"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘friends’ Category

A Nature-Made Mental Health Day

 

IMAG0761My friend and I had gone to Springfield to spend the day with our college-aged kids, but no definitive plan had been decided. Icy drizzle limited us to an indoor activity for our visit, so we crossed off an outing to the World’s Largest Fork. (Yes, this is an actual attraction in Springfield, and yes, I would love to see what it looks like).  After weighing our options for the Saturday afternoon before us, we decided to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops.

The Wildlife Aquarium at the museum has a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that features 35,000 live fish, but there are also quite a few reptiles and birds sprinkled into the galleries.  Coming out of the swamp exhibit, I saw the above quote displayed on a sign.  The words are attributed to John Muir, known as a Scottish naturalist and preservationist who lived during the late 1800s.  As I wandered with our group throughout the exhibits, this quote stood out to me.  I loved the visual of how all of nature is knitted together, as if connecting everything with a single thread.  Just a little tug, a little awareness, and all things come together into focus.

Who knew puffer fish had such cute little teeth to smile with?

I’d had my phone out the entire visit, and even though it was being used as a camera, it made me realize how even the simple joy of witnessing nature was connected to some kind of technology for me.   There are times I am trying so hard to document an experience that I forget to actually live the experience as it’s happening.  I continued to take pictures for the rest of the galleries, but I made it a point to try to make the photography secondary to what I was seeing and who I was with at the moment.

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IMAG0731It was nice to not have a packed schedule for the day, just a late breakfast with the kids, an aquarium visit done at a leisurely pace and plenty of good conversation.  The weather wasn’t getting any better, and we didn’t want to get back home too late, so after a coffee stop we called it a day, gave the kids hugs and headed home.

I like to believe that the “single tug at nature” process had begun.  I suppose that once Mother Nature decided she had my attention with her beauty, she decided it was time to show me her power.  That Saturday, Nature was the one that had the power to make me quit rushing through things and stop to take a breath.

The freezing drizzle continued for the first part of the trip, but the roads were drivable.  As we continued down I-44, the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up with the precipitation.  Even with the temperature and the defroster blower on high, layers of ice began creeping across the windshield.  Then there were a couple of patches on the road that were sketchy.  Tractor trailer trucks either blew past us at normal highway speed or crept slowly along on the hills as the daylight started to fade.

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Any Missourian will tell you that snow is something a driver can reason with; ice is not. With this in mind,  we decided to listen to nature and stopped to spend the night at hotel rather than risk the ice.

Sometimes the To Do List needs to balance with the To Live list.  Instead of a white-knuckled drive home, I was able to spend time with a friend, enjoying a meal and relaxing with a bottle of wine, talking and laughing over YouTube videos and even getting a little work done, too.  (Yes, technology manages to be a part of my nature-scape.)

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This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day.  The jellyfish looked like floating creatures in a lava lamp.  So mesmerizing to watch.

I’m not sure John Muir envisioned the world as a place where getting a glimpse at nature takes as much effort as it does, but surely he saw how appreciating it needed to be intentional.   I doubt he would have guessed how much competition would be out there in our modern-day lives.  On most days I must admit I am guilty of being more dependent on my phone to get me through my day than a spectacular view of mysterious-looking jellyfish.

Thank goodness there are some fantastic nature screen savers out there.

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Endings and New Beginnings

As a young Sunday Schooler, we used to sing a little song:

I am the church, you are the church,

We are the church together.

All who follow Jesus, all around the world.

Yes, we’re the church together.

The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple,

The church is not a resting place, the church is the people.

 

Over the past few years, big changes have come down the pike for the church I’ve gone to my entire life—a church blessed with long-standing tradition. I was christened at Immanuel as a baby, confirmed there in eighth grade and took my marriage vows in that beautiful sanctuary. My three children were christened there and two of them have gone through confirmation there. I love the people at my church. A lot of them are relatives, and those who aren’t blood kin certainly feel like they are to me. They have seen me grow up, they know my parents; they’ve celebrated with us in joyous times and mourned with us when we’ve suffered loss. We pray for each other and serve together.

Immanuel started over 126 years ago as a German community church. In fact, services were in German until the War, when pointing out your German heritage was not a good thing to be doing. We still have an annual Wurstmarkt (sausage supper) the first weekend in November. My great-grandparents were a part of the founding members, and my entire family—grandparents, great aunts and great uncles, aunts and uncles and cousins of all “once-removed” status attended church there when I was growing up. At the time, our family was an anomaly because we commuted over 45 minutes to go to church, as we lived in St. Charles and the church is in Ferguson, Missouri. But since my childhood, many of the families that attend church there have also spread out across St. Louis and St. Charles counties and commute to attend services and activities. To have a “commuter church” to this degree is a rather unique situation.

