Saturday, December 31, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
The outdoors, however, tell a different story, as in my front garden, daffodils are about 6 inches tall, cherry trees are in flower here and there in the neighborhood, and irises are a-bloom on Main Street. No sign of winter here...in fact, these more-than-a-few hints of springtime are the result of our schizophrenic December temperatures here in the Piedmont of NC, with many days in the upper 60s and a hard freeze yet to happen. Trees everywhere are budding as Nature seems to be under the impression that springtime is approaching, only to be fooled and foiled if and when wintery weather actually happens.
Kind of reminds me of human life in general, though. We go along easily, everything copacetic and seemingly on an even keel, lulling us into a false sense of security, the perpetual springtime. And when we least expect it or are unprepared for it, we are knocked off our feet by a "happening" which nips our complacency in the bud, reminding us that life is not all springtime, not all moonlight and roses, but wintery and dark and filled with plenty of thorns.
Don't misunderstand me: I am not a pessimist, just waiting for the hard things to happen. I am simply a realist who has lived long enough to know how easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security and simplicity about life, only to be drawn up short when the other shoe falls. (Full of metaphors this morning, aren't I?) But Nature can teach us a valuable lesson here. When the worst happens in the natural world, when unexpected frosts or storms hit, when the usual patterns of life are disrupted, Nature goes on, relying on all of the resources developed over eons of time, certain that new life, new growth, new blooms will come again, in spite of the setbacks, in spite of the disruptions, in spite of the fact that life is not unfolding as planned.
And so, on this almost-wintery-feeling morning (I actually had to scrape my windshield) I am wishing for you a day filled with resiliance and the ability to adapt to whatever comes your way. I am wishing for you the wisdom and strength to deal with whatever life holds in store and unfolds before you this day. I am wishing for you eyes wide open and arms wide open and a heart wide open to welcome and receive the gift of these next twenty-four hours of living, knowing always that you are loved.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Since I was meeting friends for lunch and I was early, I headed for the Belk building and Founders Hall, where I knew I would find both a bookstore and a Caribou Coffee shop in order to while away the time pleasurably. Finding nothing new of interest in the bookstore, I headed to the coffee shop for a Soy Chai Latte and found myself a quite corner table behind the fireplace where I proceeded to make the following entry in my pocket journal:
In Charlotte, people-watching in the Belk Building at Caribou Coffee...in front of me is a man in a brown chair doing Sudoku... another opposite reading on a Kindle, sunglasses atop his head, coffee on the table before him. In the corner, a young man (a student, perhaps) is working on his laptop, as all the while his head is bobbing to the music coming through his headphones. On the other side of the fireplace, two twenty-something women are conversing, sharing frequent laughter. Christmas muzak sounds in the background as people ascend and descend distant escalators while others stream steadily by down the corridor in front of me. Lots of moms with little ones in strollers pass by, as well as an occasional dad bearing a toddler in his arms. Is this place always so busy, I wonder or is the traffic a sign of the season? And are the people lingering here in the coffee shop out of work or night shift workers or among the idle rich?
A lovely elderly black woman walks by, leaning on a cane, her face wreathed in white curls...what is her story, I wonder- for each of these people has a story to tell, each as unique as a fingerprint, as distinctive as an ear whorl. How I want to ask, to enter- just for a moment or two- into the lives of these people I see, to create an intersection between their lives and mine, in recognition of our shared humanity, our all-too-often-unacknowledged connectedness.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
dear friends and family, far and near. As the year draws to a close, as the natural world here in North Carolina prepares itself for winter’s restorative rest, as the days grow shorter and the path of the sun moves to the southern sky, I am thinking of each and all of you with much love and warm memories.
And recently, out of the blue, a new job came my way, Chaplain at the Lutheran Home in Winston-Salem, NC, caring for both residents and staff for twenty hours each week…God calling me in new directions, opening new doors, challenging me to take a risk and step out in faith.
As I look toward 2012 and my seventieth birthday (I know, I have a hard time believing it, too), I am increasingly thankful for good health, the continual blessing of a sharp intellect, un-waning curiosity, and an ever-widening faith perspective.
