What Would Jesus Do?

This week, the United Methodist Church made a loud and clear statement. After a contentious vote at a special conference in St. Louis, they voted to prohibit same-sex marriage in their churches and by their clergy, and to prevent homosexuals from being ordained and holding the church’s highest leadership roles.

Unlike the Catholic Conclave, where cardinals are sequestered in St. Peter’s cathedral, with no outside observers present, and only smoke from the chimney to clue us in to what is happening, this United Methodist meeting was live-streamed over the internet. So we saw first hand how heated and emotional the debate was over this matter, and I felt proud of the many strongly spoken leaders that argued for equal rights and inclusion for all.

But to my dismay, the group of international delegates narrowly passed a plan called The Traditional Plan, that maintains a policy that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The plan allows LGBTQ parishioners to attend and participate in the church, but puts on the brakes if those individuals ask for the same opportunities as other members and if those individuals are called to the ministry or desire the holy rite of Christian marriage.

Discriminatory policy against individual groups has a long history in our country. In the past, groups have been told:

“Of course we will let you ride the bus, but you just have to sit in the back.”

“Of course you need to follow the laws, but you aren’t allow to vote for those who make them.”

“Of course you can join the military, but just keep your sexual orientation secret.”

But our country has made great strides, and while racism, misogyny, and homophobia still exist, we have passed nondiscrimination laws that prevent small minded people from making their small minded ideas into policy.

But the church is held to a different standard. So instead of breaking down barriers and spreading the love of Christ, the United Methodist Church is building a wall, and reminding us, in spite of all the strides we have made in moving toward a kinder, more inclusive world, that they support institutionalized discrimination and prejudice. If the UMC was not protected as a church, their policies would be illegal.

So what would Jesus do?

Jesus preached inclusion and ministered to marginalized groups. He stressed that everyone was deserving of God’s love and asked us to show our faith with acts of love and kindness. Jesus came down hard on those that supported exclusion, and those that saw themselves as superior in God’s eyes, like the Pharisees, and made his displeasure widely known.

The conservatives in the church, however, are fond of quoting a few particular lines of scripture, about human sexuality, to support their view that Jesus would be on board with their policies.

For those of you in UMC leadership who believe that Jesus would support exclusion in our present day world and that our God actually views LGBTQ individuals as less worthy of God’s grace, I would refer you to the Book of Exodus, where you can read the story of thousands of people leaving a place where everyone was not given equal treatment.

Because the United Methodist Church is about to see a mass exodus too!


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Disaster Prep and Facing Suburban Wildlife

During our staff meeting, nurse practitioner Karen reviewed a twelve week plan to prepare our homes for weather emergencies and natural disasters. The two-paged brochure advised stockpiling canned goods and communicating a clear plan to family about what to do and where to go in the event of crisis. The brochure also suggested a simple home fire drill.

I thought back to the last time my family had attempted a fire drill.

It was 2007 and Jake was an oh-so-cute 8 year-old Cub Scout. His Wolf Pack was learning about household safety and he had carefully drawn an accurate map of our house and had mapped out several evacuation routes.

Incidentally. around that same time, rumors were swirling through our suburban streets and the bus stop moms were astir with alleged sightings of a misplaced brown fox. People had seen that fox in the recesses of their backyards, or from the corners of their eyes as they drove down tree-lined streets. In my tiny neighborhood, many people had thought they had seen the renegade fox, but no one was quite sure.

Of course, since then, wildlife has, in fact, encroached on our West Deptford suburbia. As natural habitats have been destroyed, we now have wild turkeys in the woods near the highway, and turkey vultures sometimes sun themselves on our roofs. We have owls and bald eagles and have seen an explosion in the deer population. To avoid hitting a deer while driving, both automobile and golf cart operators need to be mindful, since deer are regularly seen along our streets and all around our golf course.

But twelve years ago, aside from squirrels, chipmunks, and an occasional raccoon, we never saw wildlife near our homes. So the kids, having heard talk in school, asked us if they should be worried. We assured them that we live in a non-wooded area, and we told them, and believed, that a wild fox would have no reason to stroll around our lawns and that surely, all this scuttlebutt would turn out to be gossip and nothing more.

So on the night of the fire drill, Joe and I were ready. At the designated time, I would yell out that we had a kitchen fire. Joe would run into the kitchen to feign assistance and would immediately call for evacuation.

“Fire,” I yelled.

