Thoughts on ghosting, heart attacks, and the art of a finely made mojito

Okay. So.

Here I am beginning a blog post with both Okay and So. The sure sign a blogger is in a slump and feeling desperate.

Not only have I not been posting for the last, oh, two weeks or so, I haven’t been writing or reading or facebook-ing or any other social media-ing. I might have looked at my email once or twice, but that’s about it.

I’d like say the reason was because I’ve been on a far-away island with endless ceviche and mojitos served by a cabana boy named Liam, an NYU grad who couldn’t make it in the cutthroat world of teaching high school ceramics, so used his latte money to purchase a plane ticket to a far-away island where he’s now a cabana boy serving me damn-fine mojitos and ceviche.

I’d like to say that, but I can’t.

Fact is, my absence was due to a hospital stay. Not by me, but by another member of this household and that, my friends, is why this blog post begins with an Okay and a So. I assure you, had I been the one in the hospital bed, there would have been no occasion for either Okay or So.

But Husband? No. He’s not supposed to be the one in the hospital bed. That was our agreement and I really don’t understand how he missed the memo on that subject, but somehow he did.

Okay. So.

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning to be precise, I awake early and begin doing my morning routine, i.e. making tea and talking to myself. Then Husband walks in and says he’s having some heartburn, only he’s also sweaty and clammy and for some reason his left elbow hurts.

“Do you want to go to the hospital?”

“Maybe… I don’t know… It’s probably nothing.”

“Well, I’m going to get dressed just in case.”

Two minutes later...

“Um… yeah, I think we should go.”

“On it!”

Thankfully we live within a very short distance to a hospital and, thankfully, that hospital moved him to another hospital which, thankfully, has a top-notch cardiac unit. An angioplasty and three stents later, he’s doing well and I’m now cooking without salt and minimal fat and beginning blog posts with Okay and So.

All this is to say, when it came to writing and reading blogs, my head just wasn’t in the game. But things are going better now and I’ve got tons of things I could tell you about.

Like, I could tell you about the little chickadees visiting the bird feeder in our backyard, who I’m beginning to suspect are chirping naughty things to each other.

chickadee

Or I could tell you about the nun who visited my office the other day who I swear was in every respect the female version of Tim Conway’s old man.

old man

Or maybe I’ll tell you about the Easter vigil we attended at the convent where Husband, one week from a heart attack mind you, played trumpet and I stood at the ambo (seriously never heard that word before, have you?) and read aloud the “intercessions” and gave a reasonably half-assed impression I knew what I was doing.

Ambo
Presbyterians call them lecterns, Catholics call them ambos. Oh, the things I’m learning.

Instead, what I’ll say is this: I’m sorry for ghosting on you. Now that I’m back, you’ll be hearing from me. I just checked my email and I see several of my blogger buddies have posted… well shit, they posted a lot. I better get reading.

Hey, before I go, if by chance you should meet a cabana boy named Liam, tell him I’m shooting for next April, okay? And tell him if he muddles the mint particularly well, there’ll be a nice tip in it for him. Thanks.

A birthday party for a 100-year-old Nun — and some God talk

A couple of weeks ago I attended a birthday party for one of the sisters at the convent. She’s 100 years old.

100 year

There were balloons, flowers, two sheet cakes and plenty of ice cream.

Lots of people came. All the sisters, of course, as well as others who knew her and even a few – like me – who never met her before.

I’m sure she didn’t care.

It’s unlikely she has any memory of the event and given her blank stare, it was unlikely she had any awareness of what was happening. But she enjoyed her cake and ice cream. That’s the main thing.

I sat at a table with three other employees. One of them has been working at the convent for 40 years(!) and she was the only one among us who really knew Sister Theodora. She told us a few stories.

Sister Theodora was a very kind person who loved talking to people. She was trained as a nurse, spent her early years caring for children but found her true calling when she was moved to elderly care.

Several times this employee would look over at Sister Theodora and say, “It’s so sad… it’s just so sad…” and the others nodded in agreement.

