Friday, December 28, 2012

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford.

 Sometimes, too often, I think, on Sunday mornings I do not feel worship-filled. I feel sorry about this and a little ashamed about feeling scolded as I am urged to confess my sin and rebellion. Perhaps it is the word-choice that has become too familiar? “You rebel against God. You know how sinful you are and you know that you run from God at every opportunity.” Of course, I need confession in my life, I don’t deny that. But I seem to need more of, of, I don’t know what to call it … a more robust practice of the joy of worship and reconciliation? What seems like an over-emphasis leads my soul not to confession or deep awesome gratefulness for the love of Christ, but a head-hanging, dispirited state of being.

Perhaps this is my problem alone. I don’t know. You are welcome to correct me.

My good friend, Wes Hill, now an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania recently noted:

“This is the book (Unapologetic:Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising EmotionalSense) that probably stands out most when I think back over the reading I did in 2012. There are plenty of things that I didn’t like about this book (its theology is considerably more liberal than mine), but when I finished the “Yeshua” chapter, I felt like someone who’s just heard the story of the Gospels, having never heard it before. I was reconverted.”

“Yeshua and the Crowd” [Excerpt]
Daylight finds him in a procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for a king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night and don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration. They see everything in themselves that is too weak or too afraid to confront the strapping paratroopers; and much though they hate the soldiers, they hate him more, for his pathetic slide into victimhood. Word of his loose living, his impiety, his pleasure in bad company goes round in whispers. And just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside. Something … furtive. He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a paedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. Someone kicks his arse as he goes by, and whoops, down he goes, flat on his nose with the cross pinning him like a struggling insect, and let’s face it, it’s funny. Yeshua is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement. And as he struggles on he recognizes every roaring, jeering face. He knows our names. He knows our histories.
And since, as well as being a weak and frightened man, he’s also the love that makes the world, to whom all times and places are equally present, he isn’t just feeling the anger and spite and unbearable self-disgust of this one crowd on this one Friday morning in Palestine; he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am not what you were told. I am not your king or your judge. I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness. I am the shining your shame cannot extinguish. I am the ghost of love in the torture chamber. I am change and hope. I am the refining fire. I am the door where you thought there was only wall. I am what comes after deserving. I am the earth that drinks up the bloodstain. I am gift without cost. I am. I am. I am. Before the foundations of the world, I am.

This leads me to confession. Strangely, it also lifts my heart. It reminds me of when I was a little girl and first fell in love with Jesus and foolishly thought that had I been there, I would have saved him from crucifixion. I now know otherwise. But, against what I’ve often heard, it just isn’t true that we run from God at every opportunity. There are many, many times and many, many people who run toward him dragging all their troubles, begging for exactly what he offers: grace, forgiveness, joy, freedom.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Men go away. Women, stay.

I think men should go away for a minute while I post this. Women. Stay.

It doesn’t seem right that I celebrated turning 65 the day after so many young lives were over. So violently done. I should have been the one to leave and not come back. I want to apologize for my life.

But here it is Monday morning and the most incomprehensible thing about life is that it goes on right up until the moment when God says, Come Home. I’d like to say the deaths of those children will make me live more carefully, more intentionally. I know. Sometimes we’re full of crap and we quickly forget, but I’m going to try not to.

