Thursday, August 14, 2014


Thoughts of writing are always with me. Opening lines of a book run through my mind, only lacking a story. Or complete plots inspired by some event or person that strikes me. Actually writing is the issue. Those ideas, engaging for a few minutes, are not essential to my immediate joy or wellbeing or the joy and wellbeing of those I love. At least that is my thought in the moment.

But the act of writing codifies those fleeting thoughts, taking them from ill formed ideas or incomplete  plots to a picture of what strikes me in the moment or season. Even if the ill formed or incomplete remain so, what is captured paints a picture of the world from my perspective. And, perhaps, it may paint a picture that enlightens others or causes me to see what may be of value as a writing project to extend, to build on, and to complete.

This week Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams died, one in old age, one in the prime of life. Bacall's illness was mentioned in the news but did not stick with me, something about the age made her death seem inevitable and okay. Williams' illness was also mentioned, depression, perhaps he was bipolar. It was not inevitable. Depression magnifies and consumes. For Williams, the disease won out, perhaps past failure or weakness or some present crisis magnified beyond his ability to cope. It does not diminish the laughter he brought to all of us or the love he had for his family. I wish he were here to sum up what he learned in his 63 years on earth as he did each week at the end of Mork and Mindy. It would surely strike the heart of the matter and we would smile. And then we would cry.

What caused the trending of my thoughts was the passage I was meditating on this morning:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (From Philippians 4)

There is much in the news that is not those things. Much in our lives or those who have recently died that are not those things. The lessons of disease or failure are not to be lost but neither should they consume. If I only learn from history, I'll never write that story. So, today, I'll look for the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. 

There are certainly lovely things that come to mind - holding a grandchild for the first time or recalling moments of our vacation. In the midst of the great palaces and cathedrals, beautiful and sobering, there was this ...

Looking out across the rooftops of Barcelona, traffic sounds climbing to my balcony, workmen yelling out in the distance, children's voices rising from the school yard, and one lone sunflower calling out silently - Lovely...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Writing prompts

My daughter gave me a journal and a jar filled with a writing prompts for Christmas last year. Today, I decided I needed to write and took the journal, some of the prompts, and my favorite pen, to my favorite coffee shop.

Prompt: Our childhood car

The seat covers were probably leather, fabric would have burned differently. I was 4 or 5, my sister was 7 or 8. We were with our Mom in the Packard (or some other boat car - boat as in big). I have a recollection of standing in the back seat - not on the seat but standing with my hands on the front seat. There were no seat belts then, no restraints unless an adult was in the back seat with you. The possibilities were wide open for playing with or tormenting siblings. I was the youngest at that time so my role was as the tormented one. But there were times of collaboration between my sister and I when we were together on errands with Mom or at the skating park with Dad.

One such time was when Mom had some errand to run. My sister and I had to go with her in the car, but either could not or did not want to go inside with her. There were not any toys in the car. So while we waited for Mom to come back to the car, we had to devise some entertainment. I am sure it was my sister who did the devising. I was merely the agent. She was in the front seat and I was standing in the back. She discovered that the car cigarette lighter worked when the car was turned off.

So, now we had something to entertain us. As we were too young to smoke, some creativity was required in what to do with the cigarette lighter. My sister was old enough to know that open fires in cars were not a good idea and likely to incur some unknown punishment.

Our parents were non-violent people, so spanking, while not explicitly ruled out, was certainly not expected and extremely rare. The punishments were typically unspecified prior to receiving them. The fear of the unknown greatly outweighed any threat of spanking.

There we were, a working cigarette lighter, no interest in smoking or fires, and no wood to practice wood burning designs. But there, right in front of me was a canvas waiting for something. The top and backside of the front seat were the perfect canvas for cigarette lighter art. The leather did not burn like paper would have. Placing the cigarette lighter on the leather resulted in a nice circular burn, etched permanently on the seat. Perhaps if I were 12 or 15 I would have made some recognizable picture. Or perhaps some very regrettable recognizable design. But at 4 or 5, I had yet to develop a specific artistic bent. Impressionist or abstract would have been my choice if I had known enough to articulate my artistic tastes. But these ideas were not part of my childhood and my abstract impressionist creations were not received with any great sense of awe.

So what I lacked in artistic skill I had to make up with volume. In this case, the circular patterns on the seat. Random placement of concentric circles burned in black on brown leather seat was the limit of our artistic sensibilities. It was like branding cattle without hurting the cow or angering the bull. The result, some 50 or 100 or more burns, carefully placed, with care taken not to make accidental burns in other parts of the car or on each other. Our creation complete, we only waited an appreciative audience.

My memory is actually blank on the actual events and the critical review of our work. But I do remember the burns on the seat of the car and no burns on my own seat. So, it could be that I was merely an innocent bystander. I do have some vague recollection that there was a reaction that was not appreciative of our art work and that some significant punishment was incurred.

