Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why Doesn't This Surprise Me?

I Am Ernie
Playful and childlike, you are everyone's favorite friend - even if your goofy antics get annoying at times.
You are usually feeling: Amused - you are very easily entertained
You are famous for: Always making people smile. From your silly songs to your wild pranks, you keep things fun.
How you life your life: With ease. Life is only difficult when your friends won't play with you!

Luke 9 Interpreted a New Way



The first week that I was at Chautauqua, one morning I went to hear Joan Brown Campbell preach. I'd seen her lead worship once before and something told me she would be a good preacher. I wasn't disappointed. This is the text she used:

. . . .

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.
. . . .
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
. . . .
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God.


. . . .

I think that everytime I've heard preaching on the Transfiguration, the emphasis was always on (a) the revelation that Jesus is God's son or (b) poor bumbling Peter who just can't get it right. Both very good interpretations.

But wait -- there's more!

Joan's sermon made the point that God did not intend for us to take our God-given gifts and hole up together, enjoying a beautiful view, but rather to use them to serve the poor.

. . . .

I've thought and thought about that sermon. It was very, very good. Here are my reflections:
  • First of all, it made me think about when I was a teenager and went to Bible Camp. Everyone loved it there so much; we wanted to stay there and not come home. There was talk -- among the teens, not the adults -- of establishing a college there so we could spend more time there. As Lynn mentioned the other night, that "stand around the campfire singing Kumbya feeling is very powerful." I remember. As kids we dreamed of fleeing the "real world" and making the camp the real world. We imagined that it could be done.
  • Then I thought about how easily I'm able to relax, reflect, and renew when at Chautauqua. The atmosphere there is so amenable to deep thinking, and there are no time restrictions! No telephone, no television, no interruptions at all. I find it easy to focus on what is important, what I really want in my life, even start to plan out steps to make changes upon return.
  • Joan's sermon helped me to understand that this time away, this "mountaintop experience," if you will, comes through God's grace. It is a time, indeed, to reflect, renew and relax. But then it ends. And when it ends, we are called to go back to our real lives and to serve the poor, to heal the sick, cast out demons, and loosen the bonds of injustice.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Spiritual But Not Religious: The Bridge Between Faith and Doubt


The second week at Chautauqua, I enrolled in a class with the title "Spiritual But Not Religious: The Bridge Between Faith and Doubt." I thought it might come close to accurately describing where I spend a great deal of my time, my seminary education notwithstanding.
. . . .
The class met for an hour and a quarter for five days, beginning at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on a day where the high was 102. We met in an underventilated and unairconditioned building, sitting in those strange kinds of chairs with the big writing arms like we had in high school.
. . . .
The first day the teacher brought a chime and a chime striker. From time to time he would strike the chime and we would all listen to the sound until we couldn't hear it any longer. He passed around a shell filled with water and asked us to touch the water, to feel the softness. Then he circulated a rock and asked us to feel the hardness. To experience the hardness, the softness. Hmmmm. Many of the participants said they were taking the class either because they were fed up with organized religion or they didn't want someone else telling them what to believe. He read us some poems. We heard the chime again.
. . . .
The second day it was not quite as hot. We stood up and reached toward Whatever You Conceive, as the teacher struggled to avoid using the word "God." We closed our eyes and visualized scenes. We attempted to return to a place where we had felt safe. He passed around a bent twig. We watched a segment from "The Shawshank Redemption." We intoned "Ommmmm." We heard another poem or two.
. . . .
The third day the weather was better. The monarch butterflies started passing through the campus on their way to Somewhere. I stopped going to class. Decided that -- like it or not -- I happen to be more Religious than Spiritual. And I think I like it better that way.

Chautauqua Impressions: Words


This is a picture of the practice shacks up near the gate, visible from the main highway that passes in front of the Institution. I've always loved the image of them. They are sort of emblematic of the Chautauqua experience -- individual but together.
. . . .
Chautauqua is a place where you very rarely see a piece of litter. You seldom hear anyone use foul language.
. . . .
It is a pedestrian community where people make eye contact, smile, and say good morning. That being said, for us, it has not been a place to make friendships, meet people that we would long to meet again. We sometimes chat with folks at the Amphitheatre, but don't make follow-up plans. This is fine with us.
. . . .
It is very beautiful. The period architecture, the landscaping, the lake, the gardens, the formal buildings that belong to the institution itself. All so easy on the eye. No billboards.
. . . .
The second year that we came to Chautauqua, Roberta asked me, "Doesn't it bother you? Living in a gated community that the poor have no access to?" I offhandedly replied to Roberta that she'd always been nicer than I was and no, it didn't bother me at all.
. . . .
It has come to bother me. This year the presence of wealth is more obvious than in any of the previous years. The new construction of immense, luxurious houses. The closing of the one decent-but-affordable restaurant on campus.
. . . .
I think I saw five African-American Chautauquans. Three Asians. No Hispanics or Latinos. Of course I didn't see everybody.
. . . .
The grounds are huge; they could very easily set aside an area for tent camping so that a more diverse population could attend.
. . . .
Or perhaps they have thought of that idea. And rejected it. Roberta, it bothers me.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rainbow Juxtaposition


Our landlord here at Chautauqua, one of the finest and most well-respected theological minds of the last and current century, had a letter in this morning's edition of "The Chautauquan Daily." A retired professor from the Yale School of Divinity, he is one of those people like Tim Wengert, who somehow makes me feel in the presence of wisdom personified. Usually.
. . . .
Here's what he says, in part, "The issue of homosexuality has its most detailed exposition within the New Testament in Romans, chapter 1, in which Paul gives the theological grounding for its prohibition according to the law of Christ. The Apostle does not single it out as a special, greivious sin, but describes its painful function as an enduring sign testifying to the profound ontological fracture between the Creator and his creation, the alientation between whom is reflected in a willful distortion of the divine intention for humanity (Rom. 1:21-27)."
. . . .
AAARRGH.
. . . .
In contrast, I urge you to visit Andrew's observations on the subject of gay marriage as considered by the Congress earlier this week: http://www.orangeandrew.com/
. . . .
I need to find a rainbow flag. I really do.

Dancing Ladies at Chautauqua!




Chautauqua Impressions: More Pictures

Part of the culture of Chautauqua involves "sit-upons" and hanging nametags. This lady sports both. It is not at all unusual to see two hundred people walking down a brick walk, with nametags dangling and sit-upons in hand. The nametag is one's admission to the Amphitheatre and the sit-upons are essential on those hard Amp benches.





More people with sit-upons. This picture shows the Amphitheatre in the background.



This fountain is in a little public garden close to the lake.


The lake is very large; it supports sailing and swimming and boating and fishing.


These are two views of 29 Scott, our home at Chautauqua for the past two years. We have an apartment on the second floor.



I am very fond of this sign which appears along one of the brick walks.


Only pedestrian traffic is permitted on the brick walks.


This is theHall of Philosophy, home to the afternoon lectures sponsored by the Department of Religion.

Chautauqua Impressions: Pictures

These are two houses we pass when we go almost anywhere.
Supposedly if you click on the picture you'll be able to see the cow better.
Such a pretty house!


This house also is on the path we travel. It is widely photographed. Joe is working on a painting of this house. Stay tuned!

Again, this one is worth clicking to enlarge. Particularly note the beneficiary of this sale!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"The Birds"


I've been having fun helping my friend Frank with his Blog. Most recently I posted my favorite of all of his many poems, "The Birds." He sent it to me years ago, early in our acquaintance, and it is probably my all time favorite poem from anywhere. Even better than a mildly off-color limerick! You can read "The Birds" by clicking this link: http://camploony.blogspot.com/

Monday, July 17, 2006

Visiting Kent


On Sunday we got up early, went out to breakfast, and then took a trip to Kent, Ohio. I hadn't been there in twenty-six years. On the way, I felt this kind of strange nervousness. I knew it would have changed, but I had no idea how.
. . . .
We first went to Kent in August of 1971. Joe had spent the 1966-67 academic year as a student there. This was, of course, during Vietnam, and the draft board was breathing down his neck the whole year. He reported for his physical as soon as the semester was over and was told he'd be drafted immediately. He enlisted in the Navy instead and we got married quickly and spent the next four years enduring the whims of the United States Navy and dreaming and planning of going back to Kent.
. . . .
I found a home there. Had a fun job working for a pair of renegade attorneys, trained to work on the Help Line, did lots of volunteer crisis intervention, started a business typing dissertations for graduate students, and had my first child. We left Kent in the summer of '75 to move to Chicago, returning to Ohio in the summer of '78 and lived two towns over from Kent for two years. The atmosphere of a college town suited me fine. I wasn't as eager as Joe was to move to Philadelphia.
. . . .
So, twenty-six years later, I returned to Kent, land of such fond memories, for the first time. It had changed. Much of downtown was far more bleak than I'd recalled, the seedy areas even seedier. The townhouses where we had lived, once a very classy address, were now obviously student rentals, and the beautiful exterior of the buildings had been covered with vinyl siding. The house which was Tom's first home was much the same, but the house nextdoor, home of our former landlords, had an overgrown lawn -- that was the first thing we noticed, and we realized that Smitty and his family no longer owned the property: they would never have let it look like that. The lawn and garden shop that they had owned was gone, as well as the rows and rows and rows of greenhouses where we used to walk the dog.
. . . .
The place where we used to have breakfast on Saturday mornings was replaced by a FedEx/Kinko establishment. The coffee shop downtown, of course, was now something else. Yet much was the same or better. Surprisingly, The Hutch, the town petshop, was still in existence. We learned from our friend Guenveur that the crisis center that had been so important to me had moved away from the little house on College Street and now owned a building downtown and had many, many new programs to serve the poor. The free clinic where I used to volunteer is greatly expanded and doing much more than testing college kids for syphillis. Some things were disappointing, others were heartening.
. . . .
The picture at the top of the post is Taylor Hall, the home of the architecture department, where Joe spent most of his waking hours during our years in Kent. We were able to go inside and go up to the studio floor; that was so much the same -- I felt good about that.
. . . .
You may have a vague recollection of Taylor Hall as the site of the Kent State shootings. During the years that we were in Kent there was much talk about permanent memorials. When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw them. We paused at each one and quietly remembered Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer.

Reading at Chautauqua

One of the things I must do on a vacation is read. Here is a report on what I've read so far since we've been at Chautauqua:
. . . .
Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. This was a very good book, snaking back and forth among generations and time, about an unusual family, mostly women. Set in Nova Scotia (and a little bit in New York City), the story was captivating. Rating: A.
. . . .
The Way the Crow Flies by the same author. Actually, I read this before we came to Chautauqua. It is also set in Canada and is the story of a military family assigned to a new post; it is told in two voices -- one is the officer who is the head of the household and the other is his grade-school daughter. It goes along in two separate threads until, inevitably, they intersect. My book group will be discussing this book in August. Rating: A+.
. . . .
Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout. I thought that this author's first novel, Amy and Isabelle, was outstanding, so I was delighted to hear that she had a new book out. Abide With Me is the insipid story of a minister's healing from a tragedy. Don't waste your time. Rating: C-.
. . . .
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass. Did you read her first book, Three Junes? If not, please do. It is excellent even if the time-switching is a tad confusing. This newer book, which I'm not yet finished and savoring every chapter, is highly recommended.

Adventures in Wineries

On Saturday afternoon, there wasn't much going on in the way of programming at Chautauqua, and it wasn't a good day for sailing. We'd heard that there were several wineries in the area and decided to do some visiting.
. . . .
The first winery was full of customers, which we took to be a good sign. The name of the winery was that of some of our family, and we liked that, too. They had winestems at the counter and people wearing shirts with the winery's logo behind the counter. We tasted some red, we tasted some white, and we bought a couple of bottles and moved on.
. . . .
The second winery was off the highway, on a road that was lined on both sides with vineyards. It was a pretty ride. The building for the winery was bigger than the first one; it was spacious, immaculate, and obviously brand new. There were not may people there, and we were greeted by the owner's wife. She told us that this was their fifteenth day of operation! We sampled her wines in generous sized disposable plastic glasses, and found them to be a little bit too sweet for our taste; there was a Riesling that we pronounced good, and we bought a bottle of that. The proprietress told us that before they had opened, they had invited their friends in to taste samples, and the friends all advised them to make sweet wines. She said that next year they were going to make some dry varieties. We wished her well.
. . . .
We pressed on (you should pardon the pun) to the third place. This one had a German name and was very far off the beaten path, and the road was not pretty, and there were no grapes growing. At last we arrived at our destination and it appeared to be an old house. Despite misgivings, we went in. There was no one to be seen. There was a counter with a dozen open bottles and a big sign: "I'm Upstairs. Shout!" I thought we should leave but before the words were out of my mouth, Joe had called out, "Hello!" We could hear someone talking upstairs; it seemed as though he was talking on the phone. He hollered back down that we should wait and "someone" would be right with us. So we waited, although at this point both of us wanted to leave.
. . . .
All at once we heard a car roar up and come to a screeching halt. The door flew open and in came a guy in an undershirt, kind of sticky, and with a glass eye that Joe later characterized as "Too big. He needed a size four and he had a size ten." We figured he was the guy that the man upstairs was talking to on the phone. He fixed his good (or better?) eye upon us and said, "Sign the guest book." We declined. He reached for a teensy plastic communion-type cup, poured Joe some of his white, and ignored me. He gave a spiel about his white and then gave Joe some of his other white. Joe didn't look pleased. Joe told him (mistakenly) that he thought I might like to try some red. He fixed the eye on me and poured out some, giving me some sort of a spiel. It was dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. He then poured me his "reserve" red, indicating that this particular wine would go better with lamb. I took a tiny taste. All I could think was, "They gave Him a sponge soaked with vinegar . . . ." I put the glass down and waited. Joe picked it up, obviously missing my silent caution. "I don't think we're going to buy any today," he diplomatically told One Eye, and out we went.
. . . .
Driving up the road towards winery number four, a little longer drive, neither of us said anything until finally Joe inquired, "What the heck was in that stuff?" "Cat piss," I told him confidently. We both laughed and then he launched into a sales pitch,"Try our special yellow tabby! Sample our reserve Persian!" We approached the final winery, vowing that if there were either (a) no cars outside or (b) lots of cats visible, we wouldn't go in. Turned out that neither was the case and the wine was the best we tasted.

Friends in the Chautauqua Area


The first full day that we were at Chautauqua, I spent some time with my seminary classmate Keg, who drove down from Near Buffalo to visit. I hadn't seen Keg in nine years, since her graduation from seminary. She hasn't changed a bit. Still the same vivacious, spirit-filled, opinionated, outspoken woman with the impish grin she has always sported. Despite a chronic health condition that requires periodic tune-ups in hospital and a recent divorce, she remains optimistic and fervently in love with God. We had lunch together at the place to eat at Chautauqua (try a Reuben sandwich at $14.95!!!) and reminisced and gossiped and caught up. After lunch we wandered down to the Amphitheatre to listen to the Washington High School Steel Band. They were amazing. It was awfuly good to see Keg and I hope it isn't another nine years before we connect again.
. . . .
The middle Sunday of our stay at Chautauqua, we took a trip. We drove three hours down to Kent, Ohio (I think I'll write more about Kent in a separate post) to visit some long-time friends. First we stopped at Guenveur's. Her house looked the same as it did the last time I saw it in 1980 just before we moved from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, to Near Philadelphia. Both Joe and I missed the goats that she used to have in her back yard. Guenveur looked somewhat older, but was still the same lively, entertaining woman who really knows how to tell a story.
. . . .
We'd met in the autumn of 1971, just after Joe and I moved to Kent; Guenveur and I were in the same training class for Help Line, the Crisis Intervention Center sponsored by the University. We hit it off immediately, despite an age difference of pretty many years. She was a widowed mother of four; I was a childless person who'd been married just four years. The delight she took in the arrival of Tom, three years later! She stayed with Help Line through many mergers with other organizations for a long, long time and finally retired. Guenveur raised her kids to be their own people. Her trademark reply to "How are you?" always was, "Fair to middlin' -- can't complain." And she never did complain. She's a reader, painter, writer, musician, inveterate student, with one of those wonderful laughs that you just want to hear over and over.
. . . .

Leaving Guenveur's, we headed over to Lloyd and Roberta's. I'd met Roberta at a newcomer's club the first month that we lived in Kent. Turned out we lived in the same apartment complex and both had an interest in the book discussion group. We joined that, introduced our husbands, and the rest became wonderful history. Lloyd, now retired, was the rector of the church that we attended. He has a passion for caring for the poor that somehow our Andrew has inherited. Roberta was a stay-at-home traditional wife at that point, who was obviously gifted to do more than take care of Lloyd and the house. At one point I was juggling three part-time jobs and decided that was one job too many. A few hours of week typing for the Portage County Mental Health and Retardation Board had to go. I called Roberta and asked, "Would you like one of my jobs?" She would. That has been thirty-plus years now, and having acquired some sort of a degree in public policy, she's talking about retiring as Director of the agency after accomplishing so many wonderful things for those who live at the fringes of society in Portage County. Lloyd is still one of the best serious huggers on the face of the earth. Health issues have rendered him far too skinny, which I didn't wait long to point out. My first spiritual mentor, Lloyd made more of a difference in my life than he can imagine.
. . . .
Lloyd and Roberta have made many trips to visit us Near Philadelphia. We took them to Cape May one time, and they became as smitten with the place as we were, and returned several times for long weekends together at The Mainstay. Four years ago, when we were talking about getting together again, Lloyd suggested we spend a few days together at the Chautauqua Institution. We did that for three years. This year he wasn't feeling up to the trek and the crowds so we went down to visit them in Kent. They'd wanted us to see their new home, which is just perfect. Roberta fixed us a delicious dinner and far too soon we had to leave for our three-hour trip "home."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vacationing at Chautauqua Institution, Part Two

Well, of course I have been sewing! Earlier this year I appliqued a dozen primitive calendar blocks. I brought them all along with me and got them latticed and the enormous top is ready to go off to the machine quilter. Here are pictures of a couple of the blocks. At one point when I was making them, I forgot that I'd been using the running stitch recommended by the designer and did one of the blocks using my customary buttonhole stitch. When I realized what I'd done, I consulted with the finest quilting minds I know, and we all decided that I'd do three blocks with the buttonhole stitch and the variation would add to the whole primitive look.
I
have another project ready to tackle next week, a small wall hanging in the works now, and am hand appliquing my Civil War Basket blocks when I sit at the Amphitheatre. If Blogger cooperates, there will be pictures of these next projects, too.

Vacationing at Chautauqua Institution, Part One


This is our fourth year to vacation at The Chautauqua Institution. Our friend Lloyd suggested that we all spend a few days together here back in the spring of '03. I'd never heard of the place. A quick internet spree confirmed my hunch that Lloyd knew a good thing when he found it. Came home that night excited to tell Joe about it and within hours we'd rented a teensy house for a week. This is a picture of a landmark on campus that has become an emblem of the institution. It is called the Miller Bell Tower; it houses a carillon that can be heard several times each day. At some hours the carillonist plays hymns; other times, she plays secular music.
. . . .
We came back for a week the following year, two weeks last year, and two weeks this year. The place is almost impossible to explain to people who haven't experienced Chautauqua. It is kind of like camp for grownups, but so much more than that! This picture shows a typical Chautauqua house. There are all kinds of accommodations, ranging from a room with a double bed and the use of a shared kitchen in one of the denominational houses for not very much money at all, to a private 5-6 bedroom house with parking and a lake view for several thousand dollars per week. There are a few hotels on the grounds, including one very upscale one that includes all meals. It is pretty much a pedestrian community, although bicycles and electric scooters abound. Parking for most people is across the highway from the main Institution grounds. A 45-minute permit to have the car on the grounds is issued for moving in and moving out. The speed limit -- strictly enforced -- is 12 m.p.h. The Institution was built on the four pillars of Education, Religion, Arts, and Recreation.
. . . .
Education. Each morning at 10:45 in the amphitheatre, a noted figure speaks on the theme for the week (this week is about Ethics of Citizenship and next week is Landscape Architecture). Other speakers and seminars and classes are scheduled to complement the theme. The best week was the BioEthics week, and the Being Well, Staying Well week was also superb. The year that we learned about BioEthics, we heard speakers including Art Caplan and the President of Princeton University. This year, during the Ethics of Citizenship, we heard -- among others -- Arthur Sulzburger, publisher of The New York Times, and Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania.
. . . .
In addition to the feature lecture, there are all kinds of classes one can take. Joe took an early morning class on watercolors this week. Here is his finished painting of the Miller Bell Tower (you saw the photo at the top of this post). He'll be taking another watercolor class next week. My class this week had to do with learning the principles for Thinking Ethically. It was very interesting, and the hour allotted each day flew by too quickly. The dozen people in the class were basically Liberals. The day that we discussed gay marriage, I noticed that the one person in the class who had no gray hair at all didn't say a word. On walking home with him after class, I learned that he is a college student here on a scholarship, with a conservative Roman Catholic background. He confessed that he was too intimidated -- both by being so much younger than everyone else and by his obvious minority viewpoint -- to speak up. I felt a little sad about that.
. . . .
Religion. I spoke earlier about the denominational houses that provide inexpensive accommodations. The Sunday morning worship service held in the Amphitheatre (which seats 5000 people) features a well-known preacher -- this week it was Tony Campolo -- and the Amp is usually totally full. The choir is huge and magnificent. Sunday's preacher preaches each weekday at a 9:15 service. The Department of Religion sponsors lectures in the afternoons up at the Hall of Philosophy. One year I heard a dialogue between an Orthodox Rabbi and his Reformed Rabbi daughter.
. . . .
Arts. The arts opportunities are one of our favorite things about coming to Chautauqua. The Chautauqua Symphony usually performs three nights each week. One night we heard the Music Festival Orchestra, composed of high school students and college music students, here on scholarship to learn and perform. Ballet is offered weekly. There are opportunities to attend opera (I went to my first one here last summer with my friend Lloyd) and theatre. There are scholarship classes for ballet students and fine arts students, and exhibits, recitals, and readings occur very, very often.
. . . .
I don't know how many acres the grounds cover. There are numerous performance venues, classrooms, dormitories, practice spaces, a library, a few shops, a few places to eat, and all manner of accommodations from the religious houses where one can rent a room with a double bed and have kitchen facilities for a very low amount per week to glamorous houses that rent for upwards of $3000 per week. Many of the homes are small and old and very, very charming.
. . . .

Recreation. There is something for everyone. Many of the classes that are offered are for types of art or writing. Joe says that the sailing on Chautauqua Lake is about the best he's ever had. There are tennis courts, beaches for swimming, a golf course. There is a book club. The atmosphere in the Amphitheatre, while respectful, is more casual than usual for concerts. It isn't the least bit unusual to see cross-stitchers, knitters, quilters, Sudoko phanatics, crossword puzzlers, all pursuing their interests during the lectures and sometimes during the concerts. Speaking of concerts, there are "popular" attractions, too. One night this week we heard our first bluegrass band. Another night we were delighted to laugh with Mark Russell for a couple of hours. Last night was Mary Wilson and the Motown Sound, which wasn't really to our taste, so we went to the on-campus movie theatre.
. . . .
CI provides relaxation and it also provides renewal. Somehow the brain clears and it is easier to do serious thinking, reflection, in this atmosphere. Of course I've brought my Featherweight along and spent some time each day sewing. Joe brought Windspirit along and sails each day that it is clear. We read The Chautauqua Daily, hawked by young boys on the plaza for fifty cents. We read the books we've brought along. We have no television and little news of the world beyond. All in all, a wonderful vacation.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Meet Papa Loon

I first became acquainted with Frank through some kind of a mistake. Sharon H had sent an email to a group of people, and when Frank received it and wanted to write back to Sharon, he hit "Reply to All" instead of just "Reply." Consequently, I received Frank's reply. I don't remember a lot about that first email, just that it contained a poem that he'd written.
. . . .
Now I need you to know that my taste in poetry is nearly nonexistent. I like "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Alice in Wonderland pretty much and a couple of other classics such as "Barbara Frietchie," "Hiawatha," etc. I'm fascinated by the concept that all of Emily Dickinson's poems can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." And I'm terribly fond of limericks. But beyond that, friends, my taste in poetry is sadly underdeveloped.
. . . .
Then I met Frank. We wrote for a while, and then one wintery day he and his wife Barbara were Near Philadelphia, so I invited them to come and have lunch with Joe and me. We all got along just fine. That was our sole meeting. But surely God had a hand in the forging of this cyber-relationship. Over the years, every now and again, a poem from Frank will show up in my email. Sometimes several months will pass between them; other times they come in flurries -- a couple per week. Nearly all of them are theological reflections. And they are simply wonderful.
. . . .
I just love Frank's poetry. I share it with family, with friends, with pastors, with coworkers. The other day it dawned on me: Frank's poetry could have a much wider audience by a BLOG. So I wrote to my friend, and he enthusiastically replied that he'd like me to get a blog started for him. Tonight I managed to do that. The picture at the top of this post is the same picture at the top of Frank's initial post. I've linked his blog to mine -- please take a look, and if you like his poetry, come back often. I have a big file of his work, and will be posting his pieces one at a time. And eventually, I hope, he'll be posting them himself!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Fourth of July, Near Philadelphia


Here in our little town Near Philadelphia, the Fourth of July is an important holiday and celebrated the whole day long. When our kids were little, we participated in every possible aspect and event. The day would start down at the park, where there was a competition for decorated tricycles and bicycles. There was even a category for baby buggies decorated with red, white, and blue crepe paper. Then the foot races, the peanut scramble, those kinds of things. Free refreshments were given out, but after the trek back home, we'd sit down to lunch.
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Next we'd put on the television -- Jean Shepherd had produced a wonderful filmed version of his "The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters," and it was shown on our PBS channel in the early afternoon on the Fourth. We just loved it, and still quote lines from it. Mrs. Y. Y. Flurch is someone from our personal history as is drum major Duckworth (who never looked back). We honestly believe they are real
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Off next to Penbryn Pool where there were special activities, including an event where coins would be thrown into the medium pool -- the kids could dive for them and keep any they could retrieve
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The parade began around 4 o'clock and usually went on for two hours. Sherry loved to count the fire engines. There were always the motor cycle drill team, a string band, a couple of bagpipe bands, and all kinds of floats and other participants. Following the parade, we'd get cleaned up and head up to Carol's for a picnic. Now that we've moved up close to Carol (and to the fireworks site), WE have the picnic and Carol comes to us
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We had about 20 yesterday. Everyone brought something to share. Joe cooked burgers, dogs, and brats on the grill. Honna's beans were delicious. People ate and laughed and caught up (some of the participants see each other ONLY at this event). Sherry and Sam were in attendance and he was passed around and held by every female present. Carol had brought him a new pacifier -- it has some kind of electronic gizmo in it that flashes red, white and blue! I tried to get a picture, but it didn't show up quite right.
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When we'd visited Virginia a couple of weeks ago, Joe bought a supply of the ground-type fireworks. He was itching to get out there with them, so after dinner he rounded up the only little girl present (Juliette, age 9, I think), and the two of them had a blast. Literally. We dragged our chairs outside to enjoy this year's offering by the local patriotic association. They (the fireworks, not the patriots!) are set off just about two blocks from where we live and we are fortunate to not have to get in all of the crowds and traffic to see them. We just sit out on our own front lawn.
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Carol's husband Bill is a mover and a shaker with the patriotic association. He recruits the units for the parade, makes sure everything is happening on time, arranges for the fireworks, and even does the speaking before the fireworks. He's the most Independence Day person I know. I asked him once if he had been born on the Fourth of July. He said he hadn't. But I think he's mistaken.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Cheesesteak Embarrassment, in Philadelphia


The cheesesteak sandwich is the quintessential Philadelphia food. As a regional specialty, it is right up there with NOLA's muffeletta, with New York's cheesecake. When natives move away from Philadelphia, everytime they come home, they have to have a cheesesteak. The delicacy originated decades ago, in South Philadelphia, at a place called Pat's. Across the street is Pat's chief competitor, Geno's. You don't have to go to Pat's or Geno's to have a good cheesesteak. There are plenty of good places in the greater Philadelphia area. The thing is, you don't want to go too far out.
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A cheesesteak starts with a roll which must be just right, not too hard and not to soft, with just the right degree of crispness on the outside. The beef is sliced paper thin and cooked on the grill. You order your sandwich "wit" or "wit-out." Onions, that is. The onions are fried on the grill. You can get some mushrooms fried on the grill, too, if you like. I like. Traditionally the cheese is Cheese Whiz, but some places use Provolone or even American cheese. Usually you douse it with some ketchup.
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One time Tom and Chris were in South Philly and decided to get one from Pat's and one from Geno's and see which was the better. I don't remember the outcome; I just remember the complaints about indigestion. Mostly we get our cheesesteaks at Lee's Hoagie House in Abington. Rizzo's has a decent cheesesteak, too. Joe likes a place over near Manayunk, but I think that's kind of out of the way. I remember a period in the 80s when we made them at home.
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Recently, Geno's posted a sign which was perceived as inhospitable to non-Americans, particularly Mexicans. The sign said something like "This is America. Speak English." I was appalled. For the first time ever I wasn't proud of being from Near Philadelphia. I thought that it was particularly appalling that this sign should show up in the "City of Brotherly Love." I remembered our trip to Italy back in 2000 and how patient the restaurant personnel were with our nonexistent Italian, our pointing to the menu, our garbled attempts at pronounciation, and, finally, our English. In fact, as I look back on it, most of the restauranteurs in Italy spoke English. In our country, we don't make much of an effort to learn the languages of our visitors, and yet people from all over visit Philadelphia and manage to get fed. Geno's sign is downright offensive and unwelcoming.
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I wonder, my far flung friends, if I've roused your curiosity about this dish. Want to try one? Wit or wit-out? With some mushrooms or even with some sauteed peppers. Oh, yum. Come to Philly; I'd love to buy you a cheesesteak. But it won't be from Geno's.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Your Kids Can Make You Cry," said Cathy.


The first time I was aware of it was when Tom was very young and swam the width of the pool in order to qualify for being allowed in deep water. He'd been very nervous and not at all confident; I was pretty sure he could do it but had begun to buy into his uncertainty. As I saw him take the last few strokes to touch the wall, my eyes filled up with tears and I got this huge lump in my froat. Talking to Cathy about it later on, she remarked, "Oh, yes, your kids can make you cry." And she wasn't talking about anger or sadness; she was talking about pride.
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Since that day so long ago there have been many more tears and lumps produced by pride. In the past six months it has happened with all three of them. They didn't know it, I don't think, and perhaps I'm not good enough at telling them when I'm proud.
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It started with Tom. Yes, the one who has been married now for one entire week. He and Anastasia had become engaged in the early part of winter and were planning their wedding. When we visited them at New Year's, they were talking about a small wedding with family and about thirty guests. They were going to talk to reception places and caterers the following week. Tom had a savings account and was planning to use some of it to pay for the wedding reception.
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One Sunday afternoon, the phone rang and it was Tom, sounding very serious. "Mom," he said. "I have to talk to you about the wedding." He went on to say that their investigation of wedding costs had revealed a situation where the cost -- for even the modest affair they were planning -- was formidable. "I can't spend my entire savings on just one day, Mom. Anastasia understands, and she agrees." The maturity of his decision filled me with that same swim-across-the-pool pride. I had a hard time answering him because of the lump in my throat. They ended up having a small and intimate wedding, and it was just perfect. And much of Tom's savings is intact.
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Then came Sherry, who has done it so many times during these past four months. When I went to the hospital on that first day to meet Sam, I could hardly see him because of the tears filling my eyes. "Don't you want to hold him?" asked Chris. And I guess they were both perplexed by how long it took for me to answer. Of course I wanted to hold him, but I needed to see him first. And when Sherry told of her birthing experience and how strong she had been, I was so proud of her for doing something I never quite pulled off. Watching her grow as a mother and seeing her patience with her little boy has filled me with pride on a regular basis.
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The Andrew piece is a little different. Because the things he has been doing are far less visible than weddings and babies. But his activities have such broad implications! He works as an aide to a U.S. Congresswoman (a liberal Democrat, needless to say), and recently has been involved in formulating policies which will help those who live at the margins of our society.
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Back in December he told us about some legislation he had written that would add another layer of protection to women living is shelters where they had gone to flee their abusive partners. The way the system had been set up, it would have been relatively easy for the abusers to track the women down, simply by having someone examine the records of the shelter. Andrew's plan forged a way for the women to be at the shelter anonymously, and for the shelter to still be eligible to receive federal support.
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The Op-Ed piece that Andrew penned for his Congresswoman's home state implores her fellow legislators to raise the minimum wage -- for the first time in nine years -- and requiring full disclosure by top executives, thus attempting to reduce the disparity in pay between top and bottom earners.
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Finally, Andrew was a co-author of a piece of recently passed legislation, which would increase the limited number of opportunities that low-income families receiving Section 8 tenant-based vouchers have to increase their credit rating. The amendment to H.R. 5443, the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act, would give Public Housing Authorities the option of reporting a tenant's timely rent payments, upon request, to the credit reporting agencies in order to boost the tenant's credit rating and therefore increase likelihood of qualifying for future home ownership.
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This is important and far-reaching work that Andrew is quietly doing in the background, bit by bit, trying to make life better for those who struggle with issues that I can't begin to imagine.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Good Cat, Laid to Rest


Phoebe came to us in the autumn, about twelve years ago. Tom was entering his senior year in college and had a broken heart. He needed someone who would love him unconditionally. When we went to the SPCA to look for a kitten, he went directly to the worst-looking, most unkempt animal in the place. Her fur was matted beyond detangling, she had many sores, her eyes were goopy and she looked totally miserable. She'd been brought in as a stray and obviously was unaccustomed to life on the streets. I would point to a sleek, black male with green eyes, or a marmalade color cat like Mac and suggest that kitty. Repeatedly, Tom would shake his head "no," and tell me, "I want THAT cat." He must have been looking for a cat that reflected his own emotional state.
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After signing the adoption papers, we learned that we couldn't just take Phoebe with us, but rather she had to stay and be spayed. Tom was leaving for Manhattan the next morning, so I agreed to pick Phoebe up after her surgery and deliver her to his apartment the next weekend. When I went to retrieve her, she didn't look like the same cat! She'd been cleaned up, and most of her matted fur was gone. Her body had been shaved very close, leaving a fluffy mane around her head and a poof at the end of her tail. She looked like a very peculiar miniature grey lion. This picture is not Phoebe, but shows what a lion cut looks like.
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Phoebe was a wonderful companion to Tom for a couple of years. Eventually, after a series of roommates who were not crazy about cats and an expanded travel schedule, Tom believed that Phoebe would be better off living with us. We welcomed her into our home and enjoyed her quite a bit. She loved to be brushed, she liked to chase a light pointer, and was adept at stopping a rolling coin instantaneously (Tom always said she'd perfected this move on roaches in the apartment!). She had a sweet disposition, liked to sleep with us, and was remarkably tolerant of other animals.
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We had Mac when Phoebe came, and she thought he was just fine, though the feeling wasn't mutual. We also had a cocker spaniel, Molly, at that point, and Phoebe wasn't the least bit bothered by her. Over time, Phoebe became accustomed to two other cats who lived with us, Jack and Bodacious. When Andrew and Amy would come with their energetic dog Zoe, Phoebe appeared utterly indifferent, confusing Zoe no end. This picture shows her with Bo.
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Sweet to the very end, Phoebe began to fail over the past few months. She began having embarrassing elimination accidents, had difficulty with the stairs at times, and seemed to not be eating much. She lost weight and her hearing, and asked for milk more and more often. Solid food didn't stay down well. Tom, who had moved to Richmond to be with Anastasia and her two cats, dreamed of being able to bring Phoebe to live with them. This wasn't to be; a few days after his wedding, it became clear that Phoebe was sick and uncomfortable, and she was put to rest.
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Phoebe was a good cat who brought a smile to the faces of all who met her.