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Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Strolling Down Memory Lane –

-- we may find a few ruts.  
A "Grand Tour" means a voyage of discovery and maturing, soaking in the culture and history of more refined parts of the world – usually Europe. And for some crazy reason, I feel like I am a kind of adventure that goes beyond the standard definitions of “trip” – not that we are sightseeing or attending lectures or camping out in the area’s museums.  

Is it the ambience of a town with so many 18th and 19th century mansions, or presence of two old schools that make me feel like I am on a “Grand Tour?” It might be the water views from so many vantage points -- or the Christmas lights -- or companionship of so many dear souls, all with time enough to think and reflect -- and remember.  Whatever it is, this time our visit has the feel of a tour rather than just a trip.

I see Spa Creek from our grand windows, and remember our first apartment, also overlooking this body – and one of homes, a duplex, that had a boat slip on this creek, just at the edge of small two-tiered garden.  And I recall that Doug’s father also lived in a condominium looking out on the same water.

When walk through downtown Annapolis, and I remember how often I led tours up and down these streets, and in and out of several Georgian mansions, St. John’s College, and the Naval Academy, happily divulging facts that return to mind.  I remember so many strolls over to the State House grounds with our kids, to ward off the crabby “children’s hour.”  And I recall my parents who spent their last years in this town.     

What is good about this trip, and like an attribute of a grand tour, is the time we’ve had to reflect and remember.  What we take away may not be as useful or creative as those who actually made the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries.  (The Greater Journey is an excellent primer on such tours!) But, our adventure is filling us with reminders of some lessons learned.  Sadly, we’ve learned that some sweet folks with whom we shared so much happiness have themselves hit rough patches – and some are dead.    

Truth be told, the jewels of architecture and learning, that are distinct hallmarks of Annapolis, are surrounded by developers’ obnoxious buildings; they are as breathtakingly ugly, as the old properties are lovely -- just as the happy, blessed memories of so many wonderful times are jewels, but within some painful settings.  

·      Even our misfortunes are a part of our belongings.  ~Antoine de Saint-Exup√©ry, Night Flight, 1931, translated from French by Stuart Gilbert

·      Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.  ~African Proverb

·      We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to learn that it is God who is shaking them.  ~Charles C. West

Happy New Year, gentle reader – and here’s a bit of Hope for 2014:

“ . . . Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
   it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior . . .”  Isaiah 43

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hacked!


It happened again – someone commandeered my credit card and made three 4-figure charges. And because of their felony, our use of the card was suspended for the time it took to receive new cards.  This hardly seemed fair . . . but “fair” is not what Jimmy Carter said to expect in this world. (The context of this quote is worth reading! )
A Target customer at a store in Miami on Dec. 19. The company previously announced that about 40 million credit and debit card accounts of customers had been stolen.
 Source*
It was an experience somewhat akin to our losing electrical power in the recent ice storm.  We got by – but the consequence of having lost our capacity to buy was as unsettling as no heat or light.  However, being slowed down by circumstances beyond our control – and resting this time from shopping – was not all bad.  The awareness, of how quickly I can lose the creature comforts and financial security I take for granted, neatly dovetailed with the mixed messages of the season.

The news says there is no peace on earth – the holiday says, Ho-Ho-Ho. And, our holidays seem more connected to presents than the presence of God.

I say I believe in a power greater than myself. When I see how cold and dark our home can get, however, or how limited I am without that 3”x2” plastic card, God reminds me my words have meaning, and consequences.

Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13-12  ~ The Message)

It’s one thing to urge people to turn to God – especially during Christmas; it’s another thing though to live each day believing it.

·      To perceive Christmas through it`s wrapping becomes more difficult every year. ~ E. B. White (The second tree from the corner)

·      We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. ~ Dietrich Bonheoffer

·      Selfishness makes Christmas a burden, love makes it a delight. (Author unknown)

The trick is loving and living wisely after Santa’s come and gone. (John 13:34-35)



Photo Source: Nightmare

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Past is Too Soon Here

This year’s celebration felt like being inside our production of “The Nutcracker”—lots of lovely encounters with wonderful people, all ages and stages. (Doug and I being the oldest) To have been part of our kids’ Christmas celebrations remains the greatest gift! All the little and big joys of Christmas Day 2013 – they were no dream! Yep – we feel like we’ve been crowned king and queen of the land of sweets!

