Turkey Bone Soup

The best part of Thanksgiving Dinner came about a week later.  The Soup.

My mother made the best soups.  The soup made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass was the unrivaled.

My mother was of a generation where very little was wasted.  Rotten bananas became banana bread.  Stale bread became bread crumbs. Old apples became applesauce.  Bones became soup.

I did not grow up poor.  My father was a professional with a good job and healthy income.  This stewardship of our food resources was something my mother learned from her mother, who in turn probably learned it from her mother.  My mother’s mother was the youngest child in a large family, and the only child born in America.  Her father and mother, straight off the boat from Denmark, worked as tailor and laundress.  They scrimped and saved so that their children would have a better opportunity.  I’m sure they didn’t waste food.

Today, I threw some apple peels in the garbage.  Too lazy to walk down to our compost heap, it was simpler to just throw them away.  I am such an American.

All this is to say that I’m struggling to get past the first few pages of Chapter 3 in Robert Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb.  There he explains the difference between ferial and festal cooking.

To the extraordinary or festal cuisine are relegated all roasts, joints, chops and steaks, and, in general, any meats that are cooked in large pieces and carved at the table.  To the ferial cuisine belong all the rest — the dishes which take a little, cut it up small, and make it go a long way.

The reason for the distinction is obvious: economy…

It leaves me pondering why, having been raised primarily on ferial foods, I feed my own family in a festal way.

He starts the chapter with a statement that answers my own question.

Lamb for Eight Persons Four Times is not simply a recipe.  It is a way of life.

It is a way of life which I have abandoned, primarily because of laziness.  With a large family, it is easier to put a ham on the table, than to chop up everything needed for even the simplest stir-fry.  I rationalize that I can get a second meal out of the ham (how ferial of me!).  I think if I studied Capon, I could get four meals out of that ham.  It would just take some work and economy.

Am I feeling convicted? You betcha!

When I think about my mother’s turkey bone soup, ferial dining at its finest, I remember how wonderful it tasted.  I need to put that memory on a post-it note and stick it to my refrigerator.

It’s worth the work, so worth the work.

Raising Cane

My father was scolded the other day for raising cane.

Betcha thought I spelled that wrong, but I didn’t.  I know the difference between “raising cane” and “raising Cain.”

Honestly, I can’t picture my father raising Cain.  From The Free Dictionary, to “raise Cain” means:

to make a lot of trouble; to raise hell. (a Biblical reference, from Genesis 4.)

I have a hard time imagining that my father ever raised Cain.  He’s about as stand-up a guy as you can find.  From The Urban Dictionary, “stand-up guy” means:

Mafia term: A good solid man business man. not one to bullsh**, can be trusted. Will do anything needed for his family.

No, my father didn’t raise Cain because he’s a stand-up guy.

He did, however, raise his cane and was duly scolded for it.  Here’s what happened.

My father and I went to an art gallery last week.  When we first walked in, I felt like I was entering with a rock star.  The security guard on duty made such a fuss over my father, was so sincerely happy to see him there, went so out of his way to treat him with dignity and respect, that it warmed my heart.  He had been my father’s barber at one point and just loved my dad.  He came over to me while I was looking at the paintings and whispered, “I didn’t want to say this in front of your dad, but he was always one of my favorites.”  He didn’t have to say it;  his actions showed it.

A little later, as we made our way through the gallery, my father and I were discussing one of the paintings.  He raised his cane maybe six inches off the floor, gesturing towards another painting we had seen.  There had been a literal changing of the guard while we walked the gallery.  Seconds after he raised his cane in that benign gesture, a baby-faced guard was there to scold.

“Sir,” he said sternly. “I need you to keep your cane on the ground at all times.  Please do not wave it around the gallery. You could damage a painting.”

I looked at him, dumbfounded. Are you kidding me? I thought.

My father, ever the stand-up guy,  apologized and promised not to do it again.

However, I was tempted to raise Cain over the whole thing.

Labor Day in Greene, NY

One of the most delightful surprises about moving to Greene, NY, was the way they celebrate Labor Day.

