Lent Begins with Love

Lenten reflection

I subscribe to Bishop Robert Barron’s Lenten Reflections that are delivered to my inbox every morning. Now, I haven’t been observing Lent very well–okay, at all this year and this is the first message I’ve opened in the last three weeks.

But, it made an immediate impact on me. Putting God first in my life, giving him my all, is something I’ve always hesitated to do. I mean, I trust God, but how would my life change if I put God in charge? How would my heathen (and I say that with love) family react? Would I spend so much time at church and in prayer that there’d be no time or energy left for them? Would they start seeing me a someone they can’t relate too? And what about writing? I have to fight for time to work now and especially when I was involved in church ministry.

This, however, this I can do. Probably not very well because, let’s face it, there are people out there who are very hard to love. But, it is something concrete that I can work on for the sake of God. 

And, maybe in time the Lord will naturally become central in my life because God is Love and what he wants most is for us to let him love us. I believe that can only happen if we first learn to love each other. Even in the worst of times.

 

Efficiency

After two months of drenching rains, falling trees, landslides, power outages and days long forced confinement life is slowly regaining a sense of normalcy. In my case that means predictable routine. For instance, it’s Sunday so, predictably, my husband is sitting in the living room watching bad movies. He loves movies, and so do I, but he’ll watch any movie, no matter how awful, while I tend to be more selective. Even he admits I’m better at picking out movies to watch than he is.

When my husband and I first started dating one of the first things he noticed about me was my love of ritual as he called it. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way before, but when I did I had to laugh. Properly defined ritual refers to religious ceremonies, but if I’m honest, I have to admit that I adhere to my daily/weekly/monthly routines with a near religious devotion.

When I was a kid I saw a movie called Cheaper by the Dozen starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. In this early version of the story the father, Frank Gilbreth, Jr. was a time-motion study and efficiency expert. I watched this movie several times over the years because I was fascinated by the idea of applying his principles of efficiency to every day life. I wanted to be an efficiency expert when I grew up.

Officially, I’m a high school graduate with some community college credits, but no degree. I could never be hired as an efficiency expert. But, the desire to conduct both my personal and business life with the greatest efficiency has never left me. And I think, in my amateurish way, I’ve done all right. Almost every supervisor I’ve ever worked with has complimented my efficiency. I get things done in half the time with 98% accuracy.

Of course, there are downsides to this need for predictable routine and efficiency. For one thing, I don’t have a spontaneous bone in my body, which often drives my husband nuts. He’s the opposite, you see. It takes a week of thoughtful planning before I pack my suitcase. He packs 5 minutes before we leave. He loves last minute invitations to a party, or other event. I need at least a week to decide if the event while fit into my schedule. Okay, I can do it in a day, but I prefer more time.

It also means that in writing and reading and everyday communications I get annoyed with extraneous verbiage. Why say in 20 words what can easily be said in 10? If I ask you what time it is, please don’t tell me how to build a clock.

I also don’t like books that are heavy on description. It’s not efficient. Not for me as a reader or as a writer. I know what a tapestry rug looks like. Please don’t describe it’s weft and warp. Do you really need to describe every stick of furniture in the room the protagonist just entered? For the third time? I ran across this once. The author insisted on describing an antique stuffed room, in detail, every time someone walked into it. After reading about the cherry wood Chippendale desk for the third time, I tossed the book across the room. And I’ve never picked up another of that author’s books since.

Description is necessary. Our characters can’t be floating around in empty space. But, know when to stop. And know what readers prefer in the genre you are writing in. If you write commercial mainstream fiction with stories based in the modern world then minimal to medium amounts of description are all that’s needed. If you write fantasy or science fiction then you need more description. But, that’s not a license to go crazy. Even in these genres you will most likely include settings and items that are familiar to us all. You may have trees with pink leaves and green flowers, but they are still leaves and flowers. Describe in depth only those things that can’t be easily visualized by your readers.

On the other hand, there are people out there who love description. Lots and lots of description. And that’s okay because there are writers who love filling their books with loads of it. To each his own.

For me, a person who loves efficiency, less is more.

 

More Storms

And not just weather related ones. There’s a political storm underway in this country right now. Smarter people than me can comment of the nuances of the political world. I want to talk about neighbors.

Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. —Robert A. Heinlein

Right now, in my neck of the woods, nature is doing the controlling. Another week of rainy weather brought down a few tons of earth, rocks and a few trees.

