Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas 2011

Hello from the home of the sniffles, where we have contributed to the profits made by the folks who make Kleenex. You'd think they'd send us thank you notes with dividend checks, even though we don't hold stock in the company. We are sorry for felling so many trees, though.

My beloved has worked very hard this year, including, but not limited to, the four hours he spent on the phone after spending two hours in the ER being diagnosed with bronchitis that morning. He's still coughing a bit, but is getting better. He's been spending his free time on genealogy, turning his efforts to my family after hitting the black hole of Irish records – they gathered parish records together into one central location...and then the central location burned. Makes Irish genealogical research a wee bit difficult. Interestingly, he found that one of my great-great-uncles is buried in the city we live in now.

Our girl is a junior and thinking about colleges. We've visited two, but neither is on the short list. She's still playing flute and went back to flute camp this summer. She's been taking a photography class, so we've been taking her to photograph places and people – most recently people with tattoos for her final project. She missed lots of school this month between strep and bronchitis (see above note on Kleenex), so last Wednesday, trying to get her project done in time, we went to three tattoo parlors, the VFW and a bar. That was interesting. Folks with ink are great, but she's still not getting a tattoo, says her mother, the fun-ruiner. We also went to the Jesus People USA community. Lots of tattoos there. Our kids went there for their mission trip over the summer, so we knew where to go.

Our boy's half way through his sophomore year. He thinks he got either two Bs and three As or vice versa. He has a lot of friends and is having a good time. He's now seeing all his friends who went to other colleges, so the fun continues. Our house is very loud when he's home. He spent the summer working for a landscaping company, which earned him both an appreciation for how hard that work is and some of his own money. Mom liked that. Not the stinky laundry bit, the his own money bit. He'll turn 20 the day after Christmas, which is hard to believe.

I'm doing some freelance writing for an internet-based education company. It's steady, interesting work, and I can work in my pjs from the comfort of my dining room. I'm also enjoying being a church lady, leading bible study, teaching the wee Souls, doing bookkeeping and serving on a diocesan commission. We had our church ornament exchange here Friday and our couples' group white elephant exchange dinner Saturday. I'm now wearing the sock-monkey slippers I got in the white elephant exchange. Score.

In August, I read a book about going on a vegan diet to reverse heart disease and strokes, and it made sense to me. I'd been a veggie in high school, so I joined my girl in her diet. Mostly I'm vegan, except for fish, as giving up sushi was Not. Going. To. Happen. Poor beloved, he says. I still fix him a steak now and again. I went veggie for health reasons, not because I hate meat, so he need not suffer, methinks.

We logged some air miles this year, beginning with a trip to London for me with my friend Kathy to visit our friend Patty. We spent a week talking and seeing the sights. We took a day flight over and got in late and stayed up talking until 3 a.m. Got up six hours later, toured Windsor Castle and stayed for Evensong, which was beautiful. We sat in the Quire, right behind the choir. Under the floor were the graves of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and Charles I (and his head). We spent the rest of the week staying up til 3, getting up around 9 and onto the tube – saw the clock museum at Greenwich, the Victoria and Albert and the British Museums, had tea at the Orangerie by Kensington Palace, shopped at Harrods and Fortnum and Mason, saw a play, ate fish and chips at pubs, and went to Westminster Abbey and to Evensong at St. Paul's. Just scratched the surface - we need to go back! We never had any problems with jet lag, mostly because we never shut up and thus barely slept. I got home just in time to take my beloved to the airport for his two week trip to Thailand. Then I shut up and slept.

We took our baby to Portland in March – where we visited Reed College, two vineyards, the ocean and tried for Mt. Hood. Just an FYI, Mt. Hood in March is snowy. If you want to see that lovely lake they show in all the pictures – yeah, it doesn't look like that in March and you should wait until summer, otherwise you might hit a blizzard at 2500 feet and have to turn around in an Alpine-like village. The park rangers told us we were smart to have turned around. They were probably thinking we were idiots for trying it, but were glad we'd had the good sense God gave our beagle to turn around before we were the “stupid tourists” featured on the news. The best part was seeing my aunt, uncle and cousins, who kindly drove for hours to see us, as we were in the same state.

In June, while the kids were on their mission trip to JPUSA, we went to Mexico with our traveling friends. We didn't get sunburned this time, only because it was hurricane season...first night we came back to our room and found a note on the door with an update on a storm we hadn't even known existed. But not to worry, the staff were all trained just in case of emergencies! We had a good time anyway; went to a cooking class, took long walks on the beach, lazed around, and read books.

Summer also saw the celebration of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. After they got back from the lake (where we joined them for a week), we were blessed to have many of the family together. All of my parents' living siblings were there, as were lots of cousins. It was horribly humid, but the resort was lovely and the company even better. My main worry had been political discussions, as we had all ends of the political spectrum represented there, just as the debt-ceiling debate going on. But it all went off without a hitch, and it was truly wonderful to see everyone.

The kids returned to school in August, bringing to an end our summer family travels. I went to Galena with my girlfriends in September; the leaves on the hills were beautiful and the time just flew by, as it always does.

In October, we drove up to western Wisconsin to the Quinns' cemetery to bury Karen's ashes. Next to the Celtic cross marking my brother-in-law's parents' graves, we gathered to raise a glass of Jameson's in her honor. It is still such a surreal thing that she is gone. She rests in a beautiful place, though.

We were with my husband's family again to celebrate Thanksgiving and the finishing of his younger brother's new kitchen - it is a thing of beauty and I have a bad case of kitchen envy. Ah well. Christmas will be spent with my family, at my brother's home. They are hosting friends from Germany and we are looking forward to meeting them and spending the day together.

As always, we hope that the day finds you with those you love, celebrating the birth of the One who loves you.

Grace and Peace.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Of Mice and Mishaps and Mercies

Yesterday was one of those days.

