Abraham Darby

Abraham Darby

Louis Philippe

Louis Philippe

The days keep gathering and then slipping away. It has been wonderful having Sherod here and already, he’s doing his laundry to pack, since tomorrow he heads back to Fort Lauderdale.   Then, there will only be 32 more days before he’s back, this time to stay. It will be a busy season between now and then. Yesterday we met with a general contractor because we are going to do a major renovation of the kitchen and our bedroom/bathroom. The work should begin almost immediately and I will be on a steep learning curve as the point person with a general contractor.   God willing, it will all be finished by Thanksgiving, but if not, it will be ready when it is ready. Some deadlines mean a lot less to me these days.

I have also ordered 5 roses from Antique Rose Emporium. Some are the same as I grew Memphis. Others are new to me but more suited to this climate zone. All of them have such marvelous, poetic names and spectacular blossoms: Souvenir de la Malmaison,  Cecile Brunner, Perle d’Or, Iceberg, Louis Philppe. All of them are wonderfully fragrant as well.

I will begin to prepare the rose beds where they will be planted—the clay here needs to be worked on to sustain the rose shrubs. Over the course of several weeks, I will slowly mix in pine bark mulch and the compost that is already in process in our compost bin. Even that is a small story both of patience and transfiguration—all those things which get discarded in my kitchen, the fallen leaves I gather before I start mowing each week, all of that put together to be transformed by the alchemy of life and death into something rich and life-giving. Every little bit will make a difference next spring, when hopefully, those roses will begin to bloom. This week, I have been reminded of that wonderful prayer by Teilhard de Chardin:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something 
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ


Canning Projects for the Week

Canning Projects for the Week

I have started a post four or five times in the past few days and not gotten very far. With long stretches by myself, doing work that gives me plenty of time for reflection, I am still figuring out, still striving to understand, still making my peace with lots of different things. Remarkably, I’ve had several unsolicited offers for employment, part-time, all of them. I see two things about that. One is the new economic reality of employment in this country, where more and more employers sidestep financial obligations related to benefits by making so many jobs part-time. The other is the reality that in rural parts of the country, more people with specialized skills like the ones I bring with me tend to leave the area, not come to it. So I bring value with me.

I don’t expect to pursue any of these opportunities. My ECF contract runs at least through the end of the year. I am making good progress with my work with them and a 16-hour a week commitment will allow me to continue to live in quite a bit of uncomfortable and graceful ambiguity. I will make good use of this ‘in-between’ time. Already, I have more clarity and freedom about my vocation. Last week, I got a very nice call from the Bishop of Alabama. He was about to go on vacation and we agreed that I will meet with him in late August.

I have thought a lot about what I can and can’t see myself doing in the Episcopal Church as a priest. If there is a chance for me to do ministries with the Latino community again, I will do things very differently than I did before. This time, I will not be doing this work ‘sent out’ by an established Anglo congregation. I will not mortgage the spiritual freedom of a marginalized community by launching ministries that depend on big financial investments from a more privileged congregation. I also learned by the hardest that bringing a young new expression of the church into a very vulnerable, established congregation is, at best, highly risky for everyone. And I have learned that the terms of commitment between a diocesan structure and a ministry like I dreamed of growing in South Florida must develop out of a clear, explicit mutual commitment to new ways of being church and considerable trust and ongoing engagement and conversation.

It is is too easy, when times get tough, for the more marginalized part of a faith community to become a pet toy that the stronger parts tug and pull at, saying “mine, mine, mine,” all the while having convinced themselves that they are being faithful to the Gospel when the real agenda is self interest. Church at its worst is simply shameful.

I am aware that the spiritual freedom I enjoy now allows me to be clear with myself, and with the church, about what I am and am not able to do. I have a proposal I want to bring to the bishop of Alabama to build Latino ministries in the area around Montgomery. I don’t know if what I want to offer will be what the diocese wants or needs. Because it is a freely offered gift, I will neither be better or worse off if the fit is not there. I see enormous needs all around me and I am so grateful that my livelihood is now far more loosely tied to my vocation. I trust that I will find the way to serve the kingdom, in or outside of the church, and for right now, my work is to continue to gain more strength, more clarity, more joy moving into whatever lies ahead.

