Friday, December 31, 2010

Sauteed Polenta for Breakfast

New Year’s eve day. The skies are gray and heavy. The last day of the year does not inspire me much, but I did decide after morning prayers and readings to make a late breakfast – one to cheer and comfort us.

At Toad Hall, we are each scheduled to accomplish a bit before the evening celebration at Kosmo’s (a friend) begins. Anita, our assistant and housemate, is researching fibers for a L’Abri workshop she and Denis are doing in February. Denis is putting the finishing touches on a piece for ArtHouse America and I am reviewing the past year and preparing for our annual board meeting which will be in Phoenix next week. As I told Denis, I’m thinking of highly inflating the amount and importance of all we’ve done, spinning it to look brilliant and whopping great. It’s a little tempting to make myself look better than I am. I mean, what, after all, are clothes about? For eg. (Okay. Right. Rephrase that to apply to those about my age.) However, when people know you as well as our board knows us they won’t be fooled.

There’s a verse in the Psalms that says “My heart is not proud, O LORD … I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”  (Ps. 131:1)

That’s my cue, today I’m sticking with breakfast. I can do that. So could any of you, whether you’re a nobody or a big somebody who wouldn’t want to be seen with me.

 If you cook up some polenta (and, hey, I know there are folks, especially south of here who know all about this) and put it in a small loaf pan and let it firm up while you go take a shower, when you come back it will be set up enough that you can thump it onto the counter, slice it in ½ inch pieces, dredge them in a bit of corn meal and saute in a cast iron skillet so that they get a little crisp and browned on each side. Then if you pop them on a plate, pour pure maple syrup on top, accompanied by a fried, free-range egg with a bright sunny yolk, a clementine and a cup of French press coffee - you are going to spread some serious good spirit. And really, that’s not a small matter, is it?

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pilgrim Food 2011

Going slow the last two weeks. Not a convenient time to be sick or diminished. You know, at Christmas when you want to take care of everyone? Feed them, love them, give them brilliant gifts.

I have a lot of scraps stuck in my Bible; yesterday one I hadn’t read in a long time fell out.
Pensees from a NYC church bulletin:

I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
While traveling through this world of woe.
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I’m going there to see my Father;
I’m going there no more to roam.
   I’m only going over Jordan,
   I’m only going over home.
                  - folk spiritual
Everyone is on one sort of journey or another: failure to recognize this is to fail to be human and to suffer great deprivation. Walker Percy, the late novelist and metaphysician, once said in conversation, “I have learned that the most important difference between people is between those for whom life is a quest and those for whom it is not.” The vision of a quest confers meaning on our lives. It enables us to see all that happens as moving us closer to or further from our goal, and to make distinctions between what helps and hinders us in our journey.
                 -  Diogenes Allen Spiritual Theology

Christ has planted his Table like an oasis along our pathway, in order that when we become weary with travel, weak and hungry in our souls, discouraged and wounded because of our false steps, stumbling and failing, we may then enter there and be refreshed with the living Bread of Life.
                  -  Carl Olof Rosenius (1816-1868). A Lutheran lay preacher on the Eucharist as the viaticum, the pilgrim’s food

In joy, in adversity, in this new year may you be nourished and blessed by God's good hand. Thinking of many of you I know who stop here for a minute or two. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Love, after all

I received a few responses for a recent post “The ritual of small things.” Thank you. I know there are lots of us who find after the fact, after the grandparents have died, that we are indelibly linked. 

Here they are:

“I still remember the first time my Mother decided I didn't need an Easter basket at College. I was so disappointed. It is the small rituals that do show love and caring and remembering from year to year.” - Sandy O.