Due to my own stupidity had coffee at bible study on Tuesday evening, went to bed around 1:00 Wednesday morning.

Alarm goes off the same morning five hours later.

Wake my girl up - who makes it as far as the couch and goes back to sleep.

Notice it ten minutes later when the shower wasn't on. Shoo her upstairs. She misses bus.

Get my beloved up at 7:00 for his 8:00 teleconference followed by his 9:30 meeting with the folks who have come in from NY specifically to meet with him.

He doesn't sound good, but I keep going and give my girl the "you're going to school, by God" pep talk.

Beloved comes down, not in work clothes - breathing is shallow and labored, clearly we're heading to the ER.

Go upstairs, inform girl, who's still got her hair in a towel and is now very late.

Order her to get ready in the "I'm taking no crap" mode, as the "you're going to school, by God" talk didn't seem to have lasting effect.

Call beloved's work to tell them that we're heading to the ER and that he won't be on the call, or on email, or just a little late for the meeting. Not bringing the laptop to the hospital.

Tell the girl to get in the freaking car. Have to remember to apologize for tone of voice. Might have been a bit snippy. Hindsight being 20/20, she's sick too.

Drop her off at school which is blessedly on the way to the ER.

Thank you Jesus it's just bronchitis and not pneumonia yet - EKG, Xray, breathing treatment and two hours later we've pulled away from the pharmacy with a paper bag full of prescriptions.

Beloved takes meds and heads upstairs to call into meetings. His boss, hearing his voice, orders him in capital letters on email NOT TO COME IN. Bright man.

Return home and log into work as I have to clock somewhere between 6 and 7 hours to make my time for the biweekly period which ends at midnight.

Write furiously, figure out how to make edits to earlier work (yay!), eat lunch for 3 minutes, write more.

Go to mail box with dog who's refused to pee each of the other four times she's asked to go out. Find a note from school about a low grade. Of course. It's that kind of day. On the bright side, there's a plus rather than a minus after the grade. It's redeemable before finals.

Stop at 5, print off my stuff for teaching, swing through Jewel to pick up the snacks I didn't bake for our classes because of aforementioned fun day.

On the way get a phone call from one of the co-teachers from the other class, who's turning around on the highway on her way to church because she has a counseling client who's homicidal or suicidal. Can't remember which, but anything that ends in "-icidal" is bad.

Get to church, dump supplies, realize I forgot the water (for all 70ish people there to drink - could have gotten it at Jewel, had my brain been engaged). Also forgot the dishtowels I was supposed to have washed and returned.

Try to tell the teacher his partner's not going to be there, only to be interrupted by kids swarming around the ladies' room because there's a mouse in there! Sooo totally exciting - if you're a six year old boy.

Friend traps it with a bowl, so I slide a clear plastic platter under it, and manage not to trip over the swarming children trying to see the mouse through the bottom of the platter on my way to release it. Moral - don't make the platter see-through next time, and there will be a next time - read on:

Release the mouse nowhere near far enough away from the church to not have it return within minutes.

Make myself walk back in the building.

Recognize I probably should be at an ACNA ordination being held a mile away. Wish I was there, briefly.

Have a lovely couple come to talk about working half way around the world as bible translators. Half way around the world in a mud hut is sounding really lovely right now.

Come home, realizing I've forgotten to grab the platter and the bowl that the mouse was in to sterilize, as the church water's not hot enough. And now need to send apologetic emails about the water and dishtowels along with warnings not to use the platter and bowl.

Oh, and forgot to pay the babysitter. Head slap and another apology email to write.

Log back in to upload my last article, re-read it, spend a half an hour editing it, send it in.

Head to bed, too wired to sleep.

The fact that God's mercies are new every day is pretty much the only reason I got up this morning.

To the reality that my baby has a headache, sore throat and stomach ache which is why she was dragging yesterday. When I was snippy.

Call the school and the pediatrician.

Write "I'm sorry" emails, realize I have several more of them to send.

And it's time to be putting together our Christmas letter. Think I'll wait until I'm not going to write "I'm sorry" reflexively at the beginning of each paragraph....

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Little Stone Altars

Last month our parish was received into the Diocese of Quincy, at the 134th Synod. The last few years for Quincy have been marked by the fracturing of the Episcopal church, the retirement of a much loved bishop, the separation of the majority of the diocese from the national church, and the lawsuit filed by the Episcopal church against the diocese seeking their parishes, endowment funds, and name.

The threat posed by this lawsuit was discussed at Synod. These new brothers and sisters of ours face being forced from their parish homes by those who have no intention of ever occupying the little churches nestled between the corn and soy bean fields of west central Illinois.

Serving to illustrate the waste of it all, is the fact that if the Episcopal church wins, whatever they might recover won't even make a dent in what they've spent on legal fees. Any proceeds from the sale of these buildings will go into the fund set aside for more lawsuits. A fund which replaced the budget line item previously entitled "Missions."

The pain of what may come is one we know well, because we've been through it. We had a bishop who said we could rewrite the New Testament. In our case, there was no lawsuit, we were a single divided parish, but there was a world of hurt that came with walking out of the church we'd helped to build.

A lot of folks would point out that a church is just bricks and mortar, and that's not what Jesus died for, and they are right. But the pain exists because a church is also infinitely more than just bricks and mortar.

It is the physical place that we have our history and our home. We built it, or our parents or grandparents did, and our memories are there: our baptisms; our weddings; our grandpa's ashes. All there in a place where we came together and trusted that because there were two or more of us gathered in His name, He'd show up.

And that showing up is what makes those bricks and mortar holy ground.