May your holiday be filled with peace & joy. May your new year be graced with wisdom & courage. May you know the blessing of family & friends & faith. And may you know that you are loved.
“Thin places”, according to the Celts,
are where the world of here & now
rubs close to the eternal…where
visible & invisible worlds come into
near proximity…thresholds to
divinity in our human world.
the thin place that is
the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth
as the conduit for the Spirit
of the Divine to become manifest
fully & completely-
inviting each & all of us to become
thin places for one another…
God fleshed out again & again &
yet again in us…
divinity shining through
humanity, manifest in
who & how we are to one another…
to our planet…
to the least of these,
as we kneel at the manger…
as we live in our world.
Nut rolls are a German- or perhaps Austrian or Hungarian delicacy, usually made only at Christmas since the preparation is labor-intensive...dozens of walnuts ground for the filling which is mixed by hand...the five-step mixing of the pastry layer, followed by a first rising, rolling, filling, and a second rising. Only then are the lovely, fat rolls ready for baking. Oh, and did I mention brushing the tops with beaten egg mixed with a bit of sugar, to create a shiny glaze?
I have no idea where the recipe originated...I don't know that anyone does. But in the small, ethnic steel-town where I spent my childhood in Pennsylvania, all of the women baked them at the holidays: Germans, Austrians, Croatians, Serbians, Hungarians...but you get the picture. And I spent many a happy hour with my maternal grandmother, Mom-mom, in the church kitchen where a crew of wonderful German omas baked nut rolls to sell in the community to raise money for their German Lutheran church. How I remember the redolent odors of that kitchen...the women in their print house-dresses and aprons and sensible black shoes...the laughter and cameraderie among them and their kindness to the little blond girl who watched with wide eyes, knowing that she would soon be given a taste of the heavenly pastry.
Is it any wonder, then, that I decided that I needed to learn to make this delicacy? Though both my grandmother and my mother had always baked them, though I had assisted both of them with other baking throughout the years, I had never been part of the "nut roll experience", perhaps because they thought I wouldn't be careful enough, precise enough- and both Mom and Mom-mom were nothing if not perfectionists about their nut rolls, making them precisely the same size, rolling them just so. And so I had come to the advanced age of sixty-nine without acquiring the skill- as skill it indeed is- of preparing nut rolls for Christmas. Hence, the EXTREME Baking enterprise.
On the day after Thanksgiving, I headed north to stay with my Aunt Jean, the nut roll maven in our family. She had done much of the preparation ahead of time: grinding the walnuts, measuring the flour into plastic bags (we were going to bake four triple batches, you see!), acquiring the pounds of butter (did I mention that nut rolls are not lo-cal?), and in general, having all in readiness for the baking. And so, on Friday evening, following Jean's instructions, I mixed up the filling-by hand-in two batches in her huge stainless steel bowl: walnuts, evaporated milk, beaten egg whites, sugar, and honey (yes, both...the honey helps keep the filling moist as well as adding flavor...you see what I mean about the confection not being no-cal). We ended up with pounds and pounds of filling, and after setting out the butter and eggs for the pastry to come to room temperature for the morning, it was off to bed. (Might I add that all of this mixing,etc. followed an eight-hour drive for me and tired was a gross understatement.)
Saturday morning we both slept in a bit and I was downstairs, ready to work, wearing my EXTREME Baking red apron, by 8a.m. A phone call from my cousin informed us that she would be a bit late but that she would surely arrive by nine or so, and in anticipation of that, Jean resumed her instructions, this time talking me step-by-step through the dough-making process. Using her commercial-grade electric mixer, I proceeded to mix four batches of yeast dough, the pungent yeasty odor making the kitchen fragrant and filling my mind with memories of Christmases long-past. The mixing of each batch was followed by hand-kneading to be sure all the flour was well-mixed into the dough, forming that batch into 8 balls and placing them in Jean's large baking pans, covering them with kitchen towel and placing them near the warm over to rise.