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Photo courtesy of Jessi & Bryce, Next Door Lompico.

The county works department has been scratching their collectives heads over this one for a couple of days now. As of this morning they estimate it will take them until Friday (4 days away) to clear one lane.

This is the main road we use to get to town. What this means for me is that I’ll be housebound until it’s open again. There’s a detour, but it’s a one lane road that isn’t in very good shape because of the increased traffic and damage from all the storms. This road also runs through a number of privately owned properties making the extra traffic difficult for those who live there. Which is why I’m staying put. Out of respect for my neighbors.

Neighbors are important in this small mountain community. My husband and I moved here because we don’t want to live in “the city.” We both grew up in heavily populated urban areas and we both grew to hate that way of life. So, as soon as we had the chance, we high tailed it out of there and we’ve enjoyed the freedom living in small rural areas has given us. And I’ve learned the benefit’s of loving my neighbors even when they irritate me.

Granted, we’ve had to deal with the effects of nature’s rage in ways “city folks” don’t and it has been challenging, but if you’re paying attention, there’s a lot to learn from this way of life. One big lesson is that if we don’t work together, look out for each other, we’re going to spend a lot of time sitting alone in the dark.

I’ve lived in cities for a big portion of my life and spent most of that time living in apartments. If we ever had a problem with our neighbors we called the landlord or the police, as the case may be. At school I was taught that if I had a problem with a fellow student, go to the teacher. At work, if I had a problem with a co-worker the rule was to either talk to my boss or HR. I can’t remember ever being told to talk to the person and work things out between us. This is the type of distrust and xenophobia that urban areas instill in its citizens.

It’s a whole different mindset here in Lompico. In this area where we are often isolated from the world, we can’t depend on government agencies or bosses or landlords. Solving problems is up to us.

In the summer our neighbors like to party and play loud music. I’m not the partying type. I’m an introvert who likes quiet and being left alone to do my thing. So, in situations like these I have choice. I can get angry, make a big fuss and demand that they stop making such a racket, or I can close my windows on that side of the house. I choose to close my windows.

Why? Because we’ve taken the time to get to know our neighbors and we’ve become friends despite our differences. Turns out, they’re wonderful, kind people who, if I asked them, would shut the music down in a heartbeat. And when the lights go out they let us hook into their generator so that we can be comfortable until the power is restored.

There is also a group of residents who started a private email forum called Next Door Lompico. During this last series of storms every member posted notices about power failures, downed trees, garbage collection, the landslide, and anything else helpful you can think of. I’ve never met these people, but I will never forget their kindness.

The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.

I’ve heard it said that it comes down to people who live in large cities where, out of necessity, everything and everyone is controlled by laws and ordinances vs. people who live in small towns and rural areas where freedom and independence are more highly valued. Based on the red and blue map from this last election, I think they may have a point.

Having lived in both worlds, I think the real problem with our country right now is that we’ve lost the ability to work together as a community. At one time we knew how to do that, but over the years, as the country has grown, that way of life lost favor. I’m not even going to speculate on the why’s, but I do think that until we get that back, until we learn how to talk and listen and work together we’re going to remain trapped under this landslide of division and hatred that has overtaken the country.

 

 

Storm Warnings

We live in a little cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. As I sit here typing a gust of wind has rushed through the trees that surround our house. Normally, watching the tree tops dance and sway would be nothing more than an interesting diversion. A sensory image to file away for later use. But, this is day 6 of a storm that has added inches of rain to soil still saturated by two storms that passed through just a week earlier. Gusty winds mean more fallen trees and a good chance of more power failures.

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But, we’ve been lucky. In other parts of California flooding has forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes. Mudslides and downed trees have closed many roads and a few highways. Yosemite closed due to flooding. And a beloved landmark was destroyed.

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California’s Tunnel Tree, before and after

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So, while we’ve had to “rough it” a bit through an extended power outage and heavy rain and road closures trapped us in our home for three days, we’ve done all right. We’ve kept warm and dry in our little cabin. I stocked up on food and water before the worst of it hit and we were able to cook and boil water thanks to our gas stove. We also have wonderful neighbors who let us hook up to their generator. This gave us enough power to keep the refrigerator, cable, phone and internet on. Without that we would have had no idea what was going on in the outside world. Internet access was limited by the fact that there was no power to my desktop computer, but that’s okay. My trusty old Kindle Fire did just fine. Even if it wouldn’t let me check my email.