Here is reality: we celebrated my birthday. Denis made supper. He doesn’t cook often so that was cause for rejoicing and a bit of mirth. He opened a bottle of red wine, made marinated pork chops, steamed cauliflower and baked sweet potatoes without help. Anita made chocolate cupcakes with coffee ganache icing. You should never buy a woman a handbag, the chances of it being something she likes are almost zero, but Denis did and I love it. 
Gluten-free Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Icing
   The first leg of my celebrating actually began a few days earlier – let this be a lesson to all you out there with aging intestines and more diet restrictions than you care to make public. We were on our way back from visiting family in Chattanooga and me doing a reading and signing for The Exact Place at Camp House Coffee. No sooner had we left the Smoky Mountains and I was tricked out with Lattes and Poppy Cock. How can I be 65 and so stupid? By the northern Kentucky border I was screaming for an exit and scanning the roadside for shelter. There was nothing for miles. Denis yelled, “Download the RoadAhead app for your iPhone. It will tell us the location of the next Rest Stop!!” So I did. And when it politely requested if it could locate me on the map and I said YES! AND HURRY UP, it ran and ran and ran and finally said it could not FIND me, and we were ON AN INTERSTATE FOR PITY SAKE!  There was a happy ending when we finally found a MacDonald’s 30 miles down the highway, but it was close. A small thing, really, isn’t it?
Bad Margie
 Maybe this could be a small gift of being honest? I plan to keep telling you over the next few years. I don’t think I was ever at the “top of my game,” anyway. My face, my body, unfortunately my good sense and brains will fail me more and more over the next years. I don’t plan to hide my little face cancers and droopy eye-lids from you. Perhaps, in turn, this will give you hope and perspective – something I surely need –  to have the composure, the grace and the inner beauty to grow old in front of you and in spite of our culture’s quest for eternal youth and beauty.

Thank you for stopping by here and know that I wish I could bring you into the real place where I live and share a moment of joy and kindness. I’d like to bless you as you return to whatever it is you are called to do this week, this month. The office, your business, your families, relationships, the babies and the elderly you care for, your students – whatever it is you do to love and serve others, may you also find moments to celebrate and care for yourself. Merry Christmas. Love, Margie.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On what side of sentimental

Recently I came across this opinion piece in the NYT and thought, it would be worthy of so much more thought and discussion. The title intrigued me because in my ordinary, everyday life I can get blind-sided by cynicism. It can happen when I watch News that triggers ranting but the next minute, I’m cooing over the cuteness of an angora rabbit named Honeysuckle. It happens so often, I think I suffer from a schizophrenic mix of cynical sentimentality.

In How to Live without Irony, Christy Wampole writes:
“What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.
Here is a start: Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?”  How to Live Without Irony by Christy Wampole, NYT Opinionator.

I would like to honestly embrace some of Wampole’s ideas. I felt tender about her suggestion that we consider what our lives might be like if we lived away from the harsh light of irony and public display and were just ourselves – not only in how we dress, but in other ways. We need sincerity and humility. We need to quench anxiety and envy. We should resist the pressure to keep standards that have nothing to do with godliness and more to do with public image or materialism. 

 That leaves me wondering what to think about the interactive, on-line Advent Calendar that I have secretly loved and am now publicly disclosing. Yes, I’ve opened it each day this month. I’ve decorated a tree and made a snowman. Some would call it The Pike’s Peak of Sentimentality.
Granddaughter and Grandma
Okay, I agree it’s sentimental. Life is hard, I’ve never denied it, but can’t I please have some teeny bits of child-like sweetness? My grandchildren and other kids like this calendar, too. (Last year’s Advent calendar included a few parts of Real Christmas, which partially justified it. I don’t know if this year will be the same.) I would like to like it without apology or fear of being labeled unsophisticated, intellectually inferior, or lacking in cultural blah-blah-blah discernment.
 So if I can encourage you to join me just for a little while?: Let’s enjoy the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, the bubble lights on the tree, gingerbread cookies with red buttons and Aaron Neville’s “Blue Christmas.” We will not worry too much about kitsch because we will still get plenty of Advent readings, King’s Carols, and Hallelujah choruses.

And one more thing, Christy Wampole. What about humor? We need to laugh. My wild “Happy Chair” does make me happy. And it is nothing if not kitschy. Seeing a serious theologian wearing wild socks makes me laugh. And if my casserole dishes and hot pad trivets make me smile because they remind me of my grandmother – isn’t that not just allowable, but good?
"Happy Chair"
 It’s true. I am picking on only one part of Wampole’s thoughtful essay. I wonder if she or I confuse the meaning of irony with cynicism? It would be more fair to her if we discussed the entire piece in context, but I’ve got to get downstairs right now and check on Honeysuckle who is suffering from pasteurella multocida. It is making her dizzy and sick. She can’t even hop around. We are feeling worried and a little sentimental about Anita’s poor bunny.
Honeysuckle is sick
 For so many reasons: O, come Immanuel, come.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Talk about turkey