By that time, Cheryl had arrived and we set up two pastry board for the rolling, one on the counter and the other on the kitche table. Yes, indeed...this WAS baking in the extreme. Jean showed me how to take one ball of dough and shape it a bit by hand, heavily flour the board, and roll the ball into a rectangle; then spread the filling over the entire surface and carefully, with the flat surface of my fingers, roll the entire thing into a long roll and, wriggling my fingers under it, place it in another of Jean's special pans. Six rolls later, the pan was covered with a cloth and again permitted to rise. Only then were the prepared pans placed in the oven for baking.
Now, I realize I have probably told you more than you ever wanted to know about making nut rolls...but I wanted you to understand the labor-intensity of this endeavor, as well as the deeply special experience it was for me to be doing something the women in my family had done for generations. And after the baking and the cooling, Aunt Jean, placing each roll on a specially-cut cardboard base, wrapped it in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil, and sealed it with a sticker (printed out earlier that week) which indicated "Nut Roll" and the date. (These confections freeze beautifully and last for a long, long time in the freezer, if wrapped correctly.)
Deep breath...sigh, sigh...can I sit down now? Late in the afternoon, my other cousin, Sandy, came over and we all sat down to cups of tea and slices of nut roll...after all, we had to make sure they tasted okay, didn't we? I had been on my feet for nearly seven hours by this time and wasn't sure if I would be able to get up from the chair again...but there they were, on the table in all their golden-brown glory: sixty- yes, you heard me right- SIXTY beautiful, fragrant nut rolls, to be shared with family and friends as gifts this holiday season. EXTREMELY satisfying, I can assure you, and a lovely way to merge holidays past and present in my mind and heart. Thank you, Jean. Thank you, Cheryl. Shall we do it again next year?
|Aunt Jean and her apprentice|
Thursday, December 1, 2011
I remember well being in my teens and wondering if I would still be alive at the turn of the century. After all, I would be the advanced age of fifty-eight when that happened. Yet, here I am, happily chugging along toward seventy, and doing quite well, thank you very much. My teen-aged self would undoubtedly be quite surprised.
Returned yesterday afternoon from a six-day trip to Pennsylvania, to reconnect with family and friends there: 2 days with my Aunt Jean in Steelton for "extreme baking" (more about this later), along with my cousin, Cheryl, and including a trip to Schmidts' butchershop for their amazing German sausage; an afternoon, evening, and overnight with my oldest friend, Diane, and her husband, Bob, in Hummelstown. (She is actually two years my junior but I have known her since she was born...guess I should say we share my longest friendship.) Then it was off to York, my birthplace and home for most of my first thirty-eight years, for a whirlwind of base-touching: lunch with Lyn, whom I met about 38 years ago when we were both in nursing at Memorial Hospital; dinner and the evening with Becky and Bob, Becky being my friend since we met in eighth grade at Central High School; and on Tuesday, a long lunch with my cousin, Harry, and his dear wife, Julie. (Pant, pant, pant- deep breath.)
Add in a quick early-evening jaunt to Mack's ice cream in Hellam, seeing there a huge rainbow when the setting sun shone through briefly in the midst of a heavy downpour, a brief stop at BAM (Books-a-Million's new logo), and the return to my motel room was most welcome. Early to bed, early to rise, in order to beat the Route 30 traffic out of York, 'round the squares in Abbottstown, New Oxford, and Gettysburg (all beautifully dressed in their holiday finery), to pick up I-81 in Chambersburg. Then south, south, south, and a bit west through Maryland, the tip of West Virginia, and Virginia. (Actually saw gas for $2.99 at one place south of Winchester! Too bad I had already gassed up earlier.)
As I traveled south, through the winter-barren but still-beautiful countryside of Virginia and North Carolina, my heart was filled to overflowing with the glory of the world around me, with my ability to travel on my own, with the wonders of books-on-CD, with the joy of simple things like stopping for coffee and watching the changing clouds and seeing snow on the distant mountaintops.