I feel compelled to tell you this brief history because to many people who have either grown up attending various churches or never went to church at all, loyalty to one particular church can be hard to understand. Most people who moved that far away from their church would have found a new one closer to home-especially forty years ago. My parents tried several nearby churches, but none of them had the people that made Immanuel what it meant to them. But what a long commute to church meant for our family then was less involvement with the activities in church outside Sunday morning service. As a youth, I didn’t participate in the Youth Group activities, except for Confirmation, because we just didn’t live very close. So when my own kids were getting to an age to be more involved in Youth programming at church, I didn’t really notice when they weren’t interested in participating.

All these years later, we were still commuting to Immanuel. Until recently. The slow, steady emotionally pulling away from our church began a few years back when the man who was our pastor for over thirty years suddenly retired. We all missed him, especially his wonderful sermons, but I always felt like it was a storm we as a church family could weather. I don’t feel a blog is the appropriate place to go into detail all that’s happened since then, or air any dirty laundry. But the end result is that while Immanuel is still that beautiful church building with a history rich in tradition full of people I love, I feel like all of the unrest has become a huge distraction to the faith development of its members.  My kids are missing out on being a part of an active, thriving youth program.  Despite how that may sound, I am not angry about any of it; just terribly, terribly sad.

Because I miss trying to avoid the delicious donuts while visiting with my friends and family on Sunday mornings in the church basement. I miss our beautiful hymnals that have been so well-loved some have the backs taped together to keep the covers on them. I miss saying “debts and debtors” in our Lord ’s Prayer and reciting the Apostle’s Creed. I miss hearing the choir’s descant and my uncle’s beautiful voice singing “To God Be the Glory”. I miss when we pray for our hospitalized church members together in worship. I miss the kids playing basketball in the gym after church. Those things, like my love for my church family, will never change—they are now a part of my physical and emotional make up—a fiber in my being that will never be unbound. I could go there next week and breathe in that entire experience and feel God’s love for me deep within my heart.

Experiencing other worship services has made me feel disloyal to those people who nurtured my faith all these years, and loyalty is something I cherish. I feel guilty because it’s easy when I attend services elsewhere to focus on the message. I feel uplifted because there’s no emotional baggage with these other worship services because there’s not the history. I see how attending a church within my own community is giving back to my neighbors and it brings me joy. I see ways to become involved at church in more than Sunday morning worship and it scares me. I see my daughter asking to go to Youth meetings with her friend at a nearby church and I feel like I’m doing the right thing. All of these things—they’re about me. And I’m trying to see how to make them all about God.

Still, I’m not ready to say that this is a definite ending or beginning just yet. My heart will always be with my “home” church. My prayer as a woman of faith is to have discernment in knowing which way to move forward.  Standing at this crossroad in my life, I am reminded of yet another song—a hymn from my youth:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the potter, I am the clay!

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Guest Post: Tyler’s Class Project

So Tyler and his buddies had to make a video for his speech class.  What makes me laugh–more than the actual video content–is that Tyler has my warped sense of humor.  If you’re watching this, and you don’t know our family, you will most likely be unimpressed.  After all, I’m a blogger Mom basically posting my kid’s artwork on the fridge.  But listening to his friends while they were videoing it, and hearing their “logic” behind it, I just saw a sliver of my goofiness in him.  The ability to be a bit ridiculous and actually bask in the silliness of it all. Tyler’s the Richard Simmons-like guy in the short shorts and Bro shirt.

When I told him I wanted to put his video on the blog, I figured he’d be appalled, but he was actually pleased.  So here’s Tyler in his acting debut.  A non-politically correct way of dealing with bullies.  By the way, I posted his senior pic below so you can see him as the savvy business-looking dude he’ll be someday.  I am Mom, after all.

Boss Man T

Boss Man T

Labor Day: What is America Celebrating?

As a kid, Labor Day meant the end of summer and the beginning of school. Even though the kids start mid-August now, the first Monday in September still feels like the Last Hurrah before we go full speed into school and all their fall activity schedules. Today’s Labor Day doesn’t even dictate fashion choices as it once did. Fashion gurus and etiquette experts (Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, published in 2004) now say it’s even acceptable to wear white after Labor Day, but I still don’t. Call me old-fashioned (I prefer traditional) but I like to think some things just belong to summer—like homegrown tomatoes, flip flops and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy beer.