     Just finished talking to my great layout editor, Anne Melnyk who lives in Pittsburgh, as we finished up on all the little niggley changes, like comma here, comma there?
Anne & Margie at Bonnie Leifer's in Pittsburgh
      All done and the Winter Issue of Notes From Toad Hall is ready to go to the printer. We started chatting about Thanksgiving and I learned she’s having sixteen people for dinner including three of her son’s college roommates. I exclaimed that she’d need a really big turkey if she wanted leftovers, like at least 18 pounds. Better at 20. Those are big beasts to roast and I’ve had too many close calls and glitches despite years of experience. It seems I unintentionally attract disaster and feel this is very unfair of life.
     So despite my own lack of perfection, I’m sharing some of my fail-safe tips. In the manner of Hints from Heloise who often leaves me snickering and thinking, these people need to get a life.

These are my best suggestions for roasting a turkey:

Get a digital meat thermometer. Seriously. Maybe everyone else knows this. It’s taken me YEARS to figure out you NEED one. (I should be slapped for sniggering at Heloise.) There’ve been countless times when I thought I understood how long to roast a 21 pound turkey only to learn I’d done the math wrong and had to keep taking the thing out of the oven cutting into it, finding bloody flux, putting it back in, waiting, waiting, and then finally risking salmonella because everyone was either getting crabby and hungry or filling up on antipasto and egg nog and coming to the weighted table full. So get a digital meat thermometer with a probe and a wire that can string to the outside so you don’t even have to open the oven door if you don’t want to.

Get it done early. Err on the side of having it done an hour or even hour and a half before dinner time. (A thermometer will help you know when to take it out, and you can always keep it warm.) You will be so much more relaxed. Done early also gives the turkey time to relax which makes it easier to carve. This rarely happens at my house because I push the timing way too close and there we are carving a steaming hot turkey that shreds and splits rather than slicing up nice and clean. I am confident you can read cookbook tables with minutes per pound far better than me.

No special turkey roaster. Put it in a large pan, or whatever it fits in – it’s okay if the legs hang over a bit. Stuff it, if you’re into that. Jab the thermometer into the fleshiest part of the thigh. Be sure to oil the outside with butter or olive oil – this helps keep the aluminum foil from sticking to the skin. Cover it loosely with foil tucking it in around the edges. About an hour before it’s done remove the foil and baste if you like to have the skin all browned and crisp. Prick a fork into the leg joints and a lot of juice should run out.

Turkey baster. I’m really not one for gadgets. I don’t like gadgets like little dealies that help you separate egg whites from yolks. No. No. No. But a turkey baster has some uses that are deal breakers. Sucking up the juices in the bottom of the pan and squirting them over the beast really helps it stay moist and browns it up beautifully. The baster comes in handy for other things, like drawing the fat off a broth before you make gravy, and other things I mostly forget now.

Frozen Turkeys. If you have a frozen turkey, you have to remember to thaw it way in advance. If you need to put it in the oven early on Thanksgiving morning, you can’t just take it out the night before and let it thaw overnight. It will still be cement in the center. I know this from sad experience and hours spent running hot water into its cavity trying to pry out the plastic bag with the neck and giblets. You should take it out at least the morning before.

Living in the north. Has its advantages this time of year. If you make your stuffing earlier in the day before Thanksgiving: chill it. That way you can stuff your prepared turkey that night. Stick it on your porch or patio safe from predators (I set up steel traps and grenades) and where the temperature is close to freezing, because you know very well it will never fit back into your full refrigerator. Even a balcony will do. This way you get to sleep about an hour longer or until you hear guests muttering about breakfast.

There. Those are my best tips. Good luck. I will not be available for triage on Thanksgiving Day. But I will be glad to post any of your questions or disasters the day following.

Happy Thanksgiving way in advance. And I’m sorry I haven’t been posting more lately. Thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate it.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Bagged and blown away

Winds and floods pound and rise far to the east of us. But across our street this scene. A beagle and a retriever rolling in the leaves, their owners raking tawny-melon colored leaves into giant piles, pressing them into bags. The scene is so idyllic I want fall to stay for weeks and weeks so we can bag the warm golden light this old maple channels into our living room. Yesterday, lawns were mowed a final time. Hostas, the last to fade, were cut back, even gutters were cleaned.