I’m probably alone in this, but I didn’t see what was so sad.

She lived a rewarding life, enjoyed her work, she made it to 100 and now she’s eating cake and ice cream. Okay, so maybe she doesn’t have memories of her past or knowledge of who she was as a person, but does she need them?

What is better? To keep your mind and be aware of everything you lost—your health, your family, close friends—or to lose your mind and not count the loss? In other words, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Why is that sad?

We are the ones who make it sad. We are the ones who look at people with dementia and think, “Oh, I hope I never get like that.”

As if our lives have worth only when we are of sound mind and body. As if that is what makes us who we truly are.

All right, I’m going to drift off into a bit of God talk right now, so if you aren’t into that sort of thing, just scroll down to the next heading.

Look, I’ll even give you a warning:

Warning: Contains God Talk

As I said before, one of my job requirements at the convent was to “be knowledgeable of Franciscan spirituality or willing to learn.”

I’ve been learning. One thing I learned is that Franciscans are real big on Humility and Contemplation.

(Notice the capital letters? That means they’re big on them.)

The key requirement for each is a self-emptying. Letting go of all those things you think make you who you are — your ego, your ambition, your work, your desires — and opening yourself up to fully experience God. They call this giving up your False Self in order to find your True Self.

(Again. Capitals.)

Another thing they’re big on is that this is a continual process. They call it Continual Conversion.

(Not only do they like capitals, they’re fond of alliteration.)

It’s ongoing. We can never fully achieve it during our lifetime, but there is joy in the trying so we keep at it.

I want you to know these aren’t wholly new concepts for me. Protestants also speak of emptying ones self, but we tend to breeze over it because it makes us uncomfortable. It smacks of obedience and frankly, we’re not real big on obedience.

Even so, I’ve been giving it a go and so far my progress has been… um… maybe “progress” isn’t the right word. Let’s go with “inching forward at a snail’s pace.” Yeah. That sounds about right.

Emptying myself by inching forward at a snail’s pace is going fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

Okay, let’s breeze over that for the time being. What I really wanted to say was that the morning after Sister Theodora’s birthday party, this popped up on the app I’m using for centering prayer. It’s by St. Ignatius – the founder of the Order of Jesuits. That guy.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Take note of that second line: “my memory.” Even that. Are we willing to give up that?

Fact is, we may not have a choice. We can (and should) take care of our bodies, eat well, exercise, yada-yada. But even then, our genes or our environment or whatever will have the last say. We entered this world not knowing anything, we may very well exit it not knowing anything either. One way or the other, we are emptied.

But to empty oneself willingly, that’s what old man Ignatius was talking about. Remember the chief goal: we are emptied in order to be filled.

The more I think about it, the more I believe we should consider this phase Sister Theodora has entered not as sad, but as sacred. She will soon achieve her True Self and return to God. She has entered a time of Holy Returning.

(Caps all mine.)

Does this sound foolish? If so, I’ll gladly play the fool.

FeedingonFolly

End God Talk

Sister Theodora didn’t stay long at the party. They say she’s not fond of big crowds so once she ate her cake and ice cream, her nurse took her back to the second floor — the Memory Care Unit, where her and five other sisters live.

They receive excellent care there, as do all the sisters who need medical attention. One time at lunch, a sister who recently moved back to the convent admitted she felt a little guilty by how nice she had it. “So many people don’t have what they need, and here I am living in comfort.”

Sitting at the table was one of my bosses — I have two and they’re a married couple, so we’ll call him Mr. Boss.

Anyway, Mr. Boss said to her, “The way I think of ‘privilege,’ it’s not that we should take away the things that bring us comfort, but that we should make sure everyone else is raised up so they receive them too.”

I rather like how he put that, don’t you? And you know, from what I learned about Sister Theodora, I’m pretty sure she’d like that too.

News from the convent: Dinner, death and donuts

Our lead story:

A protestant took part in a Catholic Eucharist. In other news: Hell did not freeze over.