So why do many of us have the day off for Labor Day? I’ve often wondered what the full history was to this holiday and found out there’s a lot more to it than I realized. This is my attempt to put together a brief summary of what Labor Day is about without boring the average reader silly. The date-specific information I gathered was found on the US Department of Labor’s website (www.dol.gov/opa/aboutdol/laborday.htm) as well as some information from good old Wikipedia. If you want even more in-depth information, I also found some good information on About at http://usgovinfo.about.com/bllabor.htm.

To start, we can thank the early Labor organizers for wanting to rally the American working class back in the late 1800s. The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882, with a parade that apparently looked more like a protest. As far as who masterminded the idea is disputed. Some credit Peter J. McGuire, who was the co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), while others attribute it to Matthew Maguire, who was part of the Central Labor Union (CLU). I found it ironic that they had similar names—no wonder there was confusion! Some people claim that Matthew Maguire got slighted for the honor because he ran for office for the wrong political party and made people mad.

The holiday started out being recognized at the municipal level, but the first state to sign Labor Day into law was Oregon in 1887. Later that year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also signed the holiday into law. It wasn’t until 1894 that President Cleveland and Congress signed it into law in an apparent move to do some damage control to his re-election campaign after the Pullman Strike.

The Pullman Strike was basically a boycott that railroad workers had against running trains pulling Pullman cars in response to the Pullman Palace Car Company cutting worker wages when the company’s bottom line was losing money. George Pullman, the company’s owner, didn’t lower the rents on company housing the workers lived in, so many of the Pullman factory workers joined the American Railway Union. As more workers and strike sympathizers got involved, rail transportation was interrupted, prompting intervention by the federal government, and things got ugly. Federal troops were called in, and you can guess how that ended—in a violent mess.

Six days after the Pullman Strike ended, Cleveland signed the observance of Labor Day into federal law in 1894 to honor the working man. By the way, this attempt to smooth things over with the various Labor parties didn’t work—he didn’t get the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1896.

Another interesting thing I learned about when researching this holiday was that September was chosen to celebrate Labor Day in an effort to not commemorate the Haymarket Massacre that happened in Chicago on May 4, 1886. The Haymarket Massacre was another situation where what started as a peaceful protest ended in violence and death when someone threw a bomb. President Cleveland and Congress did not want the federal holiday to be associated with that event. As a national holiday that is celebrating the American worker, flags fly proudly at full staff for Labor Day. (So please don’t call your local municipality the day after Labor Day and scold them for not having it at half-staff. I work for the City of O’Fallon, and was told we get phone calls complaining about this every year.)

Even though today’s notion of Labor Day doesn’t have the Labor Movement as a primary focus anymore, I like to think the people who originally wanted to celebrate the achievements of workers in America would be happy that we’re doing exactly that. Having a day off to spend with friends and family seems like a fitting reward for the everyday working person. Happy celebrating!

It’s All About the Wine—Even If It’s Only Tuesday

It may look like an innocent wine bottle--but could Attila the Hun be in there?

It may look like an innocent wine bottle–but could Attila the Hun be in there?

I like wine from a box. That’s a hard thing to admit…certainly doesn’t sound classy, does it? After all, I do put the wine in a glass; I don’t just hold my mouth under and dispense. Personally, I think wine from the box has come a long way since Darrell and I would get the big box of Franzia that took up half a shelf in the refrigerator. We usually opt for the smaller boxes now, so that by the time we’re drinking the last glass it doesn’t taste like vinegar. I love drinking just a glass while I’m cooking dinner in the evening, and the box makes it easy to just drink a small one (or add more to it if it’s been a tough day!) I like red wine, so I tell myself how all those antioxidants are helping me ward off dementia and health issues as I grow older.

My favorite wine-in-the-box story comes from my husband’s former co-worker, who also worked a side job as a server at fundraising events. Apparently the crowd at one particular gathering was trying to dazzle the people at their table with their superior wine knowledge, checking the legs (which I’ve learned really doesn’t tell you that much about a wine’s quality) and being a bit snobby about the wine service. They were a demanding group to him, and more than a little condescending. Now the funny thing was that the servers would pour the wine from classy-labeled wine bottles at the tables, but those bottles were filled in the kitchen with wine from a box. I imagine he had a hard time keeping a straight face when one of them declared after tasting, “Well, it’s certainly a lot better than that wine out of a box.”