[Note: No fact checking was performed in the writing of this. I believe it is essentially correct, but would you trust a memory of a four year old regarding an event that took place in 1958 or 1959. My siblings may choose to comment on the veracity of the story. Some long suppressed memory of mine or some confession from a sibling may alter the details (e.g. I may have been framed). But the image of cigarette lighter burns on the seat remains seared in my memory.]

[Note 2: My dad loved cars so my selection of a childhood car was from a fairly long list of what are now some classic cars.]

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent 2010 #7 - Twas the night before Christmas

Tonight we went to our last Advent activity for this year, the Christmas Eve service at our church. As traditions go, this is one of the most special. During years when I have not focused on Advent, this service often stops me in my tracks. During years when I am enjoying the season and not consumed with other things it is the culmination of a season of remembering and reflection. Tonight, it was the latter.

We sang a medley of Christmas Carols and the choir sang accompanied by a string quartet. A poet read, various soloists sang. I am not usually excited to hear a choir sing - no offense to choir folks. It is just too easy for me to become passive and just listen instead of being drawn in myself. But at Christmas it just seems appropriate. And of course there is an offering, focused on organizations we support that are trying to make a difference in the community. But the message is the center of it all. And the pastor always makes sure that the message is clear. And after the message, a final Christmas carol, a benediction, and that is it. Tonight we paused for a couple of conversations with families we see just this one time each year as a whole but these were brief.

We'll spend Christmas in airports as our family converges in a common location. But for tonight I paused to be thankful for Advent, both as tradition and as the center of my faith. Tonight I reflect. Perhaps next year will be one of those years when I am too busy to reflect much, but hopefully, as a result of this years reflection, it will be due to more useful pursuits than what often fills my time.

Tonight, the fifth candle was lit, the Christ Candle. Merry Christmas. May the peace that passes understanding fill your life.

Advent 2010 #6 - Lessons from the kitchen...

This one really is about Advent 2010, emphasizing the 2010 and not the Advent. A few days before Christmas we found ourselves with an amazingly light schedule. So, at a time that is supposed to be hectic and filled with busyness, I thought, "Let's have people over for dinner tomorrow." This, three days before Christmas.  One email later, we had a dinner party scheduled. (Thank goodness for spontaneous people.).

So what did you learn from tonight's dinner for four? Tonight I learned that it is important to read the fine print. In honor of your time here is the short version...

 I scour the ads, for three minutes, and see that both Ham and Pork Shoulder Picnic Style Roast are on sale. So are Filet Mignon and Ribeye...  
Pork Shoulder Picnic Style Roast

This looks nice...
Pork wins. Now I need a recipe. Cooking Light comes up with Pear & Cranberry Stuffed Pork Roast. This really does fit the season. The recipe requires butterflying, stuffing and trussing (sewing together is closer to what was called for but I like the word trussing).

Perhaps I should have read the fine print, "Pork Should Picnic Style Roast - bone in.For some reason my eyes glossed over that interesting bit of information, bone in. My lovely roast has a big bone going the wrong way. It makes butterflying rather difficult. Since it was too late and I was too cheap for the Ribeye Roast I had to proceed. Carving around seems to work, kind of. Instead of 1 nice butterflied piece or a top and bottom I can roll back together, I end up six interesting pieces of various sizes and thicknesses.  A few skewers and some nice twine save the day. Note the following picutres are not for the faint of heart, but just remember this is six separate pieces of pork.

 Here's the process and the results... 

Pears & Cranberries Stuffing

Sorry for this picture but remember the six pieces. Now one.

Preparing for Trussing

This will never work...

And here is the result.
This may work...
While this may not look that appealing, note that the stuffing stayed in for the most part.
When the twine was removed (Lesson 2 - use different string) and the roast placed on a plate it was just the thing to grace thte table. It worked.

What made this event worthy of Advent was not the pear and cranberry stuffed pork but the good company and pleasant conversation. (Though the pineapple upside down cake will be remembered as a close second in making the event). Good times with new and old friends is not what Christmas is all about, but I have a sense that this is the right way to celebrate this special season. It turns out I was the only spontaneous one in the group and everyone else just humored me by dropping plans to rest quietly in preparation for Christmas. I am glad they did.

This is an advent blog post so without hesitation I wish you a Merry Christmas! And just in case I missed the holiday wishes that you would prefer, then I will wish you a Very Happy New Year.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent 2010 #4

For the four Sunday's before Christmas at church we light one more candle on the Advent wreath. Then on Christmas Day the fifth candle is lit. I think we may do this Christmas Eve. A different family in the church reads the scripture and lights the candles each week. The full story may come later but  here is the picture of Sunday's third candle:

Advent Wreath - Week Three
I forgot to mention in an earlier post on our family traditions that the third major activity we did with the girls during Advent was to light the candles on the Advent wreath at home each night. This was the favored activity and the rotation was strictly adhered to, at least once all three girls were old enough to do it. Since the tradition faded as the older girls were not around as much, MCP probably had fewer opportunities to light the candles. (Warning: This probably means that she is the one who is most interested in playing with fire.)

