Ordinary Times and Travels: Signs

I was in danger of becoming discouraged yesterday.  My job for the last two days has been to give an outside look to the house listings being sent to my daughter from the realtor. There are so many variables to keep in mind and each variable has a priority assigned to it. Price, distance to work, adequate space, animal friendliness, resale value… I could go with this list, but you get the idea. I went south of the city the first day and north of it today.

The first place today was a no show. I could not find a house or a driveway at the supposed address after driving for 30 minutes to reach it. The second place was somewhat less disappointing but certainly not a place Dr. J would have liked to live. I was stoked for the third place to be really awesome. How could it not be? It was time for some good news. After many turns, roads getting smaller and smaller, this is the sign that marked the last gravel lane.

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Some people have welcome signs, then there are others…

 

With that message in mind, I started thinking about what I’d read that morning before setting out, a specific message in scripture that is pretty commanding. “Don’t let your heart be troubled.” And along with that were words from Jesus promising to love me and send the Holy Spirit to guide me.  I’m not saying the Holy Spirit was looking over multiple listing for the perfect house for Julie. But it does seem to be a promise from someone who is faithful and loves me, that I will have guidance when I ask for it, if I love him, trust him and am obedient. The question is not whether God is guiding me in this small thing. The question is what is he guiding me toward or away from. In this instance, if God were a realtor he would be saying “location, location, location…”

As Julia and I look over listings on the internet, I see our focus changing a little. Maybe we are listening to guidance. It’s interesting to watch for signs, of all kinds.

I saw another sign the other day. I pulled in to fuel up the truck for my day’s adventures and got stalled at the gas pump looking for the credit card slot. There wasn’t one. There was a sign which surprised me enough that I had to post a pic on Facebook.

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I paid the cashier and told him I didn’t remember the last time I saw a “pump first” sign. He very calmly told me I had been traveling in the wrong neighborhoods. Sometimes I do get the sense that the climate here is a little quieter, less oriented to crime and its prevention. That would be nice, just saying…

Ordinary Times and Travels: North Carolina

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View out the kitchen window. Could it be prettier? No.

I am in North Carolina for about 10 days, staying with eldest daughter Julia. She has recently moved here to start a new job with Carolina Equine. She is an equine veterinarian. She left her previous work in Jacksonville, FL over Christmas vacation and is gradually getting moved. It hasn’t been fun or easy for her, and moving is quite often a risky endeavor. How do you know it will be better for you in the new place? You don’t, really.

North Carolina has been a dream of hers for a long time. I think it started when we visited a friend’s house in the Nantahala area. It was cooler than Florida and had interesting terrain with streams, mountains, and forests.  Later on, we went hiking on the Appalachian Trail and saw more of the state’s mountainous western side. We’ve spent a week in Charlotte years ago. We’ve heard glowing tales from friends who have moved to the state – that’s it. Somehow the dream grew from these beginnings.

I feel that it was divine providence that Julia found a temporary place to live. She was worried about finding an affordable rental that wouldn’t require a long lease. She wants very badly to find property of her own where she can finally settle and unpack. She has not had a place she could really call her own since she left for school eight years ago. One of the clients of the practice she works for has a small rental house on their horse ranch and offered it to her. She can’t unpack and is still surrounded by boxes but it is a comfortable abode and the ranch is so beautiful it is going to be hard to leave.

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Over 100 acres of field and woods, loved and cared for by Cesario the ranch hand.

Of course, the husband and I are interested in all this because she is our daughter, but also because we have entertained the thought of moving here as well. We have been wanting to live nearer to family, specifically our daughters, for a while, praying about it and considering where and when.

So, here I am, determined to find out some things about Greensboro, NC. I am learning my way around the roads, looking at the neighborhoods and trying to imagine living here.  I’m trying to help while I’m here by fixing some meals and, as usual, cleaning the old food out of the refrigerator. I find it strange that after years of not liking to cook, it now seems that is one of the ways I am most useful to people. I had better start to like it. I clean, I take care of pets, I get groceries. Ordinary times are the norm, and that’s good because ordinary times are wonderful.

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Horse trailer, pick up truck, Tess the dog, Todd Rogers the cat – all part of ordinary life with Dr. J.

What is a Church?

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I could also call these thoughts “My Struggle with the Bride of Christ”.

