, its  vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because  the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it.  So it always has been.  So it always will be.  And America has no special immunity to  becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human  dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.”

God will demand an accounting.  That is the thesis statement of Jesus on earth, he tells us to repent of our sin.  Sin has been defined by God in several places in scripture so that isn’t all that confusing.  This bishop clearly and succinctly articulates the belief in the sanctity of life.  He goes on to describe a friend’s child:

” These children with disabilities  are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us.  They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our  humanity.  Whatever suffering we endure  to welcome, protect and ennoble these special children is worth it because  they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy.   Abortion kills a child; it wounds a precious part of a woman’s own  dignity and identity; and it steals hope.  That’s why it’s wrong.  That’s why it needs to end.  That’s why we march.”

And we should feel the same way about the aged and infirmed.  We don’t perform an actuarial equation to determine if their life is worth the money to extend.  But the point is this guy is standing up for what he believes, there is a right and there is a wrong and there is a God who will judge us at the end of days.

Now, here is another article about a woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral service by a Roman Catholic priest.  I haven’t figured out if the writer of the article was present or this is hearsay.  When the woman came up for communion the priest put his hand over the patton and said she cannot receive communion because she lives with another woman.  And our writer goes on to explain to us,

 ”

It is time for Christians of all stripes to stop and think about the teachings of the Jesus they proclaim to love so deeply and revere so much. I spent twelve years in Catholic school and the Jesus I was told about would never have turned away anyone for any reason and certainly not on the occasion of burying a parent. Fr. Guarnizo has a lot to learn about Christianity and the Catholic Church has a lot to learn about the teachings of Jesus if behavior of this sort is tolerated.

I am not about to paint all Christians with a broad brush. There are those out there who understand that the teachings of Jesus boil down to one thing. And that thing is Love. For if you love, you do not deny a person the solace of communion with the Creator, if that is their belief. You judge not, lest ye be judged. Only God knows the true heart of any person and in the end, if there is to be judgment, it will not come from some misguided, prejudiced priest who needs to go back to the seminary and learn the basics. And if he can’t find them there, then he needs to get down on his knees and pray to his Jesus to forgive him the terrible trespass he visited upon a grieving woman on the occasion of the death of her mother.”

Now I really doubt the woman spent twelve years in catholic school.  If she had she would full well understand the entire sequence of events.  There are rubrics in the service books clearly admonishing the priest, this is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer; If the priest knows that a person who is living a notoriously evil life intends to come to Communion, the priest shall speak to that person privately, and tell him that he may not come to the Holy Table until he has given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life.”   In this instance it was more public than that.

So, we have an outraged activist preaching to the priest in her article about the love of Jesus.  Let’s take both articles in conjunction and talk about love.  First, the priest may have shown a more profound love than our dear writer of the second article can understand.  The sacrament of communion is sacred and profound, especially in the Roman expression of faith.  The priest may have felt like he loved the woman enough to save her from a mortal sin.  Maybe he loved her enough to cause her to think about her lifestyle.  Maybe he loved the people in attendance enough to give them pause about their lifestyles.  Maybe somebody saw what happened and wondered if their sins will separate them from the body.  Sometimes love is hard, difficult, and arduous.   Raising a child with Down Syndrome must be exhausting, and that is love.  Caring for a parent who is dying is tough, I know from my own experience.

So which is it, tough love or sugar daddy love that we crave and desire?  Do we really want somebody calling out our carefully rationalized behaviors and embarrassing us or do we want somebody to “respect our dignity” however we might define if?  Do we want love that persists even with all of our “challenges” and infirmities of the heart and soul or do we want to be loved in a way that facilitates our own demise?  Like some puzzles it seems very difficult to solve and then with a few twists and turns it is clear.

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A Trail of Two Tales

My oldest child, my daughter has announced on her blog her intention to hike the Appalachian Trail this spring and summer.  So being as obsessive as we are compulsive Missy and I began reading about hikes on the AT.  We read “Becoming Odyssa” by a young lady named Jennifer Pharr Davis who not only completed the trail but went back two more times setting the women’s speed record and then the overall speed record.  Her book was a fascinating read, and my daughter has met Jenn and I read the book she had autographed for our younger daughter.  I then dove into another account of the trail called “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson.  This was about one hundred ten degree different from Jenn’s account.  I loved both books for different reasons.  Jenn’s story was of a young girl becoming strong and finding her calling.  Her voice isn’t fully developed but the story is enthralling nevertheless.  Bryson’s account is told by a very experienced writer and story-teller with all the polish you would expect of somebody who knows their craft.  Bryson’s story is spit out your drink funny as you read, I mean this guy is bust your gut funny at times.  But Bryson has the jaded quality that comes with age, and that contrasted with Jenn’s total embrace of the experience.  I identified with Bryson in so many ways, and I yearned for Jenn’s unbridled enthusiasm.  Both of these books spoke to me in very different ways.

The fascinating thing is that in two completely different accounts of the trail common themes emerge.  The trail is hard, it is arduous because it is drudgery interrupted by breathtaking moments.  The trail is communal, that is to say everyone undergoing this crucible becomes part of a family and culture.   This encompasses the “trail magic” and the support by the people in the towns along the trail, the common experience binds all the hikers.  The trail changes you.  You are different when you come off the trail.  You get really dirty and stinky, and both writers don’t try to sugar coat that fact.  So both writers wrote about how important time off the trail was to recharge and reload themselves for the next push on the trail.

Bryson tells history, and background as a veteran writer can do, but Jenn shares spiritual growth she experienced on the trail.  I recommend both stories, especially because they are two very different experiences of the same trail.

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