And now I am safely home, where I reveled in my own bed last night (nothing else feels quite like one's own bed, does it?) and slept late this morning. Much, much, much to do today as I plunge into December with all it holds- but I am pausing to take a deep breath and send it out to all of you with my wishes for a glorious new day, new month, waning old year. Walk softly, slowly, gently on this December 1st...hold gratitude in your heart...and know you are loved. love, linda
Thursday, November 24, 2011
I believe that we are always attracted to what we need most, an instinct leading us toward the persons who are to open new vistas in our lives and fill them with new knowledge. –Helene Iswolski
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. -Anais Nin
A friend is a loved one who awakens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within you. -John O’Donohue
On this day of giving thanks, I am most thankful for life and health. But closely nipping at the heels of that experience of gratitude is my overwhelming thanks for my children and grandchildren and scattered extended family. And clinging tightly to the thankfulness shirt tail (I'm mixing metaphors shamelessly here) is my deep and abiding gratitude for my friends, a true blessing in my life.
Monday, November 21, 2011
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you. -Lao-Tzu
the morning is fleeting...
yet what is more important at this moment
than being here, listening to
chanting, enchanting voices from the CD player,
sipping coffee from my new, handmade-by-a-friend
coffee mug, watching the flickering candles
and the heavy gray air outside my windows...
reading, writing, thinking, while an occasional tear glides
down my cheek, a tender smile
parts my lips.
present in this present moment...
for where else should I be?
this is my life...thanks be to God.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
In the brief week since these pictures were taken around my house, much of this color is gone, as the winds which cleared the clouds and gave us the incandescent Carolina-blue skies stripped these lovely ladies of their colorful garb, their bare bones now showing clearly and starkly.
What an autumn it has been, though. In spite of a paucity of rainfall through so much of the summer, Nature put on her annual show. Oh, there were fewer reds and oranges, though a maple tree at the end of my block put on a truly remarkable show, going from orange to red to glowing gold over a matter of weeks. Glorious, simply glorious. And walking was a pleasure, as I became a child again, kicking through the leaves, my mind flooded with recollections of the high rope and wood swing Dad built in our backyard, from which my sisters and I and the neighborhood kids would jump into piles of raked leaves.
Autumn makes me a bit nostalgic, as I recall the places I have called "home" and the many people who have populated them, many no long with me now...at least not in body. But their spirits remain strong, their presences very real, their voices occasionally resounding in my head and heart.
Now the holidays loom large. The day of Thanksgiving is next week, stores are filled with signs of Christmas, and sale circulars fill the morning paper each day, inviting me to shop and buy and spend... while all around me the natural world seems to be saying, "Simplify. Pare down to your essence. Let go of what is no longer needed. Trust in the growth that is taking place within and will bloom again." And so I plan for gift-giving which will take the form of helping those less fortunate, decorating which will not involve the destruction of a tree or the overuse of energy, determined to give the gift of myself and my time as often as I can, knowing that life is fleeting and only love is truly eternal...love given, love shared.
Monday, November 7, 2011
So, for you fellow mystery fans out there, I am including a list of some of my very favorites. A number of these are just one of a series by a particular author focusing on a particular main character and with these, I have read the others of the series in the past or am planning to catch up with the character in the future. Several are by European or British writers, which I love, since I am a true Anglophile. And more than a few are set in other historical periods, since there are several excellent writers out there working in Victorian London or post-WWI England, with much careful research obvious in the writing.
I hope I'll offer you, my fellow readers, some new directions to go in the coming months. And if you have any suggestions of "must-reads" for me, please include them in a comment, as I am always looking for EXCELLENT new reading material. Enjoy yourself...and be sure to become a frequent presence at your public library.
- The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
- Rains Gods and Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke (actually anything by this author- he's one of my favorites- his writing is both intelligent- with a gret vocabulary- and beautiful)
- Breaking Silence and Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo (The main character was formerly Amish and the stories are set in Indiana's Amish country)
- Live Wire by Harlan Coben (If you haven't met Myron Bolitar, you're in for a treat.)
- ALL of the Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly- Harry is one of my favorite characters and these books are great.
- The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen
- Iron House by John Hart
- The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
- The Given Day by Dennis LeHane
- About Face by Donna Leon
- The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
- Sixkill and Killing the Blues by Robert B. Parker (few writers can equal Parker for sparking repartee between characters)
- Treason at Lisson Grove and Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry (Set in Victorian London, these 2 series feature husband-wife teams and offer a great deal of description of the period.)