I would like to say that the church is a group of believers that show the world around them what God’s love is like. It’s a group of people doing loving things that people shouldn’t be able to do, in fact can’t do, without God doing those things through them. God’s true church is loved by each individual in it, and in turn, the church has a selfless love for each individual belonging to it. I’m wondering if that’s possible this side of heaven…

I’ve been thinking about heaven, and about the church, a lot lately. Tonight I couldn’t get to sleep for the thoughts that kept troubling me.  Heaven, I thought, will be a place where I won’t have to wonder if I’m in the right place.  All around me will be a community of believers with no doubt who they’re worshiping and no disconnect with those they’ve come to know and love.

I have been blessed with a pretty close family all my life. We have significant differences but we are bonded together, having the same parents, the same close proximity to each other during our formative years. We sat alongside each other at the table, in the car, at church. We did life together. It wasn’t necessarily our choice, but it made sense and it was good. We’re grown now and our lives are less connected, but in our heads and hearts, we are still family. We make efforts to spend time together. We have grown to love each other. Where else can we go for that sense of who we are and how we came to be?

I think I want my church to be like my family. I want my church to be the place I belong because people know me there.

I try to imagine the first Christian churches, like the one in Philippi. We’ve been hearing sermons about those people, the Philippians, in the church I attend. In Philippi, a city in biblical times, some very unlikely first converts were drawn together by a God, actually a spiritual parent, who suddenly gave them a chance to know their life’s purpose. A wealthy business woman (with a house big enough to share with other believers), a Roman policeman and his family, and a formerly demon possessed slave girl were suddenly bonded by love for that spiritual parent. They started spending time together as they learned. They probably ate together, went places together and came to know each other’s stories as they talked. They had to have had some pretty divergent viewpoints, but there wasn’t another church just a few miles away that was more “their kind of church”.  They were the only church, until such a time when church growth separated them into communities based on locale. Even then, they probably kept in touch.

So that’s what a community is really – people who live next to each other, doing and sharing life. I wonder if the reason Christian believers don’t always do church well is because they don’t do community well either. That’s what I’m struggling with. I don’t do community well, not even in my own physical community. I share a driveway with people living in five other houses and rarely do we connect over anything. I know their names, but I guarantee, if they moved away I wouldn’t know where or why, or even care. We haven’t spent time together and are only bonded by… a driveway, I guess. Our cars and our preferences allow us to shop in different places, work in different places, be entertained by different things.

And although some people try to make it different, our churches are very similar to our poorly connected communities. When I live half an hour’s drive from the church I attend, it’s pretty safe to say I’m not doing life next to anyone else from church.

It’s a struggle to know and be known. And I think God is going to get tired of me not doing it.

God can arrange times when transportation isn’t easy, when choices are few, when knowing and working with the neighbor next door is a matter of life or death for me. He will do that if that’s what it takes to teach me to love my neighbor.  It’s probably so important to learn to love and get along because I will have to do it, like forever.  “Like forever” is my description of eternity. And although, I’m not going to attempt to give a description of heaven, I think it will be a place where I don’t have to wonder if I belong and I probably won’t be driving 20 miles to church either.  Just sayin’…

 

Today’s Grateful Thought

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There are thousands more to come down.

There are so many beautiful places in this country. I can’t help but think that I am in one of the greatest for this time of year. I’m a “Yankee” according to some who were born here in Florida, but after 30 years in this state I think I’ve earned the right to brag on it. I’ve spent the last two days working outside in perfect weather. Perfect. I’ve driven past the sparkling blue Gulf. I’ve sat out in the yard, visiting with neighbors and listening to the birds. I’ve been watching the buds on my orchids swell and open to the sun. And tonight I’m out in the back yard listening to the crickets while I watch the brush pile of downed limbs burn, glow and spark upward. I love living in Florida.

It’s the way I’ve always experienced it. When I start anticipating a possible move, I also start a new awareness and appreciation of my present home. It’s the season when one of our rare trees in the oneacrewoods, the kapok, blooms and drops literally thousands of blossoms on the ground. The flowers are the size of badminton “birdies” and have to be raked up or they become a wet, sticky mess that sticks to tires and shoes. What could seem like a never-ending chore, since they are falling even as I rake, is instead a marvel to me. Someday I will not have this gorgeous tree to tend, and that thought makes me sad. I think of all the energy and work that has gone into the production of these showy, red missiles and wonder what the abundance means. Was it our wet fall, or does the tree know that there are hard seasons ahead?

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I raked this clean just yesterday.

The truth is, I’ve loved everywhere God has allowed me to live, even the places I didn’t want to go to at first. There are reasons for being where we end up being, and we are there to look for those reasons. Looking with expectation, curiosity, and the desire to learn is the challenge.  Tonight I’m really thankful for our time in Florida. I’m just sayin’, it’s a great place to be.