I was at the curb market again this weekend, and this week, I will do my ECF work, I’ll continue to can and put up food for the months ahead, I will mow and garden and do the other projects that keep me grounded and healthy. Sherod will arrive tomorrow for a few days and I am happy. Words fail me when I try to express the gratitude that fills my days.

Det är vackrast när det skymmer

View west from la finquita

View west from la finquita

This is the first poem in Swedish my dad ever taught me.  We were watching a magnificent sunset with the  sky ablaze behind Cali’s farallones, the part of the Andes mountain range that stands watch over the city of my birth.  Last year in Ljusterö, one evening when dusk took forever to turn into night, we said it back to each other.  And tonight, watching another beautiful sunset, I go back to it once again.  The translation is good and the limits of translation are such that it ends up sounding more melancholic and angst-ridden than it does in Swedish–there is much more wonder behind the words, at least as I hear them, in Swedish.

Det är vackrast när det skymmer

Det är vackrast när det skymmer
All den kärlek himlen rymmer
ligger samlad i ett dunkelt ljus
över jorden, över markens hus

Allt är ömhet, allt är smekt av händer
Herren själv utplånar fjärran stränder.
Allt är nära, allt är långt ifrån.
Allt är givet människan som lån.

Allt är mitt och allt skall tagas från mig.
Inom kort skall allting tagas från mig.
Träden, molnen, marken där jag går.
Jag skall vandra ensam, utan spår.
Gunnar de Frumerie

(It is the most beautiful at dusk
All the love of the heavens
lies collected in a dark light
over the earth, over the houses on the ground .

All is tenderness, all is caressed by hands.
The Lord himself  erases far away shores.
All is close, all is far away.
All is given man as a loan.

All is mine, and all shall be taken from me,
soon all shall be taken from me,
The trees, the clouds, the ground where I’m walking
I shall wander alone, without a trace.)
Translation by Helene Lindqvist

Summertime, And the Living is Easy…

Fresh Figs with Balsamic Reduction and Gorgonzola

Fresh Figs with Balsamic Reduction and Gorgonzola

I made real progress on a major project today and did an emergency vet run (again!) because sweet, dumbo ole Boo ate a corn cob; last time she did that, she got an intestinal occlusion that nearly killed her and did empty our bank account.  Not much to do but wait, said the vet, and laughed.  His dogs just ate a whole bunch of his cucumbers–tummies not happy, vet not happy, nobody happy.

I am getting ready to go out and mow some grass.  But I have some fresh figs and splurged on a piece of good gorgonzola cheese when I went into Montgomery earlier this week.  So made myself a little snack to have with my water before I get going on the lawn. I will stay out till the sun sets.  It looks like this in the evening around here, until is is slightly darker than this, and then the lightning bugs come out.  Magical.

Front lawn of la finquita at dusk

Front lawn of la finquita at dusk


We’re still getting way more rain than Lowndesboro gets in the summer most of the time.  This morning I had to navigate with my vestments and salad dish and big umbrella to get into St Paul’s.  Even the rain looks different here, in some strange way.  I couldn’t stop myself from taking a few pictures, just because it is so beautiful.

Back entrance to the Church and Parish Hall.  Someone had put beautiful zinnias out on the patio table.

Back entrance to the Church and Parish Hall. Someone had put beautiful zinnias out on the patio table.

It's the Colors That Are So Beautiful They Break My Heart

It’s the colors that are so beautiful they break my heart

The light was just right to see the etchings on the glass.

The light was just right to see the etchings on the glass.

