Que Sera Sera

Last week after I finished reading to Evelyn – she just turned 101 and we are almost through a biography about Queen Victoria – I walked the hallway to get to the exit and passed what is a common area for the residents of this retirement community. I heard someone playing the piano and looked to my left. This is what I saw.

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The lady playing the piano was quite good. The tune was lively. The song was Que Sera Sera. If you are unfamiliar with it, check out Doris Day’s 1964 rendition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azxoVRTwlNg

The message of the song is summed up in the translation of the title: Whatever will be, will be. When you listen to the whole thing, you don’t get the idea of determination or active movement toward a particular goal. Quite the contrary. As to whether the future is bright or not – whether you will be rich and good looking and successful – it is seemingly out of your hands, which one might say is rather a passive approach. But is it?

Specifically in the lyrics a little girl asks her mother “What will I be? Will I be rich? Will I be pretty?” And her mother replies “Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” Later in life she asked her sweetheart: “What lies ahead? Will we have rainbows day after day?” He replies as the mother did. Later her own sons ask her: “What will I be? Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?” She then replies as her mother did.

“Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” To this I say Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…

…let us do what we can to make today and tomorrow better than it might otherwise be. I suspect this lady playing the piano would very much prefer to sit up straight. Yet she is not sitting there grumbling. She is playing a lively song for the entertainment of herself and others. I suspect Evelyn would rather not be blind. Nonetheless she can learn through books on tape and others reading to her. This week we learned together about the widowed Queen Victoria’s protector and friend (whatever else he may have been), John Brown. Fascinating stuff. Did you know that all documentation relating to this relationship was summarily burned? Hmmm…

Start with yourself. Start with the people who are in your circle today or every day. The other day I described two children who were here as Airbnb guests (for the blink of an eye it seemed) doing me a kind service without knowing it. How apropos to have just found this quote hanging on the wall in a public bathroom:

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Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…let us give thanks for what we do have. Do I have a high-paying job? No, but I have everything I need, and I am exceedingly grateful for good food to eat, a home to live in and the abiding love and care of incredible friends and family. Am I as physically strong as I used to be or as mechanically inclined as I wish I was? No, but I manage, and where I need help, there is help, and I am exceedingly grateful that when there have been serious issues like pipes freezing or bursting, I have not been here by myself. Can I be with my children and grandchildren and dearest friends as often as I want? No, but I cherish the moments with them and greatly look forward to next time.

Needs are different than wants. Do we have everything we need? Most of the time, yes. Do we have everything we want? If we did, what would there be to look forward to? What would there be to look back on and be grateful we had for a time? How would we get outside ourselves and be glad that someone else could enjoy that experience or that thing?

Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead… let us carefully and lovingly walk alongside others who are having a hard time. It’s true that some things are out of our control. In the past three weeks, tragedy has hit three families in my circle. Two young deaths and one very serious illness. The grief of these families is beyond words. Yet as each of them works through their pain and comes to grip with what they did not in their wildest nightmares anticipate, they are surrounded by, embraced by, uplifted and upheld by many who love them. The loving, caring people who come alongside during a tragic time are like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins so beautifully sang. They are the reminder – even if it cannot be fully appreciated at the time because of shock or stress – that they are not alone through their grief. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8VHc49ZdP4

Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…let us recognize the beauty of whatever world is around us. That beauty might be in the artistry of your favorite barista who makes you smile as he hands you a cappuccino.

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That beauty might be in the face of a child encountering a fuzzy chicken.

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It might be a precious moment with a dear friend you don’t see often.

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It might be a fabulous vista you get to see in real life rather than in a picture (with a dear friend you don’t see often).

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It might be a joyful moment of reunion between man and dog.

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Do I know what lies ahead? Sort of. The future’s not mine to see, but I am confident that no matter how many years or months or days I have left, it will continue to include amazing people who enrich my world as well as an amazing world in which to spend whatever time I can with these amazing people. It will include great measures of love, joy, forgiveness, hope, service to others and making a difference in whatever ways we all can. Could I ask for more? No.


Passing This Way

When you are in someone else’s car, you listen to whatever music they have going. It’s great to let someone else do the choosing sometimes. Not being musically inclined except for liking to listen to it and sometimes sing along, I am continually astounded at the incredible talent and creativity of musicians. It’s amazing to me how they manage to stir up feelings and longings and memories and hopes from deep within you. And they do it in a way that is soooo pleasant!

Among the many songs I heard in the past few weeks, two struck me and have played over and over again in my head (parts of them anyway). From the Notting Hill soundtrack is Elvis Costello’s “She” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ttj0Kd6BWQU). It’s one of those songs that builds on itself as it goes along, with the strength of his voice adding increasingly more weight to the words*. This song reminds me that this kind of love – this deep, abiding, heartfelt love – is real, even if it is rare, even if most people don’t ever find the words to express what’s in their hearts.

A few days ago I heard Seals & Croft sing “We May Never Pass This Way Again” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd6zYQPCgsc) and that one hit me hard. Here’s why.