“Evacuate now,” Joe yelled. “Head to the meeting place.”

I smiled as I heard the front door slam closed, knowing that our boys and Joe would be running toward the corner gathering place. When I hustled out the back door, though, which was my nearest exit, it was surprisingly dark. I silently cursed myself for not turning on the outdoor lights before evacuating.

Stepping into the dark space, I encountered a pair of eyes. At first, my confused brain thought that young Jake might be in the backyard with me somehow.

“Jake?” I called out softly. “Hello?” No answer.

My heart rate increased as I realized the eyes were not those of a small child, but of an animal. Was a neighbor’s dog in my yard?

The small glowing eyes seemed to move closer to me just as my own eyes adjusted to the darkness and I began to make out a shape. Son of a gun, the rumors were real!

“Ahhhh,” I yelled, and took off. I reached the gate to my backyard fence, and tried clumsily to work the latch. Of course, it was stuck.

Joooeee,” I yelled at the top of my lungs, watching Joe and the boys still jogging toward the corner. I continued to fumble with the latch.

“Wait!” I hollered. “Wait for meeeeeee!” They kept going.

I got the latch open and started running.

It was the longest half block I have ever traversed. In my mind, I fully expected that the fox was right behind me, ready to bite at my heels.

When I finally caught up with my family, bending over to catch my breath, I excitedly told them about the fox.

“How would a fox have gotten into our fenced-in yard?” Joe asked with skepticism. “It probably was something else, like an opossum, or a big squirrel.”

And just like that, my own sighting was discredited with the rest.

Over the next week, accounts of the fox started to wane. To this day, I don’t know if the fox’s presence was ever verified, but I know what I think I just might have maybe seen.

Reading Karen’s disaster preparedness brochure today, I made a goal to prepare my household. I did a quick inventory of the non-perishables in our cabinets and made a plan to purchase bottled water this week. But what about a family fire drill?

Last year, our town was abuzz again, but this time, with rumors of a roaming coyote, posing a threat to vegetable gardens and all unattended kitties, Chihuahuas, and Teacup Yorkies. As the sightings increased, one resident even created a Facebook page for the “WD Coyote”.

Given that urban sprawl continues to displace wildlife, I guess I should do some research on encounters with foxes, coyotes, and just in case, bears!

And moving forward, all of our family fire drills will take place ONLY during the bright light of day!!


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Put Your Potatoes In

“Put your potatoes in,” 8 year old Susie yelled enthusiastically, and held out a single fist, knuckles to the side. We formed a quick circle around her, in just a few seconds, and each of us pushed two balled up, and dirty fists into the center.

“One potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, or……”

It was 1975 in New Jersey. The kids from Muhlenberg Avenue were doing what they did most evenings, at least until the street lights went on……they were playing.

Peggy’s “potato” was gently pounded with that “or” and she sighed, folding that arm behind her back. She kept her other fist in the circle, but looked worried. The rest of us stood a little taller and held our own potatoes out with a bit more confidence as the elimination continued.

Back in the 70s, young folk knew how to get things done. A large group of kids was able to organize very quickly and could settle on which game to play by simply calling out their preferences. If a consensus couldn’t be reached in a minute or so by yelling, then flipping a coin would almost always work.

When deciding which kickball or stickball team got to head up to bat first, we would have our captains shoot for odds or evens. On a count of “one, two, three, shoot,” each team’s captain showed one to four fingers and just like that, a decision was made. Kinder versions involved a best of five or seven, but when twilight was looming and daylight was short, things were finalized on one shoot only.

And when we needed to select a kid to be “It” for Kick the Can, or Hide and Seek, or Tag, we might rely on Eenie Meenie Miney Moe, but more often than not, we would just put our potatoes in.

Times are different now and it seems that parents prefer their children stick to structured, and well supervised, activities, rather than the child-run playtime of my youth. These days, you rarely see groups of kids playing together outside, at least in my neighborhood, and I actually know an elderly fellow who was so surprised by the sight of a group of kids gathering on his corner, that he panicked and called the police. But thankfully, it was just a group of middle schoolers trying to organize a game of wiffle ball, and not the beginning of The Purge.

Whether the decline in outdoor and free play was caused by our electronic pastimes, like video games and the internet, or by modern parents’ real and rational concerns over safety, abduction, and bullying, something has been lost. And while I am in no way advocating for free range parenting, I still need to acknowledge that today’s kids are missing out on the benefits of kid-run playtime.

