Tuesday, November 22, 2016

All Who Walnut are Not Lost

Today is Walnut Tuesday.  Here is a brief history of our infamous made-up holiday:

Family interest in walnuts began one New Year's Eve when my dad dressed up as Father Time and his father-in-law (or soon to be FIL) dressed up as Baby New Year.  Sadly, there is no photo-graphical documentation of this party that I am aware of.   Anyway, my dad invented "alternative walnuts" leaving guests to wonder how did that penny get inside my nut?

During my childhood, alternative walnuts were resurrected to expand our celebration of the holidays.  One day, I innocently grabbed a walnut from the constant Christmas stash available in the kitchen.  Cracking it open I found raisins and an exceptionally innocent-looking father gazing on.

Alternative walnuts enjoyed a brief resurgence, entertaining cousins, aunts and uncles alike, even making appearances in other people's pockets, houses and nut bowls.  The longest known surviving alternative walnut lasted, I believe, into the spring, when a family friend absent minded-ly cracked it open.  It spilled mini M&M's across her kitchen floor and he heart into her throat.  People began keeping careful watch.

So the tradition ended again, the secret spoiled.  Dad started working early mornings instead of the 4-midnight shift. One is much more motivated to perfectly crack nuts and glue them together again over beer at 1am.  It's hard to find time to do such crafty cleverness when one now must wake up at 3am.

There are many more layers to this phenomenon that I could explain even if I had the time and word count. So I will jump to the Tuesday part.

My dad grocery shops on Tuesdays.  He always has as far as I can remember.  I think he would often hit a different store for a few things on Saturdays, but I can't be sure.  He has his way about him, my father.  And so, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving we could guarantee the appearance of walnuts in the house for the holidays.

Upon pointing this out, dad was quick to counter that some years he would buy walnuts the Tuesday before the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  If the Tuesday before Thanksgiving falls less than one month before December 24th (i.e. Thanksgiving is on the 27th and so the Tuesday before was the 25th) it would be too "late" to buy the walnuts and so he would purchase them the week before.  Maybe it also has something to do with the moon.

Anyway, once we grasped this not so confusing, but really quite confusing, concept it became crystal clear when the walnuts would appear.  Apparently the nut does not fall too far from the tree and so one such Tuesday, I called my family from college and wished them a clever, "Happy Walnut Tuesday!"  The great holiday was born.

As I like to think, my dad was so inspired by my coning that he ran full steam and started getting sneaky again.  Walnut Tuesday wreaths (yes, we made one) appeared mysteriously on his brother's door.  His sister (long time Catholic church secretary and capable choir member) revamped a popular hymn walnut style and sang it to us on the answering machine.  Alternative walnuts reappeared with fortunes inside. I made walnut turtles and turkeys.  My mom made intricate three-dimensional walnut-shaped cookies. Someone wrote, "Twas the night before Walnut Tuesday," which, if I remember correctly, was read at the first Walnut Tuesday dinner.  Such was the event that my dad (remember how he has to get up at 3 am?) took off the following day so that he could fully imbibe in the festivities.

Which began including squirrels.  And walnut measuring and comparing with reigning champions and contenders.   And walnut liqueur.  And always champagne.  Because what is Walnut Tuesday??  A celebration of creativity and a kickoff to the winter holidays, the walnut a vehicle for the nutty.  It welcomed anyone who understood it including one of my mom's harp students who just happened to be at our house on the Monday before Walnut Tuesday. (The year my uncle and his husband surprise gifted my father a taxidermy squirrel with an acorn in its mouth.)  She was hooked.

Upon the dawn of social media, people with little knowledge or involvement began to wish me Happy Walnut Tuesday via text and Facebook.  My mother-in-law sewed for us, not just one, but two walnut themed table linens.  I had to explain it to my kids.  Every year, I received questions, not only from them, but from all sides of my life.  Which Tuesday is it this year?  What are you doing to celebrate?  I saw a walnut tart recipe and thought of you!  Have you ever made one?

It became clear that we really had made up our own holiday, one many did not get at all.  But they got that we got it.  And that was enough.