I asked Eppie to stand in front of the elephant ear so that I could record how big it is in relation to how big she is. These plants just keep getting bigger and bigger. But as she stood in front of it, the leaves of the plant looked like angel wings to me, with the sun shining behind and through them and her sweet face radiating all that is good and fresh and wholesome. The photo captures a moment, as all our photos do, yet we know as we look at the photo that the moment is past. Less than a week later, the moment is past.

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When I heard the song, I thought: It’s not We May Never Pass This Way Again, it’s We Will Never Pass This Way Again. I hope that face looking up at me will look up at me again many times in the future (and I will cherish it just the same), but never again will it be Eppie’s just-turned-four face. She’s a little angel in this picture. She’ll be a bigger angel next time.

My son Bradley said to me recently that the harshest reality of adult life is how fast time goes. His own daughter Piper is now two and another (P2, he calls her!) is coming soon. How is this possible?! Here is Piper between Eppie and Rise during my visit to Vermont a couple weeks ago.

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Precious moments, these are. Precious little ones. Every now and then, or as often as you wish, it’s good to think about what you consider precious. Maybe the voice or touch of someone you love, or the way they say your name. Maybe the view you see when the sun rises in the morning. Maybe a person you have contact with every day who is remarkable without knowing it. Maybe your good health (or the aspects of your health that are still good!). Maybe the music that uplifts you. Maybe the bounty of your garden – these are the cantaloupes I harvested today from mine. Maybe the funny face of a little dog who has found a special place in your heart!

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My neighbor Jennifer asked Eppie the other day if she missed her parents. Eppie said, “When I am with Oma, I miss my mom and dad. When I am with my mom and dad, I miss Oma. I wish I could be with them both.” For my ears, those were the most perfect words she could have said in reply.

It’s a rather reflective day for me, perhaps you can tell. My darling granddaughters and I had two and a half weeks together, starting at their home in Vermont and ending at my home in Virginia – marvelous, precious weeks. But it’s the middle of August and they will be going to kindergarten and preschool very soon. As I think about how we will never pass this way again, I am less sad because of the certainty that we will pass another way someday (someday soon I hope!), and it will be equally wonderful to walk through those days together.


*She (lyrics)

She may be the face I can’t forget
The trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell

She, who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows in the past
That I remember ’till the day I die

She maybe the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough in many years*

Me, I’ll take her laughter her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
And where she goes I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is
She, she
Oh, she


*Somehow I always thought this was “the rough and ready years” (“rough in many years” doesn’t make any sense to me!).

In a Pickle

Some things ask to be done, and it’s best to just do it. I had not planned to make pickles this week, but it’s the middle of the summer and five more cucumbers in the garden were ready to be picked (with more to come!) and there were already nine in the fridge, so it was time.

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I started with 14 cucumbers, sliced them up and layered them with salt in my big bowl (which is 7” high and 12” across the top). If you want to make these yourself, you let that sit about an hour. You could add sliced onions or green, yellow, red or orange peppers, or cauliflower cut up into florets, but I had so many cukes, I’m stopping there this time.

Part of cooking, part of life, is knowing where to draw the line.

Kenny Rogers doesn’t know it, but he really helped me a few years ago. I had a difficult decision to make and I kept hearing him singing in my head: You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run… Kenny knew. Sometimes you are just in a pickle about what to do and there are reasons for this choice and reasons for that. Should you hold on or let go? Stay or move? Buck up or give in? Hope for more or settle for what you have?

In the end, back then, I knew it was time to walk away. Not run, not bolt. Just walk. The voice in my head – his voice in my head – guided me not only in what choice to make, but also in the best way to do this thing that had to be done. Funny, the song doesn’t tell you what to do. It just tells you there are choices and you have to pick one. You can’t waffle, and you can’t pick them all. You think it through, you pick a route and you take it. It leads to new scenery and new experiences that you would not have on another route.

I picked the route tonight that included 14 cucumbers and it led me to nine jars of pickles! I made the dog happy too. Within seconds of opening fridge and beginning to bring the cucumbers out, she was out of her sound sleep, off the couch and at my feet. She LOVES cucumbers!

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Carrots too, in case you’re wondering, and the heel of the romaine lettuce head, and peppers (the guts or the outside part with skin that we eat), and watermelon!

But we are on pickle-making now: Here are my cut-up cukes, resting, sweating (the salt will cause them to do that, really), relishing (hehe) their final unpickled moments.  cut up and salted.jpg

As soon as I am not being distracted by how many cucumber chips a small black pug can eat, or watching her adorable begging, I go get my jars. Everyone has a cabinet with jars in it, right? Mine contains the ones I’ve been saving because they are just too pretty to put in the recycle bin. Or too potentially useful down the road. If you have not been doing this, you might have to buy mason jars, which are great also, but if you had been saving jars all along…

You laugh, but jars come in very handy. You just ask the 35 or 40 jars in my basement how useful they have been, how many times they have been called to action, how integral to the operation they are, how versatile, how easy to clean, how good looking – the list goes on. If jars had feelings, mine would feel good!