Color me satiated . . . and not just because of all the yummy food, that was the day’s fare. I can’t say I ate too much . . . But I sampled all the fare — and smaller portions of luscious food can fill a girl up right well!

However, enjoying all those dishes with family and good friends was the true gift that keeps on giving. To quote a Facebook post: “I think the older you get . . . the things you really want can’t be bought.” (Although, every present we received was exactly what we needed)

Reflecting on this year’s celebration, I didn't know I still had that much party in me.  And maybe that was a good present, too.  


More light than we can learn,
More wealth than we can treasure,
More love than we can earn,
More peace than we can measure,
Because one Child is born. (Source)

Christmas lights still twinkle, but the continual caroling through the auspices and generosity of public broadcasting and those who support it is over.  Hearing the sublimity of the hope that God intersected human history was been quite a tonic, for this hope does not disappoint, especially as   news of power outages, and shipping woes – and bombings, and blustering crowds out the jewel of joy that was mine yesterday,

Gentle reader, as we get back to the business of living in and through uncertain times. May that hope be yours in abundance!   

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and  we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5)

A related and worthwhile link before packing away this year’s memories:  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice


The shortest day of the year – allegedly-- has dawned the brightest since our arrival in Annapolis, and the warmest.  It’s now warmer here than in Dallas, with temperatures tomorrow topping 70. Go figure.

Outdoor Christmas lights, while not at the insane levels that illumine the Park Cities, are more abundant than I remember. Once upon a time, I thought displaying too many Christmas lights was tacky – what was preferable I thought were decorations reminiscent of colonial Williamsburg. I still remember the first – and only – garden club meeting I attended; they taught us how to make “natural” boxwood wreaths. I never drew upon that wealth of information again – I never had access to boxwood was my excuse of choice.

But having a “fresh” door decoration was as important to me as having a live tree was to Doug and the kids.  Some years, it was almost the last minute until I got a wreath up . . . and it dawned on me when assessing them, that “tacky” was an adjective with broader boundaries than over-the-top outdoor displays.

An unexpected and fulfilling delight remains the 24/7 Christmas music available on the public radio station, WETA : many familiar carols—but oh so many more pieces and artists that I had never known.  So rich are all the words, so delightful the music – as a rich a fare for my heart, as the lights are for my eyes!

 God, keep me from just humming along, and ignoring this freely available supply to all who will listen fresh spring of hope and help!

Americans who do not believe in the birth of Christ, much less His life and death, still enjoy the trimmings of the celebration the church observes. So, Christians here can freely listen and sing our faith we who walked in the dark have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2) But plenty of Christians cannot – especially the “long-suffering, war-torn, not going anywhere Christians of Syria.”

[Associate Professor at the Lebanese-American University Habib] Malik admits of the three monotheistic religions in the region, “Christianity is most beleaguered.” Muslims have captured territory and control political power. Jews have found sanctuary in the modern state of Israel. “But native Christians in the region have none of this. They tend to be weak and scattered communitiesrepeatedly subjected to pressure from oppressive regimes and Islamist groups.” (Syrian Bishop Antoine Audo)

Therefore, as we party this holiday, enjoying all the American church proclaims and our nation permits  – remember those who suffer. Pray for them, and their oppressors. God help us all to believe the Christ in Christmas!  
AP Photo: Targeting Children

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Decking the Hall


All around me – lights beaming, gaily decorating trees and buildings; familiar carols resounding on the public radio station; reconnecting with family and friends – the Winter Solstice soon upon us never fails to rev me up. 

Fast away the old year passes . . .”

We attended a pageant celebrating Christmas, hosted by the tutorial overseeing our grandchildren’s schooling. Children’s sweet faces and voices, their earnest performances – expressing the hope and joy of the season: God so loved us He gave us His Son.   

But, like so many Christmases past, the brilliance of the season, both secular and sacred, contrasts with the dark reality of disease, despair and depravity. MS and cancer haven’t taken the holiday off – nor has the anger and dysfunction, disrupting too many families disappeared just because it’s Christmas. 

Life hurts!

And if the pain of living were not enough, a few people have figured out how to silence those who object to their conduct, which defies God. Folks, all for whom that Baby came, whose political correctness reacts and punishes a Christian’s comment on the obvious, do nothing when their government rewards itself at the expense of those who fought to protect its citizens. (Are We That Cruel?) All the lights of the season do not seem to illuminate our minds to see how dark the darkness is. (The Culture of Death, continued)

Bah-Hug!  