Throughout Scripture, we see that those who went before us built altars made of stone in places that have names that are recorded. They did it as an homage to God. He'd do something amazing on a piece of land and they'd mark the spot. We know that we can never begin to repay God for saving us, and we know that what He requires is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart and of praise and thanksgiving...we know all that, but our hands cannot keep still. The awe that compels us to the ground on our knees, compels us to build Him these altars.

Some are small, like the little Baptist box that we worship in in Wheaton. Some are soaring works of stained-glassed glory, like the cathedral at Chartres, built and re-built over a thousand years. Evidence of people who knew that nothing they could do would ever be thanks enough, but whose hands and hearts could not rest.

So is it wrong for them to be sad about possibly losing their parishes? I cannot say that it is. They are being sued by people who have sold former churches to Muslims and nightclub owners rather than allow the parishioners to "buy" back the building their parents or grandparents built.

Frankly, I think some righteous anger is fitting. We are not promised ease, and we know it. But we are to be working toward the Kingdom that is to come, participating in the building of the new earth. We plant altars as outposts, building blocks toward the future. To be required to hand these outposts over to those who are seeking to destroy the faith should bother us.

But it should also strengthen our resolve. The fact is that we built those altars because we know God acts in places. And if He does so in one building, He will do so in another, whether it is a living room holding folks perched on arm chairs to pray while Sunday School is held in the kitchen, or the local school gymnasium. We've lived through that, seen it happen, and are growing.

Against the wisdom of the world, five parishes from outside the state and four from within have come into the diocese. In the face of lawsuits and pain, Quincy is growing.

Because the reality is, too, that we know the end of the story. He will prevail against the powers and principalities of this world. And those little stone altars we built in faith - even though they be handed over to those who don't know how to honor God - will be redeemed.

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation - A. Lincoln

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day

October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

Friday, November 11, 2011

Still True, Fifty Years Later

Yesterday was the 236th anniversary of the Marine Corps. Begun before our country, protecting it ever since. Started in a tavern and later storming Tripoli to save our interests against the lawlessness of the Barbary Pirates, which is fascinating reading by the way.

We enjoy freedoms we take lightly every day, largely because they are too many to count, because of the men and women who fought for them.

So once a year we have a day set aside to honor those who have fought for us, and to contemplate what their service has done for the existence of the the country we live in and love.

With a tip of my proverbial hat to Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, for the link, I think this was a wonderful speech to start out a day of remembrance.

Veterans Day Remarks
Remarks by President John F. Kennedy
Veterans Day National Ceremony
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
November 11, 1961

PRESIDENT KENNEDY: General Gavan, Mr. Gleason, members of the military forces, veterans, fellow Americans:

Today we are here to celebrate and to honor and to commemorate the dead and the living, the young men who in every war since this country began have given testimony to their loyalty to their country and their own great courage.

I do not believe that any nation in the history of the world has buried its soldiers farther from its native soil than we Americans -- or buried them closer to the towns in which they grew up.

We celebrate this Veterans Day for a very few minutes, a few seconds of silence and then this country's life goes on. But I think it most appropriate that we recall on this occasion, and on every other moment when we are faced with great responsibilities, the contribution and the sacrifice which so many men and their families have made in order to permit this country to now occupy its present position of responsibility and freedom, and in order to permit us to gather here together.

Bruce Catton, after totaling the casualties which took place in the battle of Antietam, not so very far from this cemetery, when he looked at statistics which showed that in the short space of a few minutes whole regiments lost 50 to 75 percent of their numbers, then wrote that life perhaps isn't the most precious gift of all, that men died for the possession of a few feet of a corn field or a rocky hill, or for almost nothing at all. But in a very larger sense, they died that this country might be permitted to go on, and that it might permit to be fulfilled the great hopes of its founders.

In a world tormented by tension and the possibilities of conflict, we meet in a quiet commemoration of an historic day of peace. In an age that threatens the survival of freedom, we join together to honor those who made our freedom possible. The resolution of the Congress which first proclaimed Armistice Day, described November 11, 1918, as the end of "the most destructive, sanguinary and far-reaching war in the history of human annals." That resolution expressed the hope that the First World War would be, in truth, the war to end all wars. It suggested that those men who had died had therefore not given their lives in vain.

It is a tragic fact that these hopes have not been fulfilled, that wars still more destructive and still more sanguinary followed, that man's capacity to devise new ways of killing his fellow men have far outstripped his capacity to live in peace with his fellow men.
Some might say, therefore, that this day has lost its meaning, that the shadow of the new and deadly weapons have robbed this day of its great value, that whatever name we now give this day, whatever flags we fly or prayers we utter, it is too late to honor those who died before, and too soon to promise the living an end to organized death.

But let us not forget that November 11, 1918, signified a beginning, as well as an end. "The purpose of all war," said Augustine, "is peace." The First World War produced man's first great effort in recent times to solve by international cooperation the problems of war. That experiment continues in our present day -- still imperfect, still short of its responsibilities, but it does offer a hope that some day nations can live in harmony.

For our part, we shall achieve that peace only with patience and perseverance and courage -- the patience and perseverance necessary to work with allies of diverse interests but common goals, the courage necessary over a long period of time to overcome an adversary skilled in the arts of harassment and obstruction.

There is no way to maintain the frontiers of freedom without cost and commitment and risk. There is no swift and easy path to peace in our generation. No man who witnessed the tragedies of the last war, no man who can imagine the unimaginable possibilities of the next war, can advocate war out of irritability or frustration or impatience.

But let no nation confuse our perseverance and patience with fear of war or unwillingness to meet our responsibilities. We cannot save ourselves by abandoning those who are associated with us, or rejecting our responsibilities.

In the end, the only way to maintain the peace is to be prepared in the final extreme to fight for our country -- and to mean it.

As a nation, we have little capacity for deception. We can convince friend and foe alike that we are in earnest about the defense of freedom only if we are in earnest -- and I can assure the world that we are.

