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Why I’m Not a Trader Joe’s Fan or A Continuation of a Food Journey Part I

July 7, 2014

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I am prepared for this to be a rather controversial post.

Trader Joe’s is somewhat revered in urban middle class settings.  Cheap food, mostly of the same brand, of decent prepackaged quality draw in the masses.  Here in ATX, Trader Joe’s finally broke into a market dominated by Whole Foods and HEB/Central Market (a Texas brand grocery and high-end grocery store) last fall opening one store on the other side of town.  In the past month, they opened their second store within a couple of miles of our house.  Being the lover of food that I am, I had to check it out (on the opening day of course).

I won’t be going back frequently.

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I am lover of all things Barbara Kingsolver.  I started reading her books back in the 1990′s, when she wrote primarily about the Southwest and Central America.   After traveling in Central America, I found myself drawn to her books.  I read the Poisonwood Bible along with every other Oprah watching woman who liked to read but preferred Prodigal Summer because of its setting in the Appalachian Mountains.  I naturally picked up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle because it took place in town I’d driven through on interstate more than once.

If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, let me give a very brief synopsis.  The book is a mix of memoir and nonfiction writing on the ecosystem and gardening.  Kingsolver packed up her family living in the dessert of Arizona, where they relied on others (in California, etc) for all their food to move to a place where they could produce all their own foods.  She desired to move from a consumer lifestyle to a producer lifestyle, living off their own land.  The family decided to only buy food products they couldn’t produce themselves locally for a year.  They did give themselves each one guilty pleasure–coffee for one of them, dried fruit for another.  The book combines chapters on their experiences being “farmers” (the turkey chapter being one of the most humorous and educational) with information on sustainable living–living in a way that our earth can handle for years on end.

I consequently joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at a small farm called Johnson’s Backyard Garden.  Once a week, a drove out to the farm and chatted with Farmer Brenton and picked up my box.  At first we had no idea what the vegetables we were getting were…what was this thing called Bok Choy, all these funny looking summer squash thingies, and these alien looking vegetables?  (turned out they were kohlrabi).  I bought a split quarter of beef from a local farmer, whose farm I drove out to in order to pick up my cow.  I only bought my meat and eggs from the farmer’s market (for a while our CSA had their own eggs, now they sell another farmer’s eggs with their shares).  When I shopped at the grocery store, I  allowed myself to buy onions and garlic year round, but the rest of the produce, I passed over unless it was in season and from the state of Texas (much to my husband’s chagrin).  I bought a lot of my vegetables at the farmer’s markets and learned where the apple orchards in the state were (and even visited one once).  I had my own garden in the back yard where I grew tomatoes in the summer and greens in the winter.  I had enough tomatoes from my heirloom plants to can them as sauce for the rest of the non-tomato producing year.

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Wasn’t this expensive, everyone asked me?  Well, the meat and eggs were.  We found ourselves eating less meat though, which according to some, is rather good for you.  I cooked a lot more.   I made my own bread, cakes, and cookies.  For awhile, I made my own yogurt and tried my hand at mozzarella.  (I didn’t like the taste of mozzarella–it tasted too much like milk–imagine that).  I bought partially pasteurized milk at the farmer’s market and made wicked good chocolate pudding from the creamiest part of the milk.  Buying a split quarter of meat was actually cheaper than buying organic, grass-fed meat at the farmer’s market or whole foods.  I actually spent less on food than other of my friends.

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I’ve relaxed a bit since 2007/2008-ish when I started thinking about my eating as an extension of my faith.  I buy fruit in the grocery store, but I try to buy as much Texas fruit as possible when it is in season (and as little Chilean, New Zealand fruit) to limit the number of miles my food travels to get to me (Limiting the miles food travels does two things–the food tastes better because it can be picked riper and it uses less oil/gas to produce the fruit).  I buy my meat at Whole Foods to help limit the amount of antibiotics my children receive without them ever knowing.  My kids’ sports schedules make it harder for me to get to a farmer’s market as often as I like, but when I can go, I do.

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Food choices are a bit like parenting.  We decide what our philosophy is and then we look around at everyone else.  On one side, people are letting their kids drink sprite and gatorade and the other side parents are not letting their children have any processed sugar (like white sugar or brown sugar we buy at the store in addition to all the high fructose corn syrup).  We judge the people on both sides.  How can those parents care so little about their children’s health?  How can they follow the paleo fad and take their children with them?  How can they make their children be vegetarian or vegan?