Michelle Obama has made it clear that outside playtime equals health and fitness, and it is true that there were many fewer overweight kids back in those days. But aside from health benefits, free play also taught us life skills, skills that I continue to use, both in my personal and my professional adult life.

Because we wanted to spend our precious time playing, we learned to organize ourselves and to agree upon rules for our games, both quickly. We learned to collaborate and negotiate, and to compromise, since each of us did not always get what we wanted. If we wanted a voice at the table, though, we learned to make our individual voices heard in a crowd. We also learned flexibility and could change the rules on the fly when needed, like when an extra kid joined in after the game was in progress, and we learned to regroup and reorganize when needed, like when we had to change locations suddenly when the dad of the house, in whose yard we were playing, got home from work and asked for “peace and quiet.”

It was down to only two kids now. “My mother and your mother were hanging out the clothes,” Susie continued. “My mother punched your mother right in the nose. What color blood came out?” The word “out” landed on Chrissy’s outstretched fist and we all waited, with expectation, for her answer.

Boy oh boy, those were different times. But there we all were, not just having unsupervised play time and planning a game that would be played partly in the street, but we were also imagining a clothesline brawl between out mothers! Those of us who were crafty, though, were also counting the letters in various colors and calculating where Susie’s potato would land.

“Yellow,” Chrissy responded and we all waited. This time, the pounding fist came down on me, and I reluctantly tucked my second potato fist behind my back and was out. I had really wanted to be “It” for this game of Kick the Can, and I know my face showed my disappointment. I didn’t cry or throw a fit, though, because, after all, I wanted to stay in the game. Free play with the neighborhood kids had taught me to show some grit and to bounce back when things didn’t go my way.

Kid-organized play time taught us teamwork, communication, leadership, and resiliency. Looking back, I am amazed at what a group of scrappy kids could accomplish.

If only all of my adult work groups could get things done as efficiently and effectively as my childhood neighbors! At the next work meeting when the group is struggling to reach a consensus, I may just yell out, “Everybody, put your potatoes in!”


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The Reluctant Artist


On that day, a few years ago, the Sunday School kids each were each looking down at a piece of watercolor paper. They each had a supply of pastels and crayons and watercolor paints at their ready and a plastic cup of water for rinsing their brushes.

I had expected this to be the best Sunday School class ever!  We’d be talking about the beauty of God’s creation and doing art!  Kids love art projects, right?

When I was a kid, my art supplies were my toys.  I played around with crayons and paints and clay and charcoal in relaxed, creative playtime.  Family members offered occasional guidance and loose instruction, but mostly encouraged exploration and fun.

So that day, I figured we’d have fun with art. I was excited to share the technique of crayon resistance paintings using watercolors.

I spent a minute explaining how it worked.  With resistance painting, you draw with a wax crayon or a pastel, and then you paint right on top of your drawing.  The background will soak up the paint, but your drawing will be unchanged and will shine right through.

“So go for it!,” I told them and picked up a crayon.

“Wait,” one child said loudly. “Miss Lisa, what should we draw?”

I looked around expecting hands to be grabbing at crayons, eager to start.  Instead, every hand was beneath the table….not a hand in sight.

So I gave them some ideas…..like a bunch of white crayon stars painted over with a black night sky, or brightly colored fish painted over with a blue sea.  I told the kids that they could draw flowers and then paint on the green meadow, or they could draw and color in clouds and then add a blue sky.

“But what should we draw?” another young boy asked, after I finished talking.

“I don’t know what to draw,” a girl chimed in.

“What are we drawing?”

“Should we all draw the same thing?”

“No, you don’t all have to draw the same thing.” I said.  Looking around, I noticed that all of their small hands were still tucked neatly under the table.

“If you want, maybe try one of the ideas I just shared.” I gave my fish two fins and an eye.

“But which idea?”

“Should we all draw a fish?”

And then, one of the preteen girls said the one thing that should never be said about art.

“I’m scared.”

Scared?  What the heck was going on?

How in the world could a kid use that word to describe a little light-hearted painting?

I wondered if this could be a symptom of the times….a symptom of this electronic age when kids rely on YouTube and the internet for easy and quick entertainment.