This cemetery was first established 97 years ago. In this hill were first buried men who died in an earlier war, a savage war here in our own country. Ninety-seven years ago today, the men in Gray were retiring from Antietam, where thousands of their comrades had fallen between dawn and dusk in one terrible day. And the men in Blue were moving towards Fredericksburg, where thousands would soon lie by a stone wall in heroic and sometimes miserable death.

It was a crucial moment in our Nation's history, but these memories, sad and proud, these quiet grounds, this Cemetery and others like it all around the world, remind us with pride of our obligation and our opportunity.

On this Veterans Day of 1961, on this day of remembrance, let us pray in the name of those who have fought in this country's wars, and most especially who have fought in the First World War and in the Second World War, that there will be no veterans of any further war -- not because all shall have perished but because all shall have learned to live together in peace.

And to the dead here in this cemetery we say:

They are the race –
they are the race immortal,
Whose beams make broad
the common light of day!
Though Time may dim,
though Death has barred their portal,
These we salute,
which nameless passed away.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Pain Now is Part of the Happiness Then

C.S. Lewis said in his book about his life with his wife who died of cancer, that "the pain now is part of the happiness then." The play caused me to cry off all my make up when I saw it as a young woman on the stage of a theater in London. I knew that it was true - all happiness is tinged with the sure knowledge that when we choose to love someone, we know that we will lose them at some point and we will be in pain.

My sister-in-law, Karen Marie McCarthy Quinn, went from us, from this life, a year ago, September 19, 2010. She was 55 years old. It was not a choice to love her, you just did.

Karen was charming, intelligent, and funny and she contributed richly to all of our lives. She talked about putting her hand into Jesus' hand before she died, just like her mom had told her to, and she lived the last, most difficult portion of her life with grace. Hers was a life to celebrate having been a part of. To have loved her and to have been loved by her was a sweet thing.

The fact that she was so lovely is the very thing that makes this reality so hard. Particularly this month containing both her birthday and the day she died.

And it's stunning to think it's been a year - because it's all so fresh.

We got a call saying that she was gone and headed over to their apartment to spend some time with her before they moved her body to the funeral home. We stood and prayed over her, thanking God for the time we had with her and feeling pretty stunned. It was surreal to have Karen there, but not there. The hospice folks came in and did their jobs, quietly bringing a level of order into the midst of our sadness.

My brother-in-law's family drove down later that night, which made us not so uncomfortable to leave him alone. We went together for dinner to our youngest brother's home and ate. Trying to figure out conversation and still stumbling. We were exhausted and knew that the days ahead wouldn't get better.

At the end of bible study Monday, when we were talking about our prayer needs, the only thing I could think of was to ask for grace over the trip we'll make to Wisconsin in a few weeks to bury Karen's ashes. It will be another hard day.

We'll look back on this from the end of time with understanding, from a place of unimaginable wonder, and most importantly, we'll look back at it together with Karen. Blessedly do not mourn as those without hope. But we do mourn.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trying Something New, Again

A couple of weeks ago, former President Clinton was on CNN talking about his diet - a vegan, low fat one, designed by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr.. Dr. Esselstyn's bottom line is that there are areas of the world where there is little to no heart disease or cancer, which he attributes to diet, saying that heart disease is a food based illness. And as President Clinton has had heart problems that, despite diet and exercise, were not getting better, he looked to this diet that seemed to be the best chance for those in a position of last resort. He's lost 24 pounds and he's doing much better now.

So I got the book out of the library. I've been reading cookbooks for almost all my life, I go through a couple each month (thanks be to the library), and what they all say - in one form or another, is that we need to treat food with respect. Dr. Esselstyn would say we can treat it as life or as a pathway to an early death.

Given a history of heart related health issues in my family, I decided to give this diet a try - with some tweaks. His idea is no fat, no avocados or nuts if you have any heart disease. Forget the EVOO, butter, and cream that I love. Dairy products are out, almond milk is in.

Like so many things in life, diet is an act of will. You have to tell yourself to look at things differently:

Mayonnaise = glue
Milk = baby cow food, not grown up people food
Red meat = something that will make me too full
Turkey = didn't like it anyway, not an issue
Cheese = not doing so well with that one yet, working on it

The diet says no fish, but I'm not listening to that part, as sushi is on my diet. Period.

I am focusing on what I can eat. Whole grain breads, pastas, all the veggies I want. Fruit - three helpings a day - easy peasy.

What really helps is to say that it's not that I am never going to eat these things again. Sometimes, I will have a steak. If I'm eating at someone's home, I'll eat what they serve and be thankful, because this isn't an allergy thing.

So far, so good. I'm down about eight pounds and feel much better. I still have a long way to go, as the words "well rounded" don't just describe my reading list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Living Faithfully A Hidden Life

When I was a child, I wanted to be the Queen of England. I lived there and knew that she was important and in charge. When we returned to the States, my goal changed to being President of the United States, because he was the important person in charge.

It was my goal to be in charge. Not because I wanted a bunch of people serving my every whim (although if I'd thought about it much, I'd have liked that part), but rather because I figured no one could make someone in charge eat lima beans or meat with fat on it And there'd definitely be no bed time for me. I could read for as long as I wanted.

I was too little to know that I'd have to have married Prince Charles to achieve the former, or run for office to achieve the latter. And now that I'm an adult, neither is an appealing thought. Further, I can cut the fat off of any meat I eat and not a single lima bean has passed my lips since I left home 26 years ago.

The fact that my childhood dreams didn't come true is fine, partially because becoming a Christian vastly changed my perspective. I was reading Christianity Today magazine, catching upon back issues today, and in one of the articles there was a quote from Middlemarch, where George Eliot reminds us of what we owe "to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

Years ago, that would have bothered me, but now it doesn't. Now it seems to me to be an admirable goal.