As I’ve relaxed my vigilant eating habits a little, I’ve relaxed my judgment a lot.  Nutrition is a funny thing.  While we know some things (eat lots of fruits and vegetables), other things are the great unknown.  Is sugar the cause of all our health problem?  Or is it fat?  Or is it meat?  Or is it simple carbs like white breads, white rice, and white pasta?  One person can quote one study (or at least google their position) and someone else can quote a conflicting study.  It’s not clear cut, except regardless of what you eat, unless its fruits and vegetables (especially leafy  or colorful vegetables), too much is not a good thing.

People on each far side of food choices can judge me…I’m too hippie or I’m too lenient in what I (and my children) eat.  Just know, whatever your choices are, I won’t be judging you.  I’ve been wrestling with my food choices since I’ve had children.  I love Nutter Butters and Oreos.  I can also remember that Madeleine didn’t have a milkshake until she was probably 5 and she didn’t like it.  She also thought McDonald’s was for dogs, because I told her so many times their food wasn’t good for us, which is why we didn’t eat there.

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Sometimes I sit down to write with a plan in my head.  By the time I get to about 1000 words (my internal limit which I rarely manage to stop writing by), I discover what I set out to write about I entirely missed.  Thus, this is the end of Part 1.  Maybe in Part 2, I’ll get to more about why I don’t love Trader Joe’s and a couple of books I read recently that I love (and have to do with this subject).

Until next time, savor your food and thank the farmer, known or unknown, who grew the food for you.

 

What I Was Up to this Month-June Edition

July 2, 2014

Where in the world did June go?  I am trying not to panic, knowing the first month of summer is over already.  However, I am intentionally not filling up the fridge with calendars past July, because it only reminds me that school will come again soon.

But why am I talking about school in July?

This happened in June:

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Someone turned 9.  We had our first sleep over, complete with Angel Food cake.  Between the cake and the madeleines (see the end of the post), I was baked out.  Instead, we had birthday root beer floats with good root beer.

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There was lots of time spent at the pool–playing, scaling trees, celebrating swim season, and swimming.

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Don’t Mess with M!! My fierce girl!

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We have different emotions about receiving the swim trophies.

The month ended with the arrival of my cousin, Kim, and her boyfriend Kevin.  It helped us finally get out of the neighborhood and go do summer in Austin.  We watched the bats for the first time (ever for the kids) in probably 11 or more years.   I forgot what a thrill it is to watch the bats emerge.

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Books:

Ripper by Isabel Allende.  Allende is one of my favorite authors, however I just didn’t love this book.  I suspect if it was by another author, I would have thought nothing of it.  Allende was the author though, so I expected the rich imagery I found in her other novels.  At one point, I hoped it was just a poor translation.  It was switch of genre’s for Allende-murder mystery, instead of her usual magical realism/historical fiction mix.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Purse by Alan Bradley.  This is the second in the Flavia de Luce series.  I found it as enjoyable as the first book, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  I mostly just love the protagonist–Flavia de Luce is a 10 year old girl who loves chemistry, is picked on cruelly by her sisters causing her to plot revenges, and solves mysteries better than the small town police.  The challenge in a series of a detective in a small town is exactly how many murders can really happen in a very small town in short periods of time with a different culprit each time (similar to the challenge the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny).  This was quite an enjoyable book though and I look forward to reading the third book.

The Age of a Spirit: How an Ancient Spirit is Shaping the Church by Phyllis Tickle.  This was my introduction book into Phyllis Tickle.  While the book wasn’t earth shattering for me, I did enjoy learning the church history around the Trinity and Holy Spirit and was thankful to be pushed to think about the Holy Spirit for a change.

Soil and Sacrament by Fred Bahnson.  I read this book back in March/April and loved it.  In June, SheLoves read this as their book club pick so I took the opportunity to buy the book for myself and read it again.  This remains one of my favorite books, combining two of my favorite things; food and faith.  Love, love, love.

Bringing it to the Table:  On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry.  Bahnson inspired me to finally read Berry’s essays on farming.  I must admit, I didn’t read every essay in this compilation–after a while some of them felt repetitive and to be honest, I was more interested in the food part than the farming part.  There were three essays in the middle I didn’t read.  I found myself simultaneously agreeing with Berry and wondering if maybe he was a bit extreme–suggesting we leave machinery by hand and only farm with actual horsepower (from horses).  Other parts though, I found inspiring, especially the sections on living as a producer/creator and not only a consumer.

Everything Else:

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Watching all that soccer on TV meant the boys were dressed and playing soccer by 7:30 in the morning some days.