I grew up in a town that celebrated baseball.  It made gods of the men who excelled at that game.

In Greene, however, there is no day set aside to honor men with bats and balls.  The town celebration occurs on Labor Day, a day to honor all working men and women.

labor dayThe day begins with hose fights.  What’s a hose fight, you ask?  I had no idea, either, until we moved here.  It’s a ball suspended on a cable down one block length of the main street.  Two teams stand at opposite ends of the cable armed with a fire hose and try to send the ball down its length.  It’s wet.  It’s loud (all the cheering).  It’s a tradition.

While this is going on, a 5K race is being run, or walked.

A parade follows.  For small town parades, it pretty darn good.  Lots of old cars, and horses, and firetrucks, and the local marching band.  It has everything from microd racers to boy scouts.

Then, there’s the picnic.  The area churches work together to sell barbecued chicken.  The money goes towards college scholarships for local students.

And they have a midway — but the games are run by groups from the school and community.  The National Honor Society runs balloon darts and the boys’ soccer team sells sno-cones.  You get the idea.  The money, again, goes to local projects — the summer playground program and the like.

Quite honestly, I have never seen a community work together like this.  Every single year.  For almost a hundred years.  Literally.

In Cooperstown, I saw the same all-hands-on-deck mentality that was necessary to pull off Hall of Fame weekend.  In Cooperstown, the money went into individual pockets.  In Greene, it’s all about community.

At the end of the day is a fireworks displays that rivals many larger town’s 4th of July effort.  It’s wonderful.  After working hard and playing hard all day, they sit on the grass or on their blankets and watch together, families and friends, neighbors and co-workers, enjoying and celebrating together.

I don’t think I knew how Labor Day was meant to be celebrated until I moved here.  Now, I feel blessed to be a part of it.

If you’re in upstate New York on Labor Day, stop on in.  You won’t regret it.

Color My World

I am no movie aficianado.  I do, however, recognize genius when I see it.  The 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz had genius elements, most notably being the use of Technicolor.  To hear Dorothy singing about a rainbow in a sepia-toned world probably didn’t seem out of place to the first audience.  Can you imagine, though, the oohs and aahs when she emerged from her home into a Technicolor Land of Oz?  Genius.  The Land of Oz was so different than the Kansas in which Dorothy lived, and the film captured that in an amazing way.

Thoughts of Oz flooded through my mind when, yesterday, Helen made this comment.  “Don’t you think it’s pretty amazing that the past was in color, not just black and white?”

Quite honestly, I laughed at first when she said it.  It sounded kind of crazy.  Of course the world has always been in color.

She was looking at a picture in her college magazine, a black and white photo of the college town where she had lived for the past three years.   She knew the town was not a black and white town because she lived there.  But 100 years ago?  Was it in color?

SCN_0008I look at my parents’ wedding album.  It’s all black and white.  This picture of my mother and her father, standing on the porch before leaving for the church, yes, it is black and white.  But the day of the wedding, the scene was as Technicolor as Oz.  The viewer must, with imagination, fill in the shades of green on arbors.  My mother has talked about the wisteria around her home.  Is this the wisteria?  Did the color consist of shades of lavender mixed in with the green?  I don’t even know what color her house was and the photograph gives me no clues.

Several months ago Owen shared with me a Radiolab show about color.  It was about how, when people didn’t have a word for a certain color, it also meant that they couldn’t see that color.  Or could they?  According to William Gladstone, an authority on Homer, Homer never colors the sky blue in the Odyssey or the Iliad, but rather green.  Historically, has the color of the sky changed?  Or, as I like to believe when I look out my window, is the beautiful blue sky over Chenango County the same blue sky that the early settlers in this area also saw? 

At first I laughed at Helen’s question, because it sounded absurd.  Yet there is a depth to it that I’m still trying to get my mind around.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

If the world is full of vibrant color and nobody captures proof-positive that all those colors are there, were they?

Can something exist without being perceived? 

Was something real if it was never documented?

Sometimes I get so caught up in the realities of the daily grind that I forget to think deep thoughts such as these.  Or I laugh when I hear them.