Making sense of suffering, I can’t, apart from the hope that an infinite personal God chose to involve Himself in the world and lives of all He created.

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed, that it will make it not only  possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened. (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, chapter 34. Cited by Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, page 154.) 

Morning Has Broken

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas in Annapolis




We don’t have a live tree this year – or even an artificial one; nor do we have any decorations in the little apartment we have rented for the Holidays. But its location fills our hearts and minds with memories far brighter and more reflective than lights and ornaments could prompt.

We are in the top floor of what was once a carriage house for a Georgian mansion, Acton. It is within hailing distance of the homes in which we raised our kids, on Conduit Street and Southgate Avenue.  How many times did we hurry through these streets, taking too much for granted the ambience and wonder that bolls over the many tourists crowding its narrow streets. 

Wonderful as Dallas is – its Mac-mansions, placed side-by-side with Annapolis’ bevy of Georgian beauties, don’t take my breath away the way the Hammond Harwood House or the Paca House and Garden does.  Nor can any of the astoundingly lavish Christmas lights for which Park Cities’ residents are famous outshine the memories of the annual Christmas parties at the Chase Lloyd house, or the candlelight tours of the Hammond Harwood House, in which I was also a docent, before the most wonderful kids ever changed forever how Doug and I “did” Christmas! 

No – our abodes were not like these mansions – but living in their proximity, and being a tour guide in the early days of Three Centuries Tours sure gave me a sense of “ownership.”  Distance and time have not dissipated that sense, nor the gratitude I have for all that God enabled when I remember. And no decorations could make this Christmas merrier! 

So, what fills me up right now are all those memories of preparing for and enjoying so many Annapolis (and Severna Park) Christmases, especially with our kids, and now with their spouses and kids. It doesn’t get more splendidly festive than this!  

·      One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day.  Don't clean it up too quickly.  ~Andy Rooney

·      Christmas is a necessity.  There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves.  ~Eric Sevareid

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reviewing My "Gift" List

The sun is doing its thing this morning – toasting up the frigid air, even making ice-dead fall leaves sparkle.  It’s as if Friday’s icy storm plastered all the leaves in place, defying them to fall. Tree limbs, however, crashed down – all sizes and shape-- their ugly debris so stark in the warming morning light. I avert my eyes, and stare at the wordless evangelist across the street, bathing my heart in the familiar strains of Christmas carols . . . anticipating delights too soon over. Thankfully, the garbage men pull up, and carry off the debris – reminding me the hope of this season is Christ can and will make something of ice and storm damaged relationships and circumstances, but He expects me to get off my high horse before I fall!  

The Wordless Evangelist 
Wishing not to be overly metaphorical – but unable to resist, the morning’s message makes me think about family, friends – even acquaintances -- with whom connections are frozen, or broken. Some, I know I could [help] repair; some, it will require a power much greater than myself to warm things up. And too many are gone because death snapped the relationships as decisively as the weight of ice overwhelms the trees’ branches.

Life’s too short, a wise person, or two, observed, to put up with brokenness, especially if I can do something about it. If there is a grudge I can let go of, let me put it down. If there is a grievance – let me screw up the courage to go to that soul who unwittingly, or wittingly, upset me. 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
 but dwelling on it separates close friends.
A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding
    than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool.
(Proverbs 17:9-10)

And may I have the grace and good sense to hear a rebuke that must needs come my way! When I am wrong, being prompt to admit it, is a segue to sanity. 

 Anyone who loves to quarrel loves sin;
 anyone who trusts in high walls invites disaster
. (Proverbs17: 19)

So, I rereading Proverbs 17 as an early Christmas present to myself, and those I love. Maybe it could bless you, too, Gentle Reader?

·      Never miss an opportunity to make others happy, even if you have to leave them alone in order to do it. ~Author Unknown

·      A relationship becomes easier when you realize that you don't have to be the one at fault to be the one who's sorry.  ~ Robert Brault

·      A stiff apology is a second insult.... The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.  ~G.K. Chesterton


Saturday, December 7, 2013

ICE Storm – Dallas December 6, 2013




When I finished the painting --  my  first “commission” --  I wondered if  its subject matter might be prescient, given the weather forecasts. For, Dallas forecasts are not always reliable.  This time, though, the weather forecast was right!  Sleet and rain started falling early Thursday evening – resembling my modest painting. 