Once again, I mostly read and talked to people–I did very little TV viewing other than World Cup Soccer.  Messi is now a well-known name in our house.  Music also revolved around the World Cup–I downloaded the FIFA World Cup Mix and found it makes wonderful dance party music.  I think the only movies I watched this month were our Saturday, post-swim-meet movies, the most memorable on being Holes.

Food

This was also a sad month for eating out.  The most exciting food I had was from a food trailer at the Mueller Farmer’s Market.  Mmm…I have no idea what I ordered, but Madeleine and I shared it and both loved it.  It’s been a solid month of the kids and I which doesn’t bode well for exciting eating.  There was that peach shake from PTerry’s….

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Tomatoes are in full swing in Texas–our season is considerably earlier than most because when the upper 90′s hit, the tomatoes quit.  I bought 30 lbs of tomatoes from our CSA and canned 20 pints of pasta/pizza sauce.  I also made gazpacho and caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, with a little bit of olive oil and salt).  From our garden, we’re getting tomatoes and a very occasional red pepper (I found those produce better in the fall than the summer for some reason).  I also made a mess of madeleines for someone’s birthday.

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The big food news?  A new cookbook.  I checked out Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream from the library because I’ve heard her ice cream is pretty good.  I made two recipes from it:  Backyard Mint Ice Cream and Buckeye Ice Cream and immediately ordered a copy for myself.  Since then I’ve also made Salty Caramel Ice Cream (my favorite I think) and Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet to give to a friend who has a daughter who can’t eat dairy.  Yum.  I must admit, my initial reaction to the book was meh.  Corn syrup in ice cream?  What??  Why would you do that?  However, ice cream is not made to be healthy and that ice cream is so good, I quickly got over my initial dismay.  I also made Smitten Kitchen’s Pretzel Rolls.  Yum.  I didn’t use lye, but stuck to the basic baking soda bath and I was just fine with that.

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I’m linking up again this month with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into

 

The Forgotten Third

June 25, 2014

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Can we talk about a difficult subject?  one that will make me squirm?

Yes?

Good.

How about the Holy Spirit then, folks?  Not your everyday conversation starter, nor is it even written about much by mainline Church goers (mainline = not Pentecostal or Charismatic).  In fact, most of the time, I think those of us who go to church most Sundays would rather forget that third part of the Trinity.  Father (or Creator if you prefer a more inclusive title) we can imagine.  The Son was made visible and his life was documented in the New Testament of the Bible (and no, I am not saying the Bible is a historical document).  But the Holy Spirit?  There isn’t much explaining or categorizing or discussing the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is intangible and the most mysterious part of the Trinity that the Nicene Creed laid out way back in 352.  When I sit and try to explain to you what the Holy Spirit is, I can’t even do it.  The Holy Spirit just is, moving in ways we can’t predict, acting in ways we can’t put into words.

I’ve been wanting to read one of Phyllis Tickle’s books for awhile.  I’ve seen her name mentioned numerous times.  I listened to her interview on On Being with Krista Tippet.  Tickle’s name comes up when people talk about where Christianity is headed–not because she is necessarily leading Christianity there, but she is writing about where she sees Christianity going.  I wasn’t quite sure where to start and I noticed that a new book of hers recently came out:  The Age of the Spirit:  How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church.  I had found my first Tickle book to read.

Overall, The Age of the Spirit wasn’t a game changer for me.  What I learned was an old, fancy word, filioque (Latin for “from the Son”), which was added in the Third Ecumenical Council to change the Nicene Creed.  The addition of the filioque, which stated the Holy Spirit not only proceeded from the Father but also from the Son, enraged the church in Constantinople, eventually causing them to split from the Roman Catholic Church some 500 or so years later, forming the Eastern Orthodox Church  It was the first major split of the Christian church (the second split from the original monotheistic church–the first being when Christianity split from Judaism).    I must admit, most of the whole filioque debacle I didn’t really understand.  I was lost when they discussed the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, much less adding the Son.

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What the Age of the Spirit did do was to make me think about my view of the Holy Spirit.  Let me restate that.  It made me think about how little thought I give to the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I work my hardest to avoid thinking about the Holy Spirit.