The “aah!” and awe of Oz is not something to be taken for granted.  I’m so thankful for children who awaken my senses to the Technicolor around me.

Parking Thoughts

Simplistic hokey advice for a friend struggling with discouragement.

junky carPicture yourself driving down the street in a beat-up junky car.

Emblazoned on the side is a word like “Discouragement” or “Anxiety” or “Failure” or “Ugly” or whatever it is you are struggling with.

Park that car.  It doesn’t matter where you are.  Just pull over to the side and put it into park.

Get out of that car.  Don’t forget to slam the door behind you.

winnerWalk to a different car.  Look for one that’s labeled “Hope” or “Peace” or “Success” or “Beauty.”  It’s right there, waiting to be driven.  The keys are in it.

Get in that car and drive away.  Don’t even bother to look back at the junker that you’ve left behind.

Remind yourself often of the car you are now driving.  Don’t be afraid to enjoy the luxury of the leather seats.  Hit the gas every once in a while so you can really feel the power of the machine.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8)

The Bump-a-Day Club

cruisingLearning to walk is a scary and dangerous thing.

I remember watching my toddlers cruise along the relative safety of the couch.  Standing on unsturdy and pudgy little legs, they got the feel for walking while holding on to something big and soft.

When it came time to walk away from the couch, to take those first steps, a look that expressed both fear and delight covered their round little faces.  First steps were often short – to me, to the coffee table, to another chair, to a sibling, to their father.

This time of life was one we called “The Bump-a-Day Club.”  My children often bore head bruises, arm bruises, leg bruises, scrapes, and cuts.  Learning to walk is not without risks and hurts.

But, oh, the vistas that open to the one who can walk upright without the aid of a couch!  There were Christmas trees to pull over and ever higher heights to which they could climb.

I never did a bang-up job of child-proofing my home, as my children’s little bodies would attest to.

But they learned.  And they walked.  And they ran. And they climbed and swam and biked.  They did all those wonderful things that children are supposed to do, all because they let go of the safety of the couch.  All because they were willing to join the Bump-a-Day Club.

A friend of mine posted yesterday about a major life change her family was entering.

It wasn’t the life change that comes from a broken and dying world.  Another friend of ours is going through that.  His wife of over thirty years abruptly left and moved in with someone else.  That’s a broken world.  My brother is celebrating his 55th birthday with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  That’s a dying world.

My friend and her family are taken some new steps.  This will be an exciting new vista that is opening for them.  It’s not without some pain.  It isn’t called the Bump-a-Day Club for nothing.

I’m sure their hearts are filled with both fear and delight.

Learning to walk is a scary and dangerous thing, but, to quote Dr. Seuss, “oh, the places you’ll go!”

I love to picture the heavenly Father, watching them take that first step, delighted with His children, and excited for the new adventures they will enjoy.

And when they bump their heads or arms or legs or hearts, He’ll gather them gently in His arms, just like we do with our toddlers.  He’ll hug them and hold them, and then let them try again.

Hearts, Faces, the Law, and Grace

heartGod looks at hearts the way that we look at faces.

I wish I knew where I first heard that but I don’t.  I only know that it is a truth.

A story that illustrates that is when Samuel goes to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as king.  Immediately Jesse knows which of his sons is king material.

Eliab is the oldest.  He is strong, tall, and handsome..

Samuel thought, This has got to be the guy.

But he’s not.  God speaks to Samuel words that go so against the grain of our human understanding that we can read them a thousand times and still not understand them.

He says,  “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as man sees;  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

“The Lord looks on the heart…”  What a mystery!

You mean He doesn’t look at all the great things I do?  You mean He doesn’t look at the way I’m nice to someone, even though I feel like calling them out or yelling at them.  You mean He doesn’t see my self-control — which is something I can be quite proud of –and He doesn’t think I’m pretty special because of it?

No, He’s looking at my heart.

So when I put a large check in the offering, and the lady next to me puts a five dollar bill in the offering plate, He doesn’t care about the dollar amount?  No, He’s looking at my heart.  And her heart.  Which I can’t see or even guess about.