Beginning with Gratitude

Back in Florida after two weeks in the Pacific North West. This morning it was 71 degrees. Tonight the low is 38 degrees F. For this, I could have stayed in Seattle.

I have decided that I want to remember each visit, each trip for the good things that happen. For this recent visit to Esther in Seattle I am grateful for:

an evening of music, where Esther played flute and I played piano, like we used to in times past. This hasn’t happened for a long time.

a visit to the compline service at St. Marks. I had heard about that kind of music and seen it in movies but the experience far surpassed it all. A first for high church liturgy.

a chance to step inside Esther’s dream Airstream and add the smallest amount of emotional weight to her future plans.

the near miraculous sequence of events the last two days in town that made it possible to get Esther’s car serviced and cracked windshield replaced.

the fun of meeting John at True View who was a delightful person as well as a careful, skilled windowglass technician.

the new information about eating and how much fun I had trying out the AIP (and how much fun it was when we cheated on cupcakes)

the crazy, different electric jacket, and Esther’s “passed down” sweaters.

sweet potato fries at Blue Moon with Esther and Ryan.

I have read recently of research showing that being grateful trains the brain, making it easier to be grateful in the future. It is a mental health practice that extends to the physical body as well. Keeping a gratitude journal, and having daily time to reflect and write in it is one of my goals for this new year. I hope to share some of it here, which leads me to expressing thankfulness for this writing outlet, and for those who read and contribute on WordPress. I am truly encouraged by each and every one of  you. Thank you.

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Ordinary Times and Travels: What we eat in Seattle, post 9

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After the hammer…

“This is the first time in my 35 years that I have heard that peanuts are not nuts.” he said.

Esther’s friend made dinner for us tonight and we were standing around in the kitchen talking about “the diet project”, the AIP.  He had been interested enough to read up about it and had chosen a couple recipes from our cookbook to make, giving us the night off.  He did a bang up job and we appreciated it, a lot!

We have been following the AutoImmune Protocol for almost two weeks now, and although I think it is going fairly well, we are starting to have serious cravings for things on the “no” list, things we used to love to eat, things high on fun, satiety and comfort, but low (possibly devoid of…) nutrients.  It’s a little early to know if we feel healthier, but how could we be otherwise? That’s what I’m asking myself.

For certain, more food has come through the door of this house in the last two weeks than in similar time periods. We seem to be shopping all the time. Yet, it’s a struggle to figure out what to eat when mealtimes come around. Sometimes what we have is not the mental picture of a meal that we have been used to, so it doesn’t seem like a meal.  Thankfully, mental pictures can be changed – in fact, that is what it’s all about when you decide to take on a new way of eating. Can we stick with it until we’ve had time to change our ideas of satisfying eating? Good question.

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Yum?

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Breakfast is a difficult meal because traditionally, it’s all about grains, dairy and eggs of some sort, none of which are on our diet. We have avocado, sweet potato, turkey bacon. We need to work on our smoothie repertoire a little more.

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The lovely, nontraditional breakfast

We knew we were going to have to use more coconut in various ways so Esther ordered two young coconuts in our Amazon Fresh order.  I googled instructions on how to get into them because, frankly, looking at them doesn’t give a clue. The steps seemed simple, just hack away the outer white layer until you see a light colored “spot” where you can press your knife and make a hole. I made quite a mess doing all that cutting and got to a rock-hard layer where no more cutting was possible. But, someone forgot to put a “spot” on my coconut and I had to drill a hole with the tip of my knife.  So I had a hole, but nothing was coming out of it – until I made a second hole for air to come in. See, when you learn stuff like that in Physics class they don’t tell you that you’ll need it when you encounter coconuts.

There was at least 10 ounces of coconut water inside this coconut so Esther and I both had a good drink. However, there had to be more to eat than just the water. I knew it would take more than tiny holes to get the insides out so I took it out on the sidewalk and smashed a big hole with a  hammer. The inside of a young coconut is soft, shiny, semi-translucent and white (pretty really). I like it. Esther… not so much.

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Esther’s fake bacon substitute.

Esther has discovered which meats she is able to tolerate most easily, and I have to hand it to her. For a vegetarian, she is doing great. She has had some kind of meat protein almost twice every day. As a vegetarian, she would eat burgers made of soy or black beans, and she would eat fake bacon, also a soy product. As an AIP girl she is bothered least by fake soyburgers (read real beef burgers) and fake soy bacon (real meat bacon) because they look similar to what she has grown accustomed to eating. See, it’s all in your mind.  She eats tuna. I don’t know what it is about chicken though. For her, it begins with the smell and only gets worse with the sight and taste. I’m afraid I will be eating the roast chicken all by myself. Getting to like chicken will take some work.

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I love meat and have no problem with cooking it, but I wish it were less messy. What to do with all the fat and how to get it off the dishes and counters is a battle.  I’ve made three batches of bone broth but so far, no one has gotten into drinking it straight.  It is kind of piling up in the fridge.  I froze some of it in our ice cube trays, causing a near unhappy moment when Esther went to get ice cubes.

What else hasn’t worked… yes, the coconut Greek yogurt. I’m not sure you can make yogurt out of anything other than real milk, but there was a recipe, so Esther tried it. The black probiotic culture she added to it looked strange but we were able to think of it as specks of vanilla bean (also not on the diet). After culturing overnight in a warm place it was still coconut cream liquid. But it tastes great poured over bananas or the apple/cranberry compote we made. Fake yogurt, this also will take some work.

I don’t mean to say that we haven’t discovered some really good, simple recipes that I am happy to add to my regular cooking line up. I wrote about the Nomato Sauce in a previous post. Tonight we had a cauliflower dish that easily takes the place of fried rice, and some steak flavored with coconut aminos that was so flavorful.  One good thing we have both noticed is that we do not feel distressed after eating, no uncomfortable fullness, and of course, we are not gaining weight.  I am happy to see Esther able to tolerate meals without pain, and she is eating more good, nutritious food than I have ever noticed before.

Ordinary Times and Travels: Airstream, post 8

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At the dealership – sight love.

Both my daughters are risk takers and dream followers, not every day in every way, but when it matters. It mattered recently that new life be given to an old dream, which is how youngest daughter, Esther, became owner of a 1972 Airstream. To be clear, it’s 27 feet of aluminum, pull behind, live in trailer with softly rounded corners for streamline movement. You all know what I’m talking about.

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Where do we get notions like this? How do these dreams come about? We don’t always know, but when they’ve been around in our thoughts for years it becomes exciting to move on them, finally. Esther found Sylvia Path (subsequently named) at a dealership. They wanted to try out all the systems and appliances before she took possession, and part of her contract was ongoing help, coaching, should she need it. The dealer agreed to deliver her purchase to her when everything was checked out. She sent the cushions and mattress to an upholsterer – the first of several planned upgrades.

Having an Airstream in your backyard is kind of a trendy thing in many parts of the country (usually where it is warm enough to winter over in one).  Many people don’t travel with them. They use them for an extra room, or rent the space for extra income. Many people just like to restore a beautiful piece of equipment for the joy of doing it. Esther wants to do all of these, but first, the challenge of where to put it and the actual move.

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Yeah, this is where it has to go and there are some big rocks here…

Esther assured me she had talked with the dealership about her plan to park the Airstream in her driveway.  They had assured her it was possible in a “no problem” kind of way that guys often rely on. I wasn’t so sure, but I’m only an interested observer.  There were a couple of delivery dates that got rescheduled and with each one, we began to get more anxious about the steep hills, narrow streets and small final destination.  An ornamental tree had been cut to clear the way.  In her mind’s eye, the Airstream was neatly parked against her fence with the door and canopy opening out on the cement drive, herself sitting inside writing her first memoir, a best seller.

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You’re kidding, right?

On the Monday after Christmas, we finally saw Sylvia coming down the street behind a pick-up truck and ran out to greet her. But as we found out, the men delivering her had either not understood, or not believed Esther’s description. Turns out, they can’t really put it anywhere you want it, only where they can drive it with the truck. Backing in was the only option. Here is how it went –  on the second try. (click link for 3 minute YouTube video)

The mind’s eye is the perfect place for a re-do. What you thought would happen can get changed to what actually happened with a minimum of cost and energy. The rest of the delivery process went smoothly as the trailer was leveled, electricity was connected, and the propane heater demonstration successfully concluded.

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Obviously, there is no door on this side.

My first contribution to Sylvia was to remove the lavender bush we were trampling to get to the door, and place some stepping stones to keep us out of the mud.  Esther is going to save pictures of the inside for the before/after shoots, because there is work to be done. It may be a while before the completion, but the dream has begun, and that’s what counts.

 

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To be continued (but do not hold your breath).

Ordinary Times and Travels: Alki Drive, post 7

Come along. Charlie (the dog) and I are going for a walk.

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A summer shot along the sea wall from Alki Beach.

West Seattle is a peninsula of sorts with a variety of geographical features. In previous visits I’ve posted about the Alki lighthouse, the stairways leading up the steep bluffs, the old growth forest in the interior, and some of the sights along the default exercise walk, Alki Drive. Today, Charlie and I went on that walk just to see what it looked like in winter.  It has been so cold, wet and windy that we were glad to have time outside on a calmer, warmer day.