Based on the amount we talk about the Holy Spirit at our church, I suspect I’m not by myself in Spirit avoidance.  The Red Couch book club (over at SheLoves) is reading one of my favorite books this month, Soil and Sacrament.  The author, Fred Bahnson, alternates between his journey in the present, visiting four farms over the course of a year and the past, sharing his early (ten years prior) farm experience that led him to his current journey.  I love this book for countless reasons, but the most pertinent to today is that I feel like I can connect to Bahnson.  One of his visits takes him to a Pentecostal farm which reaches out to young violent men in the Skagit Valley of Washington (if you, like me, are shaky on your geography, that’s the area between Vancouver and Seattle, bordered by the water and the Cascade Mountains).  During that visit, Bahnson came face to face with his own thoughts on the Holy Spirit and I found they deeply mirrored my thoughts.

In the evangelical church of my youth I’d heard a lot about demons.  Junior high Sunday school classes often featured talk of spiritual warfare.  There was a great spiritual battle raging all around us, we read books like Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness, and if only we prayed enough we would help the angels defeat the demons.  I had graduated from all that.  I did not doubt the existence of evil, but I also believed that God granted us human agency. I’d seen too many people use Satan as a smoke screen to cover their own mistakes, and it was hard not think about these things as I sat rigid in the pew while the violent and annoying wind of a prayer banner nipped at my neck.  Whenever I’d seen people get charismatic I was not like those witnesses at the first Pentecost who were amazed and perplexed and asking “what does this mean?”  I was one of those ready to sneer and say “they are filled with new wine.”

The Holy Spirit isn’t easy to receive like the love of God or Christ’s sacrifice.  With both of those things, there is an element of human choice voice involved.  I choose to accept God as Creator of heaven and earth.  I choose to allow God’s love in the sacrifice of Jesus to transform me (although, I must admit, this isn’t particularly easy either).   What do I choose about the Spirit?  I can plead with God to send the Holy Spirit to me, so I can be like those witnesses in the book of Acts in the Bible, who repeatedly are filled with the Spirit.  However, the Spirit coming to me, is an entirely different matter.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.  There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.  God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us, so we can help each other.  To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.  The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.  He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy.  He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another Spirit.  Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is give the ability to interpret what is being said.  It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts.  The Spirit alone decides which gift each person should have.  (I Corinthians 12:4-11)

I avoid talk about the Spirit because I am scared.  (I told you this subject would make me squirm).   I am cynical about others’ Holy Spirit experience because I haven’t been knocked down, filled with laughter, spoken in tongues, healed or have been healed, or broke into uncontrollable dancing.  I hide in my liturgical services, guided by the quiet prayer of Benedict of Nursia and other nuns and monks.  Because I haven’t spoken in tongues, healed others, prophesized, or performed miracles, I think that I am not good enough–I am not faithful enough or trusting enough or my life is filled without too much of me (and not enough of God).  I ignore that third leg of the Trinity because I haven’t experienced it in those ways.   However, I don’t need to be scared.  While I perceive certain gifts of the Holy Spirit, as being greater than other gifts, according to Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, I clearly shouldn’t feel that way.  All gifts are equal—the ability to listen, share wisdom, and have faith are as “great” as speaking in tongues and healing.

It is Pentecost, friends.  Pentecost is that time when the Holy Spirit was poured out onto the masses, causing them to speak in tongues (the fancy, technical word is glossolalia).  Just like the Christian calendar acknowledges the other parts of the Trinity (Christmas and Easter), it also acknowledges the Holy Spirit in the celebration of Pentecost.

Happy Pentecost, friends.  May we all be more open to how the Holy Spirit works and moves in our lives.  May we move beyond our fear of that which we can’t understand and embrace the Holy Comforter (I love that term for the Holy Spirit in the Bible).

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Spiritual Practice of Parenting: Summer Projects or Daring Greatly or More Grace

June 16, 2014

DSC_3573Summer has gotten off to a rip-roaring start.  OK.  Not really.  In our house, summer has gotten off to a nice leisurely start, full of mornings at swim practice, lunch together, afternoon quiet time, and afternoon entertain yourself time.  I’ve applied my teacher skills to this first week of summer.  During the first weeks of school, teachers try to set the tone for the year, spending time doing some tedious things (like getting from one place to the next, classroom routines and procedures, etc) in order to ensure the rest of the year can be spent teaching and not establishing routines.  I decided this summer that I wanted to set the tone for the summer in this first week.  We made lunchtime routines immediately, which meant everyone either had to help with setting the table or clearing the table, every day.  They could choose which one they did, they just have to do one or the other.  We’ve done quiet time every day, because I know myself well enough to know that 30 minutes all by myself, whether it is spent folding laundry, baking cookies, reading a book, or taking a brief nap, can help me get through long days much easier.