As I waved good-bye a couple of months ago to a lovely woman who's graced my life, and the lives of those in our parish over the last few years, I was struck by how God works through these hidden lives. He sent her to us, enriched our lives, and then moved her along west to grace the lives of folks unmet in Washington.

She brought depth and joy to our bible study on Monday morning. She ran a beautiful VBS for our kids, some of whom didn't know Christ and were meeting Him for the first time. She made a difference, seeding and watering. And she'll continue that work elsewhere and will fade from the memories of some of our littlest ones here, just as the many women who seeded and watered before all of us have faded from the memories of the little ones they've served and then moved on from.

And what matters is not whether anyone knows or doesn't what we've done in our lives, because we'll be forgotten by men (unless, God forbid, we do something truly awful). But we'll have had the joy of being part of the lives of the saints of God. Whether someone visits our graves or not.

And so my adult dream, I suppose, is to live a faithful, hidden life. I want to serve and be served by those I'm with here and now; living, working, and worshiping together.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tell Me The Stories Of Jesus

"Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard."

Yesterday at All Souls, we began a series on Jesus in Adult Education, which promises to be great. The beginning of the series,led by Dr. Alan Jacobs, focused on how God is exactly like Jesus.

At one point, Dr. Jacobs asked people to tell what their favorite thing that Jesus said or did was...that wasn't exactly how he phrased the question, but that was the gist.

I love it when people answer questions like that. It gives me a deeper appreciation for Jesus when people say what they love about Him. As people told the stories they love about Jesus, the woman by the well, for example, I sat and thought - Oh yes! I love that one best - right up until the next person spoke and I thought - Oh yes!

It's something we should do more often.

I thought about it a lot after leaving church, and realized that my current favorite reflects the quality of Jesus that I feel is most needed in my life at the moment.

Over the past few months, one of my dearest friends has had some trouble, and there have been times that I have wanted to rush in and put all 5'3" of me physically between her and the trouble. She would do the same for me, which would be better for me, as she's taller. We have years of bearing each other's burdens and sharing each other's joys, and the old maxim applies - "do what you want to me, but don't even think about touching my friend...."

Thus it is the story of Jesus and Saul, meeting on the road to Damascus, that resonates so strongly right now. The voice of Jesus saying "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And Saul's confusion - "who are you, Lord?" And the response - "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

What is appealing is the ferocious love of Jesus for those who follow Him. Saul wasn't in Jerusalem when Jesus was ministering and never met Him while He was alive on Earth. On the face of it, he wasn't touching Jesus. He was, however, terrorizing those who followed Jesus, to which Jesus took exception. So He smacked him down, and then picked him up, and life was never the same for Saul.

Like with most of what I know about Jesus, it's both comforting and discomfiting, because this ferocious love is directed toward me and others. Therein lies the discomfiting bit: I have to look at my own behavior toward those who also love Jesus.

I need Him to bind my tongue (or keyboard) when need be, because persecution takes many forms, and I don't want to be one who persecutes followers of Jesus. Additionally, if I want to be like Jesus, and if I am to have that ferocious love for others, it will spring from a tender love that will push me out of my comfort zone, not just for those I like, but for those Jesus loves. Heaven only knows where that will lead, but I'm sure that "Ann's Comfort Zone" won't be on the signage.

But it's still my favorite story, because I love the demonstration of His protection and love.

Continuing the words of the inimitable Fanny Crosby on telling the stories of Jesus:

"Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see.
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Value of a Political Promise

Last month was my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. In their honor, my brother and I invited their siblings, nieces and nephews in for a party this last weekend. We ended up with a couple dozen folks making the trek from both coasts to Illinois.

The way my brother and I approach planning is to lay out a plan and then mentally walk through it and figure out what can go wrong. We then plan contingencies for as much as we can.

On our possible problem list: having to pay for rooms that folks booked but didn't use, getting treatment for anyone who got sick while they were there, and whether the weather would cooperate with those who wanted to golf, which it didn't because between spectacular lightening storms, it was muggy and gross. But really none of those concerns were on the top of our worry list.

That spot was reserved for politics and the "discussion" thereof.

The larger portion of my family are liberal Democrat, say 90%. In much smaller proportion, are the conservative Republicans, say 8%. There are a couple of Independents thrown in for good measure.

Typically the siblings call each other, argue politics, and then hang up on each other once everyone's good and offended. The difficulty here was that they'd be in the same hotel and you can't hang up on someone in person.

So we assigned our oldest to walk around with the most vocal of the Republicans, being young and, in his words, "malleable." It was a divide and distract strategy. I spoke to the most vocal of the bunch (there were several) and told them no politics.

My one aunt (a Democrat) said she wouldn't talk politics, and one of my uncles (a Republican) not only said he wouldn't talk politics, but said he wouldn't talk religion, either. But those were political promises, and here's how they turned out...

My brother picked my aunt up at the airport Friday and she made it a grand total of six, count them, six, minutes before she asked his political affiliation. My uncle waited for a total of ten minutes after assuring me, in person with a straight face, that he knew what not to talk about, before he began talking politics. Ten minutes - 600 seconds of restraint.

Blessedly, what I had not planned on in my list of worries and contingencies was that everyone is unhappy with them all. How great is that - something to he thankful for in this mess!

When I tried to settle things by saying that they're all at fault - a statement that is usually true but most folks want to blame only one party - there was actually agreement. When I pointed out that we've been raising the debt ceiling continuously since the mid 70s, with both Republican and Democrat congresses and presidents, there was agreement.

At the formal dinner on Saturday evening, we had a conversation at our table that included both religion and politics, and no one used their steak knives for anything other than their steaks.

Who'd'a thunk it? The fact that no one is happy with the Congress and/or the President was actually good for something.