We celebrated at least four dinners over the years.  We ate walnut crusted chicken and green beans "walnutdine."  We started with blue cheese and walnut spread and green salads with fruit and, stay with me now, walnuts.  And my sister, once she moved away, started hosting her own dinners with friends.  They, too, embraced our holiday and welcomed it to Philadelphia (worrying my dad that Walnut Tuesday was becoming "too commercial.")  In recent years, it was my sister's crew that has really kept the momentum going (oh, the energy of the young and childless!)

This year isn't looking great for the walnuts.  My sister is on her honeymoon.  And a critical mass of us are so rarely together on the day anymore that the wind has gone out of our squirrel-y sails.  I know my dad will still buy a bag though.  And I will try to, as well (though walnuts might be too exotic for Ohio.  I'm kidding new Ohio friends (if I still have any after they read this...)) Maybe my sister will find some walnuts in California (she did include them on her wedding invitation, hazaah!).  Haha, maybe my dad secretly sent her off with some...

You never know.  The walnut has waxed and waned over the years.  It's just the way of it.  Cycle of life type stuff.  But fear not: it's not dead, it's just hibernating.

Waiting for the next crazy thing we come up with...

Happy Walnut Tuesday, everyone!!!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Fish Called Walter

In the frustrated flurry of the previous week, we lost track of our fish.  I mean, we knew where he was.  His clever little puzzle-piece-shaped habitat sits on a table in our kitchen.  We aren't sure how much Walter can really see, but we thought he would prefer the activity and warmth of the kitchen over, for example, the upstairs bathroom.  

We try to keep his little life as interesting as possible.  We talk to him.  We aggravate him just enough to keep him on his toes (fins).  We shift his Charlie Brown tree to a new spot every time we clean his space. And we place items next to him on the table to liven his day.  Most recently, we placed a bright orange baby pumpkin to serve as his "view".

But somehow, despite our oddly involved fish parenting style, we couldn't figure out how long it has been since he had eaten.  I remembered the girls pointing out leftover floating food a few days ago.  But had he eaten after that?  No one could quite be sure.  All we knew was that he had been hiding in corners a bit more than usual and refused to eat any breakfast that specific morning.  

It was clear he saw the food drop in.  It was clear he was not interested at all.  Walter once "bit" my finger when I decided to tease him with it instead of food.  He loves to eat.  I think all beta fish do and we try to be careful not to overfeed the little guy.  We are not sure they know their limits.

But apparently, they do.  When they get backed up.  

After the girls went to school and the hubs went to work I sat down to diagnose Walter.  Crouching down and pressing my face against the glass (plastic) I eyed our newest family member.  His fins and coloring looked good.  Everything else was pretty normal except for "lethargy" and "refusal to eat."  It really did appear, based on my super biological observation skills and the internet, that he was constipated.

Which...can be fatal for a fish?!?

I set to work.  Walter was not going to die on my watch (I mean, not right now.  He probably will, eventually, since he's going to die and he's on my watch more than anyone else's).  I was still feeling super guilty about the time he flopped out of the net and onto the counter (shh).  The webpage said that if the issue was caught early enough it was easy to fix and "your fish will be back on track in a few days."  

So I cooked one frozen pea.  Do you know how sad one frozen pea looks floating in a little dish of microwaved water?  Well it looks pathetic, but this is what the internet insisted I do.  After I shelled the booger and cut it into beta-sized bits, I dropped one into the very small tank.  The site promised that the bright color would be enough to entice the fish to bite despite its condition.

Walter watched the antidote sink to the bottom.  Literally.  His eyes moved from hopefully looking at the surface to sinking, like a piece of pea apparently does, all the way to the gravel .  Great, I thought.  Walter is going to die.  He even looked out in my direction.  Which I read as, "Lady, thanks for trying, but it's too late for me."

But, I wasn't going to give up yet.  I dropped another bit for him.  This time he nabbed it like a ninja right out of the air (water).  And then he swam down and ate the first piece, too.  I figured, since he is only the size of a large paper clip, that two pieces of pea was plenty for an already-filled-up fish.  Walter and I regarded each other.

Alright, buddy, I thought.  Now you gotta poop.  

Side note: beta fish poop out of the necks!  Like right below their gills...the poop comes out right there!  

Well, despite careful observation for most of the rest of the day I never saw Walter pop a fish squat.  But the website said it might take a few days.  I resolved not to feed him until the following morning.