Today, all the leaves are gone. Bagged or blown away. The maples and lindens are dark and bare.
I could have imagined all the world is all right for a day or two.

For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited- he says: I am the Lord, and there is no other,  …those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” Isaiah 45:18, 49:23

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I was happy

... the weekend we invited people to lift a glass of champagne and hear a reading from The Exact Place. It was beautiful but surreal. Around 50 people came to Toad Hall. Anita did all the planning. There were candles inside and out, flowers, sparkling glasses in a row and my grandmother’s lemon angel pie (one of the recipes from the book) ready to share. Me: useless, standing in front of closet wondering what to wear, or does it really matter? It doesn't, silly woman.

...I sensed people walk in, take a deep breath, exhale and settle into a chair for the evening. Then I relaxed, too. That people would actually come. That friends, and Anita, and Denis would take charge and make folks feel welcomed. That there was a real book to hold after so many years of claiming “I’m writing a memoir.” All I had to do was remember how to spell my name. It actually happened.
The dining room table made a good spot to sign.
Night falling by arrival time.
Looking from the kitchen out to the front door.
John Eddy & Denis arranged chairs to seat around 24.
Leslie Van Orsdel and Anita with last minute details.
Sunday afternoon reading. Randy & Barb Kinnick in foreground.
Big hug from my littlest sister, Roxanne.
Signing. Karen Vinson, Shelly Bergen, Melissa Hake. (Front to back.)
Thanks, Anita, for making beautiful details!
Two special surprises: John and Leslie Eddy came from New York for the weekend. The other: my youngest sister, Roxanne, arrived for the Sunday afternoon reading. She is nine and a half years younger than I am so by the time I left home for college, she was only seven years old. For most of the story – the part of my life I write most about – she was the little girl sleeping in the crib or my shadow following me around the farm and my best-est sleeping buddy. She still has enough sassiness to keep my writing honest. We don’t often see each other often enough.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Golden Fall

Looking down the front sidewalk
I walked through the front yard this morning to stand among the leaves. If it’s quiet you can hear them faintly whispering as they drift to the ground. I wanted to capture them spinning, slowly falling, but couldn’t. By the end of today there will be a completed golden carpet on the lawn and sidewalk. They will be gone in a few days. Mulched by the mower or blown to the neighbor’s. I love fall. I wish these days lasted longer. My great treat early in the morning, before anyone else in our house rises, is to wrap up, pretend I don’t have my pajamas on under my coat and sneak down to Caribou, lining up with all the medical folks getting ready for early rounds, and I order a soy latte. Back home, I sit by a window and read and watch the day begin.
CSA members picked up on our front porch.
 CSA is over for the season. The sign down. The boxes going into storage. I already miss the weekly box of vegetables from HeartBeet Farm. Each time the box comes, we open it like it is Christmas. Golden squash, huge, sweet red radishes, bright carrots, red potatoes, ripened red peppers, kale and more kale. It didn’t get old. Nor does it get old supporting these young friends who work hard to bring people the produce of their gardens. It was a pleasure to be their drop-off point for 26 members, who stopped by every Wednesday afternoon to pick up their boxes. We’ll be doing it again next year.
You can see the sprinkler going, one last good drink before winter.
Mornings are especially cold this week. But I like that. Denis is waiting until Thursday to turn on the furnace, since the high that day is only supposed to be 48 degrees. This morning the moon was almost full and still up in the western sky when the sun rose. There will be bleak days ahead, but for now I’m enjoying the glory of fall, and I hope you can, too.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dylan on work and calling

     In the last issue of Rolling Stone there was a lengthy interview with Bob Dylan. In the midst of it,  I was fascinated to hear him talk about about work and calling. It seemed very insightful which really shouldn't be surprising.

Rolling Stone: So live performance is a purpose you find fulfilling?

Dylan: If you’re not fulfilled in other ways, performing can never make you happy. Performing is something you have to learn how to do it. You do it, you get better at it, you keep going. And if you don’t get better at it, you have to give it up. Is it a fulfilling way of life? What kind of way of life is fulfilling? No kind of life is fulfilling if your soul hasn’t been redeemed.