 “Just wanted to say that my grandmother gave me a Christmas ornament every year for the 23 years that I was blessed to have her. I appreciated the tradition then -- to varying degrees, more so as I got older -- but I treasure the results of it now. Even if your grandkids are less sentimental than I am, it's a good tradition!”  - Nikki J

“I love the grace of small things, Margie. Please keep giving your grandchildren ornaments...they are stories and links to you as well as memories of you and Denis many years from now. Do you date them and sign them? It will help them remember someday. My mom bought ornaments for us and then for her grandchildren up to her passing…” – Alice

“Our advent ritual is to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. We have a Dutch background and we celebrate by putting shoes out the night of the 5th or 6th of December. The date varies for St. Nicholas depending on whether I have my act together or not and buy gifts on time. The gifts usually involved chocolate and some small things. Our daughter is 17 and about to leave home. We don't live in America right now. But this ritual is important for us to keep as part of our Advent.”  - “Walkingtochina”

I agree now that I’ve moved thoroughly into being a grandparent – I’ve observed quite a number of young people who have fond memories of grandparents playing important roles in their lives. Enough to commemorate them with a tattoo. Yes.

Yesterday I was talking to my brother, the sheriff. He told me about one of his step-grandsons, a teenager who has not had anyone to love him spontaneously, unconditionally. He’s an abandoned quiet boy, not used to hard work or the kind of play they have up where my family lives in northern Minnesota. Last summer my brother had him working in the garden, caring for the horses, grading the driveway, right beside him and when work was done on a hot day in the evening they’d ride the 4-wheeler up to the beach for a swim in Lake of the Woods, light off firecrackers, sit around a fire as it grew dark. My brother, who’s a big man, but tender, said this quiet boy one day sat on his lap and said, “I love you, Grandpa.” Now from far away in Florida, he’s coming back for Christmas. He’d like to… “please, can I move up there so I can live with you, you wouldn’t even know I was here, I’d be so good, so quiet…”

So…the traditions. The small loves we give in the ordinariness of everyday life may be that sacred thing that will one day say, you are not lost in the cosmos. There is a bigger, better someone who loves you.

My favorite ornament given to me, ever: Baby Jesus in a nest. (Thanks, Judi Fong.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christmas Story

This will make your day, if not your entire Advent Season. I promise. A friend of ours, Hannah Kirkbride helped put this together.

The Christmas Story - SPANK Dec 2010 from St Paul's on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The ritual of small things

In a phone conversation with one of my seven-year-old twin grandson’s last night, I learned that yesterday they got to open the Christmas gift from their mom and dad – “we got it early because we needed them! [I could tell he was excited about this rule infraction, and little hands and ears do get cold even in Chattanooga.] A warm hat and a pair of gloves! Mine is blue and Elisha’s is gray, and I don’t remember Mason’s or Isobel’s, but Manessah got a black coat! …and, White-Haired-Grandma? Will you be sending us a Christmas ornament like you do every year?” Oops, I’d forgotten. Sort of. Last year I failed to pick them up on sale after the holidays. Even when I do remember, getting past the stained Santas and the broken snowmen to find just one worthy next Christmas, well, it’s a crapshoot. But I was delighted when he reminded me. I’m a trial to myself and this was another reminder of how easily I talk myself out of responsibilities. Some time back November I had wondered if the grandchildren even cared about the tradition of giving them an ornament each year and decided, eh, they probably don’t notice, and I choose to forget it.
That conversation prompted a trip to Herberger’s today where I got these, even though it was miserable outside with icy sleet falling on top of snow and the wind blowing straight off the Arctic. They weren’t too bad of a deal even with the faked and ubiquitous 60% off.

Denis and I reminded each other of how children love rituals, especially ones that have to do with celebrations, and of how good and human it is to keep ordinary small ones. Although it’s hard to be far from the children we love so much, I’m happy, after all, to be mindful of the grace of not-so-big things.

If there’s a small ritual your heart loves observing during Advent, let me know and I’ll post them as a separate blog.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Work

I just learned of On Work, a site begun by Nancy Nordenstrom, who writes:
"You’re invited to submit text or a photo, quote, link, or video on the topic of work to be posted on this site... My goal is to explore work, particularly the intersection of spirituality and work."

The topic touches my heart for a lot of reasons. Among them: watching, praying with and for people I know and love (not only them, but the many we see via the media, or whatever) and the difficulties of finding a meaningful calling - a way to support themselves and their families that uses their gifts and abilities. And if this doesn't happen? Or what if it does - wildly and beyond our dreams? Either way,  how to still faithfully love and serve God? How can we do this without the help and encouragement of one another? I think this site will give some inspiration.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vitamin D

The past year I’ve been nagging friends and family to take lots of Vitamin D. Whatever is good for me is good for all of you. I was feeling affirmed because the medical establishment has finally discovered, oh, hey, beriberi and scurvy aren’t the only inconveniences linked to vitamin deficiencies and body-breakdown. It made me happy to not hide (well, lie) to my doctor about the daily snarfing of 10,000 supplements to fend off terminal napping and limping like Captain Ahab.

