Friday, February 24, 2012

Comfort food at home

Love that Wyoming winter
After several days of cold and very wintry weather that closed the highways in all directions, today was much nicer.  Close to zero degrees, but winds only 10-20 mph, rather that 65-70.  As my loyal walking companions and I slid along on our usual route, I was thinking about this coming Sunday's readings which include the baptism of Jesus.  Yes, we have yet another encounter with John the Baptizer.  In a place like Wyoming with nine months of winter (and lots of road closures) and three months of road repair (with lots of detours), John the Baptist could be the patron saint of state troopers who put down the barriers and flag-persons who make you wait for a pilot car. 

Here we are in the first fresh days of Lent, knowing that Spring may be only a few weeks off on the calendar, but it will be a long while yet before we see daffodils and tulips.  We are eager to rush to Easter and the empty tomb, just as we were anxious to get to Bethlehem and see the Baby.  But John the Baptizer stops that nonsense with a word and we detour for six weeks.  I am approaching my own Lenten disciplines this year as an opportunity to grow in gratitude, learn new ways of dealing with stress and to discern some things about call and ministry.  With our much loved and helpful deacon out of commission as he recovers from open heart surgery (scheduled for next week), it may well prove to be a time to see how others step up to the plate in various servant ministries.

This morning several friends met me at the Laramie Care Center to help pack and move Mother's belongings back to the home we share.  Mother has been in the hospital and/or nursing home since November 8 when she fell, severely breaking her ankle.  Most of the care she received was fine (with a few exceptions that took this aggravated daughter into the advocacy (okay, assertive to the point of aggression) role.  But let's face it, institution food is institution food so....her top choice for her first meal home is beef stew. 

Mother is a happy camper to be home again!

Right now the stew is simmering and its aroma is fighting with the right-out-of-the-oven-chocolate chip cookies to see which fragrance will win.  Sipping a cup of hot, strong coffee--not like that watery stuff at the home which is reminiscent of herbal tea, I remembered a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:  "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."  We enjoyed the last loaf of a Christmas cranberry bread which brought forth tales about fruitcakes that are passed around in a family for years and years and never eaten, who drinks the brandy, whisky and rum so that new must be purchased every fruitcake making season, why not just put it all together and make a fruitcake smoothie.  In our family everyone loves fruitcake and we enjoyed for many winter deserts when we were growing up. 

Making fruit cake a couple of years ago!
Beef stew and fruitcake can serve in a sacramental way for me.  Because the various ingredients retain their own particular shape, flavor and aroma they are an example of the church which values the gifts and talents of each individual.  Together like this we are more the fragrance of Christ and the salt of the earth. When I hear that the church is a melting pot I think of a cheese fondue or a smoothie.  These blends may be nice in their own way, but I like the grace of keeping differing gifts, theologies and understandings in a creative tension.  There have been moments at Vestry meetings, Diocesan Councils, General Convention when the differences have led to "vigorous fellowship" but in those times when we celebrate the grace of diversity in unity, rather than seeking a common uniformity, I am most proud and glad to know this comfort of my church home.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Baking bread on my Sabbath

Ready to bake
Walking with Fargo and Rebel yesterday took me down an unexpected rabbit trail.  It suddenly occurred to me that a delightful way to spend part of my Sabbath day, doing something I enjoy but had not done for a long while would be to bake bread.  Fortunately I had on hand all the ingredients for Swedish Rye Bread.   The initial aroma of the fresh yeast as it dissolves is homey, comforting.  Then the sweet smell of molasses overpowers the yeast and finally the pungent tang of anise and fennel.  Of course all these aromas are eventually subsumed by the overpowering baking bread.  The whole house begins to feel welcoming and warm.

I got a good "do" on the dough.  Mother attributes that at least in part to the weather.  But I was so pleased that it wasn't too sticky when I began to knead it.  What a fun workout!  I am always amazed when the dough rises with life, reminding me of the Eucharistic prayers where we give thanks for these "creatures" of bread and wine.

While forming the loaves I remember learning to bake bread with Mother, watching the way her hands carefully worked the dough, loving formed the loaves.  The long serrated knife that sliced the warm bread, then spreading a slice with enough butter to drip off; maybe a bit of homemade crab apple jelly.  I loved that she never made us wait until the bread had cooled before we enjoyed the taste. 