Cheap Advent Wreath Story?
There are lots of sites that tell the story and symbolism of the advent wreath. My search started with the realization that I had lots of options if I wanted to purchase the story of advent.

I started to post a list of the more interesting web sites that give the story. But since each story has a little different focus and the symbolism behind each element of the advent wreath varies I will spare you all the variations on the theme. Here is the quick summary. Multiple sites identify the meaning of the candles and the traditional colors:
Week 1: Prophet's Candle (Purple)
Week 2: Bethlehem Candle (Purple)
Week 3: Shepherds Candle (Pink or Rose)
Week 4: Angels Candle (Purple)
Christmas Day: Christ Candle (White)

Catholic Advent wreaths have 4 candles in stead of the 5 we use at our church. On Christmas day they switch out all four candles for white ones. I imagine some Scottish Presbyterian probably determined that it would be much more frugal to 5 candles rather than 8. Undoubtedly this is the cause for some serious seasonal debate somewhere in the world. Maybe not. I just like the fact that each day and each week I am reminded about why we celebrate. And a good discussion of the variations on the theme probably would point out a whole lot more reasons to rejoice.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent 2010 #3

The Peters' Gingerbread House 2010
No deep thoughts here... A friend's gingerbread house party is a tradition we have enjoyed since the kids were young. Even though none of our kids came home to join in the festivities this year, we still and made a gingerbread house. Marsh and I collaborated on one house. She took care of decorating the house proper while I focused on the yard.  A new insight this year was that you should complete the decorations on house before putting up the fence. Every gingerbread house needs a fence but the fencing contractor was not happy when asked to remove part of the fence to put on the house decorations. In the end the Christmas festivities were saved from disaster. Only one cross-beam (pretzel) was removed and a special tool was invented to place the decorations behind the fence posts.

No Chimney this year - going green in gingerbread land.

Note Side Building (Dog house or ???) and nice walkway

Note the wise selection of candy for the wall and roof  (Wrapped candies can be eaten!)
Taking your time in building and plenty of breaks to see other construction techniques is the proper approach. As each new family arrives throughout the afternoon, more dishes arrive that it is only proper to sample. I was content with hot cider and a couple of variations on meatballs augmented by chips and dip. But then the clam chowder came. It demanded a second helping. But, as always, the main event was not the houses or the holiday foods but the great conversation with old friends and a few new ones.

Note the lovely fence (Pretzels and small Gingerbread men probably won't get eaten.)

Hershey's Kisses for me, Rolos for Marsh. No one actually eats the little hard candies that have the little Christmas trees on them, do they?

Continuing the tour - Candy Cane Door - Bet you wish you had one.

Note the fire pit and walk ways in the front yard - oooo - 
So much for going green

And a first for all the years and hundreds of houses made at this party - a fire pit with Gingerbread kids roasting marshmallows. The correct way of course, letting them flame up.
With a better camera you could see the tremendous skill required to create the blazing fire ... Well, perhaps not much skill, but definitely a tremendously random mind to conceive of it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent 2010 #2

Sun rising in the Neighborhood

Today's post was actually the first thought that caused me to think I should post an Advent series.

I took a walk the other day just before sunrise. As I walked the sun was striking the mountains, too bad I did not capture that picture. The sunlight struck the mountains then the houses across the street. The mountains were filled with dark shadows until light broke through, exposing more and more of the valleys and crevices. And the houses, shrouded in a dim light. slowly filled with light. What I had thought I could see clearly suddenly became even clearer, revealing things I had been staring at but not able to see.


Looking toward the sun, it was still hidden from my sight by a hill. The hill itself was in the dark. As I walked, the edge became more defined and the glow somehow made the hill look even darker, darker than the mountains. The edge of hill became clearer and clear until when the sun finally rose I could no longer see the edges or the hill, until I was forced to look away. I found that at sunrise, the clearest view was in looking away from the sun toward what it reveals.

My faith has brought me to a place where I often look at the completed picture, exposed to the full light of day. And sometimes I lose sight of how that picture came together, both in history and in my life. Each day, considering a new facet of the Christmas story draws me into the story. Slowly the full story is exposed but I have connected with each part, distinct and special. The words of Isaiah and Psalms, the announcements by the angels, the musings of Joseph, the reaction of Mary, the birth, Simeon, and Anna, the Wise men, and the shepherds all bring me to a place of anticipation and hope. 

I appreciate that our culture provides some symbols to remind me of Advent. But my anticipation is not what it was as a child looking forward to Santa Claus and Luminarias and presents and snow. My anticipation is not about some celebration of a historic event (which it is) or even some final end result (which it has). It is deeper or different than that and I don't have the words, or enough of the right ones to describe this today. But even if I did explain it, since it does have to do with faith you may not even think it is rational. That is okay. For now, just know, that I connect with that story and sense a bit more of its depth with each year. And for this month I'll simply take it in, and let the story speak.

Peace to all.