It happened last Friday, March 1. The convent’s “Founding Day.” The Mass was a special one and many people attended. Sisters from far away attended. Employees of the convent attended.

I, a Presbyterian, attended.

I knew none of the songs, but I faked it well. As for the prayers, there were a few others not doing the sign of the cross either. So yeah. I wasn’t the only protestant on the field. (For the record, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a protestant making the motion, however this one is fairly certain she’d whack herself in the nose if she attempted it.)

Then we segued into the Eucharist and in all honesty, Catholics are masters with the segue. It’s seamless. There was another song and people started walking forward. I was about to sit down because, you know. Not Catholic.

Only I noticed everyone was walking forward. Everyone. Even the non-crossers, whom we presume are fellow protestants.

I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. I had Catholic friends. I know the drill. Only Catholics. Never me.

But these Franciscans have been described as radical. So maybe?

I whispered to the woman sitting next to me – a frequent visitor to the convent, she runs their volunteer organization in St. Cloud — and I ask, “Do you know if it’s okay if protestants–”

I didn’t get to finish; she was nodding emphatically. “I know for a fact it’s okay,” she said, adding, “The Sisters think it’d be like inviting someone to dinner and then not allowing them to eat.”

Which is a marvelous way to put it, don’t you think?

Speaking of dinner, there was one after the Mass and it was free. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, several salads including a “copper coin” salad. A dish that will forever change my view on cooked carrots. For dessert, apple pie.

In sadder news from the convent:

One of the Sisters passed away.

Deaths are announced quietly here, by way of a little slip of paper on the entrance to the convent.

front door of convent

It was a Sister I’d never met before: Sister Bernarda. She was 102 years old.

She had been a registered nurse and hospital administrator. Other Sisters reported she was always dignified and direct, and took care to present herself well and look her best. They also said she was very patient and kind to young nurses in training, had a charming sense of humor and was loved by all.

One thing I kept hearing from the Sisters: “I’m happy for her.”

They truly have a different view of death.

The day before she died, Sister Bernarda went to the convent’s beauty salon and got a permanent. (Let that sink in. At 102, she got a perm.)

She told the beautician she needed to look nice because she was “going to meet Jesus.”

Sister Bernarda

This is the news, folks. I’m not making this up.

From the lighter side of of the news:

Yesterday was Donut Day. Also known as Shrove Tuesday.

So apparently this is a thing? Honestly, I had no idea. Growing up Lutheran, every day was donut day. But for those whose Lenten tradition meant giving up decadent food, all that fat and sugar had to get used up. Hence, donuts on Shrove Tuesday.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had a donut as good as my Grandma’s. They arrived on your plate literally moments after she pulled them from the fryer, crispy and golden and oh-so-good. Never too sweet and perfect for dunking in tea.

But these, my friends? These came close. Really, really close.

Speaking of Lent, not sure if it’s your custom to give up something – it’s not mine, but I always liked the notion strictly for the challenge of it. Anyway, came across something that might be the most difficult challenge I’ve seen. It comes from Pope Francis.

Lent image

Even if we aren’t 100% successful, I rather think if we all just attempted these, we might change the world.

And that’s our news from the convent. Until next time: Be humble, be kind, and always choose love. 💗

When You Know it’s Time to Move

It’s one thing to move when you’re unhappy, it’s quite another to move when everything is going positively swell.

We’ve got ourselves a swell life here in Phoenix. Our kids are here, family and friends abound, we have jobs we like.

Heck, I even like my coworkers. How amazing is that?

We live in a decent neighborhood, in a decent house, with decent neighbors who watch out for each other.

But yeah. We’re moving. To Minnesota.

When people ask us why, it’s not always easy to explain.

“You know it’s cold there, right?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”

Snowing in April
The view from our hotel the first time we visited. It was mid-April.

We could say there’s a danger in getting too comfortable. You start to feel like you’re coasting along. No longer striving, no longer trying. Just settling in and waiting for the inevitable.

