Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cultivating Joy

There are plusses and minuses to late Easters. On the plus side, it’s bound to be warmer, robins (and bunnies of course) are hopping around, and flowers are in bloom. A negative is that Lent is also late, which means evenings are lighter, and attendance at Wednesday evening services at church drops precipitously (hard to get excited about soup suppers when temps are in the 70s). But on the whole, I prefer to wait for my Easter.

You know the saying “life is short, eat dessert first?” Well, short as I realize life is, I’m still in favor of extending the enjoyment of a good meal, with the slice of cake or pie coming at the end, where it belongs. I am in the camp of preferring evening holiday dinners. I recall early afternoon pig-outs (turkey-outs?) at my in-laws’, where everyone slumped in chairs watching TV, nearly comatose, afterwards, only to face Round #2 of leftovers in sandwich form come nightfall. Then came the real food comas. Far better, I think, to spend the bulk of the day hungrily anticipating the feast to come!

Steve and I were married almost eight years before our kids began arriving. On the plus side, we had a long time to focus on each other and our relationship before becoming parents. A negative is that now, when I’m 60, my grown children are only just beginning to produce my grandchildren, and the odds are I won’t live to see all of them grow up. But on the whole, I’m glad we waited to start our family.

Thanks to Lynn and "Cultivating Joy"

 As I write this, Easter dinner is underway (but won’t be served until 6 PM). On my dining table are two absolutely gorgeous bouquets of fresh cut daffodils, tulips, viburnum, and other delicate blossoms. This bounty comes from my dear friend Lynn, whose floral business is called “Cultivating Joy.” It is such a fitting name, as both Lynn and her flowers bring joy to me and so many others. The thing about cultivation, though, is that there’s a waiting period between planting and blooming (sometimes a long one). For flowers, and for joy as well, there is a need for patience. Long as the days, weeks, months, even years may seem, a happy outcome is always worth the wait.

I look back on the attenuated and winding career path that brought me from the theater, through fulltime motherhood, and on to my church work and my writing life. Would it have meant as much had I skipped over the tough stuff, the missteps and mistakes? Tempting as it is to wish those away, in retrospect I needed those experiences to fully appreciate what I have now.

And so, this Easter, I am reaping joy that has been cultivated for a long, long time. Aiden and Peter are loving their “Easter Bunny” treats, and I am adoring them, my precious grandbabies. I wish for you amazing joy, however long and far you may have traveled to reach today.


Joy #1

Joy #2

Friday, March 31, 2017

In the Soup

I just read a lovely article written by a woman from Pakistan who now lives in the U.S.  She was raised Sindhi Hindu, and wrote about her faith, and the traditional food that was so important to her. She focused on a sweet rice dish called tahri, rich with the flavors of cardamom, saffron and fennel seed. Cooking tahri has been a way for her to celebrate her culture, and keep memory alive. 

I’m often frustrated by my blah culinary heritage. What is the point of writing about Swanson's TV dinners, my childhood suppertime staple? To say the Salisbury steak tasted OK as long as there weren’t ice crystals? Now THERE's a delightful reminiscence! Thoroughly Irish as we were, we never once ate Irish stew or even cabbage. Steve had a different background (German), but even he was limited to German potato salad and springerle Christmas cookies. 

So I am entranced by Foods of the World. And I hit the jackpot (or rather, soup pot) when I learned about fanesca. Fanesca is a time-consuming, labor intensive soup that is hugely important in Ecuador, especially during Lent. Families make fanesca together, prepping the multitude of ingredients over several days. As it just happens to be Lent, when our church offers weekly potluck soup suppers, I hatched my ambitious plan. We would make fanesca!! It would be a festive family affair!!

My fanesca! With traditional toppings (red peppers and fried plantains)! Whew!!

The more I learned about this soup, the more intrigued I became. Legend has it that the early Christians met in secret, each bringing a different ingredient for this communal dish. There’s religious symbolism attached to the various items in fanesca too. Salt cod, the fish a symbol of Jesus. Twelve different veggies and grains for the twelve apostles, including corn, rice, leeks, roasted garlic. lupini, peanuts. Everything is cooked in milk. 

As I brought my haul home from several markets, I began to feel a bit daunted. My happy family plan was going bust, because everyone is too busy right now to pitch in (both Sheridan and Ya-Jhu work at churches and, as noted, it IS Lent). Wednesday morning, I left a note on the dining room table next to a big bowl filled with dried fava beans that had soaked overnight and needed to be individually peeled: "Can someone please do me a 'fava' and peel the beans while I'm at work?" Evan came to the rescue and peeled a pound of beans (and they don't peel easily). 

The fruits (beans) of Evan's labor

Final cooking took three hours. Wednesday night I brought the finished product down to church, where it handily served 13 people with leftovers. The verdict? It really was delicious. Worth the work? Not sure. But it was a fun challenge.

Food is far, far more than fuel…it is a window on the way we live our lives. Nowadays, when so many seem to be circling the wagons, let’s instead share a pot of soup, and some love, with our brothers and sisters of ALL nations,  on this planet we all call home.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fabulous 40

 March 19, 1977: No #1 Song: “Evergreen” with Barbra Streisand (from A Star is Born). The final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired. Once again, the swallows flew back to Capistrano on the Feast of St. Joseph.

And oh yeah. We got married.

Yup. Us

 Looking back, I realize I was just a baby: 20. We’d been engaged three years. It seemed like we’d been a couple forever, the wedding itself a logical punctuation mark (!?) in the Story of Us. It was a small, but lovely, ceremony. We took off for NYC and our short honeymoon that afternoon. I am amazed at the details I recall (that last episode of The MTM Show? We pulled off the highway for the night just to watch it. Priorities!) In a few days, we saw three Broadway shows, ate several splurge dinners, and arrived home on gas fumes. And the future stretched endlessly before us.

1997. We observed our 20th anniversary with four days on Nantucket Island. We had no business going anywhere at that point. Our theatre company was struggling and we were too. Common sense tells you that when you have to track the grocery money to the dollar every week, it may not be prime time for a long-distance fling (not to mention leaving your five young kids, watched by saintly sister C). But 20 is 20, after all, and the future still stretched before us, though maybe not so endlessly.

March 19, 2017. 40 years today since that young couple joined hands on an altar in Atlanta. World events too depressing to recount, though the #1 Song is “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran, which gives me hope. Meaning, I hope I figure out who the heck Ed Sheeran is. I take inventory: Five grown kids. Two incredible grandsons. Our theatre company has not only survived, but (kinda) thrived. I’ve spread my tentative wings to become a Lutheran spiritual formation director and a freelance writer. Who knew, the morning we said, “I do”, exactly what we WOULD do? The future stretches before us still, but we see the end of the runway, and it’s an unsettling feeling.

Will we make it to March 19, 2037? What will the world be like then? Impossible to imagine, and at that point our future will no doubt stretch before us only day by day. But I have this constant, as I have had for the past 40 years: my partner, my husband, my very best friend, Steve. Whatever the future holds, I pray it holds us together still.

So here we are. Tonight, March 19, 2017, we are going out to dinner, at a little spot in suburban Philadelphia. We aren’t counting the dollars quite as closely as we once did, but it’s still nice that it’s a BYOB. On this almost-spring Sunday evening, may we cherish the years, months, weeks, days, and hours ahead. And may we celebrate this longest (so far) and happiest of anniversaries. I love you, honey.

Us, Today