I have some chronic health issues (very boring) that my doctor monitors. She’s knowledgeable and kind. Bonus. Last year she tested Vitamin D levels and found them low enough to prescribe 40,000 IUs a week until I could level off to 2,000-3,000 a day. It can be subjective, for sure, but it seems to help me feel better. And, of course, since no drug company owns Vitamin D it’s a cheap fix.

On Monday of this week I could name four or five people in just the last few days, people, whose lives, I told them, would be smarter better richer for taking Vitamin D. From bone health to depression Vitamin D helps bodies maintain better working order. Find out for yourself. Just google a reliable source and read the literature.

However. Warning. Not that you believe all sources. We need to be very, very careful. Because on this very past Monday (see above) Denis sent me an article from the NYT. Now, I have an emotionally volatile relationship with the NYT just like everything else in my life. If it agrees with me and makes me happy, well and good, I love it. But if not. Then I am flying to New York to find the idiot editor who signed off on this or that ridiculous opinion or who possibly wrote the piece himself/herself and force feed him/her lutefisk until he/she pukes. At the least.

In the case of “Report Questions Need for 2 Diet Supplements” I was upset. I felt chagrined and confused after so much indiscriminate honking about the benefits because it attacked my cherished vitamin D. Really? And calcium. You mean I don’t need to be taking all those calcium horse pills? Who are these “experts?”

I contacted my own favorite expert, who used to be the chairman of a department of internal medicine at Rochester Mayo Clinic and is now at Mayo in Scottsdale where he practices what’s called Consultative Medicine, to ask if I was crazy or what. He’s also a killer (wordchoice) diagnostician – according to others more worthy than myself. I sent him this email:

Hi Larry,
I’ve been telling people they need to take a lot more vitamin D.
Why do I do this? (Rhetorical. Please don’t answer.)
Who to trust? I tend to be cynical about some of the experts wondering if it’s partly because Vit D is easily available and not expensive.
You can comment if you have chance or time. If not, I’ll make up a quote from you. jk.
Luckily, he replied:

Hi Margie,
My cynicism is for expert panels that find supplements not helpful but prescription medications are. My favorite is a study several years ago published in Journal of the American Medical Association saying St Johns Wort is not helpful for depression. It was a big deal at the time and made headlines in newspapers. However if one read more than the title of the article they would find out it did not work for people with major depression but the part of the study which got no press was that the control group received sertraline (Zoloft) and it did not work either for major depression. Also, no good herbalist would ever consider using St Johns Wort for major depression anyway.

The pharmaceutical industry would like nothing better than to have all supplements banned since they are direct competition for them and articles like these only help them. The pharmaceutical industry heavily sponsors studies and advertises in the major medical journals.  Both journals and researchers need research funding so what do you think they would rather publish?

Take your vitamin D, 1000 units daily because you live in Minnesota and when was the last time you went out to lay in the sun? In fact, when was the last time you even saw the sun? (I know what it is like in Rochester!) If your have a big dairy intake with 4 glasses of milk or equivalent you don’t need calcium supplements but how many use this much dairy? Despite the increase in calcium supplementation these past few years, there has not been an increase in kidney stones.

A recent study said high calcium supplementation may cause a tiny increased risk of heart attacks but did not make a comparison to how many people will fall down and break a hip and die from osteoporosis if calcium supplementation stops.

Exercise, Nutrition, Stress reduction, the key to health. Supplements are supplements to diet so if one has a good diet, few supplements are ever needed.

How is life otherwise? I hope articles about Vit D and Calcium are the biggest stressor in your life during this joyous season!

Thanks much. (I know he gets about a billion emails a day.) Okay. Am feeling mollified. Perhaps even a little joyful, after all it’s Advent Season and I live in Minnesota where it’s NOT 120 degrees 300 days of the year, Larry.