Read the Instructions

It rained hard and quite steadily for the past two days. I am working against a tight deadline for my ECF project and my girl is having a hard enough time with pain that we may need to bump up her surgery. Tomorrow I will be preaching and celebrating at St Paul’s, Lowndesboro to help my buddy Joe; it’s a tough Gospel reading about weeds and tares–a guest preacher treads carefully through passages like that. And weekends continue to be hard.

Because of the rain, I could not do much outdoors and on both days, I was starting to go a bit crazy so I pulled out the instructions. Literally. I have something coming up that I need to prepare a special dish for that uses brioche bread. Then too, peach season is at its height; I have peaches the size of a man’s fist sitting on my counter in the kitchen.

My dad was relentless with about the importance of “reading the instructions”. I did not know when he insisted over, and over, and over again that we read the instructions that he was offering us a way to navigate through fear, anxiety or hesitation to try all sorts of things. “I can do that.” Some of the best moments of my life have been when I have read instructions and thought, “Yup. I can. I can do that.”

Bread baking and canning are not heroic or that inspired or audacious. But reading and following the instructions carefully to make a loaf of Brioche and to prepare and can Peach-Lemon Thyme Jam gave me some freedom from grief and loneliness. Especially the canning was beautiful along the way too.

La Brioche

La Brioche

Freshly Peeled Chilton County Peaches

Freshly Peeled Chilton County Peaches

The Other Fruit of My Labor: 6 Half Pints of Peach-Lemon Thyme Jam

The Other Fruit of My Labor: 6 Half Pints of Peach-Lemon Thyme Jam

Of Cubanos and Blueberries


Late yesterday afternoon, I wrote a snarky post and then took it down.  It had been quite a day.  First, I had another medical emergency with Boo that had me on the phone with Sherod at 6:30 in the morning, both of us trying not to cry, agreeing that it was more than likely that I needed to have her put down yesterday morning.  She had barely been able to get up and had been staggering around.  Her hind quarters couldn’t seem to work and she had what looked like an accident with incontinence.  After Sherod and I talked, I went numb, got my clothes on, lifted Boo into the car when she couldn’t get in herself, and headed for Selma.

Ms. Boo will live to see some more days.  She does have some back problems but they are not so far along so a medicine the vet prescribed will help.  It wasn’t incontinence but a ruptured abscess on her rump that we were dealing with.  Boo’s on antibiotics for that and is far more frisky today than she was yesterday.

Driving home from Selma, still in the early morning, I was shaky with relief when my phone began to ring. I decided not to answer — just too stressed out to talk and drive safely.  But the calls kept coming in and I finally answered.  Sherod was on the line to tell me that TDC needed to talk to me urgently.  Maria has a mass the size of a softball in her abdomen.  Her doctor is almost completely sure it is an ovarian cyst but won’t know for sure without going in to remove it.  I liked what I heard of this doctor over the phone—good bedside manner, good understanding of the special needs of a person like Maria.  He has other residents from TDC in his practice so he knows.  The surgery is scheduled for the 8th of August.  It will be laproscopic and Maria should be in and out of the hospital on the same day, as long as everything goes as planned.  Something more to absorb and the nagging unease until we know for sure what we are dealing with.

I am thankful for the continued strength I find holding myself tight to the commitments and routines I have established for myself.  After getting the first round of meds down Boo (she is not cooperative and for one who does not do slime, slobber or snot, this task is not fun.  I told Sherod I have me an A#@ Hole Dog, literally and figuratively, right now), I worked hard to meet a deadline I had with my big ECF project and worked some more on my small house projects.  But as evening falls around here, it still gets lonely and I knew better than to stay here.  I’ve been wanting to see a movie called Chef and it is playing in a theater in Montgomery so I punched in the address and thanked my lucky stars for the GPS in my car that allowed me the freedom I needed to take my little self to the movies.  It’s not a short ride—45 minutes.  Coming home, the highway from Montgomery to Selma was pitch dark for a good part of the trajectory.   But I did it and that was very good.