Which brings us to today.  Walter seemed much more agile when I first checked on him this morning and I was cautiously encouraged that he had done the deed and would be okay.  I fed the girls breakfast.  I fed the dogs breakfast.  I fed myself breakfast (miracle)!  And then I walked over to Walter.  As I approached he swam over.  Are fish really this with it?  I am known for anthropomorphizing almost anything, especially animals, but he seriously seems gifted.  People probably always think their fish is the smartest.  I dropped one teeny tiny pellet of fish food into the water.   

And he swam right over and ate it!  I fed him two more (his typical meal) and he ate both of those too!!

I panned the gravel for a new present, but saw none.  Hopefully Walter got it done and is "back on track."  If not, I have a whole bag of peas in the freezer to get him going again.

Walter is a tough fish to read.  Does he still look constipated to you?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Do All the Good, But Take a Nap First

As detailed in a previous post, my brain "broke" after the mass shooting in Orlando.  The result, long story short, was I decided to direct my energies toward the presidential election.  After all, I now live in the battleground state of Ohio.  It seemed right to fight.  My thought was that lawmakers, especially those all the way at the top, would be our best defense against the continued abuse of and obsession with firearms in this country.

And now, our president-elect, is deeply between the sheets with the NRA.  They paid 30 million dollars in campaign donations for a piece of Trump's ass and that's what they got.  Guns for you!  Guns for me!  Guns for everyone!  Oh, and guns in schools.  Brilliant.

This is only one of the many issues tying knots in my stomach and creasing concern across my forehead.  I am devastated that our country will soon be in the hands of an administration with hate on their to-do list and a blind pilot in the cockpit.  But I will not despair.  So I got out our new machete.

I abhor violence, but it felt so refreshing to hack down every perennial in my yard this weekend.  I live in the country now, folks.  I hack down things with machetes and put my gardens to bed with conviction.

It also felt refreshing to google charities right here in Geauga County.  Realistically (and practically) there is only so much hacking to be done.  I need another outlet for my energies.  My weeknights no longer include phone banking and my weekends no longer include canvassing.  Campaign let down was sure to come either way because I have leaned on such work as my "reason for being in Ohio."  Well, the campaign is over.  And I'm still here!

I want to do all the good.  I also want to adopt all the puppies.  But time, energy and resources are limited. So.  To quote HRC (because I'm still with her, duh) quoting John Wesley: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can." (italics added by moi...full Wesley quote below*)

We can't do much good while we mourn and fret.  But I think it is important that we do.  This is a big deal. Is the US going to sink into the ocean?  No.  But are rights going to be stripped, resources misdirected, families profiled and divided???  We will certainly find out.  And we will certainly do our part to combat injustice.

But in the meantime, here is my advice: take a nap, take a break, take a breath.  Don't rush right out and give money or volunteer or plaster everything with safety pins out of sheer emotion related to this election. Regardless of who is president, love is a long game.  Bust out your Gatorade.  We need you in tip top shape.

So please try to march slowly and calmly and steadily through the rest of this year.  Finish raking leaves. Build a bonfire with friends.  Make two kinds of stuffing for Thanksgiving.  Hug your spouse and count to 10.  Kiss your kiddos until they squirm.  Give the pup some peanut butter.  Light a candle and sit in the quiet and the dark.  Acknowledge the power outside of yourself and pray.  

And then ask for a punching bag for Christmas.

We have always had a lot to do to feed the flow of light and love and peace and unity.  And I am afraid it just got harder.  

So rest up, friends.  Take heart and take care of yourselves and your own.  And then when you're ready...

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can”*

Personally, I am leaning towards training to be a volunteer at a local organization called WomenSafe whose mission is to: 

"provide free support to anyone experiencing violence in their home or dating relationship. This includes comprehensive programming for adults and children including counseling, art therapy, court advocacy, hospital advocacy, outreach services and aftercare. WomenSafe offers all services completely free of charge."

But I am going to take some time to think about it.  How will you be helping next year?