This summer also includes a summer project.  While this may include Madeleine creating several books (we have ideas for at least 3) and working with John on his reading, the summer projects we are diving into involves things such as character building, vulnerability, and change.

When I read Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, what I thought of over and over again was, “How do I raise my children to be vulnerable with others, allowing them to experience more creativity and deeper relationships?”  I know that sentence seems a little backwards–children are born extremely vulnerable.  Why do we want to make them more vulnerable?  To clarify, when I say vulnerable, I am not speaking of the inherent smallness of size and need for adults that children have.  Vulnerability encompasses the ability to take risks, fail, be honest with emotions, and live with less fear.  Vulnerability is taught to us by the Velveteen Rabbit–it is what makes us come alive.  Without it, we can’t experience the wonderful emotion of joy.  How can I teach my kids to combat shame and be more vulnerable?

For each of my children, their struggles with shame manifest themselves differently.   One child displays his shame obviously, burying his head and crying when he has accidentally and unintentionally hurt someone or messed things up.  Another child reacts to shame with anger, yelling and throwing things.  The third responds with either anger or withdrawal, depending on the day.  How do I help each of these children with their own unique struggles?

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I’m learning to ask questions.  When anger emerges, roaring and throwing punches, I search for the real feelings behind the anger.  Rarely is the anger a display of the anger.  Mostly anger is a cover for feelings of shame and unworthiness.  I probe, asking if anything has happened today that has made him sad, asking how it felt when something happened.  In a stream of tears, I hear him tell of his shame.  He didn’t mean to hurt that person, he was frustrated because he couldn’t complete a task he wanted to.  With words comes a sigh of relief.  Once the shame has been expressed, he is freed.  Brene Brown says this in Daring Greatly:

Shame derives its power for being unspeakable.  That’s why it loves perfectionists–it’s so easy to keep us quiet.  If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.  Shame hates having words wrapped around it.  If we speak shame, it begins to wither.  Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins [Yes--like gremlins from the movie of the same name], language and story bring light to shame and destroy.  (p.67)

Our summer project looks different for each of us.  I am working on not being so critical.  I’ve realized over the past month how fast I am to criticize what others d0.  I nitpick–the towels weren’t folded correctly or that outfit for the five year old doesn’t match or someone is not 100% accurate in the words they use.  I started listening to myself and became appalled at how fast I tell people what they are doing wrong.  I do it without realizing the words that come out of my mouth.  I worry that I am contributing to the voices that tell my children they are not good enough.

Our summer project this year is to work on voicing our feelings–for both the child that responds with anger and the one that withdrawals.  I am working on responding first with compassion, not criticizing and not correcting.  I, too, am looking at the feelings behind the criticism–do I criticize because I feel like others are being critical of me?  Do I criticize because I need things to be “right” all the time?  Do I criticize because I have an inflated sense of self-worth?    I think of Karen Armstrong’s words in her TEDTalk she gave back in 2008, “It is more important to be compassionate than to be a right.”

That ought to keep us busy this summer.  We’re armed with jewels, daily meditation books, and the Bible to accompany us through the next months.  Most importantly, we are surrounding ourselves with grace and second chances–this isn’t a project we’ll accomplish in three short months.  Any headway we can make though can help us love neighbors and our God better, which is the ultimate goal.

On Living

June 9, 2014

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Wendell Berry is one of my all time favorite authors.

I first became acquainted to him through his essays on agrarian farming (I know that sounds redundant, but it is necessary to distinguish it from the big agribusiness farming).  I believe it was Barbara Kingsolver or Michael Pollan who referenced Berry’s essays in their respective books.  Or maybe it was articles in Edible Austin.  Regardless, I didn’t know Berry wrote novels when I first met him.  I was a fan of Berry, the agrarian essayist.

Later I was introduced to his poetry through the blogosphere–maybe it was Sarah Bessey or Micha Boyett who wrote about his collection of Sabbath Poems called Timbered Choir.  Eventually, I bought Timbered Choir and fell in love with Berry, the poet.

A year ago, as my grandfather was in the process of dying, I read Jayber Crow, which I discovered on a summer reading list.  I felt amazingly connected to my dying grandfather, 1500 miles away, as I read the story of Jayber Crow and Port William, Kentucky.  From there, I read Fidelty, a collection of Port William short stories.  Yesterday, I finished A World Lost, another of the Port William, Kentucky novels.

If there was ever any question, there no longer is–I am totally enamored with the writing of Wendell Berry.