You’ve described what you do not as a career but as a calling.

Everybody has a calling, don’t they? Some have a high calling, some have a low calling. Everybody is called but few are chosen. There is a lot of distraction for people, so you might not never find the real you. A lot of people don’t.

How would you describe your calling?

Mine? Not any different than anybody else’s. Some people are called to be a good sailor. Some people have a calling to be a good tiller of the land. Some people are called to be a good friend. You have to be the best at whatever you’re called at. Whatever you do. You ought to be the best at it – highly skilled. It’s about confidence – not arrogance.

Bob Dylan
     Way back when, when Denis and I began thinking about what in the world “Jesus is Lord over all of life” meant, we wondered how that could be as we cleaned dental offices for a few years while finishing up school. How could God be just as pleased with us doing that as when we were practicing a spiritual discipline like prayer or Bible reading. We had enormous barriers that kept us thinking that a call to “The Ministry” was a higher calling than the poor sot who goes to a JOB every day. It took time, reading, and lots of discussion to move us to a place in life where we could say, yes, this menial labor, this repetition of vacuuming and emptying, day after day, returning exam rooms and lobbies to clean orderliness – this is what God has called us to do for now. And it is good. As good as being a missionary to the homeless. We learned to honor God with our brooms and dust cloths, like Dylan does with words and guitar.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Longing for wholeness


Bumble bee visiting a giant zinnia
     Today while I was in the backyard admiring the zinnias once again, I caught this bumble bee visiting one of the blossoms. I’m certain their season is nearly over, as fall is here. We almost turned on the furnace this morning. I know these gentle, bumbling pollinators are becoming less common as their environments become increasingly toxic. It was odd to come across a woman from the tenth century who teaches us more about caring for God's creation.
     Hildegard of Bingen’s (1098-1179) term for the grace of God inherent in all living things was viriditas, or greenness … Hildegard’s holistic approach to God and humanity is relevant today, particularly to those longing for wholeness and healing for all of creation.
She wrote, “we shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice. If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.”

Resource: Common Prayer by Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, & Okoro.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Writing that soars

Gabby Douglas Women's Gymnastics Olympic Gold Medalist

This summer, we were entranced by the U.S. women’s gymnastics team as they competed at the Olympics. Yes. When aren’t we entranced?  Watching Gabby Douglas soar through the air was rapturous. She made impossible moves look so easy, for a fraction of a second I imagined I might be able to do that, too.

Of course, that’s ridiculous and not only because of my age … we know it takes years and years of practice and pain for a gymnast to make something so difficult and precise look so grace-filled and effortless.

I’m not saying writing is exactly the same, but it’s similar. A good piece of writing, a good story makes you forget the work it took to write it. It carries you away. For example, Cormac McCarthy’s work does that to me – some of his dialogues are so finely crafted they take my breath away. You don’t think about the author sitting hour after hour, drafting, deleting, staring out the window, percolating words and phrases as she chews eraser heads.

I strive for this sense of ease and flow in writing, but it is not automatic. If my work merely approaches this standard, barely touches it, like I’ve maybe placed in a local gymnastics meet, then I am pleased. The endorsements from folks who’ve read The Exact Place humble me. I rejoice in them, and yet I’m afraid. I wonder if it’s okay to fall off the balance beam once in awhile.

(This was first posted to Kalos Press Blog.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Promiscuous Reading

     So I don't really need to finish that book.
 "I often feel as though I’m a bad reader, an unfaithful reader, a reckless literary philanderer. But I can usually assuage this guilt by reminding myself that if I were to impose some sort of embargo on starting a new book before finishing a current one, I would end up reading fewer books. I would be a more methodical and orderly reader, certainly, but a less varied and prolific one. There’s a bit in Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson”—a book that I started but never finished—where Johnson gives amusingly short shrift to the notion that you should finish reading any book you start. “This,” he says, “is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?” Well, when you put it like that, then no. It’s always reassuring to have Dr. Johnson on your side, and he makes an excellent point—that we don’t necessarily have to think of books we are reading as relationships, that they can just as well be casual acquaintanceships—but I’m still only ever half convinced of the virtue of my ways."