Ready to eat!
One of my fondest memories is eating her whole wheat bread (with butter of course) and a thin slice of cheddar cheese while we waited for the beef stew which was simmering in a dutch oven banked in the aspen and pine coals of a camp fire.  It was a cold, misty, rainy day out south of Rawlins in the Sierra Madres.  The aromas of that good food mingled with the fragrance of the wet forest sure made of for the lousy weather.

A couple of years ago my sister Joan remarked that a particular hand-formed Christmas cookie tasted nearly as good as Mother's, but that mine didn't have quite the right shape.  "But then," she continued, "how could they?  You don't have her hands."

Mother's hands

Funny thing about hands....they reveal much about the person to whom they belong.  Callouses and ground in dirt ...painted nails...scars attesting to adventures.  One of my real joys as a priest is placing the consecrated bread--the Body of Christ--into the hands of the parishioners as they come to communion.  I could tell when Jack had begun his garden, Sue had begun a new dating relationship, Bob was off his medications; who worked outside with tools and who worked inside and did crafts or worked at a computer.  Big strong hands and small, frail hands.  All precious, all revealing, all reaching out to receive the Bread of Life, to experience the welcome with a taste of their true home.

Well now, I guess I had better sign off to slice off a hunk of that Swedish Rye Bread and make a sandwich before I slobber anymore on this keyboard.

Swedish Rye Bread
1 package yeast
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup oil
4-5 cups flours (mix of white and whole wheat)
2 1/2 cups rye flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon each Anise seed and Fennel seed

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water.   When dissolved, add salt, molasses and syrup.  Add all flour at once to the liquid and work in thoroughly, working in the oil at the same time.  When dough ix mixed, knead it on a well-floured board until smooth.  Let it rise in a warm place about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Punch the dough down and turn completely over and let it rise again to double its size.  Form into loaves, placing them in greased loaf pans.  Bake in 375 degree over 45-50 minutes.  Makes 2 good sized loaves.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Keen to wake the dawn and go down a rabbit trail

“Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp;
I myself will waken the dawn.”
(Psalm 57: 8 and Psalm 108:2)

From the time I was able to get out of bed myself, I have loved the early, early morning. The quietness of a sleeping house seemed perfect to raid the cookie jar and settle in with a book when I was in elementary school. Later, the pre-dawn was my time to dry my hair under the hair dryer and finish reading assignments before going to Speech team practices. Reading novels and assignments gave way to reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in bed when I was out on my own, beginning a career. Now, the quiet house and deep darkness of pre-dawn seem just right to snuggle in with the dogs, balance a cup of coffee and my Droid as I peruse an electronic version of the Daily Office. I love these moments with the day stretched out in front of me, filled with poems and prayers and promises. (as the old John Denver's song goes)

But I don’t  get to linger too long because the dogs are eager to check their pee-mail and join the rest of the canine population out claiming the neighborhood as their own. Fortunately our route takes us through parts of town with a minimum of light pollution, so I can enjoy the starry, starry morning. No matter how often I trace the way from Orion’s belt up five hand widths to the Pleiades, I am pleased to see what looks like the “littlest dipper” to me. It moves me to grateful prayer and praise. “The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name." (Amos 5:8)

Usually by the time we arrive home the dawn is arriving. Lat week we experienced a variety of skies. Overcast and foggy giving way to light snow; blustery windy skies that make the streets weep with snowy streams; crystal clear skies like martini glasses in a hutch; the full moon (the Celtic Moon of Ice or the Native American Trapper’s Moon or is it the Wolf Moon?). On Saturdays, much to the dog boy’s chagrin, I linger over my coffee and walk in broad daylight!!! We take an alternate route, often through the UW campus—different sights, different smells.

This last week, the trees and shrubs were blinged out in rhinestone raiment for a winter formal. It was spectacular, but the moment that moved me most was returning home to find on my own driveway fresh tracks in the dusting of snow, prints of my Keen hiking boots alongside those of one of the resident cotton-tails.

“Keen to go down this rabbit trail.”