All kidding aside, I'm attributing how well the whole thing went to the prayers of my friends and the ladies of the Monday Morning Bible Study, because the fact that no one ended up storming from the room or going to the hospital was a miracle of God. Which is what it'll take to solve the debt ceiling issue.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Muffins Like Cake

Rick Warren just tweeted that he doesn't blog, because when you do, it tempts you to think that everything you say is important.

This is not an important post. If you're looking for profundity, look elsewhere, because sometimes a post about muffins is just a post about muffins.

Which means it's important to me and to those who might eat a muffin that I've made, so that's four people, tops. I did, however, figure out how to post a picture to the blog, so that makes it, yeah, still just important to me.

Anyway, about the muffins. I keep making blueberry muffins using muffin recipes, over and over, searching for one I like. And after multiple, unsatisfying, batches (all of which seem to disappear anyway), it struck me this morning that what I want holding my blueberries together is a cupcake-like muffin, not a muffin-like muffin.

So I'm off to the recipe books to come up with a blueberry cake-muffin. One strong enough to hold the blueberries up like a muffin does, without being an actual muffin. My cousin Marsha used to make a cake that was a mix of Jiffy Cake Mix and Jiffy Corn Bread Muffin Mix. That was about the right texture. So I know what I'm after, it will just take more trying. Fortunately my boy's home, so I'm not worried about having to eat all of my mistakes.

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6, 1944

This was posted over Memorial Day by a virtual friend, as my husband calls the folks I know in the Anglican world that I haven't met (yet). I loved the language and the depth of emotion involved. It resounds so powerfully, sixty-seven years later. When I grow up, I'd like to write as well as whoever wrote this for President Roosevelt.

“My Fellow Americans:

“Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

“And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

“They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

“They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

“For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

“And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

“Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

“Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

“And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

“And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

“With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

“Thy will be done, Almighty God.


Friday, June 3, 2011

And Can It Be, That I Should Gain

Now and again I post a hymn here. I get overwhelmed with the words and need to say something about it. Mostly this happens whenever I hear something by Wesley and I get caught in a fit of nostalgia and gratitude.

I grew up in the Methodist Church. It was our touchstone and home no matter where we went or how often we moved. Which was a lot.

Every two to four years, the boxes would come out, a huge van would pull up and pull away with our stuff. My first swat on the rear end ever came during moving time when my dad caught me busily unpacking the boxes he'd just finished packing. I was little, in my defense, and probably thought it was funny. Hindsight being 20/20, I now know that it was not.

Anyway, we'd move and, no matter what time we'd finished unloading the Saturday night before, we'd be in church in our church clothes (suits for the boys, dresses for the girls)Sunday morning. Our church clothes never went into the moving van, they came along in the car with us, the dog, and the china and silver.

Dad would stand up during announcements, introduce us all, and we were in. Dad onto finance, Mom into children's education somehow, and choir. Me into choir. I don't remember if my brother did choir. In the world of Methodism, there were lots of choirs. If you're into that stuff, and we were, the Methodist church is the place to be.

I'm no longer Methodist, having found Anglicanism in a compromise move between Catholicism and Methodism. And I love it and haven't pined for what I left in a long time.

A couple of weeks ago we were back into the Methodist church for my niece's confirmation. I was excited to go back, as I'd loved the music. But we didn't go to the traditional service, we went to the contemporary one, and I'm not a fan. I do like contemporary Christian music, but I was looking forward to the Methodist hymns.

So earlier today, when someone linked to one on a website I was looking at, I followed the link and watched the folks singing it. They were singing their hearts out and the look on their faces was one of pure joy. The words are old, but the theology makes you want to weep with how sweet it chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Man oh man, did God ever give that Charles Wesley a gift...

1. And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood!
Died He for me? who caused His pain!
For me? who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

2. 'Tis mystery all: th' Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
let angel minds inquire no more.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
let angel minds inquire no more.

3. He left His Father's throne above
(so free, so infinite His grace!),
emptied Himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam's helpless race.
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

5. No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th' eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th' eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner

"They" say that the older you are, the more folks you know who are dying or sick or having trouble. And I am at the point in life, 48 birthdays in, where I and lots of my friends are going through stuff. Not the easy stuff - your kid's getting a "C" in English or can't ride a bike yet. Which isn't easy stuff while you're in it. But it's stuff they grow out of, generally.

The stuff we are going through is the crappy, life-changing kind that means that the way you pictured your life before the stuff hit, yeah, that won't happen. And the reality is that we all go through it, some more publicly than others, and none of us will come out on the other side of it unscathed, for better or for worse. And there are many forms the stuff takes - parents' health going down hill, kids on drugs, girlfriends from hell, spouses who are failing in many forms, job loss, divorce...the list goes on from there, but it gets more and more depressing every time I think about it, so best stop listing.

I don't have solutions, many times, for my friends or for myself. We're wading together through the stuff, holding hands and trying to keep our heads above the muck, because some days it is all you can see.

But in the midst of the muck, I do know one thing, as I listen to them and seek their counsel for myself and my stuff, and it is this: you have to pray. There is nothing else. Pray like there's no tomorrow, which is risky to say given the recent Camping thing about the world ending, and yet not, because it could end tomorrow. Come, Lord Jesus, come. I won't come out of it unmarked, neither will they, but we can come through it marked as Christ's own.

Last week, while cleaning before company came over - or better said, trying to maintain the pretense that my life involves cleaning regularly - I read an article in Christianity Today magazine. I was cleaning, understand, just the kind that looks like reading. The article was about a guy who was dying and as he was, he was singing an old hymn. And the author talked about how she was praying the Jesus prayer - the one that goes: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Over and over again. Her thought being that, when old age robbed her of all else, that would be so deeply imprinted that it would still be there, on her lips.