Mark O’Connell (via Writing in the Dust)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Honeysuckle's revenge

Naughty bunny.
      This morning Anita’s Honeysuckle jumped the three steps down and over the dirty laundry basket barrier and into Anita's studio. In a matter of seconds she nipped a Mac power cord into six pieces. It was plugged into the wall at the time. Rabbits love live cords. I don’t think there’s been actual research on this, but it is a phenomenon common to lagomorphs, they seem to love the tingly jolt of live wires. You can give them a special extension cord for their chewing pleasure (which we HAVE done: on the floor, in the hutch) and they will ignore it, but plug it in and they are right there ready with their incisors. We do know this, which is why she is banned from spaces with cords on the floor.
     The last Mac cord Denis repaired caught on fire, a little bit. Maybe safer to buy a new one?

     Pets and babies. Babies and pets. They create a lot of expensive shenanigans and we (especially grandparents) happily afford them. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Happy Chair

     I finished renewing the chair this morning. Once it was bare bones and ready to be rebuilt, it was hard to leave it alone. So it has been steadily coming together. This morning I awakened at 5 am with an idea for my next Notes From Toad Hall. I know from experience that ideas fly right out my nighttime window if I don’t write them down immediately, after that I couldn’t go back to sleep. I could hear the chair whispering down in the dining room where my upholstering mess was festering away. I only had a little bit more to do, so armed with a cup of tea and still in my pajamas, I began padding the back of the back and attaching the back piece onto the chair back, thinking I’d be done in no time. When the project is finished, all the inside work should be invisible with none of your tacks or staples showing. There are some tricks to this and my mother has been coaching me over the phone. 

Chair back

Happy Chair
     By 11:45 I was finally done. I guess most meaningful things, including people and God, require more bits of flesh than I plan to give. I hammered my thumb twice and nicked my wrist once with the fabric cutter.

     It’s been worth some cussing and pain. Inspiration for this project came from Shawna Robinson’s website. She refashions old chairs with complete disregard for convention or color and calls them Happy Chairs. She is more than a designer: in a delightful twist of calling and giftedness, she’s also NASCAR race driver. I couldn’t be happier with my Happy Chair. It punches up our living room. Not to everyone’s taste. Denis sent a pic of it to a friend last night who diplomatically replied: “Well, that’s different.”  Which is the same thing as saying I’d rather have a dead chicken hanging around my neck. That same person’s daughter said: I would TOTALLY, immediately buy that if I saw it in a store.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Renewing a chair

Nine staples where three might do.
A bowl full of mental illness
      Lately, in my meantime, in my sparetime, I’ve been tearing down an old chair, pulling out millions of staples, ripping off rotten fabric, dreaming of the bright, happy new look I will give it. My mom has a small shop where she has renewed old, stinky couches and dirty easy chairs for years. She tells me you can know a lot about a person by the way a piece was put together. Each time we’ve talked lately, I’ve complained - nay, ranted - about the hundreds of unnecessary staples I had to individually pry out. She says, yes, that is a person who is…, that is…, I forget the word...  I say, obsessive-compulsive? YES! she replies.  
     Renewal can be a lengthy, arduous process where we must address our own imperfections. 

Stripped, ready for renewal

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kale Salad

This week we received a bundle of Curly Kale in our CSA box along with a recipe from Hannah for kale salad. Denis isn’t a big fan of kale, and I mostly like the idea of it more than the actual thing. However, I try to be a fan because  kale is full of vitamins and powerful anti-cancer properties and many other things that are GOOD for you, dear. Perhaps I’m late to the table, but I have found two surprising new ways to actually enjoy it as food, not medicine.
I’ve made lots of kale chips this summer. Easy. Cut off stems and slice up the sides of the larger ribs, discard, cut or tear the remaining leaf into 2 inch squares. Toss in a bowl with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Optional: grate on a little parmesan cheese. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or until crunchy. They will turn dark.  Store in a zip-lock bag to keep crisp.
The other new way to serve is as a salad which retains all its raw goodness. Honest, this could make a kale-lover out of the most picky critic. With friends for dinner the other night, I made this and not a bite was left over. In the past, I’ve tried it as a salad and it just didn’t work. Too tough and had a bitter flavor. But this was fabulous. You should try it.