Stop googling for a bit.  Refresh.  Regroup.  And then, re-enter the fray.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

― John Wesley, Anglican cleric and theologian who, with his brother and fellow cleric, founded Methodism.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

One or None

Like many of you, I look forward to the end of this election season.  I am ready for us to move on.  I am ready to turn our eyes toward other important issues facing our nation and world today.  But, we still need to elect a new president.  I pray the results land lightly and decisively, whatever they may be.

My mom shared this line she heard recently, "We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Let's hope it's not the train."

No one (in their right mind) wants to be pulverized against metal train tracks by metal train wheels.  And so, who ever you are planning to vote for (national, state and local government) you have your reasons.  Reasons you believe keep you and yours headed in the right direction.

We all approach these decisions with different stories behind us and ways of life before us.  While we may not understand each others' decisions we need to take the time to think about how someone arrived at their place of decision.  Most people don't simply pull a name out of a hat.  They have a feeling (sometimes visceral) that propels them down a certain line of thought.  And from that place they choose to support one candidate over the other, one party over the other.

We need to respect this, even honor this.  People are people are people.  We have all been disappointed, hurt, confused, and, sadly, often worse: betrayed, abused, lost.  We have all been drawn to different causes, injustices and wrongs.  How wonderful!  A full body of people collectively caring about the world.

But then we disagree on how to move forward.

We shout our opinions over other opinions.

We don't listen to each other.

We get off track.

Passion over a legitimate concern turns to anger, blame, distrust, fear, violence, death threats?

We shut down.

Our spirits die.

If only we could go back to a time when every thing was simpler and problems were simpler and people were simpler and technology was simpler and our jobs were simpler and raising a family was simpler and our minds were simpler and we gulped Coca-Cola Classic from a glass bottle.  Everything was in black and white.  Like television.

Everyone knows (even if it's deep down in their belly buttons) that this is impossible.  For example, my family and I could move to back to Baltimore, sure.  But it wouldn't be the same!  Some of the good things would still be there, but so would some of the not so good.  And I know (even though some times I have to search down deep in my belly button) that the best choice for me and my family is to keep moving forward from where we are right now.  Forwarding our ties and relationships, our purposes and our pleasures from this place.  Not losing steam and letting ourselves roll back.

I doubt it's my story alone, but I can't see the benefit of allowing ourselves to be ruled to move and make decisions based on fear and distrust of the way things are now, pining for the past.   Not liking some things? Sure.  Disagreeing with some things?  Totally.

Wanting to work to reform, change, better, progress?

Giddy up.

Call me naive, but I am a believer.  I am a believer in the best of people.  I am a believer in hope and justice and peace.  I am a believer in equality and the power of goodness.  And (to use a simple word) dag-nabbit, I am a believer in politics.  Which basically means I am a believer in community, groups of people living and loving (and learning) and working and worrying (and re-working) together.

During this campaign season, I have spent most of my time volunteering in the Geauga County Democrats Headquarters.  Walking into this place, you know it's been around since "times were simpler."  The large gathering side of the office is lined with blue vinyl booths and the tables and bar area are lined with chrome. But the activity in this place is far from simple despite the fact that Geauga is the reddest county in Northeast Ohio.  There are people in this place fighting for the county parks and community centers, celebrating financial donations from local unions and debating next steps to forward local campaigns for County Commissioner.

And then there I am, on the other side of the wall making quiet calls for Hillary.  Of course I feel that what I am doing matters and is important.  But the real action happens on the streets in our own neighborhoods and towns, not turned inward and balled up under our desks.  Here I go believing again, but truly, if we want to grow in unity we need to move from the inside out, from the local to the national, from the national to the global.  

Simply, I believe that this is what God, the One who creates and sustains us all, is using us to accomplish.  Unity.  And when I say unity, I don't mean uniformity, not by any means.  The beauty of unity is that it is not uniform.  Unity takes all kinds of people and places and ideas and beliefs and rolls them into a beacon of light and love. Uniformity is boring and flat and not dynamic enough to move mortar much less mountains.  

Unity: a school humming along and delighting in learning, a family prioritizing each other and delighting in loving, a town overlooking party lines and delighting in serving.

So yes, I look forward to the end of this election season because I am ready for us to move on.  I am excited for us to move on!  Some one has to be.  I believe we can (and will!) move past this season of painful divisiveness and continue building toward united-ness.  

Praise God, we have no other choice.