And in God's providence, I read the article last week. Because this week has been filled with "stuff" dumped in my lap, and the Jesus prayer is what is rising to my lips. I don't know if that's what the author meant for me to read in the article, but what I read was that I should pray this prayer so often that it is what comes out of my soul when my body is not as under my control as it was before.

And that's what I'm trying to do now. Because the stuff is not in my control, my friends'stuff is not in their control, and it's got nothing to do with how we behaved or what we asked for or how we parented or anything. What is in our control is how we deal with it. And my vote is with prayer.

I hope that it is what will rise to my lips as I am dying. I'm very worried that all the opinions I've withheld from people who so badly needed to hear them (all the while being very, very proud of my self control - another thing to ask mercy for)will spill out. And, more worrying is the thought that some of those folks might be around caring for me to hear them.

Which brings me back to asking: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's a Lovely Day in May

I'd thought about titling this post "The Month of May!" after the song from Camelot - loved that musical, saw it when I was 16ish with Richard Burton. But I went back and read the lyrics. This is a post about planning and gardening, not about all the stuff in the song. Made me want to watch the movie, but not name a post after it.

It's May and finally nice enough to be outside. Actually too hot to be out for long, we found this morning. Projects for this week include planning my parent's 50th wedding anniversary and reworking the front garden, which requires ripping out most of my wild geraniums. I am finding the latter to be perfectly therapeutic after spending time doing the former.

I don't know why the flowers are called wild geraniums exactly. I paid for them at the local nursery and brought them home in pots. They have a lovely magenta colored flower and they bloom a lot. They had a name - Cranesbill Geraniums. But people kept admiring my wild geraniums. They have a name, I'd say! They are not wild! But then they ran amok, spreading across the walk up to the house and somehow winding up on the other side of the driveway. I've stopped defending them as "not wild" and am now going after them with a vengeance.

Also on the chopping block are the purple cone flowers. I thought I'd bought short ones. I did not. They are huge, practically a shrub, and are not lovely to look at. They are supposed to add "winter interest" to my garden. I don't know who'd find them interesting, excepting the folks that write up the descriptions in flower catalogs, which are meant to lure you into buying. So caveat emptor - "winter interest" translates to sharp prickly black lumps on the end of long stalks that catch on your clothes as you walk by. I guess that might be interesting to someone. I'm not that someone, and so my spade and I are going to dispatch them posthaste to the great recycling pile in the sky.

In the place of the soon to be gone flowers, I'm planning basil, tarragon, thyme, and rosemary. The list gets longer the hungrier I get. I start thinking of all the things you can cook with herbs, and off I go. I'd also like to plant some peppers and tomatoes, but will likely save those for pots in the back yard. I had cherry tomatoes in front a few years ago, some of which came back from seed the next year, but two years was their limit.

I also need to look up how to prune my grape vines. There's apparently a trick to it, given the type of grapes I have, which I'll also have to look up. I kept the tags, but they are in the "kept tags" pile, and I'm not sure where that pile got cleaned away to. Whatever they are, they can't stay as they are.

This year, I'm planning to actually eat some of the grapes, rather than let the birds get to them before I do. Same applies for the raspberries. The seem to be spreading, which means my family may get a couple. I tend to go out in the morning with the dog, pick some berries while I'm waiting for her, eat them on the way in to the house, and then not bother to tell my family how good they were. I just put on my martyr face and go take out the dog...again. No, no, I say, I'll do it...ha!

So this lovely day in May is for planning: an anniversary, a garden, a pot of sweet tea, and a vacation or two. There's lots more going on all around me, in my church, my family and the extended world. But for today, I'm going enjoy to luxury of going to ground (literally) and doing some thinking. The rest of my life goes so much better when I do that now and again.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

His Mother

In church on Sunday we had a visit from Bishop Alberto Morales, of the Diocese of Quincy, who came and gave a sermon on Mary.

As a Protestant, I was raised not thinking about her much. Not that all Protestants don't think about Mary, but in the churches in which I was raised, she was trotted out at Christmas - gently holding a baby, quietly wrapped in a blue and white shawl. Sometimes we saw her at Easter, just to the side of the cross, looking sad. If we saw her elsewhere it was because Jesus was telling her to go away or that it was not His time yet. If the Roman Catholic Church had gone too far one way by deifying her, we were certainly going to provide balance and go too far the other way.

Now as I've grown during Bible study, and become a mother, I've felt myself wishing to have known more. I've found myself wondering how she might have felt, watching her son up on a cross.

Sunday, Bp. Morales began with Mary's discussion with Gabriel. Which began with a "how" and ended up with a "Let it be unto me"...and he proceeded through to Jesus' testing moment in the Garden of Gethsemane. From His request that, if it were possible to "let this cup pass" His "let it be".... How neatly it was tied together, how Mary had influenced Jesus. Years of being taught to discount her, as if she'd never existed, are being quietly questioned, assumptions are being shaken and often laid aside.

For years I've struggled with how some people prefer Mary over Jesus. How she's related to by both men and women, and why people would pray to her. A parent of one of my friends told me once that he prayed to Mary instead of Jesus. Didn't want to bother "the Big Guy," and he liked Mary better. I still don't understand how one could see her as being co-equal, but I'm getting how and why people love her so much.

Because if you love Jesus, his mother has to be a part of that. And you can't put aside the one who held and loved him as a baby, who watched and remembered, and who stood, unable to save him, as he died. You can't put aside her influence on His humanity - anymore than you can refrain from chuckling when you hear something you've said come out of your kid's mouth. That's when it really strikes you - the influence, for better or worse, that we have on our children is immense. And her's wasn't less so. Not if Jesus was fully human. It couldn't have been.

I know there are a lot of books written about Mary. I'm not sure I'm interested in those. I'm focused right now on reading the gospels and seeing Mary through the single lens of Scripture.