My husband did have one bad morning when the power was out. He’s one of those people who needs his caffeine fix in the morning and he couldn’t use the coffee maker. As you would expect, he was a bit grumpy when I got up and hour or so after he did. Fortunately, I found some instant coffee stashed in the back of a cupboard and all was right with the world once again.

And cooking dinner by candlelight? Not as easy as you would think. You can’t tell if something’s burning until you smell the smoke. That or you stir and flip with one hand while the other holds a flashlight.

Then there was the day we were so bored we binge watched West Wing. I loved that series when it aired so my family bought me five seasons worth of DVD sets.

But, the story’s not over yet. According to the weather reports and my window, we still have a bunch of rain and wind to deal with today and some light rain tomorrow and the next before we’re done.

Stay safe and dry out there.

 

 

Is it Christmas yet?

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My favorite part of the holiday season is driving around and seeing homes and shops decked out wonderful displays of light: All white, multi-colored, static light, twinkling lights, and moving lights. Last night as we were driving over the hill to my husband’s company party, we passed a white truck covered in strings of lights. It was wonderful and the owner of the truck enjoyed our happy reaction as much as we did.

What I don’t like, of course, is the traffic, having to stalk people for their parking spots, long lines at the grocery stores and department stores, and well, pretty much everywhere I go. But, even though I grump and groan about it all, it’s still the best time of year because somehow, all this holiday madness still tends to bring out the best in people. We give more to charity. We go out of our way to spend more time with our families. And, in my experience, we’re just generally nicer and more friendly to our fellow human beings.

I think it has something to do with those lights I love so much. Jesus birth is celebrated in December because that was the early church’s best guess. We know the date is not accurate, but it is appropriate because it is believed Jesus Christ is the light of the world and what better time to bring light into the world than in the middle of winter.

Pre-Christian pagans who suffered through long, dark, cold winters often had mid-winter celebrations. One important aspect of those celebrations was to encourage the Sun with it’s life giving warmth and light to return in the Spring. It was also a reminder that the Sun had always returned and as long as we keep faith in that, we can survive the longest, darkest night of the year. So, what better way to enjoy the month of December than by decking our halls with light, no matter what your religious beliefs happen to be.

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When Fantasy Becomes Reality

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Casa Kavanaugh

At one time I used to have this fantasy about living in a cabin in the woods. I would live a simple, self-sufficient life far from any city, surrounded only by nature with my nearest neighbor at least a mile away. I lived alone, of course, because as a serious introvert I tend to avoid situations that require more than the polite minimum of social interaction. As most of my employment reviews noted, I lack “interpersonal skills.” I prefer the term “socially awkward.”

Therefore, in my daydreams, the cabin would be difficult to find and access which would insure that only those people I wanted to see would go to the inconvenience of visiting me. In my mind, my son, his wife and their children would make the trek once or twice a year and they would spend most of their time trying to convince me to give up my hermitage and live with them. To which I would answer, bah! Or something equally crotchety.

Forgetting that God has a sense of humor, I felt safe indulging in this fantasy because, at the time, I could not imagine it coming true. I was a single working woman with no savings, mediocre credit and neither the skills nor the knowledge to find and survive such a place.

Little did I know I would marry a man who would make that fantasy come true. Almost.

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I call it “The Burrow.”

We now live in a small house set on the side of a hill outside the small town of Felton, California. Like my fantasy we are smack in the middle of a forest surrounded by trees with lots of wildlife to enjoy and there’s even a creek nearby. The roads snaking through the area are narrow, winding, and in bad weather somewhat hazardous. We don’t get a lot of visitors.

However, because of the tree cover growing our own food is out of the question, which as it turns out, is fine with me. At my age vegetable gardening doesn’t live up to the romantic ideal in my head. It’s a lot of hard work that my back can’t handle. Fortunately, there are four grocery stores within a 20 minute drive from our place.

We have other conveniences that never appeared in my fantasy such as Internet and Cable, hot and cold running water, a flushing toilet, electricity and a propane stove and oven. What we don’t have is central heating. We have a single wood stove that in a cold snap such as they one we are experiencing right now, works overtime trying to keep the living room/kitchen area warm.