And when I dress modestly, so people will see my modesty, and think what a wonderful Christian woman I am, doesn’t He think so too?  No, I’m really no better than the woman who dresses immodestly, but who has put on her best clothes for the Lord.  In fact, I’m worse.  Pride is written all over my heart, and purity — yes, purity –is written on hers.  Or, at least it could be.  I don’t know, because I can’t see.

I’m blind, blind, blind.  I’m blind to everything, except what God has revealed to me.

I’ve been studying the land of Samaria.  The Samaritans are an interesting lot. Their land was part of the Promised Land.  It became the Northern Kingdom of Israel — and, with its very first king, Jeroboam, took a nose-dive into idolatry.  The people of Samaria worshiped golden calves and shunned Jerusalem.

Then, when the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria, all the Israelites there were taken captive and shipped off to other lands.  Assyria plopped other people that they had taken captive in Samaria — to live in the cities built by Israel, to farm the land cleared by Israel, to drink water from the wells dug by Israel.  When lions came to eat the newcomers, the Assyrian king figured that he wasn’t doing enough to appease “the god of the land.”  He didn’t understand that it wasn’t just the god of the land, but the Maker of heaven and earth Himself.

Anyway, the Assyrian king said, “Round up a priest and sent him back to Samaria so he can teach them how to keep this god-who-sends-lions happy.”

So they did.  And the Samaritans were born.  People who took a smattering of this religion and a dabble of that one, and made up their own mongrel religion, which, of course, everyone despised because there was nothing pure about it all.  Judah especially despised it.

And, in turn, the Samaritans despised the Jews.

A mutual lack-of-admiration society.

It was these awful Samaritans, who worshiped in every wrong way possible, that Jesus used as an example of a neighbor in his story of the Good Samaritan.

It was one of these women that Jesus met at the well.  And talked to.  And told about the living water.

If the Samaritans were that awful, why did Jesus bother at all with them?

It’s because He sees the heart.  He can see hearts that are truly seeking Him.  It doesn’t matter if the outer shell of a person is Samaritan or Catholic or evangelical or Methodist or charismatic or a murderer or an immoral woman or a dirty scruffy homeless person who used the last few dollars he was given to buy a bottle of the cheap stuff.

When God looks at us, He sees our hearts.

And that, my friend, is the ultimate Grace.

The law guides us, but it also condemns us.  Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.

Grace.  God looking at our hearts.  And loving us.

Fools and Jokers, Freaks and Simpletons

Jeffrey Overstreet uses the term “Fools and Jokers” to describe those who behave in unconventional ways.  The madmen, the visionaries, the crazies.  He says,

The characters that have meant the most to me have often been downright foolish.  In fact, some of them seem to be out of their minds.  These characters serve a similar purpose — they inspire us, they reveal things to us, they expose our lack and our need.  But they do so through aberrant behavior, making us uncomfortable, demanding that we attempt to understand the way they see the world.

When asked what character comes to my mind when I think of “the fool,” two people immediately came to mind, neither of them characters, both of them flesh-and-blood people with whom I have attended church.  I have learned so much from both of them.

The first person that came to mind was a man I’ll call Leonard.  I haven’t seen much of Leonard these past few weeks since his last stay on a psychiatric ward.  Yes, he’s mentally ill.  He walks the streets of our little talking to imaginary beings.  He’s a total conspiracy theorist.  The first time I met him, he struck up a conversation with me about how the government was poisoning the ocean and aliens were coming, or something like that.  People cross the street when they see him coming.  He waves his arms in the air a lot, as if fending off something.  His world is an unseen world.

But when he worships in church, I want to be just like him.  In church, when we’re singing, I love to look at Leonard.  He closes his eyes, puts his hands over his face, and rocks back and forth.  Then, he’ll throw his hands up in the air and his head back, with his eyes squeezed tightly shut.  He’s murmuring something in an unknown language, which would fit right in if we were a charismatic church, but the elderly staid Methodists in the room shrink back just a little from it.