Make sure your jars are clean, inside and out, and that the lids are good. By good I mean they have that rubbery ring along the inside edge which provides the seal. I keep my pickles in the fridge, and I give them away, so I am content with this kind of seal. The yummy pickles are not going to last that long.

While the cukes are sitting with the salt, and once you have your jars clean and ready, you can prepare the brine. I like a sweet-sour taste, also called bread and butter pickles. The brine is basically vinegar and sugar and spices. You can put together your own combination of spices (recipes abound) or buy something called “pickling spice.” The one I got at Yoder’s includes mustard, allspice, coriander, cassia, ginger, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. I am happy with this one, but you might have particular flavors that you like or don’t like or want to include more of. That is the joy of cooking – you make it the way you like it!

The basic method is

  • Cut up the cukes/other veggies
  • Layer with salt and let sit an hour
  • Prepare jars
  • Prepare brine
  • Pack salted cukes in jars
  • Pour brine over top
  • Close up jars and refrigerate

The basic proportion is for every 3 cups of cukes/veggies, make a brine with 1 cup sugar, 1 ½ cups vinegar and about a teaspoon of pickling spice. Figure out how many cucumbers you have and do the math. I find the easiest thing is to let the cukes sit in the salt for an hour or so, then stuff them into the jars. Put as many as you can fit in there. That tells you how many cups of cukes you have, so it’s easier to do the math. Then measure out your vinegar, sugar and spices into the pot and turn on the flame.in jars waiting.jpg

If you don’t have a garden or access to a farmer’s market, you can use cucumbers from the store just as well. I would use the European cukes because they simply wrap them in plastic instead of putting a waxy whatever on their skins. You don’t want that waxy stuff.

You can use brown or white sugar. A combination is good. With this batch I used up a bag of brown sugar that had gotten too hard. It dissolved in the vinegar over a flame just fine, but the proportion of brown to white sugar made my pickle brine darker than usual. If the amount of sugar seems too much for you, use less. The pickles will just be more sour and less sweet. It’s up to you. You can use white or cider or rice vinegar or a combination. The flavor you get — just like the scenery you see and the experiences you have! — comes from the choices you make. Have fun! Every time you make pickles, make them a little different. Why not?

Combine the sugar, vinegar and spices in a pot and bring it to a full boil (making sure the sugar is dissolved). The slight fuzziness you see in this photo is not blur. It’s steam rising from a fully boiling brine.

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Use a 2-cup or 4-cup glass measuring cup that has a pour spout to get the brine from the pot …


into the jars filled with cukes. Be careful. The jars are so full of sliced cucumbers, it could make a splashy mess otherwise, and still might.


Oops. It did make a mess. I poured too fast. Bother.


You can see that the pickling spice likes to collect at the top of the liquid. If you end up with a lot of the mustard seeds or whatever sitting on the topmost cucumber in the jar, you can spoon some of that off. You don’t want your pickles that spicy. Or maybe you do?

As each jar is filled, use a damp cloth to clean the outside of the jar and around the rim where the lid will seal against the glass. Put the lid on and set aside. Keep going until you have filled and closed up all your jars. Set the jars in a nice place and take a picture of your collection to show your friends! When they are cool, put them in the fridge.



Patti LaBelle Rocks the House

Mom and I went to see Patti LaBelle in concert at the Paramount. The extraordinary, powerful, beautiful quality of her voice rocked the house. God blessed her with that amazing voice, and bingo, success. Right?

Listening to her made me think about what she had going for her in the first place. We’ve all got to start somewhere. We’ve got to have something to work with (and most of us, if we’re honest, know that we do).

Patti LaBelle started with that voice. And at some point I bet she said to herself something like, “I want to sing in front of an audience,” and proceeded to take steps to make that her reality. I am sure there were obstacles and challenges along the way that she did not anticipate. Probably a bit of luck came into play as well, and some supportive people, and I bet she worked hard when she would have rather taken it easy. She has no doubt had her own limitations, setbacks and heartaches, but at 73 is a phenomenal example of someone who kept going, doing the thing she loved over and over till she makes it look easy, giving a gift — the gift of her voice — to the public countless times. I stand in awe.

When you look at people like this — people with incredible talent, a loyal and highly competent team,  seemingly boundless determination, vibrant energy — it’s easy to feel like Yeah, well, I could never be like that. It’s true. I will never be like that.

For one thing, there is only one amazing Patti LaBelle. We each walk a different road. But she did not get from being a young woman with a dream to being a highly successful, well known performer overnight. She got there one day at a time using the same 24 hours each day as everyone else has. She used them to build something good for herself and for others. She did not sit back waiting for things to happen that would further her dream, but instead “took the bull by the horns,” as we used to say.

I wish more people would look at what she did over time and continues to do every day instead of at what she has as a result of what she did over time and continues to do every day. Look at the action — and the determination, support and character defining it — instead of at the outcome. Look at the journey, admire the journey — not just the end point. For me, that outlook makes her performance so much fuller and richer.