Raw Tuscan Salad

1 bunch Tuscan kale (This is a more tender variety, but others can be substituted.)
¼ c homemade garlic bread crumbs
1 clove garlic
¼ c finely grated pecorino (or other sharp cheese such as asiago or parmesan)
3 T olive oil
Fresh squeezed juice of 1 lemon (I used a lime)
¼ t kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Trim lower stem and larger ribs off kale and discard. Slice kale into ¾ wide ribbons. Place kale in large bowl. Using a mortar and pestle or back of a knife, pound garlic into a paste. Transfer garlic to a small bowl. Add ¼ cup chees, oil, juice, etc. Whisk to combine. Pour dressing over kale and toss very well to coat leaves. Let salad sit for 5 minutes, serve topped with a few more bread crumbs, another dash of olive oil, and a sprinkle of additional cheese.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The givenness of everything

Denis and I think, speak, try to live with the understanding that all we do is whole. We are not Christians here and over there we are an athlete, here we practice our faith, here, for the moment, I am buying spices or reconciling my bank account. Same with writing.

Posted on the Kalos Press blog:
Richard Doster helps me think about what this means for my own writing and faith as he points to so many writers of great literature whose faith was integral to their life and living:

“In speaking about life and faith, Marilyn Robinson declares, ‘I’ve never found them to be incompatible …. Frankly, historically speaking, a great deal of English language literature is generated directly out of religious thought and religious erudition.’ Then, with words that bring O’Connor and Percy to mind, she said, ‘For me, a religious mindset creates a habit of scrupulous inquiry relative to virtually everything ….’ She explained to Lanpher [Katherine Lanpher was interviewing] that, ‘… everything has religious significance. It’s not as if I go from one area of interest to another,’ she said, ‘they’re simultaneous for me.'

“From Robinson, throughout the whole of the conversation, there’s not a syllable of defensiveness; there’s no awkwardness, no need to shy away from anything she believes. And from Lanpher, there’s only respect for a great writer.

“The conversation later veers down this charming path, as the Pulitzer Prize winning Christian so casually explains to the secular interviewer on a nationally distributed podcast that John Calvin is 'cool in a lot of ways. If you read his sermons on the 10 Commandments,’ Robinson explains, ‘they’re absolutely beautiful, profoundly humane interpretations of things that many people find forbidding.’ She continues, talking about how Calvin situated sacred and human experience in the mind and in perception, and about how she feels indebted to the 16th century reformer for his understanding of, 'the givenness of everything.' 

Kalos Press reprinted this article with permission from byFaith magazine.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Putting it away

Shredded cabbage, salt, natural fermentation, glass jars equals sauerkraut
As I begin today I am keeping in mind that tomorrow is Sunday and it needs to be a day of rest for me. It isn't as much obligation as necessity. I am tired. When I say this, I am aware that some schedules don’t allow Sunday to be that day for you. I understand. It often doesn't work for me either.
Today there are some letters that must be written. A bill to pay. A chair that is being taken apart to be recovered. It is in an ugly state of undress right now with many, many more staples to wrench out of the wood frame before a new fabric can be put on. I must make several phone calls I’ve been putting off. I have a large bowl of shredded cabbage that has been working overnight. Today it needs to be put in sterilized jars to become sauerkraut. Most urgent of all there is a box of perfectly ripe Colorado peaches (the best I’ve tasted in years!) that need to be dealt with. They can’t wait. So peach jam. Peach/Hot pepper jelly. Frozen peaches for smoothies. A peach cobbler for supper.

But tomorrow, I’m putting all that away from my hands and mind. I will be attending church, napping, reading a book, going for a walk, and snacking from the refrigerator and pantry.