I have learned a lot about wine over the years and I love going to the wineries and hearing about how they make their wines. Yet I still feel a little self-conscious when I order a bottle of wine at a nice restaurant and they open it at the table, giving me the cork and pouring a tiny amount for me to swirl and take a quick taste. I never quite know how to act besides saying a quick, “Thanks, it’s good.” I’ve wondered how often people spit it out and declare that the wine is horrible and demand the waiter to take it back. I asked a waiter about that one time, and he told me it really doesn’t happen that often when people get bottles—it’s more when they are getting a glass. Fun fact.

Darrell and I have made wine ourselves for several years now. We don’t go out and stomp the grapes or anything, but they have winemaking kits that are actually quite delicious. Our favorite kit to make is a Chardonnay—it always turns out perfect. The labor-intense part of winemaking is the cleaning and sanitizing of all the bottles—a kit makes around 28 bottles. The actual bottling part is fun. I like to think of these kits as idiot-proof. Simply add what the instructions say to add and stir and wait. The beginning of the process resembles what you see in a dirty mop bucket, but as the wine sits in the carboy, the smell of it in the room is wonderful. Similar to how many people feel about coffee, I have never been able to find a wine that tastes as good as the wine smells as it’s fermenting. (Note: The same is not true about brewing beer. Beer smells horrible while it’s brewing!)

This past year my friend Tina has become a consultant for a wine party business called Wine Shop at Home. She comes to your house and walks you through tasting the various wines and food pairings. When you set up the party, you have her order a wine kit (red, white, or mixed) that you want to taste at your party. The company sends you the kit, along with the cards that tell you what kind of food pairings work well with each wine, and voila!—instant party. You pay for the wine kit, but it’s at a discount, so you spend about the same amount you would spend on food and drink if you were having a party anyway. If you have friends that drink wine, it is a great way to try new wines and get together. You can check out her website here for more information about parties or just to learn more interesting facts about wine:  http://www.wineshopathome.com/tflower?customerid=355785&MarketShow=565

Darrell and I ended up signing up for the Wine Shop at Home Wine of the Month Club through our party. We’ve gotten some great, high quality wines, and I love reading the description cards that come with them. They give you recipes and food pairings for each wine and tell a little bit about the grapes used and the vineyards they come from. They also describe the wines’ noses and such in terms that make me laugh. (Did I mention I wasn’t very sophisticated?) My favorite description was for the Mariana Vineyard’s Petite Sirah wine. It described the wine like this: “This wine is powerful and the alcohol, even at around 14%, is fairly noticeable in the finish. The attack in the mouth showcases big tannins. The mouthfeel is fluid, fresh and aggressive, with blackberry flavors coming forward.”* That instantly made me think the wine was a bottled version of Attila the Hun and would jump out of the bottle and knock us upside the head. But that’s just my wine-in-the-box humor again. Sorry. I’m working on it.

Because I like to think I am getting a little more sophisticated, or at least more knowledgeable, with these wines. I’ve learned how to discern the various flavors within the wine once they’ve been pointed out to me. Many of the wines are for collecting, and advise that they taste best after 3 -5 years. We’re trying to save them longer, or at least until a special occasion comes around. We’ve been very impressed with the bottles we’ve tried so far. Since we’ll be waiting for these bottles to age a little, it looks like I won’t be getting rid of my wine in a box any time soon. Let’s just hope I don’t get too spoiled with the good stuff that I can’t go back to box wine. Bottoms up!

 

*Taken from Wine Shop at Home’s description card.

Food Truck Fun

One of my favorites to visit!

One of my favorites to visit!

 

Where we live, Food Trucks are somewhat still a novelty. They’re downtown and in places like Clayton, where there are a lot of offices, but here in the burbs, the closest thing you’ll find to a food truck is the ice cream man. Not really a good comparison.

Over the past few years, local municipalities have started having events that feature these restaurants on wheels. During our weekday evening run at Creve Coeur Park last summer, we discovered how great these little events are. The first time, we couldn’t figure out why the parking lot at Sailboat Cove was full and we had to park in a small side lot. The event, Feast in the Park, is held at various parks in St. Louis County and features a local band and about 10 – 12 area food trucks.

You can find a complete list of their schedule here:

http://www.stlouisco.com/ParksandRecreation/ThingsToDo

The aroma alone was enough to get us to pick up our pace on the four-mile loop around the lake. We learned then that if you want the good stuff, you need to get there early because once they run out, they’re done. Especially the cupcake truck. Yep, learned that the hard way.