Sometimes what you need is a change of scenery.

“You know what the state bird of Minnesota is? The Mosquito!”
“Haha.”

Bench by the river
The Mississippi as it flows through Little Falls, a ten-minute drive from Randall, MN

Do you ever get an antsy feeling that something is not quite right? You feel a bit unsettled. Despite your life being perfectly fine, you have this voice inside saying, “You need a change… It’s time… Do something!”

And as Husband is a Presbyterian minister, we tend to put stock in that sort of thing.

We’ve been in the same house in Phoenix, at the same church, for 17 years.

Seventeen years. That’s half a century in Pastor-years.

He wanted to try something different. Still ministry, of course, but somewhere different.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, he “activated” his information. In essence, it alerts churches looking for a new pastor that he’s available. As per usual, he didn’t narrow the parameters as to where he was willing to go.

We’ve always been foolhardy in that regard.

“Hey, maybe we’ll wind up in Hawaii!”
“Yeah… or maybe Detroit.”
“Um…”

trees, Minnesota, small town
The sleepy little town of Randall, Minnesota

Fortunately for us, Presbyterians allow pastors to have a say in the matter. We’re not moved willy-nilly. We can scope a place out, take our time, interview the people there as much as they interview us. Do everything we can to make sure it’s the right move.

We were in no hurry, and with Husband having recently turned 60, we figured it’d be a slow process. We expected a year, maybe two, before we found the right place.

So imagine our surprise when he started getting emails from Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma…

“Oklahoma?”
“Um… no.”

river, small town, Minnesota, Little Falls
Look at all these homes blessed with riverfront views. Do you think they know how lucky they are?

Another thing we weren’t prepared for was how much politics would enter into it.

With each interview, Husband had a clear impression they were fishing for his political views, especially with regards to gay marriage. They weren’t asking overtly of course, but the meaning was there. And almost without fail, the churches contacting him were very conservative.

We began to wonder, was there some sort of code language we missed? Was there a phrase he used in his information form that inadvertently labeled him Alt-right?

He began researching locations as soon as a church contacted him, mostly to see how their area voted in the last election. What we hoped for was an area with some political diversity, neither all red nor all blue.

We look great in purple.

Most of the areas were heavily one sided. Such as South Carolina.

“I saw that 86% of your county voted for Trump.”
“Well, we ARE the Bible Belt, you know.” (Said in the most charming accent ever)

quilt shop, coffee shop, creamery building, randall minnesota
Randall’s quilt and coffee shop, housed in the old Creamery building. Soon to be my favorite hangout.

Then sometime in February he was contacted by a church in Randall, Minnesota. A Google image search showed us… well, honestly they need to hire a new photographer for that town. Most of the images are less than stellar.

But our emails with the church were lovely, as was a phone call. So a Skype interview was scheduled.

That then had to be rescheduled.

“So let me get this straight: no one from your committee can get to the church right now, on account of snow?”
“We really didn’t want to tell you that.”

snowy path, trees, minnesota
Are we nuts? Yeah, probably.

The eventual Skype interview was one of the most pleasant interviews he had, lasting for over an hour. It led to a second Skype interview, followed by a third… then a fourth… then a fifth…

The conversations were open, honest, forthcoming. They classified themselves liberal. They’re also pro-military.

They’re an interesting bunch.

They flew us up there. We hugged. (Heck, after five Skype interviews you’re practically family.) They put us in a nice hotel, drove us around town. Showed us the best roads for scenic motorcycle rides. (Husband took notes.)

They took us to a restaurant by a lake (of course), where Husband watched two snowmobiles make their way across the ice.

“That looks fun.”
“Um… yeah, actually. It does.”

snowmobiles, minnesota, family in the snow
Sure it’s cold, but dang it’s fun!

It’s an odd thing, but sometimes it takes a move across the country to find your kind of people.

So Husband wanted something different.

I think we found it.

church in randall minnesota