Ruth Haley Barton puts it well, “The first order of things is that we are the creatures and God is the Creator.  God is the only one who is infinite.  I am finite, which means that I live within physical limits of time and space and bodily limits of strength and energy.  There are limits to my capacities….I am not God.  God is the One who can be all things to all people.  God is the One who can be in two places at once.  God is the One who never sleeps.  I am not.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Make Classic Crock Pickles

 Cucumbers are sneaky, secretive. We had a plant, just one, growing beside our back steps this summer and at first it was a lazy little vine that made blossoms but no fruit. The flowers shriveled and dropped. Turned out the blossoms needing pollinating. There weren’t enough bees around to do the job. Anita showed me how to take a tiny paint brush, dip it into a male blossom and then pass the goodness into a female. She told me how to tell the difference between them, but I didn’t get it, so I stabbed every one I found for the week she was gone. Apparently they figured out their chemistry because this little vine has grown big. Big enough to cover the oregano, wrap around the sedum and climb the bee balm. Meanwhile it is producing handfuls of sweet, crisp cucumbers.

A few manage to hide behind a leaf for an extra day or two until you find them grown to the size of a man’s tube sock. I swear they can do this overnight. Grow that big. What  to do with them?
Make crock pickles.

I often crave pickles, and as I handled these big ones, I though of the old wooden pickle barrels that used to sit beside the cash register of every general store in America. What I didn’t realize is that they required no refrigeration because the natural fermentation process preserved them.
You can make your own crock pickles quite easily and the recipe can be tweaked a little to get it how you them.

This is a method of preserving food that is being recovered. Cucumbers are especially well adapted to this kind of fermentation, though other vegetables like onions, carrots pepper are good, too. If you’ve had to do a course of antibiotics lately, more doctors are now suggesting you replace all that good bacteria in your gut with probiotics. Millions, billions of those teeny, tiny seething little organisms that help us digest food and fight off evil are now dead along with all the bad ones. Our American diets do not include enough of the beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and pickles and fermented foods. This could be a start.

So, if you have a few extra cucumbers, now is the time. You can make a small batch, enough for two quarts. Whet your appetite, pass one of these to a friend, a kid, a spouse and you may be rewarded with more than just a little help for the bacteria farm growing in your gut.

Classic Crock Pickles
(makes 2 Quarts)

2 lbs. pickling cucumbers or spears
1 quart water
3 TBSP pickling salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 fronds of fresh seeded dill (or 1 TBSP seed)
1 T mustard seed (optional)
1 tsp celery seed (optional)
1 head of garlic
Oak or grape leaves (preserves crispness)
Soak the cucumbers overnight in cold water.
Sterilize 2 glass quart jars. Add 2 oak or grape leaves, a frond of dill seed, and several cloves of garlic to each jar.
Combine the water, salt, garlic, mustard and celery seeds in a bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. This is your pickling brine.
Pack each jar with spears or whole pickling cucumbers, leaving at least 2 inches of room at the top of each jar.
Pour brine into each jar, filling to the top. All the cucumbers need to be covered in at least 1” of brine.  If you need more liquid, mix 1 TBSP pickling salt in 1 cup water and add it to the brine to reach the desired volume.

The cucumbers, whether whole or cut in spears, will float and you need to invent a way to keep them submerged. We found a small round river rock, sent it through the dishwasher to sterilize it and placed that in the top of our jars. If you have a small enough plate or seal a bag of dry beans, anything that will rest on top of the jar to keep them down.

Leave jars at room temp out of direct sunlight. It’s a good idea to set the jar in a bowl because as the brine works it will bubble and overflow a little. Check the jars every day. As the fermentation process gets going, bubbles will rise in the brine and you will see seeds being ferried up and down the pickling liquid.  This is a good sign!  It means the cucumbers are getting pickled.
A scum will form on the top of the brine every day (also a good sign!). Skim it off and discard it and clean the rim of the jar so mold does not form.
When the bubbles stop rising (after a week or so), take out a pickle and sample it.  If it is pickled to its center, it is done. If it isn’t sour enough or pickled throughout, leave the jar to sit out another day or two to complete the fermentation.  The taste should be sour and salty and if you speared the cucumbers, the skin should still be crunchy. 
Refrigerate the jars when the pickles taste like you want them to.  Refrigeration slows the fermentation process, but the scum will still form on top of the liquid. Remove it regularly. They’ll keep for 4-6 months in the refrigerator.

This recipe was tweaked, but originated from Put 'em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton