Just Show Up

Thirteen years ago I began working with a man who in his earlier life was, like Patrick Swayze, a ballet dancer from Texas. By the time I met him, he had made the transition to another form of performance, another way to give the public an outstanding experience that they spend good money for. If you doubt that being a food and beverage director requires a great deal of grace, dramatic flair, improvisation, reading your audience, and endless, creative accommodation of individual whims, you haven’t tried to be successful at this. Nor have you met the master of all such abilities.

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Scott Meynig had no qualms about saying that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tasted like cat pee. (How he knew what cat pee tastes like is a question I have no answer for.) Richard Hewitt, sommelier at the time, remembers the wine-tasting occasion when the wine/pee comparison was made. He also relates this story:

When Scott was running the banquet department I loved to throw him ‘ringers’ that would challenge him.

Scott: ‘Did you really promise the bride that the groom could ride in on a white horse dressed in armor’?

I would just reply that I was trying to up-sell the event.

Scott: ‘The horse and armor are fine but where are we going to get a lance?’

The 300+ people at Pippin Hill who gathered to celebrate Scott’s life on Tuesday of this week all had their own special admiration for him. Some remembered how he helped his family with their business, Family Ties & Pies, not only in the kitchen but also at the City Market on Saturday mornings (Charlottesville’s outstanding farmer’s market). Some remembered how he mentored them professionally. Some, his taking the time to listen to their personal bemoanings, followed by his ability to dole out wise advice in fifteen words or less. Some remembered his bottomless well of kindness and wit. Some, his get-the-job-done spirit and unbegrudging willingness to pitch in and move chairs and tables or whatever had to be done to make the event perfect for the guests.

I remember him saying that one of the most important things a person can do is just show up. The rest comes, but you have to be there. As much as one person could, Scott showed up. He never seemed in a hurry, but he got to where it mattered. His presence made the difference countless times to countless people. And everyone knew that if Scott was there, whatever was happening would be better. I never saw anyone take charge in such a quiet way. His teams were unfailingly loyal. Is it any wonder? Who wouldn’t want to get on board with this caliber a leader?

I am honored to have known him, to have worked side by side, to have gathered my own nuggets of gold from his masterful performances. I am so grateful he practiced what he preached, grateful that he just showed up, time and again, during the window of time we had, grateful to have watched him do the next thing with seeming ease, with unshakeable commitment, with spot-on humor. Many will miss him, none more than his amazing family.

May we all have a Scott in our lives.

Something Lighter

I needed to listen to something light the other day because my thoughts had been immersed for too long in serial killers. I go for the crime drama shows and had just finished the last episode of Mindhunter on Netflix – two seasons about the early days (1970s) of the FBI’s “Behavioral Science Unit,” a department that studied patterns and traits of the baddest of the bad to help find and identify others of their ilk. The second season concerns the Atlanta Child Murders of 1979-81. It’s heavy stuff.

Not yet ready for bed after I turned off the TV, I was curious how much of the show was based on fact so I googled Atlanta Child Murders. Seems the writers of Mindhunter got a lot right.

That led to curiosity about the renamed “Behavioral Analysis Unit” founded in 1972 at Quantico by real-life agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas. That led to a piece on the qualifications for being an FBI agent (what does it take to get that job) which I couldn’t/wouldn’t even consider for various reasons, which then led to an article about the most notorious of the serial killers, the Top Ten, the ones that shaped the initial studies and led to criminal profiling that is still used today.

Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper, Jeffrey Dahmer and others – these almost alien men committed crimes that have no words strong enough to describe. Ghastly, shocking, horrifying, evil, wicked, despicable, heinous, demonic, atrocious, monstrous, brutal – all these words seem pale to me when examining the crimes. This is not the kind of stuff you should be reading before going to bed if you want good dreams.

So I finally said to myself, Yeah, something lighter maybe.

A gardening podcast perhaps? My gourds had reminded me that the garden was not a complete failure this year.

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My neighbor Jennifer took some that I offered and had fun with her daughter Anna Lane.

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But I didn’t find a gardening podcast. Instead I stumbled on something called The Slow Home. No, it’s not about the homeowner’s intellectual deficiencies. And it’s not about how fast we move (or don’t) when we are exhausted from shoveling too much concrete that is masquerading as dirt. It’s about purposefully, mindfully adjusting your pace, your home, your life to make room for the stuff that matters to you.

It was a lovely alternative to serial killers, I must say.  And an intriguing topic.

Taking our time, enjoying the moments, not in a hurry – do we do this as much as we should?  Thinking about such things reminded of some of the scenes I like best in some of the children’s books I like best. (These are for you, Mona!)

Such as when Frog and Toad stare at the garden plot together and Frog gently suggests that the garden will grow in its own good time.

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Or when Fern and Avery take turns swinging in the barn door in that famous summer of Charlotte’s Web.

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Or when the boy plays in the bracken with The Velveteen Rabbit.

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Or during One Morning in Maine when Sal and her sister Jane have to wait just a bit longer for their ice cream cones because of “Mr. Ferd Clifford and Mr. Oscar Staples, who were sitting in the store talking about trapping lobsters and how the fish were biting.”

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Or in Blueberries for Sal when Little Sal “picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail…kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!” (Oh, may we take the time to hear the kuplinks and the kuplanks and the kuplunks in our lives!)

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Or when, “early every morning, Francois, the keeper’s son, stopped on his way to school to say, ‘Bonjour, Happy Lion.’”

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Or when Madeleine is not afraid of mice.

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Or when Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel are peacefully settled in the humble cellar of the new town hall and Mrs. McGillicuddy brings a hot apple pie 😊

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I was just reading to Ellie and Nelson last week, so I’ve got these lovely, peaceful images fresh in my mind.

 

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Frog and Toad and Fern and Avery and the Velveteen Rabbit and Sal and Jane and Francois and the Happy Lion and Madeleine and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel make me wonder about “the company we keep.” For years I read these books and many others to my kids, over and over again, and now I read them to my grandchildren when they come visit. The pages are soft from many, many turnings. The images are familiar old friends that warm my heart and gentle my day.

We all have something, I hope, Something Lighter, Something Balanced, Joyful, Peaceful, Delightful for those times when Something Gruesome or Tragic or Angry wants to win the day and snag every part of us and paint the world all wrong. What’s your Something Lighter? I know some of your answers: fishing, golf, painting, woodworking, writing poems, cooking, playing games, watching the Patriots (!), playing Wordfeud or Rummikub, walking the dog… What else?

Who, me? A Napper?

Dumb luck comes to everyone at some point or other. It came to Harry by way of a bird – an unsuspecting, industrious, blessed bird. First, the backstory of No Roses for Harry.*

Harry was a white dog with black spots. On his birthday, he got a present from Grandma. It was a woolen sweater with roses on it. Harry didn’t like it the moment he saw it. He didn’t like the roses.

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This is a story that packs a punch. In the opening paragraph alone and in the priceless expression on his face, we are all reminded of a time when we opened a gift, feared our inability to hide our shock and thought How ghastly is that!

Poor Harry. No one else seems to think the sweater is ghastly. He does his best to lose it, fails three times, is forced to wear it and finally hangs his head.

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That’s when his luck began.

As he sat wondering what to do, Harry noticed a loose stitch on his sweater. He pulled at the wool—just a little at first – then a bit more – and a little bit more. Harry didn’t know it, but a bird was watching….

Quick as a flash, she took the end of the wool in her beak and flew away with it! It all happened before Harry could even blink.

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To Harry’s great delight, the bird kept flying with the string of wool in her beak until the entire sweater had unraveled and was trailing after the bird high up in the sky like a plane at the beach trails a banner – this was the best banner ever!

No one in the family noticed until they got a note from Grandma that she was coming for a visit. Uh-oh! Where’s the sweater? Of course they couldn’t find it. Only Harry knew why.

This is where I take umbrage.

When Grandma arrived, Harry ran to her with his leash. Then he sat up and begged. “All right, Harry,” said Grandma. After I’ve had my lunch and a nap, we’ll go for a walk.”

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C’mon, Grandma. Really? You just got there. Lunch, okay. But a nap? You need a nap??

I’m pretty good about sticking to the text of a book as I read aloud to children. It seems ingenuine and just plain wrong to change what the author clearly intended the words to be, much as we will interpret them (and, in this case, the hilarious images and fashion of 1958) individually anyway. But this is the one part of this book I might have reworded slightly once or twice over the years, maybe even just omitted the “and a nap” part.

What kind of grandmas need naps, even think of naps, in the late morning having just arrived on a visit to precious grandchildren? Not the kind I wanted my children to form images of. Not me anyway, not the woman who would someday become the grandmother (Oma) of their own children. Best nip this expectation in the bud. No roses for Harry and no naps for me!

For better or worse, I have a lot to do in this one life I’ve been given. It’s always been that way. Whether working full time under someone else’s timetable or ordering every minute of my day myself, I am one of those people whose list is always longer than the time given, who never runs out of things to do, who thinks of the next thing while doing the three things that came before it. I have always lamented that I have to sleep. I like to sleep, don’t get me wrong. Sleep is glorious and needful, but sleep happens at nighttime, the way nature intended.

Napping is a foreign concept – they call it a siesta in some cultures, right? Other cultures. Napping was always, for me, an activity reserved for those days when I am so sick I can’t get off the couch. I always said If I’m asleep during the day, you know I don’t feel well.

C’mon, Grandma. Really?

Gosh, now I get it!

See this darling little fellow? This is Nelson, almost two, with my mom, his great-grandma, about to catch him as he flies downward with all speed and zero fear.

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See this darling little girl? This is Ellie, just turned four, posing with a goat at Yoder’s in Madison, Virginia, looking sweet and angelic, which she (yes, of course, because I love her very much) always is. 😊

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They wear me out! I need a nap!

 

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*No Roses for Harry by Gene Zion, Pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham, Harper Collins Children’s Books, New York, 1958

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What We Keep and What We Throw Away

A couple weeks ago I realized that the shoes I have been using for bricklaying and porchbuilding and gardening had serious cracks in the soles. The kind of cracks Nora Jones sings about in Creepin’ In.

There’s a big ol’ hole
That’s gone right through the sole
Of this old shoe
And the water on the ground
Ain’t got no place else it found
So it’s only got one thing left to do

Creep on in
Creep on in
And once it has begun
Won’t stop until it’s done
Sneaking in

Go ahead and click on the link – her music, her voice (and Dolly Parton’s in this collaboration) are way better than the words alone.

What do you do when your shoes have holes in them? I’m a make-do person, and I would fix them / deal with them if I could, but the fact is that these slip-ons really weren’t that supportive anyway – kind of loose around the ankles they were – and had considerable wear on the inside too so maybe it was time to retire them.

And I had this other old pair in the closet that I probably got for hiking (long before the days of who-would-have-thought-it bricklaying), a pair with decent (read uncracked) soles, strong laces, metal lace-holders (that surely have a name in shoe-talk) and only a little bit of the stitching coming apart. See?

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Faithful, sturdy shoes, these, reminding me so much of the goblin’s shoes in the Little Bear books.

One day a little goblin went by an old cave. It was old, it was cold, it was dark. And something inside it went bump. What was that? BUMP! “Hoo-ooh—” cried the goblin. He got so scared he jumped right out of his shoes. Then he began to run…. (The goblin ran and ran, very scared – first about the bump, then about the pit – pat – pit – pat chasing after him.)

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the pit – pat – pit – pat came closer, closer – CLOSER – till it stopped right by the hole in the tree!

(Then he saw a hole in a tree, jumped in and …)

Then all was quiet. Nothing happened. Nothing. The little goblin wanted to peek out. It was so quiet. Should he peek out? Yes, he would. He WOULD peek out. And he did. “Eeeeeh—!” cried the goblin. Do you know what he saw?

He saw – HIS SHOES! His own little shoes – and nothing more. “Goodness,” said the goblin, hopping out of the tree. “That old bump in the cave made me jump right out of my shoes. But they came running after me, didn’t they! And here they are!”

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Good little shoes! As were mine.

Or so I thought. Proudly (I was smart enough to hang onto these perfectly good shoes for such a day as this when they would come in handy!) I began wearing the good old shoes. Their value suddenly came into question while I was shoveling gravel to fill in empty spaces to make this firepit platform level (things you will walk on should be reasonably level) with the 709 free bricks that came my way (thank you, Joe!). See all that gravel filling in where the ground slopes downward? One shovelful at a time, baby! We call this I-get-to-have-ice-cream-later!

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So, yeah, gravel does not feel good when it gets IN your shoes. Understand, the gravel was not, as in the case Nora Jones’ Old Shoe, creepin’ in the way water got through her sole. Oh no. It was not, as in my First Retired Pair, dropping in around the loose ankle part (the sole cracks being big enough for water but not for gravel). It was having a high-old-easy-time-of-it coming in where the sole separated from the rest in a way it is not supposed to. See, your toes are not intended to be ever visible once your foot is in the shoe. In case you were wondering.

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You think maybe I could fix this with glue?

Okay, I do know better than that. Last year Samuel got Red Wings and is convinced they are the best, especially their once-a-month-we’ll-take-care-of-your-shoes plan, and he’d been asking me what I wanted for my birthday, so off we went. New, wonderful, shoes – voila!

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But it got me to thinking about what we keep and what we throw away. I’m not a person who easily throws stuff away, not do I hoard, nor do I misunderstand that things have a given span-of-presence in our lives.

Why do we keep some things and throw other things away? By things I mean not only things in the inanimate sense – shoes, old windows, Christmas trees in early January, mugs, cars, underwear, mail, cookbooks, screwdrivers, couches – the list is long!! I also mean people. Not in the sense that we throw people away of course, but that the circle of people who touch our lives changes over time. Some come closer, some fade, some appear occasionally, some reappear after long periods of time.

It’s hard to know who and what to hold onto! I wish I had Kenny Rogers’ confidence. Do you think he was talking only about the cards in your hand during a poker game?

You got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done.

The advice of The Gambler gave Kenny an ace he could keep. But how do you know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, when to run?

Seems to me, some things are useful and some are relational. And that applies to both things and people. We only sometimes feel a pang about leaving people behind when we change jobs, but anyone who is remotely a friend (or very much a friend) is in another category and we ought not be so flippant. That teapot with the hairline crack might be on its last legs, but I got it while shopping with Claudia in Germany; its usefulness is only part of the reason I use it every day. Old shoes that eat gravel should go in the trash – their function is past – but small cracks in the soles of the other pair, well, maybe I can use those for painting?

Some things are easier to get rid of than others. There are no hard and fast rules or guidelines about what or who to keep around and what or who to part ways with. I think the key word in the song is you, as in you got to know…you never count…

If I may elaborate:

You look for clues, you seek confirmation, you follow your heart, you make your best judgment (you got a great new pair of shoes!). Sometimes you are wrong, you misjudge, misinterpret clues, have to re-assess, start again. Sometimes you are 100% correct and your timing is perfect.

Sometimes I wish the answers were clearer! But then we’d be like robots, right? See A, do B, expect C, repeat with other As, Bs and Cs.

Now that wouldn’t be any fun! Part of the journey is not knowing what’s around the next bend, like an ongoing movie that we don’t see the ending to until we get there. Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of a movie? I do! And I love it because I get to play my part, small as that is, connected to these particular people as it is, focused on this goal or struggling with that challenge as it is. I never want to forget how wonderful it is to have what I have, even if it’s different from what other people have, even if there are things I don’t have and wish I did.

A Very Happy Labor Day to Everyone!

Is the Bear Peeking or Peeping?

Earlier this week I mentioned that my mom, in her house in the woods, always pulled her blinds at night because she worried that a bear might be looking in on her. No matter what, she closed off the view. Mom, really? I teased her. A bear cares to look in on you? But I wonder: Those of you who live in the woods – do you worry about that too? If you live next to another house, do you close the blinds every night? Does it matter which room you’re in? Does it matter if you know your neighbors are home?

I also wonder: While looking into someone’s window is a thing, yes, and maybe a thing the someone should be worried about, is it peeping into someone’s window or peeking into someone’s window?

When I mentioned Mom’s blind-pulling, bear-avoiding habit, I suggested that Sarah – poet, artist, writer, friend – would no doubt be able to draw the scene, probably easily. It would flow like water down a hill for her, the pen setting down lines where lines should go, and in practically the blink of an eye she could relocate the image from her brain to a piece of paper and produce a very recognizable image. I was sure of it, even a mite envious of that skill, wistfully, wishingly thinking Oh, to be able to draw like Sarah!

Sure enough, she did it! And priceless it is! In no time at all she sent me a mom-and-bear post-it-note drawing with window between, each occupied but suddenly aware of the other (or so it seems to me). Uh-oh! they each seem to say. Notice how Sarah went beyond a bear peeking/peeping in – we get his personal hygiene routine, the box of goodies Mom’s rummaging through (always goodies in Mom’s case, never junk), the mutual surprise – only creative people like Sarah think of (and successfully execute) these extras! Don’t you love his paunch?!

You tell me. Is the bear peeping in or peeking in? Is Mom doing either?

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Does peep mean to look in furtively or briefly and does peek mean to look in cautiously or slyly, or the other way around?* Both have the idea of quickness, of trying not to be seen, of some measure of invasion of privacy. Does it matter if you intend to look in, or if something simply catches your eye and you glance toward it? Did Peeping Tom set the connotation in stone forever? Is peep up to no good and is peek benign?

Remember Scout and Jem and Dill trying to look in on reclusive Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird? In Chapter 6, see Harper Lee’s choice and also get a little reminder how amazing this book is (in case you have not read it recently). What are the children doing?

“What are you gonna do?”

Dill and Jem were simply going to peep in the window with the loose shutter to see if they could get a look at Boo Radley, and if I didn’t want to go with them I could go straight home and keep my fat flopping mouth shut, that was all.

“But why in the sam holy hill did you wait till tonight?”

Because nobody could see them at night, because Atticus would be so deep in a book he wouldn’t hear the Kingdom coming, because if Boo Radley killed them they’d miss school instead of vacation, and because it was easier to see inside a dark house in the dark than in the daytime, did I understand?

“Jem, please—”

“Scout, I’m tellin’ you for the last time, shut your trap or go home – I declare to the Lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl every day!”

With that, I had no option but to join them.

There are so many elements of this book I would like to talk about – the norms of the time, the things we don’t know, the ways people surprise us, the consequences of actions, the role of fate – another time! For now I wonder if Harper Lee chose peep on purpose. I don’t want to split hairs about meanings, but words can get us in trouble sometimes, and our own understanding is not always someone else’s understanding. I want to know what y’all think about peep vs. peek.

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FYI:

*Merriam Webster says it’s the other way around. They assign “slyly” to peep and “furtively” to peek. Are sly and furtive that different?

Geocache on a Pinecone

Why do people traipse through forests? Hiking maybe? Hunting? Birdwatching? I expected my next foray into the woods to be a search for small dead cedar trees to use as poles. We need some small poles around here. Never before has it been my goal to find a mysterious object, investigate it, write in it, put it back and walk away. But that’s what geocaching is all about.

If you have never heard of geocaching, join the crowd. From the few people we talked to about it last week, it seems you’re either really into it (or know someone who is) or you’ve never heard of it.

My sister Lynn was here for a visit with her daughter Erika and granddaughters Kaileena (11) and Brea (5). We decided to explore some of the pristine lakes in this part of Virginia, having been motivated in part by a free-entry-pass that came in the mail (these promos do work sometimes!). On the way to Sherando Lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Erika mentioned that they had what you could call a mission while in Virginia – finding a geocache in which to put a little “travel bug.” You’re doing what? Mom said.

This is Sherando Lake. Ooh, so perfect.

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Kaileena’s “travel bug” is plastic, the size of a large coin or a key ring and has a cartoony dragon image on it. It was found at a geocache in Southwick, Massachusetts, by Kaileena’s Girl Scout troop leader, Lisa, who handed it off to Kaileena when she found out about the trip to Virginia. The idea is to give this little bug/trinket a ride from there to here to some other place eventually, and in doing so, connect with fellow-geocachers in a worldwide hide-and-seek adventure. Every cache is some version of a little treasure chest and contains a list of who has been there. Some of the caches also contain a constantly changing array of trinkets like Kaileena’s dragon, placed there for the next person to find.

For geocaching though, peaceful and picturesque Sherando Lake was a bust. We had fun there, don’t get me wrong. The weather was splendid, as you can see. Mom clearly demonstrated You are never too old to be silly with a fishing net!

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Kaileena and Brea spent hours in the water — til they were “prunes,” as Mom says. And we watched some people throwing a watermelon around in a water game – one presumes there were rules, but I cannot be sure. See the watermelon? The guy with the open hand had just thrown it. Or maybe he’s trying to catch it?

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Alas, geocaching – along with so many other activities nowadays – requires internet. Zeroing in on a specific cache online gets you exact (longitudinal and latitudinal) coordinates that take you to within 16 feet of the cache. Erika had checked the online global geocaching map and knew there were some caches near Sherando Lake, but of course they are not out in the open – what would be the fun of that!? By the time we got to the lake, we had no signal. She even drove to a parking lot next to the fishing end of the lake, but mountains will be mountains and will sometimes very effectively block signals.

We had better luck at Walnut Creek the next day. A county park closer to home, Walnut Creek is almost as pretty as Sherando Lake.

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The lifeguards told us internet was sketchy here too, but “See those two little pine trees up on the hill? Try there.”

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They are hard to see in the shadow, but Erika, Kaileena and I trekked up toward them anyway …

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… and sure enough, service! Terrible service, make no doubt, but as we all know, one bar is better than no bars. Within a quarter mile, the coordinates told us, up the hill more, to the right and through the woods, we would find the cache. Erika switched to compass mode on her phone and off we went, following the arrow. It tells you almost step by step how close you now are.

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No two caches will look the same. When on the search, as you make your way toward the hidden or not-quite-hidden cache, the thing to look for is something odd, something out of place, something not as it should be. Hmmm, here we were, branches snapping underfoot, clueless about any specifics to look for other than “it will look wrong.” See how on top of the phone it says “One of these things is not like the o…” We knew ahead of time that this cache was a micro-cache, meaning it would be too small to put the bug into, but we were determined to find it anyway (challenging as that might be!).

We got to where Erika’s arrow stopped. “We are within 16 feet. It’s got to be here somewhere.” Miraculously, she suddenly found it – a pinecone hanging at eye level from a branch with fishing line (which is not as pinecones should be hanging from trees). “One of these things is not like the o…” has to mean “One of these branches [from which a pinecone hangs] is not like the others.”  Hanging right underneath the pinecone, a little cache. Ta-da!!

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Closer up, the pinecone looked like this. See the little cache hanging off it? See the fishing line above?

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This little waterproof case holds a paper list of those who have stopped by.

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Both Kaileena and Erika added their info. Erika then re-rolled-up the list, tucked it back in, screwed the lid on and put it back on the pinecone. That’s it, folks! Quite the lovely view we had from the top of that hill…

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… but back to the lakeside beach we went.

What about the dragon-bug, you ask? (I knew you didn’t forget.) The next day, Erika and Kaileena got new coordinates, found a box in a stone wall near the hospital in Charlottesville, deposited the bug and signed their code names. The box was a bit worn and shabby, could stand to be replaced, so Erika added a note to the online info about this particular cache. Someone else will come along sooner or later and replace the box hopefully, and maybe even decide to give that bug a ride and take it elsewhere.

Who knows where it will land next!

 

Enough is As Good As a [ _____ ]

When Claudia visited in 2016, her first trip to the states in a few decades, we were acutely aware of how rare and precious our time together was. You know how it is – time flies with dear friends. You want to do everything you’ve been talking about for so long: Let’s make that no-knead bread and the homemade mozzarella cheese and a salad so you can dress it the way I love, oh and let me show you how we make our pizza now. Let’s watch Downton Abbey and Witness and The Lives of Others – and have you seen The IT Crowd? (Both stupid and hilarious, for when we just want to laugh!) Monticello is nearby, and Yoder’s, and the downtown pedestrian mall that’s so much like Burlington’s, and don’t forget Barboursville Vineyards with its cool stone ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion. Let’s take walks in the morning when it’s brisk and in the daytime when the sun is warm and in the evening when the sun glows in the western sky – oh, yes, and Humpback Rocks is a great hike, best in the evening (not like Tirol, okay, but for Virginia, a great hike!).

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We had only nine days. And when I had asked her ahead of time what she wanted to do when she came, she replied with one word: “Rest.”

So let’s, instead, be real. Life comes down to choices, right? As I lamented, she comforted: Zu viel nimmt weg von genug, which I wrote down on a post-it, duly translated and left stuck on the side of my fridge.

Too much takes away from enough.

You could play with the translation and say Too much is worse than enough or Too much negates enough. The idea made sense – if we try to do too much, the time will not be restful, we’ll make ourselves crazy, we’ll miss the balance. And the German had a nice cadence to it. But the verbatim translation didn’t quite work for me. It stuck in my mouth somehow. And it never occurred to me to flip it around and put “enough” at the beginning.

This past week I got help from Mary Poppins. As I watched my five-year-old great niece giggling her way through this classic, I stumbled on a translation of Zu viel nimmt weg von genug that I’d missed the last, oh, say, five times I watched this movie. After the bit of nursery magic when all the toys and clothes dance and bounce and jump around, finding their way into drawers and cabinets and closets, converting the room from messy to tidy in a few delightful minutes, Jane and Michael wanted to do it again. More magic! More fun! How can that be bad? Mary Poppins drew the line in her practically-perfect, matter-of-fact way: “Enough is as good as a feast.” Click on the link to watch her say it.

Well, look at that! In 1910, the setting for this film, they too were struggling with When is enough? Where is the line? Clearly this is not a new problem. Well before that, people in biblical times were likewise advised about moderation. Have you found honey? Eat only what you need…. (Proverbs 25:16)

The idea of potential excess, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-cross-that-line, comes up all the time.

What fills a day (or nine days)? Activity, yes, but how much is enough to be fun and satisfying yet avoid utter exhaustion?

What fills a house? Stuff, but how much is enough to fend off clutter and inundation?

What fills our bellies? Food and drink, but how much is enough for good health? How much crosses the line?

Decisions. Every day I have to make hard decisions – not every day as in on a daily basis, no, I mean continually    throughout    every    day – what to say yes to, what to spend money on, what to put in my mouth. Abundance has a downside, some would say a curse.

Funny, we don’t have trouble deciding how long to stand there rubbing our hands together with the soap before we decide they are clean enough. We know when’s enough. We’re pretty good about knowing how fast to drive (we value our lives), how much physical space should exist between us and the person standing next to us (how close would be too close), how many toppings we want to put on our pizza (how many would be too many), when we’ve been sitting too long (need to move!), when enough time has passed since we last heard from an old friend (time to send a message). How come that same mostly-good judgment can’t apply so nonchalantly and easily to (pick a temptation, any temptation) shall we say ice cream?!

While standing in line to get ice cream recently, the person next to me ordered a small but said out loud while staring at the price list that looked something like this,

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“I want the super-size.”

Aren’t people the same no matter what year it is!?

A friend who was watching her weight once told me that a small scoop of ice cream didn’t taste better than a large bowlful, and that when she had less, she savored it more – or at least she was trying to train herself to think this way!

Maybe training is the answer. We can train ourselves (or be trained) to do new tasks at work. We adapt to new surroundings or circumstances with a bit of self-talk. It’s an idea.

Hmmm, but I like a feast as well as anyone. (We have only nine days! … That bread is fresh now! … I really like that bowl/table/shirt/game/book/gadget!)

How about mental gymnastics? Maybe I could reconfigure the feast, spread it out over time a bit or have one a little less often?

I hear once again my wise professor’s words. The topic at the time was bacon: Should I eat it? Shouldn’t I? How much? He calmly said three words: Balance. Variety, Moderation. Is it really that simple? Maybe.

Second-Day Pasta

I come from a big family, one of four girls, and for most of my childhood either my grandparents on my father’s side or my grandfather on my mother’s side lived with us.

I am also half Italian, which in our family meant a lot of pasta for dinner. We enjoyed my mom’s great “sauce” on our “macaroni” on Wednesdays and Sundays. Please understand that I mean every Wednesday and every Sunday. There are rules and there are rules. This was a rule.

Not to be confused with the non-meat cheese sauce, onion sauce, ceci bean (chickpea) sauce or marinara sauce we adorned our macaroni with every Friday (good Catholics that we were, in that regard anyway), “sauce” was shorthand for what some people would call red sauce, others would call Bolognese – made with onions, garlic and meat (mostly beef but sometimes pork or lamb) browned up together, with tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper (and the occasional lamb bone or pork bone) added before a long simmer.

Sauce was noted simply as SAUCE on countless pieces of masking tape over the years, marking countless random re-used freezer containers like this. (This photo, by the way, marks Mom’s first sending of a photo via text – bravo, Mom! and thank you, Lynn, for walking her through the process.)

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So, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Practically without fail. That’s a lot of macaroni. You try, of course, to make the right amount so you don’t have a lot of leftovers, but it happens. What do you do with leftover macaroni? You make macaroni pie of course!

You take your cold leftover macaroni/pasta, chop it up, stir in a few eggs and some cheese and salt and pepper, put this mixture in a hot, oiled pan, let it brown, flip it, brown the other side and serve. It’s great hot or cold. It’s great as a main dish or a side dish. And it uses up the leftovers in a very yummy way!

Feel free to embellish however suits your fancy. A few weeks ago I made macaroni pie using leftover pasta made with my own “sauce,” but along with the eggs I added some shredded asiago cheese and left it in the pan a smidgeon longer than usual – to the not-quite-burned-but-almost stage – and Samuel said it ranked among the best ever. This weekend I made it using some leftover spaghetti carbonara, which uses bacon, cream and romano cheese in the sauce. That’s the one I’ll show you.

This is the leftover, which was about 4 cups total, chopped up in a bowl with my three eggs. You can use any sharp knife to cut it up – it cuts easily when cold.

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Adding some extra cheese (a handful or so, grated, whatever kind seems to go with whatever kind of pasta you have) and salt and pepper at this point is a good idea because once it has a crust, it’s harder to season.  After you’ve mixed it all up, put about 2 Tbsp oil in a frypan and turn on the flame to get the oil hot. Mine looked like this.

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Wait about one minute before using a rubber spatula to guide the mixture into the pan . You want to wait that minute because you want the sizzling sound. The sizzling sound of the cold pasta mixture hitting the hot oil is one of those kitchen thrills you cannot explain to the those who have not yet joined the Kitchen Club, made up, of course of those of us who get a thrill from sizzling sounds, gleaming egg whites, bubbling edges (see below) and other such marvels.

Let it cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes. You are not only heating the mixture, you are letting the eggs, which bind it all together, cook through. You’ll see a little bit of bubbling around the edges. Zoom in on the edge if you want the thrill.

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The tricky part of this operation is “the flip,” but a plate makes it easier. Use a spatula to peek at the browned bottom of the pie. Decide if your optimal brownness has been reached and make sure the entire bottom of the pie is loose. Run your spatula under it if need be – but if your pan is nonstick and you have used a bit of oil, there shouldn’t be any problem. The pie should be able to move as a single unit in the pan as you move the pan back and forth.

Then plate a plate on the pan like this.

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Take the handle of the pan with your one hand and place your other, open hand on the plate. Lift the pan to about chest height away from the flame.

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First time trying this – not that I expect disaster! – perhaps move over to the sink 😊.

Tilt the pan/plate while holding the plate tightly against the pan…

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…then quickly flip the whole thing so that your hand holding the plate is now under the plate and the pan is on top.

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Remove the pan from the (now) top of the pie and put it back over the flame. Slide the pie off the plate and back into the pan so it can brown on the other side.

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All this time you are of course oblivious of the begging dog (poor Coco!!) hoping something will fall. Nothing did — this time!

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Give the second side about ten minutes to brown up, then slide the whole pie onto a plate. The crispiness on both top and bottom is as good as the moist and tasty pasta inside.

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Enjoy!

The Truth Window

What if we all had a window that people could look into? I don’t mean a window in our house, I mean in ourselves. What if that window revealed the truth about what’s really inside, the parts we generally don’t want anyone to see – our hearts, our motivations, our secrets, our fears, our housekeeping, our habits. Would we frame that window, call attention to it, put it front and center where everyone could see?

Lincoln’s truth window got me thinking about this. He is building a house with walls of straw – straw bales to be exact…

Lincoln's house July 6 2019 (2)

…which is very cool.* Only of course you don’t leave it like this. Once you’ve stuffed every last chink as best as you can, you apply a kind of pasty goo that hardens and forms into what you might call plaster on the inside, stucco on the outside. Over that you apply whatever weather-proofing or decorative sealant you want – some kind of paint – and ta-da (!) you have a solid wall filled with straw and no one is the wiser unless you tell them.

Or unless you are Lincoln and you add a truth window.

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For all the world to see, no lie, no cap, even once he’s smoothed it out, cleaned up the errant splotches, added the sills and moldings and painted on whatever color they choose – it’s plain as day there’s straw behind those walls.

Lincoln’s window isn’t “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” because there’s wood inside those walls too, and standard fiberglass insulation in parts of the house where straw bales didn’t make sense. But it’s a window into the truth. I’ve wondered if sometimes, maybe a lot of times, that’s enough.

I had to write a lengthy report recently. In it, twice, I decided to include bits of information that I could have easily left out, that some might have suggested were irrelevant or best left out. One bit possibly cast some light on a person’s motivation and the other balanced out an otherwise damaging image. I decided it was not up to me whether those bits were relevant or not, but I would leave it to the reader to weigh and discern.

I included those two little windows of truth because to me, without them, the picture is not quite as accurate. Nonetheless, they are just two bits, two little bits in a sea of other bits, any of which may or may not also be relevant. Can I know what matters? Can I know what helps? Sometimes yes, but often not.

Everyone knows there are fuzzy distinctions among the alternately appropriate practices of

Same as I decide what food to put in my mouth, what clothes to wear, what dog I like, I decide what to say, what to do, how to say it, how to do it and what to keep quiet about. I can’t know what the interpretation or the reaction will be, but I reveal the straw in my wall with all those things I do or say or don’t. I reveal my worries, my flaws, my junk, my fluff.

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Look at Lincoln’s truth window again. It’s not pretty. The straw they use to make those bales is a waste product, the leftover stalks after they’ve harvested the edible grain, staks that are sometimes a pain for farmers to get rid of. But here it is – real and useful and strong.

Just as I hope I am – at least sometimes.

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*For anyone who’s wondering, properly constructed walls made from straw bales have an insulating value of R-30 to R-35 and are more flame-retardant than wood construction – this is because the bales are dense and tens to smolder when the ignition source is removed.

Six or More Reasons I Love The Gym

I started going to a gym recently. My mother was confused. You need a gym now besides everything else you do?? Good heavens, girl!

I have never been a gym person, was always more active in the hauling-brush-to-make-a-burn-pile kind of way. I can’t tell you what the gym machines are called, how they work, what you are supposed to do with them or why they are useful – other than the obvious: they make you stronger somehow. To demonstrate my cluelessness, I will tell you that at the gym there’s a thing you sit in that has a flat part you push up with your legs, but before you do that, you load the flat part up with weights that are round and flat and have a hole in the middle (like big and heavy smooshed flat donuts) and fit on a metal bar behind the flat part, which makes it harder to push, thereby theoretically challenging you more and making you stronger if indeed you can repetitively push the flat part up. When I got home I told Samuel they put one disc on there for me – one, and he tells me one weighs 45 pounds (the guy after me put six for himself). Plates, Mom, they are called plates. Oh.

Why am I doing this now? Samuel’s gentle persistence paid off. He has been telling me in various ways, numerous times, for over a year now: It’s important to stay strong, Mom. He reminded me of my college writing prof Peter Sandman who always said that if you have a good point to make, tell it to your audience three times in three different ways – maybe one of the ways will stick! Samuel convinced me that working with someone who knows (considerably more) about strength and fitness (than I do) would be smart. One could also ask: Why do we have to get weak before we start saying, Yeah, maybe I need to be strong…

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The Gym in Charlottesville not a foo-foo gym. It’s a serious-about-getting-strong gym, and I love it for a lot of reasons. Did I just say I love a gym? Yes, I just said I love a gym. Wait, who said that??

Reasons:

1. The owner, soft-spoken, rock-of-a-human Justin Tooley, says plainly that getting strong isn’t just about your body, it’s about your life and about everything in your life. Being strong in life is important – I know that. Un-strong people get blown around. I love that he’s telling people why being strong is important and he’s practicing what he preaches.

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2. It doesn’t matter what you wear. I wear a comfy pair of pants that Samuel calls my “inside-out pants” because the flat-felled seams are visible and the drawstring is on the outside (how outlandish is that!? who puts the drawstring on the outside – he is very hung up on that). But nobody cares what you wear. It’s not about what you wear. It’s about getting strong. I showed up the first day wearing jeans, a sleeveless top and flip-flops, thinking I’d just watch, and Toni, best first impression you could ever imagine, was unfazed. She’s so terrific, included me so beautifully and left it up to me whether to do the run-with-kicking-your-heels-up-toward-your-backside exercise in flip-flops (I did) – she made me want to come back.