What I found lovely about Sunday's sermon, apart from the sermon itself, was the timing. As I've been delving into the gospel of John, I've been coming to terms (an ongoing thing, I'm afraid) with the humanity of Jesus. I find myself quick to look at Him as God, rather than as man. Looking at His mother, thinking about the influence she'd have had on Him, and seeing the parallels between her conversation with Gabriel and His with His Father, well, very cool week for the brain.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wishing I'd Met Avis DeVoto

The other day I read something that is so perfectly reflective of where I'm at that I couldn't wait to share it. So I wrote up a post and then looked at the front of the book, which had, as most books do, a little warning about reproducing without permission. Dagnabit. Partially because I'd already written it up and partially because there's no way I'll be able to summarize what they wrote in a way that comes even close to how wonderfully well they wrote what they did.

I got the book As Always, Julia The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto Food Friendship & the Making of a Masterpiece because I love to cook and have been using Julia's cookbooks forever. Their correspondence began when Julia wrote a response to an article Avis' husband wrote on American knives. Julia sent him a French knife and Avis, handling her husband's correspondence, wrote back. They ended up writing for years and their letters covered politics (McCarthy era), publishing, cooking, travel, families - everything. That initial letter lead to the eventual publishing of Mastering The Art of French Cooking.

They have a lot in common: both women are Democrats; both are very political; and both love food. They are, to use their terms, egghead intellectuals. Avis is 48 and Julia 40 when their letters begin. And the two women forge a lasting friendship on the chance writing of a letter.

While I've found the food discussion interesting, it is Avis, rather than Julia, who truly fascinates me. She has two sons, one of whom's still at home during the correspondence, and one of whom is returning from military service in need of help. He has what sounds like autism to my only partially educated ear. Her description of their life with him is honest, loving and despairing, and very human. She is like an amalgam of many of my friends, and yet enough unlike them as to make me want to know her, specifically. She is a wife, mother, editor, writer, encourager, helpmate, friend and, later, widow.

Mid-way through the book there's a section where Julia's busy pigeon-holing people into groups. She's got groups she dislikes, one of which she labels UMB - Upper Middle Brow, most of whom are Republicans and reside in the mid-western and western states. She describes them as basically nice, but, given their lack of intellectualism and achievements, a waste of human material. She's being flippant and not a little derisive, and Avis calls her on it, telling her that she's being too quick to categorize people and that these Republicans are apt to occasionally have answers that are better than those of the eggheads. Avis goes on to say that she's continually surprised by good things about these people...and that some of the intellectuals that she knows can be the "awfullest fools."

Avis then shares with Julia her take on a family she knows who publicly present a wonderful face, but who are dealing in private with something that turns them into a "mass of well-concealed panic." She tells Julia that she admired this family, thinking it ideal, until she really knew their story. And that the complexity of people caused her to love them, turning her "to mush."

I love Avis' response. Because the older I get, the truer her response rings. In terms of understanding and sometimes being awed by the complexity of humanity, Avis DeVoto nails it.

Avis died in 1989. And I was pretty sad to read that part, as I'd like to have known her. She'd not make a comfortable friend, but you'd be a better person because of her friendship. Julia Child certainly was.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Baguettes Are Tricky Little Suckers

Over the end of last week, I made bread for a baby shower. Three of the loaves, two baguettes and one boule, were from a recipe out of Artisan Breads Across America, called Acme's Rustic Baguette.

I've been making breads from a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I love - fast and easy and delicious. And they have a fabulous Gluten Free Loaf in their second book that's probably the best gluten free bread I've ever eaten, ever. But this kind of bread - not made in five minutes, but rather in about 20 hours - is a whole 'nother level of tasty.

I began baking on Thursday by making what they called a Scrap Dough and a Poolish. Combinations of tiny amounts of yeast, flour, and water that you add into the main dough the next day. The poolish sits out on your counter top and gets bubbly by the next morning, the scrap dough rises a bit and then comes out of the fridge, ready to be added, bit by bit, into the dough as you're putting it together.

What I love about the book, apart from their lengthy discussion on growing wheat, is that they give you a recipe synopsis, which lays out the recipe for you. So you know, as you're entering into the adventure, that the ride will last about 20 hours. Most of that time, you're sitting around (or in the case of the poolish - sleeping overnight) waiting for the timer to go off and let you play with the dough again.

Initially, the dough was much stickier than the wet doughs I usually work with, but by the time I'd folded it for the third time, it was getting a little more manageable. Once all the fermenting, turning, proofing and shaping was done, I had two baguettes and a boule.

Lessons learned? Baguettes are tricky little suckers. They look like you'd just roll out a tube of dough and go with it, but nope. Taking care not to pop any of the bubbles in the dough, you make a rectangle (harder than it sounds) fold it like an envelope, then fold it a couple more times, and then start rolling. You're not allowed to touch it a bunch, but you are to touch it with purpose. I liked that.

I don't have the shaping of those quite right yet, but I'm undaunted because the taste of the bread was great. Didn't matter what the shape was, and my boule was slightly 'underdeveloped,' it was still great. And they tell you that. No matter what you make, it will taste great.

What was really fun was taking pictures and sending them to a bread baking friend of mine who introduced me to the book and, prior to that, the bread. He analyzed my bread based on the pictures, so I have an idea of how to fix some stuff. And I went back over the book, looking at my finished product, and saw what he was talking about. I love the generosity of the cooks and bakers I know who share their time and talent. It's a great community to be part of.

Now I have a couple of loaves of bread in my freezer, part of one in the fridge, and lots of cheese to pop onto a slice of it whenever I want. The abundance of riches reminds me of the adage about how teaching a man to fish lets him eat for a lifetime. Forty years ago, my mom started making bread and made me learn how. Forty years later, up to my elbows in flour, kitchen looking like something exploded in it, I'm still getting to learn..and eat! I am a happy child.