A generation ago, a kid who wanted to stay entertained needed to exert effort.  Back then, kids had to look around for activities to keep busy and often had to step outside of their comfort zone and be challenged.  So even when those kids had no interest in  jumping into something new, they did it.  Cause when they had to choose between trying something new and just staring at a wall,  something different seemed a bit more attractive.

When I was a kid, if given the choice between playing Connect Four with a friend and a frenetic outside game of Kick-The-Can with ten to twenty of the rowdy neighborhood kids , I would have chosen the inside game 100% of the time.  But when choosing between Kick-The-Can/Lord of the Flies chaos and just sitting in the house watching the Dinah Shore show with my mom, I tightened up my bobo sneakers and headed outside.  I was pushed outside of my comfort zone again and again when the alternative was boredom.  I drew, I painted, I learned to crochet, I played jail break, I learned to double dutch, I played box ball, I played lawn darts, and I made houses from playing cards.

But keeping a child engaged and occupied these days is easier than it was back then. In my youth, a parent kept a restless or cranky child quiet in a busy restaurant with paper and crayons, legos or playdoh.  But nowadays, even the youngest child is simply handed a cell phone and is instantly quieted.

So I guessed that art as free play was a little foreign to my Sunday School kids.

Fortunately, we got through the crayon resistance project.  To my relief, the kids felt better when I suggested drawing puffy words, like Love and Peace, or even their own name.  With encouragement, they all drew and painted and they seemed  proud of their work.

So what to do?

Moving forward, I would like to see Sunday School classes that includes more art projects. I would like to see elementary school art classes encourage free expression. I would like decoupage, paper mache, pastels, and water color to be common childhood activities.  And I would like small children that are bored to be handed a crayon instead of a cell phone.

Maybe I can gather those Sunday School kids for a Jackson Pollock project some time soon.

If those kids thought that the water colors were scary, wait til I encourage them to start throwing paint!

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Reaching for the Stars

The boy, about 10, was clearly excited.  He was walking in front of us, alongside his father, as we entered the exhibit on space travel at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. My husband and I, and our son Jake, were vacationing in DC and we were taking in the most popular sites.

Blue Pink and White Andromeda Galaxy WayThe Air and Space Museum is chock full of the stuff that dreams are made of.  Actual airplanes, missiles, rockets, and space shuttles hang from the ceiling or are installed so you can peek, or even step inside them.  A piece of Moon rock is right there to touch.  The walls are lined with stories of the innovative and the brave, with names like Wright and Lindbergh, Earhart and Hughes, Armstrong, Yeager, Ride, and Musgrave.  The museum inspires us that regular people can do incredible and amazing things!

“Dad, Dad, Dad,” the boy was hurrying to catch up to his father.

I could hear the awe in his young voice and I watched as he lifted his head, and eyes, to take in all that was before us.

“Do you need to be smart to go into space, Dad?” the boy asked, with a hesitance in his voice, as his wide eyes continued to take in the exhibit around us.

“Oh you don’t just have to be smart,” the dad replied, a bit too matter-of-factly.  “Smart isn’t enough. To go to space, you have to be an actual genius.”

The dad put a punch on the word genius that made it sound fantastical or mythological.  He might as well have said, “to go to space, you need to be a wizard, or a unicorn.” I heard it and the boy heard it, that this opportunity was out of reach for all but a select and unusual few.  Maybe without realizing it, the dad had said to his son, “This is not for you,” loud and clear.

I watched from behind as the the boy exhaled and his shoulders fell. He continued to move through the exhibit, but without that pep in his step.  The dad didn’t seem to notice as his son’s dreams evaporated into the air around us.

I regret that I didn’t speak up.  If I could have a do over, I would talk to the boy, and tell him that the road to space can have many different paths. I would share that the earliest astronauts were military pilots, so the US Air Force and Navy are still possible pathways to NASA.  I’d tell him that many modern astronauts are also engineers, scientists, doctors, and teachers, and that while NASA does want all nonmilitary applicants to have a Bachelors degree, nowhere is there mention of an IQ requirement.  I would also tell the boy about private companies making a bid for space, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

To get to space, the boy will need to work hard, of course. He will need to apply himself in school and take rigorous classes.  He’ll need to stay in top physical shape and work to be highly educated in his chosen field.  And he’ll need to be gritty and brave.  But the word genius is not on the list of prerequisites.

So I would tell the kid, and all kids, to dream big – – space is within reach.


Later that same day,  Joe, Jake, and I  were taking in an exhibit about the prospects for a manned research mission to Mars.