- Instruments of Darkness, Anatomy of Murder, and Island of Bones by Imogene Robertson (this series is great! Can't wait for the next one.)
- One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming (If you haven't discovered this series and this writer, I highly commend her to you. Those of us who are "hooked" await each new book with bated breath and great impatience.)
- A Lonely Death by Charles Todd (Another "discovery", this mother and son team, living in NC and Deleware, respectively, have 2 series going, both of which I really enjoy...check them out.)
- Outrage by Robert Tanenbaum
- A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear (Run right out and get the entire Maisie Dobbs series for the most engaging heroine I've encountered in a long time.)
Sunday, November 6, 2011
His commentary on cotton in pill containers, paper weights, and junk mail mixed with heartfelt reflections on national and world politics, and he was never afraid to voice his opinions loudly and clearly. His voice joined those of other truly stellar newsmen: Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Harry Reasoner, and Ed Bradley, all of whom were reporters to the bone, digging for the heart of each story, fleshing it out for us, the viewers, in a way seldom seen since.
Andy, you will be missed. Blessings to you, and good night.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
When I have this "alone-time", I usually look back over some of my journals, to reflect upon my reflections...and lest this sounds like so much naval-gazing, let me tell you that I am often amazed by what I find...at words I wrote a year ago or two or three...and I find small gems tucked away in pages long since forgotten. Like these words of Diane Ackerman in her wonderful book, Deep Play:
"To the (Australian) Aborigines, geography is memory. Every mile sings, every mountain speaks of their ancestors' journeys. Nothing is irrelevant, nothing is lost to death. All things partake of life's spirit and vitality, the land is vigorously alive, unseen forces flourish, and all have a special site (or Dreaming Place) that is a spiritual place for them and their ancestors."
...which led me to think about places which have fed my spirit over the years...
- Sam S. Lewis State Park, just outside of Wrightsville, PA, where, high on the hill overlooking the Susquehanna River, I took my three children in the middle of the night many years ago to watch the total eclipse of the moon...
- Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, the site of the Anasazi nation, an advanced civilization closely parallel to the Aztecs which build amazing structures in the southwestern desert and suddenly, completely disappeared, leaving only the ruins of those beautiful structures behind...
- the isle of Iona, off Scotland's northeastern coast, cradle of Celtic Christianity, and home of the Iona Community, its wild and rugged beauty barely touched by the encroachments of civilization and alive with the spirits of those gone before...
- Well of Mercy retreat center in Harmony, NC, a place of serene beauty and nurturing comfort begun by two Sisters of Mercy and staffed by incredibly giving and gifted people...
- the winter beach almost anywhere, when the wind and water and waves all combine in a symphony which rivals any written by my favorite Mozart...
- the Masaai Mara, that incredible landscape of every imaginable shade of brown, beautiful in its scope and alive with its animals, it takes the breath away.
- And, of course, Healing Ground, with its beauty in every season, its wide-open welcome, achieving that alchemy of power and peace.
|The Masaai Mara|
|Heading home at twilight|
...which I hope will lead you to think about places which feed your spirit, places to which your memory returns again and again for nourishment and comfort. For as Askerman said, geography IS memory...or so I've found.
And while I was letting the winds of the Spirit blow through, I found myself composing words which I now keep in the front of my notebook, as I prepare again and again to write.
prayer before writing...
Holy One, Creative & Creating Light,
hold and nurture and comfort me this day.
Breathe into me a bit of creative energy,
that i might write from my heart and soul,
from my depths- the ocean inside.
You are my Source, my Hope, my Peace,
my Standing Place.
From you i draw strength, power,
imagination, creativity, wonder,
And though i can neither understand
nor explain your presence,
i know it...feel it...welcome it...
i gather it close to myself,
let it enshroud mt...
i lose myself in its wonder, its reality.
i dive into its depths, enthralled by
both darkness & light,
buoyed by the sense of rightness,
of holiness, of wholeness.
And as i permit myself to float on the tide
of your ineffability, as i breathe in the
sweetness of your reality, all of life
becomes a YES.