It seems that so much of my life is structured by a long list of “to do’s.” My personality type just loves making those check marks as one task after another is accomplished. In my most obsessive moments I’ve been known to list things already done just for the sheer joy of making a check mark. The dog boys are working on me (and encouraged by my therapist’s validation) to walk more mindfully, to take more moments to enjoy what I’m seeing; to notice the sounds and smells; to taste the coldness of the winter air. Taking full advantage of my sensory system touches my spirit and puts a song on my lips and in my heart. One day I found myself singing ala Mr. Rogers, “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood."   It seems good to pursue these rabbit trails, finding that God has gone just ahead and is dropping handkerchiefs of nature's grace, flirting with me to love the one I'm with--Christ who is ever with me!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI

The Venerable Dick Naumann and the Very Rev. Marilyn Engstrom

Here I am with the Venerable Dick Naumann, Archdeacon of the Diocese of Wyoming, as we sport our Super Bowl Stoles.  Each year my sister, Joanie Martino, makes stoles with each competitor represented with their colors, logos, etc.  These stoles are actually being reused since the Patriots and Giants played against each  other several years ago.  We were fortunate in that regard since Joanie's time was at a premium this year.  Last week she was with family on Staten Island to celebrate the life and burial of her mother-in-law, Pat Martino.  May Pat rest in peace and rise in glory!  And may both teams compete to the best of their abilities; may all the players and officials be kept from injury and may all the fans have a great time.  Personally, I will look forward to the advertisements as much, if not more, than the game.
Louis W. Engstrom (1921-2011)

Just a year ago today Daddy died.  I had just returned from Israel on a diocesan clergy pilgrimage and had gone to Florida to speak at the 10th annual Believe in a Miracle Conference.  After getting settled in to recover from jet lag, I had a wonderful conversation with Daddy and Mother.  Late that night Mother called to tell me that while Daddy was getting ready for bed, he just slumped over and was gone.  Apparently, a massive heart attack which was no surprise--he had multiple by-passes and had suffered with heart disease for 25 years.  I wanted to return to Laramie immediately, but with Daddy's advice to finish what you start resounding in my heart, I stayed in Florida to keynote the conference.  Good friends helped to support Mother, pick me up at the Denver airport and drive me through a raging blizzard when I was able to get back 2 days later.  It was a great honor and privilege to preside and preach at his burial a few days later on a typical Wyoming winter day--lots of snow, icy roads and a biting wind. 
     At his funeral Daddy's oldest granddaughter, Misty Dibble offered the following poem.

If I could have
Just one more cup of coffee po sanka, (Swedish for coffee in bed)
I would savor every sip.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye

If I could have
You watch my every step, as I mowed your precious lawn.
I would spend a little more time to make sure it was just your way.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye

If I could have
You teach me your master gardening skills
that produced the biggest cabbage ever in the eyes of your grandkids.
I would try to reproduce this skill in a garden of my own.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye

If I could have
Just one more day in the wood shop,
I would ask you to help me make something grand, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye

If I could have
One more trip to Star Valley with a Stomper in my hair with my grandpa and his pocket knife to the rescue.
I would listen very carefully to the golden lessons instilled.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye

If I could have just a little more time
I would stop by for a visit and a coke, I would ask you to tell me stories of your past.
I knew this day would come but that doesn’t change a thing I am still not ready to say goodbye.

We all miss this good, gentle and loving man so much.  In the year following his death, Mother has exhibited the most amazing grace and resilience in meeting so many challenges:  dealing with wills and death certificates, selling their home, moving from an apartment to her new home with me, 2 major surgeries and several lengthy hospital and nursing home stays.  She is a real heroine to me, just as Daddy was my first "super man."

In the book "Changes:  Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage" there is the following prayer that has come to mean so much to me.
A year after a death

God of the living, you are the Way, the Truth and the Life: We have lived a year without Daddy, (___, whomever). Throughout that time of the turning earth, sun, and moon, you have shown us signs of your wonders: the Christmas star of Bethlehem, Easter’s empty tomb, and the tongues of Pentecost fire, which speak of your glory and goodness to all creation. We have counted days of sorrow, laughter, and endurance in our journey through grief’s stages. Now we can declare that even though we still feel bruised by the pain of our loss, life continues. You give us yourself in moments of grace, transforming us through your love. We thank you for the distance you have brought us during our year of healing, and ask you to help us become ever more whole in years to come. Keep Daddy, (___, whomever) present in our hearts, and may we honor his/her memory, embracing each new day with courage and faith; through Christ, in the Spirit, we pray. Amen.