The displays talked about inflatable habitats and years and years in space, plus the challenges of surviving an environment with no accessible water, no fuel, no oxygen, and almost no atmosphere.

“Yikes,” I thought, “who, in their right mind, would ever sign up for that?”

Jake spoke up, unsolicited.  “If I ever have the chance to go to Mars, I am definitely going.”

I looked at my 19 year old son in disbelief, as we stood next to an exhibit about dust devils on the surface of Mars.  Dust devils are small tornadoes, made of dust and debris, and on the inhospitable planet, they are everywhere!

“Really?,” I asked, honestly dumbfounded. “You would go to Mars?  MARS!?” I pointed at the continuous loop video showing  a cluster of intense whirlwinds, tearing across the surface of the red planet.

“Of course I would go,” his face was dead serious.  “It would be the chance of a lifetime.”

I realized then, that while raising Jake, Joe and I had managed to give our son exactly what that other parent had quickly denied to his: a belief in his own ability and a belief in the amazing possibilities of this world, and others.

So Jake will continue to dream big and his dreams will be shaped, as they should be, by his view of this world and not by mine.  If it turns out that space travel is in his future, I will fake a smile and encourage him.

I will keep to myself that when I told him, as a child, to reach for the stars, I meant it figuratively, and not literally.

So please encourage the young people in your life to dream big too.  After all, it’s a big world, I mean universe, with endless possibilities for them to explore.


Postscript:  Joe always reads my posts before I publish them here. After reading this one, he looked at me seriously and said,  “I hate to tell you this, but if I was given the opportunity, I would absolutely go too.”

So please visit me, friends, right here on Earth, after my family leaves me to move to Mars!  In New Jersey, things may not be perfect, but so far, at least there are no dust devils!


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Out With the Old?

colonial manor

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”   – Martin Luther King Jr.

“The church, on my corner, was built in 1922.

Due to recent changes in leadership at my ninety six year old church, things are being tidied, cleaned out, and cleared out. The closets and filing cabinets have been emptied and I have been told that the mother church sees no reason for us to hold on to old books or hymnals, or paperwork and records, including meeting minutes.

“We don’t need to keep anything that is over seven years old,” the church leader told me.  “No reason to hold on to the past,” he said, after he had used a bolt cutter to remove the lock that secured the oldest records.

The church, on my corner, was built in 1922.

By then, the builders of the church had been meeting in each others homes for quite awhile, reading from the Bible, singing from borrowed hymnals. and wishing for a place of their own.

In 1919, the Colonial Land Company had bought up the Shivers Farm, and subdivided the fields into lots. They advertised in the area newspapers, not just advertising lots for sale, but advertising a neighborhood, a community, a way of life.  In the years after WWI, families came and built, with some buying kit houses from the Sears Roebuck, Aladdin, or Montgomery Ward catalogs and watching as the house parts came via rail car and were delivered to the train stop in North Woodbury.  Others relied on local construction companies, like Rose and Budd Builders, to design and build their dream homes.

The young families in the new Colonial Manor wanted a community and worked together to build one. They formed their own fire brigade and some desperately wanted a church.

Those determined neighbors met for worship in each other’s homes. Eventually, they convinced the Colonial Land Company to give them a piece of land and the large property at the corner of Elberne and Tatum was theirs. Although there was no building where they could gather, they wasted no time and purchased wood from Holloway Lumber and built benches to be used as pews. Kemble Church donated a few song books and these faithful neighbors began holding open air services on the empty lot.  In July and August, 1922, the Colonial Manor Methodist Episcopal Church met every Sunday, without an actual church building.  Ministers from Camden, Woodbury, and Verga came to preach and they had over 70 attendees at some services that summer.

Preliminary masonry work was done that summer, but the big day was October 21st, 1922, when the neighborhood held a Building Bee.  Thirty-seven men were engaged in construction on the church building, and an equal number of women, back at their homes, worked on preparing food for the working men. Their motto was “A Church in a Day,” and they aimed at doing most of the major construction in a single day.  Amazingly, by 6:30 pm, when the men finished working for the day, the structure of the church was in place, and the women were able to serve a meal in the completed church basement.

I know all this, and more, because I had access to written records that happened to be over seven years old.