This past Wednesday, armed with all this knowledge and experience, we ran in the morning instead and just went for the gorge-fest. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, the band played at a volume that one could enjoy without having to scream over, and the food was divine. We took the girls and met up with a group of friends to enjoy the gorgeous evening.

Luckily our friends had more foresight than we did and brought some chairs (we only had a blanket and an old towel). They also packed drinks in coolers, something I definitely recommend whether you’re drinking water or Chambourcin. Sitting there on our blanket, laughing with friends and family, we could have been a cover photo for Perfect Summer Evening magazine (if there were such a publication).

One of my favorite things about the food truck events are the variety. From Italian to Greek to plain ‘ole burgers and fried chicken strips, everybody can get what they want. It’s a little like a more charming version of a food court at the mall with much better character. I’m disappointed that it took me this long into the summer to discover the fun of these free concerts in the park. But better late than never as the saying goes.

If you’re in the St. Louis Metro area, check out one of these evenings on the flyer on the above link, while you can, before summer gives way to another fall and its jam-packed schedules. I found that Florissant has “Florissant Food Truck Knights” at their Knights of Columbus on St. Francois on August 22 and October 10th from 5 pm – 8 pm. And I definitely want to recommend my hometown of O’Fallon, Missouri’s “Food Truck Frenzy” on August 16th at Ft. Zumwalt Park.

This Isn’t Your Grandma’s Book Club—Okay, Well Maybe It Is

 

Seventeen years ago I was a first time Mom that had gone from working full-time down to part-time. Not that I couldn’t keep myself busy with just that, but I craved being around other adults outside of work. I can’t remember exactly how we began, but a small group at church started a Book Club and being that a nice, hot meal seemed rare for me with a new baby at home and I enjoyed a good book, I joined it. We took turns meeting at each other’s homes and in the beginning, our Associate Pastor informally led our discussions about books we selected from Oprah’s Book Club list.

While I love discussing a good book (or even a bad one) and our meals are phenomenal, what I get most out of Book Club is the wonderful friendships that have been forged. Even though most of the people I’ve gone to church with since I was a little girl, I didn’t really know them except by name.   In the beginning, my friend, Kristin and I looked forward to a night where we could leave our babies, just months apart in age, at home with our husbands. Believe it or not, although we are distant cousins (I think our dads were second cousins), before Book Club I only knew Kristin casually—as in we’d wave if we saw each other. Through the years, both of us had two more daughters just months apart who have grown up together and are very close. Had I not joined Book Club it’s possible that I may have gotten to know her eventually because of our kids, but being in Book Club together was what really connected us initially.

If you saw a picture of our little group, you may be inclined to think we’re some nice little church ladies sipping tea and exchanging casserole recipes. (We do exchange recipes, but generally we sip wine.) In fact, one time long ago, a few of us went to the wrong apartment when our Associate Pastor who lived in the City was hosting Book Club. We went up to his neighbor’s apartment thinking it was Pastor Kirk’s address and knocked on the door. The guy who opened the door was probably early 20s and I think his jaw dropped to see the four of us standing there with our cozy little casserole dishes all wrapped up with books tucked under our arms. I think he was a little disappointed we weren’t coming to serve him some dinner!

Needless to say, we weren’t a very intimidating bunch standing on that front stoop, but you’d be surprised to find that, though we might fit the image of a stereotypical ladies’ church group, we are actually very diverse. We have a great mix of political views, types of favorite book genres and opinions. We have been full-time career women, stay-at-home Moms, world travelers and have grown up in different generations in different parts of the area. Our discussions are fantastic—about church, books and life in general.

As you can imagine in seventeen years, several of the people in our Book Club have come and gone. A few have retired or moved away, and sadly, some have lost spouses or passed away themselves. While we do occasionally still read an Oprah pick (we just discussed Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings), we now read all sorts of books. One of my favorites, ironically about a Book Club, was Lorna Landvik’s Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. But what hasn’t changed in Book Club is the safe forum we’ve created for discussions with respect for our differences. Oh, and the food is still wonderful.

Whether they realize it or not, these women have given me so much through the years. We’ve shared a lot of laughter—a time when one of my dogs was licking Pastor’s toes through his sandals while he was saying grace before dinner comes to mind—and we’ve shared in riding out the storm during times of transition at our church. We’ve celebrated births and grieved together over the loss of loved ones. I’ve collected many recipes and found new authors I’ve come to love. I expected Book Club to deepen my love of reading; but never would have thought that something as simple as a little Book Club could strengthen my love for my faith community. And that’s almost as good as having three desserts.

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