First Commission
So began another Texas weather adventure, from which I enjoy a reprieve as I write.

A chilly damp night seemed a perfect time to sample the chicken tomatillo tamales, and Whole Foods’ chili that I bought in anticipation of the possible coming cold weather. When its vestiges awoke me about 3:30 AM -- it was just in time to hear a piercing short “beep” erupt from the kitchen.

What in the world . . . oh no! The carbon monoxide alert! Quickly checking the gas connector to the fireplace, and then the stove – before it started shouting -- we then remembered it had a battery back up, and changed out the battery, amidst its yelps.  Could a power outage have drained it of life?

As we crawled back to bed, the lights went out, along with the furnace; finding flashlights took just enough time for the lights to recycle on and off – on, and once again all was dark, except for a weird green light we saw from the kitchen window that flashed across the sky—an exploding transformer. Quickly we headed to bed, adding a wool blanket for good measure – this could be a bummer!

Then, suddenly, Doug popped up from bed, suited up in hat, gloves, leather coat and shoes to venture out and turn off the automatic sprinkler, which was set to water next morning. Since, they predicted an accumulation of ice approximately .1 inches, we didn’t need to add to that!

We finally settled own, hoping with the morning sun, we might enjoy a reprieve.

Friday morning – no reprieve.

The cars were caked in ice, and our cedar tree was bent low, and rested on Doug’s car, limiting any chance of a quick getaway – as if driving any where would have been smart, given the thick ice coating on all the roads! 

The blessing of natural gas – a stove top and gas logs – kept us steady:  We boiled water for coffee; filing our thermos with life supporting caffeine, we assessed our options before a cheery fire. The well-charged smart phones filed in details the lifeless TV and radio could not. So, too, did the old transistor radio, I brought from Maryland. It might be a long day – and driving conditions meant having to decline kind invitations from family to bunk with them!

Reluctant to let food in the refrigerator go bad, I cooked up a few meals on our stove's gas burners, storing them in the back of my frozen car.  I just kept telling myself – keep cooking and don’t turn on the burners until you light that match!

I found several fat candles; their cheery light would seem brighter if the lights weren’t on by nightfall. And they did, because come nightfall the only lights were the neighbors’ across the street!    Odd, how power grids work . . .  

As the temperature outside the house fell from 30 to 18, the temperature inside fell too. We added more layers of clothing.  We ate dinner by the fire, eating fast, as the chilly air dissipated the stew’s warmth.  I have not done dishes as fast as I did that night, since I was kid! We played Scrabble by candlelight. That wasn’t as much fun as it sounds. (I won by five points, though.) 

By nine, there was not much else to do but hunker down in front of the fire, sleep and hope the power grid would operate soon. The power returned about 1:00 AM.  When the light and heat waked us, it surprised me – I didn’t know just how cold we had been!    

We are still in a deep freeze and housebound for the time being,but happy and warm. The prospect of more days of freezing weather has one bright spot, hopefully: those deadly West Nile mosquitoes that flourished in several recent mild winters will be gone. This adventure also is a prod, silencing any grumbling.  Some folks here may not get power on until Monday!

Get ready if you are in the path of this wintry blast!

And please remember: Some people have no home; much less, the hope of heat and light and extra layers of socks and sweaters – they and the people who serve them need our help.  

The best way to do ourselves good is to be doing good to others; the best way to gather is to scatter. ~ Thomas Brooks

 Dear brothers,  . . .
If you have a friend who is in need of food and clothing,  and you say to him, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat hearty,” and then don’t give him clothes or food, what good does that do?  . . . ~ James 2:14-26 (TLB)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Marking the Advent of Advent


 Hello! I have edited  reposted this at the following link -- please stop by!

http://lettinggoandholdingtight.com/marking-advent-advent/

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Anticipation




Winter weather threats of sleet, or snow in Dallas kept the weathermen worried, and they had non-stop advisories for the past several days; forecasts were grim – freezing stuff would arrive by Thursday evening. No, the stuff will be here Friday morning; well, maybe not until Saturday evening.  Better prepare, the rain and freezing slush will affect churchgoers Sunday morning! Oops, we meant Sunday night. Or, Maybe Monday will be the day of bad weather. Oh, wait: temperatures are rising and the sun should appear this afternoon.