Those handwritten minute books were incredibly detailed and were written in the most careful and proper penmanship.  They told the large and small stories of the church and also of the town. They told about the quest for a bell to fill the empty bell tower.  They gave details of times of prosperity and generosity, when the church had money to share, and every child was given candy and an apple on Christmas, and also of lean times, when church members picked up donated coal cinders that had already been burned, to sift through and use in the church furnace, since the church could not afford coal.  The surnames of the church members in those books are the same surnames of some of my current neighbors.

But alas, those records were greater than seven years old. To some, that meant they were valueless.

The church, on my corner, was built in 1922.

Today, on this Palm Sunday, the pastor of the church told the story of Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem and told, in detail, about the crowds laying palms on the ground and shouting Hosannas. His detailed sermon relied on the narratives of the Gospels, but also provided historical facts about Jerusalem in Christ’s time from other sources.  He talked about the politics of Rome and of the Jewish temple leaders. As he preached, his words let me see the streets of Jerusalem that Christ struggled through, carrying the cross.

I left church feeling uplifted and thankful for those who preserve history.

I may not understand the mindset and goals of our mother church right now, but I am grateful for those that HAVE preserved historical records over the last two thousand years.  Walking home, I silently thanked God for those that wrote down the stories of Christ’s life, so long ago, and those that risked their personal safety to preserve them.

And I thanked God for modern archivists, in small and large churches, in universities, museums, and at the Vatican, who continue to think it wise to keep written documents that are over seven years old!

To the Greater New Jersey United Methodist Church, I say this: You are making a terrible mistake. When you forget your history, you forget yourself.

old church picture - full color

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Is It Bread, or Is It Pudding?


The leftover rolls from Christmas dinner would not fit in my freezer, no matter how much rearranging I did . There were only two choices. The trash…..or bread pudding.

Joe loved my mother’s bread pudding and repeated the same query whenever she served it. “Is it bread, or is it pudding?,” he would laugh as he shoveled spoonfuls into his mouth. “It’s both.”

Bread pudding, made from stale bread or rolls, was a staple dessert during the Great Depression. Nowadays, we throw that day-old bread away without blinking an eye. But at a time when households were operating on an incredibly lean budget, a family could not afford to throw away food that might have some life left. Bread pudding was born out of the necessity of hard times and is upcycling at its culinary best.

My mother’s bread pudding was simple, with only a few ingredients. She did not add nuts or raisins or apples to spruce it up, but instead relied on the right ratios of bread, sugar, and milk.

But whenever I tried to recreate that recipe, I fell short.  My versions were either too dry or too mushy, too sweet or too plain. When she was alive, I would badger my mother for advise, but she would explain her recipe with only vague and uncertain measurements.

“Tear up some bread and add about one sugar bowl of sugar,” she’d say.  “Add an egg and some cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla and mix it up. Then cover it all with milk until it is mostly covered. It’s that easy!”

What kind of recipe was this, Mom?  I wanted precise instruction, so how much stale bread is the right amount?  And how much, exactly, is some cinnamon? A teaspoon? A tablespoon? And since when is a sugar bowl a standard measure? Whose sugar bowl should I use?

But alas, in life, my mother couldn’t answer these questions. She explained that her original sugar bowl was long gone, so she had to eyeball it. And as far as covering it all with milk, this just required eyeballing too. “You can add more sugar if you need to,” she’d say. “Or more milk too.”

What the heck? In the end, I decided that my mother’s process was more about feelings and less about measurements. Yet, every single time she made it, her bread pudding was perfect.

“Is it bread, or is it pudding?” Joe would ask with a smile as he dug in.

After her death, I continued to try to recreate Mom’s flavor, determined to document an actual recipe. I approached it systematically and tried different sugar bowls and wrote down the sugar and milk measurements for each failure. Still, it was too dry or too wet, too eggy or too sweet. After many attempts, I gave up and resolved that her recipe was out of reach.  I would stick to brownies instead, where the exact measurements are conveniently printed on the box!

This Christmas, though, the freezer was full. I had over a dozen rolls headed for the trash. The conservationist in me knew I had no choice.

But instead of trying to find the right size sugar bowl this time, I decided to relax and just feel. I tore up bread until I felt like stopping. I poured on white sugar and then decided to add some brown sugar too! I added an egg and some sliced almonds and cinnamon and a splash of caramel sprinkles.  I covered it all with half and half until it felt right.

There were no measurements and it is unlikely that I will ever be able to recreate this same recipe again.  After 45 minutes at 350 degrees, it was done.