Both she and Josh, who has worked with me twice since that first clueless day, have been super-accommodating of the facts that a. I have a shoulder injury I am being careful about and b. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. They make me feel like it’s the most fantastic thing in the world that I came, like they have been waiting for me, like nothing makes them happier than helping me figure out how to properly step up on a big box or how to thrust a kettle ball for maximum benefit to my butt muscles (which I know have a name…gloots?). I use a baby kettle ball. You can see it (kind of hiding) among the other kettle balls of higher-strength-requirement status.

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3. They have the most wonderful dogs walking around – perfect muscle dogs, perfect gym dogs – that are gentle and sweet and even some comic relief sometimes. This face tells you everything’s gonna be okay.

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4. They have a huge American flag hanging in there. I like that! God bless America. This is the entrance. I told you—not foo-foo.

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5. Many people inspire you. Look at Leslie – she’s totally beyond amazing! That pole she’s holding on her very strong shoulders with her very strong arms has weights hanging on each end by way of very strong rubber bands that are not only very heavy (no baby weights for her!), they are not very stable. She said it’s really hard. Ya think? She doesn’t just hold the pole – she holds it while walking across the floor and back with knee-to-floor-touching-lunges! I was probably too astounded in watching her to be able to get a single, not-blurry-in-any-way photo and I’m sorry about that because she should not only have a great photo, she should have a prize!!

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I’ve been to The Gym three times now – one cardio class and two lower-body strengthening classes (I’m right now shy of too much upper-body work on account of my bad shoulder). Samuel goes at different times. He (who did all the registering and everything) went on Friday after my third time and said they sheepishly asked him my name. He said they’ve just been calling me Mom (don’t you think Clueless would be a better name?!). Not knowing/using a person’s name is one of the cardinal no-no’s of the hospitality world I worked in for so many years – if you don’t do anything else right, at least use the guest’s name! But it didn’t matter a bit to me whether they knew or used my name or not. They did everything else right. Everything.

Josh even made me try this rolly thing that I hated, cuz, you know, maybe I’d like it, maybe it would be my new favorite toy and he had to find out. Let me repeat, I hate this rolly thing. It’s very heavy, crushingly heavy. Josh said everyone hates it. I hate it more. You are supposed to place it gently (trust me, you have to do this gently) on your thighs and roll it slowly toward your knees and back again. Abby smiled mid-roll for the photo.

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How she can be smiling I have no idea, unless it’s a smile of pain – you’ve seen those. How she can even consider drinking her coffee or checking her phone while doing this is unimaginable. I repeat, I hate that thing. But Josh didn’t make me do it the second time. Maybe, remembering my ordeal first time, he had the tiniest bit of sympathy? Probably not, probably he just forgot. I want him to forget that thing every time.

6. There’s a big container of chalk next to the weights. Do I know this from personal experience? Am I spending time near the dead lifting area? (Or is it the deadlift area?) Hardly. Samuel discovered the chalk during his own workout and said it sets this gym apart. Here’s why: Chalk is a mess. Some gyms don’t even let you bring in your own because they don’t want it all over stuff (which they then have to clean). But if you are serious about lifting (so says Samuel), you need chalk. This gym is therefore serious.

Another thing (7.) I like about The Gym is that even though I’m sure I don’t fit their typical profile, they are excited that I come. They don’t just say hi in passing while they occupy themselves with other important stuff – they make you feel like you are the important stuff.

I’m guessing that for Justin and Toni and Josh, it’s like the message about the value of strength training is reaching beyond the people who would already be there. When you love a thing that’s so good for people, that’s so easily adaptable to different starting points and different bodies and different goals, that’s so far-reaching in its benefits, you want everyone to do it and see why it’s so cool. Toni was so excited the first day I went because her mom also came. Who wouldn’t like such a warm and genuine welcome?

They clearly want to keep making it even more welcoming. I’m excited for them that they have a plan/hope/goal to enhance the already great experience of The Gym.

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I like the whole thing – the people, the atmosphere, the energy, the careful and personal attention (to make sure, in my case, I don’t hurt myself), the non-foo-foo-ness of it. The whole scene seems to say: give people everything they need (including the non-tangibles) so they can get down to the sensible, serious and important business of getting strong and have fun while doing it. I’m never going to carry that pole with the weights (or have legs like these women) but I don’t think that matters. I want to go to the gym anyway. I like it! Wait, what? You like going to the gym? Wait, what? You WANT to go to the gym?

Clearly a massive mental adjustment is happening here. I almost feel like I am somebody else when I tell you I want to keep going there, like when you catch yourself saying something you absolutely never would have said at any other point in your life, and you say, Wait. Who just said that?

Am I a gym person now? Did this gym change me already? That same college prof of mine used to say 1. You don’t change people’s behavior or actions until you change their attitude. 2. If you want someone to do something, grab hold of something, begin doing something they have not previously been in the habit of doing, you cannot (absolutely cannot) expect them to do it until and unless their attitude toward that thing is changed. If you can be the agent of change regarding their attitude, you will then be the agent of change regarding their behavior/actions. 3. Change attitude first. Behavior will follow.

Well, how about that? Samuel got me through the door and Justin, Tony and Josh make me want to go again. Good for them. Good for me.