Oh! Sun’s out!

I am exhausted, worrying about being house bound and out of power because that’s what freezing rain and snow can do in Dallas.  

Anticipation can wear a girl out.

Then, a friend asked if I realized, that this time next month, Christmas would be in full swing.

Well, of course I knew December 25 was coming . . . just not so soon.

Christmas – the celebration by His followers of the conviction and hope that God entered human history, born of a virgin, to die in our place, paying the cost of all our sins, so we might love life without fear of disaster, disease or death. (Help Thou my unbelief!)  Unfortunately this toxic trio is still at it --  sowing seeds of apprehension deep within me, reminding me of Carly Simon’s lament -

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.
Anticipation

Anticipation can wear a girl out.

But, this year I welcome it, even tough I am unprepared.   Like those non-stop weather advisories, the lights around Dallas are starting to twinkle – the stores filled with holiday hoopla urge me to be ready – buy one more thing: something big is coming!  But now, anticipation need not wear this old girl out.

As my own expiration date looms closer, as news of the world presses in, as some dear  folks I know are deeply hurting, today I cranked up the Christmas music -- especially the great processional we sing the first Sunday in Advent:

. . . O come, Thou Rod of Jesse's stem,
from ev'ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict'ry o'er the grave ... (words: O Come, O Come Emanuel)

Anticipation . . .  

Welcome to the world’s celebration of “Christmas!” Many may miss its warning and wonder – preferring the lights, the music, the “magic . . .” (I may miss it too if I don’t get it together!) But right now, for you gentle reader, here’s the best advisory I can offer: 

For unto to us a child is born . . . Isaiah 9

 Sing with me! And see if this doesn’t remedy your holiday anxieties!

“Christ is the foundation but the well is deep, and thou must get forth this water before thou canst be refreshed by it.” (A quote from Richard Baxter, cited in A Book of Days for Christians by Richardson Wright, November 25)





Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Half-Century Later --

My Recollections of November 22 1963

 Has moved! Please click through to http://autumns-garden.com/account-november-22-1963/

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Covering the UNCOVERED – Uncovering the COVERED


 
Ms. Pelosi was right when she said we’d find out what’s in it when Congress passes the Affordable Care Act. I still don’t know; 2000+ pages is a lot to read.  But what I do know, just by listening to the talking heads, something fundamental has changed since March 23, 2010.

The President signed the law Congress passed requiring us to do something they exempted themselves from doing. And they put the I.R.S. in charge to see we all buy what Congress is selling.  Nobody, though, realized that the NSA could read our emails and listen to what we thought about it all.     

Someone who has read the new law, Denny Weinberg, described it as an iceberg, of which we have just seen the tip: 

  . . . It is a complex array of vaguely related mechanisms, assumptions about motivations and consequences of both harsh and subtle incentives and penalties. Many details are dependent on unknown decisions and solutions that would be determined in future months and years. Every part of the act is dependent upon the perfectly performing assumptions of every other part of the act. There has likely never been a law with so many interdependencies and unproven dynamics . . . The Future of American Medical Care

Icebergs, according to recent documentary, begin with one snowflake. (PBS: The Iceberg that Sank the Titanic) In time, an accumulation of flakes grows into an ice mountain whose hidden depths can destroy ships that sail too close. Pride, inexperience and poor planning also helped sink a ship that was thought to be unsinkable.  (Why the Titanic Sank)

I believe we are sailing now through dark waters, and coming close to a new giant “program,” whose underpinnings few of us can clearly apprehend. And I am afraid we can’t just change ships, hoping for smoother sailing.

Trying to “fix” the problems the Affordable Care Act has generated seems like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – I believe health insurance, as we have known it, has collided with economic, social and legal realities that are powerful as that iceberg’s deep web that gouged the side of the Titanic. I feel like a survivor of such a shipwreck may have felt waiting for rescue – waiting, hoping, and trusting help is on the way for each of us.

The rescue boats, however, may not be the kind we had anticipated.  Government-mandated life-boats may have unexpected rules and practices.

It’s disheartening though to listen to the explanations of how and why the roll-out of website has only enrolled 100,000 people, and the Affordable Care Act  has taken away the coverage of 5 million Americans.  It’s scary . . . not having the wherewithal to pay for healthcare always has been.