It was nothing like Mom’s, except that it was perfect.

Many years after her death, I am still learning from my mom.

“Is it bread, or is it pudding?,” Joe laughed as he dug in. “It’s both!”



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She was waiting patiently in line, wearing a pink tea-length skirt, a yellow silk blouse, and a white flapper hat with a pink bow. Her long string of pearls came almost to her waist and was tied in a fashionable knot. The outfit she was wearing was more appropriate for a Sunday church luncheon, or maybe for a 1922 speakeasy, than for her medical check up.

I asked how she was doing and she answered confidently, “I am 95 years old and I am still on this Earth, standing on my own two feet. So I am okay.”

I complimented her glamorous outfit and she smiled broadly,  extending her gloved hand.

“Well, you know, she said, “I just don’t know how long I have left.”

“And I don’t mean that in a sad way, dear,” she reassured me.  “I just mean that it doesn’t make sense to wait for a special occasion to wear my favorite things.”

“So when I want to dress up, I dress up.  And when I feel like wearing pearls, I wear pearls. Life is just too short to leave my favorite pearls in the jewelry box.”

This week, a terrible and tragic loss, experienced by another, reminded me of the fragility of life.

So remembering my 95 year old friend, I asked myself a question:  Why am I not wearing pearls? Why am I not wearing pearls every single day?

So whether life turns out to be short or to be long, let’s make smart use of the time while we are on this earth, standing on our own two feet.

  • Let’s not wait for a special occasion to wear our favorite clothes.
  • Let’s not wait to do our favorite activities, or to spend time with our favorite people.
  • pearlsLet’s try to to learn new things every chance we get.
  • Let’s get the best dishes from the china cabinet when its NOT Thanksgiving and eat pizza on fine china.
  • Let’s love each other generously and if we can, unconditionally.  At times, this could be hard.
  • Let’s laugh as often as we can, at both really good and really bad jokes. This should be easy.
  • Let’s talk to strangers in medical office waiting rooms and share our age and maybe even wear lace gloves.

And above all, if we feel like wearing pearls, let’s wear them. Because life is too short to leave those pearls in the jewelry box.


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Words….frickin’ words

swear word2

I said frickin.

But I didn’t use that other f-word or the d-word or any other less than desirable word. I was doing my best to remain calm and to be respectful, but suddenly, the word blurted out.

Language is a powerful tool. I have always advised my children to steer clear of using swear words casually, because they could suddenly pop out of your mouth when you least expect them. But that day, my emotions impacted my language, and I spoke before I thought.

The person on the receiving end was offended and made it clear to me and to others that he considered my use of the word frickin to be crude and disrespectful.

Now, of course, this person was upset with me and was trying to paint me as a potty mouth. But here’s the thing……frick is a fake swear word.

To me, frickin” is like flippin”, or frackin”, and many people don’t always hear these as curse words.  In fact, fricking is listed both in Webster’s and in the Oxford dictionary, and it just says that this word is “used for emphasis or to express anger, annoyance, contempt, or surprise.”

Although I don’t say these words regularly,  fake swear words do fill a void when I need an expletive with weight.  Fake curse words, like dangdarn, holy schmoley, and fishsticks, let me emote, but without sounding like a trucker.

In the hit NetFlix comedy, Kimmy Schmidt drops the f-word all of the time. But for her, the f-bomb is fudge. When Kimmy asks “What the fudge?” or says “Fudge it to heck,” we aren’t offended.  We recognize the difference between curse words and, well…….fake curse words.

In TV and movies, we hear plenty of fake swearing.  Robin Williams, as Mork, gave us Shazbot and Tommy Boy gave us Schnikes.  And Yosemite Sam introduced us to rassafrassin and rackafrackin.

Orbit Gum took fake swearing to a new level and showed how Orbit can clean up a dirty mouth by introducing us to What the French Toast and Son of a Biscuit-Eating Bulldog. 

So I was surprised when this individual expressed such indignation at my use of frickin’. It’s fake, for pete’s sake!  Clearly, he was overreacting….right?