A World Lost is about a death of an uncle from the viewpoint of a nephew.  Uncle Andrew was murdered and his loss changed the extended family for the rest of their lives.  The nephew, also an Andrew, felt a shroud of mystery surrounding the murder–it wasn’t something talked about, yet the absence of his slightly wild, impulsive uncle permeated all aspects of his life.

Wendell Berry could teach us a lot about living and dying.  I find it no small coincidence that all three books I’ve read of his talk at length about dying.  Unlike many of the novels, written across all times, death isn’t described as evil or something to be feared.  While the too soon death of his Uncle haunted everyone in the book, death itself was natural.

As humans, I think we go through life slightly (??) scared of death.  We do everything in power to avoid it–wear sunscreen, eat healthy foods, take lots and lots of medications.  We spend a lot of energy fighting aging because if we don’t age, we don’t die, right?  We use botox for our wrinkles, wear make up to hide our age spots, and even voluntarily go into surgery just to look younger.  For some of us, our purpose in life is not dying.

Granted, I am not rushing into death. I am not trying to convince you of its virtues (You are no longer busy!!  Your to-do list is gone!! You no longer have to keep up with your budget!!).  I love my life and I am grateful for every day I am given.  More so, I am in no hurry to have any one I love die.  The thought of losing a child…..I’m not going there.

What is interesting about Berry’s books is that death is not to be feared.  It is as natural as living.  While Uncle Andrew was murdered and none of the family was ever the same again, there was no whining, no belly-aching, no questions of why we must die.  Death just is.  I appreciate that from Berry.  In Fidelty, the short story that shares the name with the title, a loved family member ages and grows sick.  Not knowing what to do, the family takes the Grandfather to the hospital.  At the hospital, the goal is to save the man’s life, not to let him die.  Before long, the family wonders what good the hospital is doing, is the prolonged life really beneficial to their beloved patriarch?  In the middle of the night, they sneak into the hospital and “steal” their father.  They take him to a cabin in the hills so he can live his last days peacefully, so he is allowed to die.  We all die.

But this is not titled On Dying.  It is On Living.  I think our views of death influence how we live our lives.  If death is natural, if death is just a part of the journey, then why should we be afraid?  It is the unknown that frightens us, even those with a deep faith.  While there are books out there tell us what heaven is really like, I don’t think any human can fathom what heaven may be.  The ultimate step of faith is in death, believing that the God who we have loved and who calls us his beloved will continue to love us beyond death.  We will never be alone.

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Nor is death the purpose of life.  While some claim their purpose for living is to live a life that will get them into the Kingdom of Heaven, that is not my purpose.  If that’s a by-product of the life I live and the God I love, than that is what happens.  However, we are called to bring forth the Kingdom of God (of Heaven) here on earth by thanking God for all things, loving others, and walking humbly with God and our neighbor.  We are called to bring the Kingdom of God to those who may struggle to make ends meet, to those who stand on the street corners, and those who may not be educated or have enough stuff or anything else we may judge others by.  If we are not living in fear of death, it is much easier to work for God’s Kingdom here.  Now.  Fear paralyzes us and focuses the attention on ourselves.  The absence of fear lets us see those around us, who may be sitting outside the circle.

The last paragraphs of A World Lost include these words:

I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time.  It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed.  It is Hell until it is Heaven.  Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgment.  And yet, in suffering that light’s awful clarity, in seeing themselves within in, they see its forgiveness and its beauty, and they are consoled.  In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and so are changed into what they could not have been but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

That light can one into this world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering.  Not enough light has ever reached us here among the shadows, and yet I think it has never been entirely absent…

…slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place, but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day.  I live in their love, and I know something of the cost.  Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside for all these years.

May we live well and love well, knowing that when we do die, we will join that company of immortals and we will remain with those who are still living.  We need not fear death.  We will not be forgotten.    We will be consoled and live in the forgiveness and beauty of the Light.

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What I Was Up to this Month–May Edition

June 2, 2014

This one is going to be long, friends.  Very, very long.  May was filled to the brim, what with finishing soccer, finishing baseball, swimming in full swing, Mother’s Day, my birthday, going on field trips with the kids, and just normal everyday life, like our neighbor sharing lots and lots of peaches from her daughter’s peach trees.  Here’s a recap in pictures.

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Whew!  Did you get all that?