On Alki Drive one can traverse the western side of West Seattle from the lighthouse and Alki Beach all the way up to the northern point where there is a good view of downtown Seattle across the water. It’s hard to describe in words so you really have to look at a map. Puget Sound has many islands, inlets, peninsulas and bays and is a long body of water. There are some beaches but often the shoreline is rocky and steep. My daughter’s house is only a few blocks from one of the few beach areas so that is where my walk usually starts.

There is the water, a sandy beach which gives way gradually to a cement sea wall, then a wide grass and shrub strip, then the sidewalk for walkers, another strip of shrubbery, the wide paved area for bikers, skaters and long board riders, then the street, the sidewalk again, a row (sometimes two) of dwellings and finally a steep, unbuildable cliff covered with trees and vines. Every once in a while there is enough of an outcropping that someone feels safe attaching houses to it, but the roads to them are narrow, switch-backed and have very inventive parking areas.

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The bluff is not very high here. Another row of houses hanging on up top.

Although it is cold here, it doesn’t freeze hard enough to kill many of the plants and shrubs. There is green grass, many of the trees still have leaves and the houses and condos along Alki Drive looked much like they do in the spring and summer. I passed the monkey tail tree, araucaria araucana, one of the oddest conifers I have ever seen.

This is the thought game I play while I walk past all the small summer houses, the old ones. Many of them are run down, poorly maintained, and some are uninhabited (condemned most likely), in spite of the high priced land they are sitting on. I look at them and plan what I would do first if I lived there. Give me a sledge hammer, some paint, a shovel. They beg me to pull the weeds, pick up trash and simply make them look like someone loves them. I know if they are not fixed up they will soon find themselves replaced with high rise condos.  Some are fixed up and are very cute – showing that it can be done.

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Draw a circle around the one that is not like the others.

The goal today is to walk to the so-called “flower house”. Nestled between two high rises, a small house and adjoining building have become locally famous for being festooned with flowers throughout the summer, extremely festooned. The flower house is right on the sidewalk and the owner has seating for tourists to have their pictures taken surrounded by flowers. I’ve posted photos of my daughter and I in those very seats last year. This winter the décor is more sparse but still lovely.

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On the way back, the house that wins my vote for Christmas prettiness is this one. I choose it mostly because of the blue lights which are my favorites.

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I walk a little further and see another one of my colorful favorites, the Blue Moon Burger joint. They have some crazy good sweet potato fries there.

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One of many eateries lined up along Alki Drive in the beach area.

And then we head inland a couple blocks and are back to Esther’s house, “Ocean’s Arms”, immediately below the path leading into Schmitz Park.  To end, I am showing you a picture of the Star of Bethlehem tree, which you saw in the dark a few nights ago.  This is how it looks in the day, along the walk going up into Schmitz Park. Both pictures are from my bedroom window. We think they must leave the star up there all year, although Esther has not thought to look.

 

Thanks for coming along on my walk down Alki Drive.

Ordinary Times and Travels: St. Marks Cathedral

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We traveled to Capital Hill to St. Marks and experienced this.

This was exactly as described, “quiet night and perfect end”. Esther and I entered the cathedral almost half an hour before the appointed time, but it was already nearly full. We went up to the front and put our blankets on the floor, using the short wall as our back rest. Esther said this was prime seating. In spite of the crowd, the sanctuary was quiet and dark, except for the candles lighting each row and the altar area. We saw the singers assembling.

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The music was old, historic, mysterious, haunting at times, joyful at times, sacred in quality. There are very few opportunities to appreciate the beauty of the chant, of harmonies in a building so acoustically perfect. Part of the experience is being surrounded by others who are also curious, amazed, calmed and blessed by the words and songs.

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pipe organ, back of church

Much of the music was acapella. Occasionally handbells joined the singing. And at the end of the half hour, the pipe organ began to enrich the empty places with tangible layers of sound.

With the departure of the chorus most people filed out quietly, but the organ continued to play. The complexity of the sound demanded that we get a closer look, and there did seem to be people in the organ loft. We found the stair and joined a small group watching the organist. This virtuoso was a young man in plaid flannel, whose fingers flew over the four levels of keys, and whose feet were all but running over the foot pedals. At the finish he stood and bowed slightly, seeming almost embarrassed to be watched.

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not what I was expecting, talent in flannel

I now love the word compline, for its meaning and for the memory of this experience. St. Marks Episcopal Cathedral, Capital Hill, Seattle, WA. You will not be disappointed.

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front of sanctuary