An Answer to Fear: Idol Worship -Me?

365th Post

After four years – this is makes an equivalent of one year’s reading. 

When I started writing, I wondered how I would make a transition from Maryland to Texas. Some costs have been dear; some benefits have been super.  I have made friends, done things, seen things that are flat out wonderful. But, I know I am missing other people and times that may never come again.  

A Wordless Evangelist*
We’ve been through four Texas summers – and now five autumns.  Only this week are the leaves changing colors, and the mums in the garden, blooming. Only this week did several of the plants shrivel and fade.  By Friday, the geraniums and impatience will go if the nights are as cold as predicted.    The first year I did little to prepare the beds for “rest.” Each year, a bit more – and this year, I’ve done the most.  It will be interesting to see if the jasmine I re-potted will survive.  I am saving the seeds from the black-eyed Susans and bachelor buttons.  

I even have plans for next March, God willing. I want to dig up a small bed on the west side of the house that has not done well in the heat and dryness, and plant an assortment of Texas flowers.  The afternoon sun is fierce – but the gardening book suggests a few hardy types can handle it. 

And I have learned a few more things writing about this move, the house and yard:

I have learned how to add my own photos.
I learned briefer is better than clever.
I see that two pieces still get the most attention; whether it was the artwork, or content, I can’t tell.       

·      Life is Messy

The backyard here has been as real a classroom, as the ones I had in Maryland – putzing around, I have time to think about mistakes made, and lessons learned . . . which enabled me to describe some experiences, that may help a reader avoid my mistakes.
   
Being messy – careless with belongings and relationships – is a quality of self-centeredness.

            I hate falling out with people I love; I hate being the reason they are mad, too.

Writing this humble blog is like my planning to dig up that western strip of garden – I am learning what works, and what has to go; I may even have time to get some plants into my life, like the ones I hope to plant in the spring, ones that will stand up to hard times.  (The Beatitudes)

Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused. --Unknown 








Saturday, November 2, 2013

Liberated by Mustard Barbecue Sauce

Who knew that so much mustard could be a tasty ingredient in a barbecue sauce?

I should have.

I spent many summers in South Carolina as a child, and then visiting when my folks lived in my father’s hometown for a decade. However, of all the distinctly southern traditions, they passed on to me, barbecue was not one of them. For them, and me, it was an acquired taste – we never ate “barbecue” in Baltimore. (Unless you call grilling hamburgers and hot-dogs outside, “barbecue.”)

Not until I married a Texan, and came to his hometown did I realize how deprived I had been!  Maybe it’s the smoky flavor that addicts a soul, maybe it’s the fat content – or maybe it’s buttered, toasted rolls soaking up all that sauce, but I can’t go long without bit o’ barbecue.

So, when our son-in-law traveled to Greenville, SC, (a stone’s throw from my parents’ former dwelling) and knowing my keenness for all things barbecue, he thought I surely must have sampled South Carolina mustard sauce barbecue.

Never heard of it!

My parents learned to eat barbecue when they lived in South Carolina – buying it from the restaurants. They even learned the differences between North and South Carolinian barbecue – but never tried cooking it themselves, assuming barbecue was too complex a culinary endeavor. (South Carolina's BBQ history) Alas, I too came to believe that making a passable barbecue was beyond me – even with all the sauces and spices now at my disposal.  

But a few good recipes, from friends, a slow cooker, a bit of exotic salt, French’s mustard and liquid smoke have liberated me from the chains of barbecue ineptitude – and even impressed my Texas hubby that South Carolina’s barbecue has some merit.  All you need is a bit of time:    

I started with Slow Cooker Pig’s recipe; I let it cool, separated the meat from the cooking broth, and skimmed off the fat.
I doctored Mustard Sauce BBQ, adding a tablespoon or so of tomato paste, and a little bit of liquid smoke. I added the de-fatted broth (about 3/4 cup)

To all this deliciousness, I had to add some Maryland flavor. (NO, I did not add Old Bay . . .) So, I made my daughter’s recipe for coleslaw – which came from her husband’s family:  a package of coleslaw, mild banana peppers, cherry tomatoes, green onions, a bit of mayo – and let it marinate in the refridge.
  
Now, I am learning the distinctions among Texas barbecue are many and varied. But I know with the slow cooker – I need not fear. A little of this, a bit of that . . . who knows?  Not until we started driving between Texas and Maryland did I come to understand how many barbecue styles there are – and that overlooks the barbecue havens (or is that heavens) to our west!