When we were little kids in Oak Valley, the nuns at the area convent were on the lookout for blasphemy and were alert for any child who might casually take our Lord’s name in vain.  A kid on a bike who uttered “oh my God” would land in hot water, but so could any kid using a sound-alike interjection. Kids got called out for “oh my gosh” and “oh my goodness” and for “Jeez,” “Jeez-Louise,” and even “cheese and crackers.”  The nuns cautioned that these words were just substitutes for things we weren’t supposed to say and that, in our heart, we were saying the real thing.  The nuns would speculate about what was really in our hearts and they warned that we couldn’t hide that from God. We knew that we also couldn’t hide from those nuns, who worked to expose sin like it was their job, cause it was.

So were the nuns right? When we use a substitute word, are we really saying the real thing?  In my heart, was I really cussing that individual out?

Well, if I am honest (and the nuns would want me to be honest), I am pretty sure that I wanted to follow that isolated frickin with a frickity, fricking, frickety frick frick!  I was hurt and let one substitute curse word slip.  But in my heart, I wanted to say something worse.

So Son of a Gun and Gobb Dash It!  That individual was right to be indignant.

So moving forward, I will look into my own heart and will try to moderate my fake swears.

But then again, maybe I won’t.

Expletives and interjections help us to express frustration, anger, or pain. I would love to grow, as a person, to a place where I don’t ever have swear words in my heart. But sometimes I am wounded and my heart hurts. And while I cannot always control what is in my heart, I can try to control what comes out of my mouth.

So I cannot promise that I will never again let out a frick, frack, fudge, fiddlestick, or phooey, especially when I am upset or hurt.

And to the person who acted so high and mighty and appalled by my language,  and who went out of his way to speak badly about me, I can ask just one thing: What the French Toast?


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Dog Dreams

RoofTop Chalie is coming around the final curve. He is running close to 45 mph and he can hear the hum of the crowd as he moves closer to the finish. He can feel his spine stretch as all four of his feet leave the ground and then touch back down, pulling him forward in a frantic gallop. 

moon-1749422_960_720Joe and I were startled awake by the rattle of metal. Chalie’s paws were moving rapidly again and his crate was shaking. Chalie was breathing hard and whimpering in his sleep.

“Shhhhh, buddy, it’s all right,” Joe whispered in the dark to Chalie, whose sleeping crate is next to our bed.

Chalie’s legs were still running and he was whining now, so Joe whispered again, but a bit louder.  “Wake up boy. You’re okay; you’re here with us.”

The rattling of the metal crate stopped suddenly and I knew that Chalie was awake. Although it was dark, I assumed his eyes were open and he was taking in his surroundings, realizing that he was in his own bed at home, and not at the racetrack.

Chalie has been retired from his career as a race dog for almost eight years now. He came to our home as a bright eyed two year old, after competing in less than twenty races.  As a retiree, Chalie still runs, but now he bounds around in a big circle in our backyard.

In sleep, Chalie is a prolific dreamer. He runs, or he chases, or he is chased, we don’t know which, every single night and during most daytime naps.  We wish we could know what images fill his brain in sleep and why he often whimpers or cries out in his dreams. Is he running at the track in Birmingham, where he spent his youth? Or is he running in his own backyard, trying to catch that elusive rabbit who always ducks under the shed before Chalie can reach him? Or is he being chased by something menacing, like the aliens or vampires that plague my own nightmares?

I often wonder if it is simple genetics that drive Chalie’s dreams. After all, Chalie is from a long and well-documented lineage of successful race dogs, each hand picked to pass on his or her running genes to the next generation. Chalie’s father, or sire in race dog language, was an Irish racing champion whose athletic genes were passed on to over 5000 offspring.  Maybe Chalie can’t help but dream of the race, given that he was selectively bred for this purpose alone.

And if our genetics could truly drive our dreams, this might explain why I so often dream of work. My own lineage is that of working class people and like Chalie, I descend from the Irish. My own ancestors worked hard to make a living in this country and worked as factory workers, waitresses, craftsmen, and at other honest, but laborious jobs. So after a long day of working hard, I often fall asleep, only to continue working in my dreams.

If only Chalie and I had descended from royalty or from the privileged upper class, then in our sleep, instead of running hard, or working hard, Chalie and I could dream of eating bonbons on the beach.

Chalie sleeping

RoofTop Chalie, deep in sleep, and hopefully dreaming about his tea party with the Queen!

Maybe tonight, when Chalie is back at the racetrack and I am either being chased by that alien or crunching data sheets at work, Joe can help us shake off our lot in life.

“Shhhhhh,” Joe might whisper to us in the dark. “Shhhh, you’re okay.  Your having tea and crumpets with the Queen.”







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