In my fantasy, my cabin was about half the size of this house so a small wood stove was enough to keep me warm on cold winter nights. In reality, we have a very small living room, larger kitchen, two bedrooms, my office (which is always cold), and a small bathroom that, in winter, could substitute as a meat locker. One centrally located wood stove just doesn’t cut it. Besides, wood heat is a lot of work. My husband spends his weekends chopping wood and I spend a good chunk of time everyday managing the fire.

In the summer, it’s hot. Not as hot as it would be if we didn’t have a tree canopy blocking much of the sunshine, but it’s still hot. And dry, and dusty. In the evenings, we like to spend time outside on our deck. Problem is, so do several thousand mosquitoes. These are things we never think about when indulging in nature fantasies.

But, we do get to feed hummingbirds, listen to ravens croaking, and watch young deer, some so young they still have their spots, walking down the road. I’ve encountered possums and raccoons around the house and we’ve become the benefactors of two feral cats that were living under our shed.

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Goldie and Little Bit

One other thing: our nearest neighbors are three feet away. Actually, we’re sandwiched between two houses. Fortunately, our neighbors are lovely people who respect our privacy even if their weekend parties do get a little loud in the summer.

Fantasies and day dreams are fun and a great way to stretch the imagination, but the cold truth is, reality can never measure up to those ideals. But, for me, that’s okay. Real fantasy is a mixture of both and as a writer I’ve found that reality provides more material that is rich in the sensory details that make a story come to life. Things like freezing in winter and being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the summer, for instance.

Happy dreams and Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Vegan Split Pea Soup

There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t eat split pea soup. It was too green. Yes, I know that’s weird reason for not wanting to eat something, but there it is. I refused to eat pesto for the same reason.

Then I got married. (Well, there was the whole dating and courtship thing that in our case took way too long, but eventually we said the “I dos.”) My husband it turns out loves pesto and split pea soup and at some point I decided to cook up a batch of the dreaded icky green soup. Now I love the stuff. As long as it’s homemade.

Vegan Split Pea Soup is so quick and easy to make and so filling and nutritious there’s really no reason not to make up a batch once or twice a month.

But, before I give you the recipe there’s a couple of things you need to know. First off, even when I’m following a recipe I don’t follow the recipe. For me, cookbooks are more for inspiration than actual instruction. So, I change things. For instance, many recipes call for a medium size onion. That’s too much onion for me. I love onion, but I also want to taste other stuff. So, I usually only add half.

Also, when I cook I add ingredients in dashes and pinches and “that looks about rights” instead of teaspoons and cups.  So, forgive me for not providing exact measurements. In my opinion, baking is the only time you need to be exact.

The most important part of cooking is tasting as you go. That’s how you know if it’s right. So, here it is:

Vegan Split Pea Soup

8oz package green split peas. (The fresher the better)

1/2 medium yellow onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

2 or more cloves of garlic, diced (if you love garlic add lots, if not stick to 2)

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil

Bay leaves and dried Oregano (optional)

Vegan chicken flavored bouillion (Orrington Farms Broth Base & Seasoning, Superior Touch Better Than Bouillion, or Edward & Sons Not-Chick’n cubes are all good. I like Orrington.

4 cups water to start

Dice onion and carrot. Peel and dice garlic. Add oil to large pot and heat on medium. When oil is hot add onion and carrots, reduce heat to low, and sweat. This means cook until the onion releases it’s juices. They will be soft and almost translucent.

Add water, peas and garlic. Add bouillon according to package instructions. You can also use vegetable broth, but you’ll get better flavor with the bouillon. Stir, cover pot and simmer on low heat.

At this point you can also add bay leaves, oregano or other herbs and seasonings that you like. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I don’t recommend adding any additional salt. You’ll get all you need from the bouillon. My husband likes some pepper, but he adds it to his bowl.

Continue to cook soup on low, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed. Taste as you go. This is very important. As the peas absorb the water and as is it evaporates through steam, you will need to add as much as 4 more cups of water. This means you might need more bouillon. Add a bit more. Taste. Needs more? Add a bit. Cook, stir, taste until it’s just right.

When the peas are cooked through and soft get out your immersion or stand blender. Immersion blenders are best because you can plop it right into the pot. If you don’t have one, then let your soup cool a bit and pour into your stand blender processing until smooth and creamy.

Serve with french, ciabatta or other loaf bread. Enjoy!