Yeeeeee-haw!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Blue Bloods

Frank and the Father
 
We have been fans of  the police drama “Blue Bloods” for a few years. A recent episode touched on the police chaplain’s escape into alcohol abuse; he was deadening the despair he felt, realizing that few of his flock ever came to him for solace, understanding or help to keep doing their jobs – or – simply living.

He said these kinds of troubles have been redefined.

He had been on duty through 9/11 and its aftermath, but now he was “feeling useless as cops who used to seek his counsel were now opting for doctors who prescribed pills and diagnosed them with things like depression and PTSD.”

Frank (Tom Selleck) asked Father Markhum what was different about his recent circumstances, his having dealt with loss for so long, The chaplain lamented that "nobody's coming" to him anymore, given other sorts of counselors and even the meds people take to feel better. And, basically, he had decided to throw in the towel. (Crises of Faith)


In the television drama, bad things happened; how should the characters cope?  The show did goad me to wonder how well I can help a soul in crisis. Some of them faced stuff that has yet to happen to me and mine – but some of it, like broken hearts, happens routinely. The writers on this show raised unanswered questions – and showed hurt that is not automatically healed. 



A dramatization of living in the post-Christian era?



Perhaps. 



How do I answer a sudden cry for help? Are you prepared?  Are we living in such a way, a hurting heart could trust us with their tears? Or, are we living like that chaplain, consumed with rejection and self-pity because of today’s re-definitions of faith, sin, and ethics?



What I liked was those writers pointed to the help and hope God can be, without expressing one-size fits all bromides. We didn’t hear what the chaplain said – only that he offered a fresh cup of coffee, and a sympathetic ear. Counseling and prescription medicine help heal . . . but counsel that ignores God may lead us into more dead ends.



God did not turn all His healing power over to counselors, even those who preface their profession with “Christian.” Nor did he compress the power all into prescription drugs. 



He leaves room for Himself to work in ways we don’t expect. But if we go A.W.O.L., throwing in the towel the way that police chaplain initially did, despairing that nobody seems interested in the healing hope that faith in Christ is, we’ll miss His mysteries, too.  



 “God did not die and leave you in charge!”  And if I slip into thinking God is my co-pilot, change seats!   



In the “Blue Bloods” episode, finally the police commissioner, Frank, sent his hurting son to get the help that he knew the chaplain could and did offer.  Just one person  came to him – just one, and found the chaplain on duty, albeit in a very empty church.



Praying we have ears to hear the cry, and hospitable hearts to help, even in big empty spaces.





A little Humor & Wise Advice: Bob Newhart: Just STOP IT!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A New Commission


A distinct delight that these years in Dallas have given me is a weekly art class at Pigment School of the Arts. Though the most of the students are primary students, a few times a week, older students are welcomed – and I am among the oldest. Since 2006, I have enjoyed the camaraderie of painters and potters, and the tutelage of an accomplished artist and teacher.  And I have produced . . . art. 

Now, all my accomplishments are not ready for a prime time exhibition at the Kimball, or Dallas Museums, but I placed a few of my paintings in a recent show that Pigment Hosted. And someone liked a painting!  They wanted to buy it! It was however only on loan to the exhibition, having been promised to Douglas, who is unfailingly supportive.  

(Doesn’t that sound . . . a wee bit cheeky: It was only on loan . . .?)

The subject is a bright red cardinal nestled in snow-laden trees in western Maryland, painted from a photograph that Dave Wolfe snapped. I loved the photo, and felt my picture fell short of conveying the moment Dave recorded. So, in addition to it being promised, I was uncertain of its worth. However, I agreed to reproduce it, for a modest fee.


Because so many of the students attending classes at Pigment are six decades younger than I am, they are transparently kind in assessing my work in the studio.   On a few occasions, they have made especially thoughtful and positive comments. But recently, when one young student learned I had expressed reservations about the painting’s worth, she stopped her art own project and wrote me a note.



I was stunned and deeply touched and remembered how powerful a tonic a few kind words spoken from the heart can be. 

Emboldened by such kindness, I started my first commissioned painting, hopefully reproducing what first attracted someone’s interest – alas, with instructions that I leave out the bird.

Kind words are like honey -- sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. (Proverbs 16:24)