I watch in wonder.  And I think of the verses in Isaiah 6

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Leonard hears what I cannot understand;  he sees what I cannot perceive.  It torments him through the week, but in church, it blesses him.  He may be a freak to some, but on Sundays, I see him as blessed.

The second person that I thought of was an older woman I attended church with years ago.  I’ll call her Catherine.  She was what I consider simple. She was pushing 70 and still working on getting her GED.  Studying, taking the test, failing, and studying some more.  It was almost as if she didn’t know enough to give up.  But that’s not what I admire her about her.  She was short, overweight, missing teeth, and a little hard of hearing.  The hard-of-hearing part always caused her to speak in a loud voice.  The speaking-in-a-loud-voice part made her someone I didn’t always want to go talk with because everybody in the sanctuary would hear our whole conversation.

Catherine had two responses.  If what was shared with her was happy, she shouted boisterously, “Thank God!” loud enough for anyone in the whole county to hear.  If what was shared was not, she said equally loudly, “Let’s pray!”

When Jason Gray sings his song, “Help Me, Thank You,”  I always think that he must have met a Catherine at some point in his journeys. A simpleton with a heart for the Lord.

Fools and jokers, freaks and simpletons.  May I be one.

A Lot of Water

preschoolIt was the first day of preschool swim lessons.  I looked at the little group of children splashing around on the yellow platform.  One boy stood apart, shivering.

“How are you doing, Schuyler?” I asked him.

He turned his eyes on me.  They matched the color of the pool, and were overflowing with wonder and fear. “It’s just a lot of water,” he whispered.

“Yes, it’s a big pool,” I agreed. “Are you ready for your lesson?”

“It’s just a lot of water,” he repeated. “Nothing to be scared of.”  But his big round eyes belied his words.

I helped get the other children onto the platform, and watched as Schuyler repeated his mantra. “It’s just a lot of water.  It’s just a lot of water.”

When we started the class, he was a willing participant, bouncing on the platform to get his shoulders wet, then his chin wet, and finally blow bubbles.  He brought his mouth right down into the water to blow out the birthday candle that my finger had transformed into.  He giggled and splashed with the rest of the children.

Then it was time to leave the platform.  One by one, an instructor took each child off the platform and out into the deeper water.  When it was Schuyler’s turn, he put me in a death grip, strong little arms locked around my neck.

“It’s just a lot of water,” he chanted again directly into my ear, but I had to stop him.

“Schuyler, you can’t hold me like that,” I said to him, pulling him off of me.  His eyes were wild with fear now, looking at the big pool behind me. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I said, and repeated it until he did. “Put your hands here, on my arms,” I said, “and just keep looking at me.”

Obediently, he put his hands on my upper arms, squishing my puny biceps in his fear-strengthened grasp. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I said, and our eyes locked.   I backed away from the platform, and when his feet left its safety, his head whipped around in panic. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I reminded, and again he was mine.

I felt like a swim whisperer, murmuring a mix of soothing words and simple instructions. “It’s alright.  You’re safe.  I’ve got you.  Look at me. Stretch your legs. It’s alright.  You’re safe.  Let’s blow some bubbles. It’s alright.”

We walked around the shallow end of the pool, his bright blue eyes locked on mine.  When we got back to the platform, he stood proudly up. “It’s just a lot of water,” he said, a smile breaking over his whole face.

At the end of the lesson, I watched Schuyler go over to his father.  The little boy was bubbling over with his accomplishments. “You were right,” he said excitedly. “It’s just a lot of water.”

As his father toweled him off, his eyes met mine. “Thank you,” he mouthed, before he turned attention again to the excited little boy.

That 30 minute lesson stayed with me the rest of the day.  There were so many things I learned in it.  Here are a few:

  1. In times of stress, find comforting words and repeat them often .
  2. There are ways to hold on that are crippling, and there are ways to hold on that are empowering.  Find the right way to hold on to something stronger than you, and do it.
  3. Keep focused on strength, not fear.

What a privilege to be a swim instructor! I think that I am the one who learns the most from swim lessons.