And if i may share yet another quotation from Diane Ackerman, one which hits very close to the bone of this sometime writer/poet:
"...poetry is a kind of knowing, a way of looking at the ordinary until it becomes special and the exceptional until it becomes commonplace."
Poets speak what has been
forgotten...the deep inner
wisps of eternity.
We are a vertical species, we humankind.
Not only in our posture, our way to meet the world-
upright, standing as we do on our own two feet-
but in the way we raise our eyes skyward,
seeking something far beyond ourselves.
towers- though safety there is more
illusory than real.
We climb corporate ladders, rising to the top…
become top dog, king of the hill, high & mighty…
convinced that power
lie above us…somewhere…
forgetting – if we ever really knew-
that even from the mountaintop
we see the world spread out at
our feet waiting for our
presence, our engagement,
our caring, compassionate involvement…
down in the trenches…
getting our hands dirty…
and falling on our knees to
Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty: The accumulation of wealth of the people at the top of the unemployment ladder is linked to the poverty experiences by those at the bottom.
And all of this meandering is just to say, this is LIFE...with all of its frustrations and foibles, its joys and celebrations, its ongoing challenge to LIVE FULLY...whatever is happening. And if we can do that, my friends, we can know that we are well and truly alive.
May your day be filled with wonder and meaning...and may you dwell in the certainty that you are loved. love, linda
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Writing is not arrogance; it is simply sharing my opinion, my experience; laying it out there for others to accept & resonate with or reject, as they will. No matter how scholarly a work, how well researched or footnoted, at rock bottom it is the thought and opinion of the writer...admittedly reached through process and consideration but his/her opinion nonetheless. And so, I must set aside my fear of rejection, my fear of being misunderstood and disagreed with, and JUST DO IT! It is not arrogance to put forth what I think/believe; no arm-twisting is involved but rather, an invitation is being issued...to be accepted or not by the other, by the reader. The path lies ahead...one foot in front of the other...walking is lovely but also difficult at times...it requires determination...it requires DOING IT! Breathe into me courage, strength, and wisdom, Creative Spirit. Let me dare & do...let me write with determination...and let someone hear. LET IT BE SO.
And so I'm sharing today some of the words I have written over the passing months, years, which speak from my heart to you, dear reader. Perhaps they will strike a chord, will resonate with your heart; perhaps you will turn away, unable or unwilling to walk my path with me for a little while. But whatever happens, whatever results, I lay my head and heart out there- and take the risk.
rhyme or reason
While I so admire the way some poets
weave words and images together,
I admit I am also puzzled by them...
obviously they know where their words
are going but I cannot follow...
feel lost in a maze of imagery and
verbiage which seems labyrinthine
in its complexity.
I do not feel invited in, do not feel
included...the words so private,
so exclusive, that I am shut out-
though I am certain that is not
the poet's intent. Else, why write at all?
It is in the sharing, the connections,
that hope lies...the hope that my
reaching hand will touch yours,
that my tears will flow from your eyes,
that my heartbreak will break your heart
wide open, that my joy and laughter
will resonate from your mouth.
I write to express and connect...
with you and you and perhaps you, too.
There is no other rhyme or reason
daylight savings time?
Isn’t it ironic that this idea, originally
conceived as a way of saving energy,
of consuming less fuel,
is now being touted as a way to ramp up
the slumping economy, promoting retail
and gasoline sales?
so that- so the party line goes- stocks and
profits will go up. Of course, so will degradation
of the planet- but, oh well, what are a few
polar bears and emperor penguins?
They’re only animals, after all…not nearly
as important as we humans with our
perceived needs for comfort & convenience.
bear a share of the responsibility- so,
can I walk more softly in this world?
Leave a smaller carbon footprint?
Live more responsibly and intentionally?
Surely I can try.
truth of a different color
What happens when one part
of the brain agrees with
and it is indeed a blessed thing
to do- to give our gifts, our talents,
time, to help another…
to a good cause…
to share our bounty
and our selves.
to receive- another’s
thoughts, another’s pain,
O P E N
O P E N
O P E N
Isn’t this also a precious gift
we can give to another?
Receiving what they have
If we’ve ever been on the receiving end of an act of mercy that made