 

Now onto the words:

Books:

Wonder by R.J. Palaccio.  After several heavy, long books, our selection this month was juvenile fiction.  I enjoyed Wonder.  My favorite thing about it though was having Madeleine read it when I was done.  A couple of weeks after we both finished it, Madeleine was having friend problems.  Our conversation about what to do when someone is talking about you was enriched by referencing examples from the book–everything became a bit clearer when we could use the book to help us discuss Madeleine’s own problem and possible solutions.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I finally read the book people have been talking about.  I don’t think I liked it, but I’m not quite sure.  As a book, it hooked me and didn’t let me go to the last page, so in that regards it was a great read.  However, I rather hated the ending.  Shudder (just thinking about how it ended).

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett.  I read The Bookman’s Tale immediately after I finished Gone Girl.  It was a breath of relief after the tension and drama of Gone Girl.  I loved the slower pace and learning about the world of book collectors (and sellers).  I would definitely recommend this book!

Getting Involved with God:  Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen Davis.  This was the SheLoves book club book of the month.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wrote about Ecclesiastes (inspired by the book) here.  Her other books are now on my Amazon wish list.

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.  I highly anticipated this book and ended up being disappointed.  I struggled with exactly where my dislike of the book lay, I just didn’t find it as deep or rich theologically as the other three books of hers I have read.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  This was my second time through this book.  I think this may be my go-to parenting book from here on.  The early chapters of her book are good for background information about shame, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness.  My favorite chapters were the last two where she delved into how embracing vulnerability and becoming shame resistant influences our work environments and our parenting.  There will be more on this book later.

Food:

I ate at East Side King’s food trailer for the first time ever.  It did not disappoint.  It may be a problem that they are a short ten minutes from my house every Wednesday and possibly a bigger problem that they are opening a brick and mortar restaurant close to us before too long.  Their fried brussels sprouts……enough said.  For my birthday, my two best friends, their husbands, Curtis, and my parents went out for dinner at Cafe Josie.  It was the perfect location.  While it is not the trendiest, hipster place, it was wonderful for a long lingering dinner full of laughter.

Cooking has made me exhausted this month.  Because of swimming every afternoon (until 5:15 or 6:00, depending on the day), dinner has consisted of fast, easy meals, sandwiches, slow cooker meals, and make ahead meals.  A lot of planning is involved to provide the family with a home cooked meal every day (home cooked being sandwiches, some days).  I am relieved to just have four more days of crazy meal planning.  Favorites this month have been Smitten Kitchen’s Peach and Pecan Sandy Crumble, made with all the peaches that showed up from our neighbor.  I am also looking for the ultimate homemade ice cream recipe–so far my favorites are custard based, however, I want to try a few more of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream recipes.  I wasn’t happy with how that turned out the first time–it had a wonderful flavor, but it was the only recipe that developed ice crystals  (and that was the recipe developed solely for avoiding ice crystals).

Movies, Music, and TV:

All of this is sad to report.  No new music.  No new grown up movies.  I did finally watch The Lego Movie which I absolutely loved (and got a little teary-eyed at the end, but it was an emotional weekend).  We also re-watched the original Die Hard.  On TV, I watched Cristina’s departure on Grey’s Anatomy and thought I could totally get hooked again.

 I am linking up with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Up To (my favorite source for book recommendations) again this month

I am not Afraid of the Dark

May 28, 2014

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Earlier this spring, Amazon let me know that one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, had a new book coming out.  It immediately went into my wish list–I had read three or four of her other books:  An Altar in The World, Leaving Church, and Bread of Angels (one of her greatest hits of sermons books), and they all helped shape my spiritual growth and development.

In my onslaught of spring reading, I kinda forget about the release date of Learning to Walk in the Dark until it showed up as a recommended book from our public library.  I reserved the book, and eagerly dove into it last weekend, anticipating the poetry and wisdom of Brown Taylor’s words.

I didn’t like the book.

I can’t communicate how sad it makes me to say that.  In my time since I finished the book (in fact, I skimmed the end because I was just done with it, but I had to read it, just in case…), I’ve been asking myself why I didn’t like it.  What does that say about me?  Bear with me as I attempt to process the book, with stories of my own darkness.

I grew up in a rural community.  While it wasn’t extremely rural–we were a mere two hours from Washington, DC, home to a state university, and had a population of around 25,000 during my youth.  We were a farming community though, tucked in a Valley, with mountains making the sky smaller in every direction I looked.  It was a short drive back into the mountains–either down in a hollow or the top of one.  In August and December, we would look for the darkest spots we could find for the best viewing of meteor showers.

I wasn’t ever scared of the dark–darkness brought it’s own magic–the fireflies of dusk, the opening of the night blooming cirrus, the first stars emerging, a view of the milky way, the moon glowing gently on us, and even playing hide and seek/tag games in the dark.  I worked at a camp for two summers, tucked back into the mountains were no lights from the “city” could reach us.  At night, we had the warmth of lanterns and then nothing.  I chose not to use a flashlight–I liked seeing if I could make it to my destination without ample of light.  I could often see the light on the bathhouse, guiding me to the bathrooms, but whether or not I stayed on a path to get there was anyone’s guess.

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Even now, I love night and darkness.  Camping gives us a chance to turn off lights, following the natural light.  Granted we use a lantern, a flashlight, or a fire for light when we want light.  However, we also enjoy walking through the darkness, watching the stars emerge.  On the cold nights, or rainy nights, we go to bed much earlier than we normally would.  I huddle in my sleeping bag, somewhat awake, wondering when sleep will come.  A few years ago, we camped in a wetter area than we usually do.  There was pond close by and once the stars came out, the pond came alive with noises.  I set out, with my flashlight off, to listen to the cacophony of frogs and insects, whose noise was almost deafening.  Every couple of years, we try to camp at the darkest place in the continental United States, to sleep in the dark and to look at stars.

I have found over the years that the darkness that comes at night is neither silent nor pitch black dark.  There is always light in the darkness–from the stars and moon.  One those cloudy evenings when the moon is obscured, there is some light, trapped from escaping by the clouds.  Even in the darkest part of the ocean, out of the reach of sunlight, animals create their own light in strange ways.  The darkest place I can think of is hotel rooms….not sleeping outdoors without my own light sources.  Between the blackout curtains (I know they’re not really that, but that’s how I think of them) and poorly placed bright, bright lights, sleeping in a hotel room is dark place.  Granted, there’s the glow of the alarm clock, but even with that, it seems much darker than sleeping outside.

Darkness has multiple uses in language though–it not only describes a physical state, darkness also describes an emotional, mental, and/or spiritual state.  Again, I am not afraid of this darkness either.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eagerly look for spiritual darkness like I seek out physical darkness.   I don’t view spiritual darkness as an adventure nor do I find it much fun.  I have had my share of spiritual darkness–it may not have been as severe or dramatic as others, I have never lost a child, which I think would be the most darkness I could ever encounter–but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been visited by darkness.

However, I know the spiritual darkness is part of it.  I don’t remember who talks about “leaning in” to the darkness, whether it was Sarah Bessey or Micha Boyett or Brene Brown (or all of the above).  I have learned in my dark times over the years, those times when I wondered why God was so distant from me, why I seemed so alone, so cold, to not fight the darkness.  I learned this with acedia I struggled with a couple of years ago–that listlessness and loneliness of a day–to say it’s name, to take deep breaths, and to let acedia know I wasn’t scared of it.  From my dear women and my authors who are my best friends (they just don’t know it), I’ve learned to relax and let the darkness be.  I watch for the first stars to emerge, for the noise of the frogs to begin, for sleep to come.

I have not known the darkness of caves deep underground or blindness.  I do not know what total absence of light is like, in either physical or spiritual darkness.  There has always been some light, trickling through a crack, whether it be the first stars of the night, a sliver of moon, the songs of frogs, the kind word of a friend, a meal delivered to our house, or the morning after a rain (that ever present gratitude list I cling to whenever darkness comes).  I can not imagine the cold that would come if no light were present.  The darkness is fleeting for me, it may seem to last ages, but light and warmth will come again, in some form or another.  Always.

And the book?  I am still not sure why I didn’t like.  Maybe it was the vulnerability that was present that made me uncomfortable.  Maybe it was Brown Taylor’s attempts to create darkness that felt contrived.  Maybe it was the assumption that I too was afraid of the dark and tried to avoid it.  Maybe I just can’t identify with it right now.  Whatever, the reason, I am thankful it was a library book.  I am thankful I read it, so I could remember my experiences with darkness.  For it is looking back we often find our way forward.  It is remembering the darkness, the pain, won’t last forever, that allows us to sink into the darkness without fear.

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O bent by fear and sorrow, now bend down.

 

Leave word and argument, be dark and still,

And come into the joy of healing shade.

Rest from your work.  Be still and dark until

 

You grow as unopposing, unafraid

As the  young trees, without thought or belief,

Until the shadow Sabbath light has made

 

Shudders, breaks open, shines in every leaf

VI  (1980) by Wendell Berry in A Timbered Choir:  Sabbath Poems, pg. 31.

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