The movie was charming, though the plot line is a little thin and Sofía Vergara gets on my last nerve.  There is this marvelous sequence where three of the protagonists are constructing a Cubano sandwich.  It made my mouth water and it made me miss South Florida quite intensely for a little while.   What mattered though, was I had gotten through another tough day in one piece.

This morning I have done another patch of mowing and picked a few blueberries from the bush I found hidden amidst the Scuppernong vine in the back yard.  It will take years for Sherod and me to discover all the treasures that former owners of this piece of land left for us.  The blueberries were delicious…

Cultivate Joy-Revisited

Montgomery Curb Market

Montgomery Curb Market

The days move by fast and I run out of time to write. Today I mowed, put several hours into my work with ECF, did some housework and then put up a peck of tomatoes, a quart each of cream peas and butter beans, 18 ears of Silver Queen corn, and a quart of summer squash. To freeze the produce take some prep work—I have to slice and/or peel, blanch and then immediately cool all of it before packing it up for the freezer. I also have a vacuum sealer doo-hickey that should keep all this wonderful local produce tasting like sunshine when I use it on cold winter days to make soup or stew. The discarded parts of the vegetables I put up have all gone into the compost heap and this weekend I learned some more about how you layer carbon based and nitrogen based stuff in a compost bin so if all goes well, in about 8 weeks we should have ‘finished’ compost to work into the dirt where we will have our garden. Tomorrow, I tackle a peck of peaches I also got at the curb market in Montgomery when another new friend, Pat, took me with her on Saturday.

(And to those of you who may remember my disrespect and disregard for Sherod’s nasty-assed freezer that is still with us all these years later—you need to know that I approach it scraping and bowing, aware that it will save us money this year and even more important, that it will allow us to eat healthy, delicious meals.)

This is all a new kind of responsibility—to the land, to myself, to my animal companions. We have a new cat—a stray that showed up late last week, beautiful, blue-eyed, friendly and very thin and weak. Twice a day, I go out and feed this little creature and I have an appointment at the end of the week to take him/her (haven’t gotten a good enough look down there to tell the gender) to the vet for shots. I wanted so much to ignore this new responsibility but I can’t and I am happy early in the morning, when I get to rub behind the new cat’s ears and hear the purring.

There’s an even deeper level and invitation to get involved. I have been asked to be a part of the oversight board that’s been formed for a new program in Selma called Grow Selma—I went to the first organizing meeting last week after I got back from Tallahassee and found myself deeply moved. The people who are launching this effort are all young, emerging community leaders, the sons and daughters of Sherod’s generation, so I heard my spouseman referred to as “Uncle Sherod”. They are determined to make a difference for their community, to help folks understand and commit to more sustainable cultivation practices and healthier eating, they don’t have the years of organizational experience to have a tidy and efficient business meeting and it does not matter one bit because they are out there pouring heart and passion into the effort.

Officially, I have come on board to help with grant writing. I am already researching and finding some promising possibilities. Today I got an email from one of the young board members who is looking for some guidance about funding a more specific project he has in mind; his note left me sitting in silence and admiration—such a compassionate and, for lack of a better word, sustainable world view. I have very few answers and solutions to anything any longer. But I can walk alongside others and I can offer encouragement. In a sense, this is the practice of kindness I hope I can keep at the core of this new place in my vocation.

This is all far more modest than any ambition I ever harbored for myself. I continue to be mindful of the temptation to withdraw into something too small and too comfortable at the expense of the Gospel mandates. But I imagine that soon enough, more will be needed, more will be asked of me. To have this time of gentleness is allowing me to experience redemption in unexpected ways. Some afternoons, I load the dogs in the back of my car and we ride down the road with the windows down far enough so Boo and Daisy can enjoy the infinity of amazing farmland molecules out there for the taking. It’s like they can’t breathe fast enough to take it all in because there is such bounty. My cat Spot has earned herself a place on my bed and I have even resigned myself to washing the coverlet on my bed more regularly to accommodate her; I have also resigned myself to her pounces anywhere between 4 and 5 most mornings, when she wakes me up to feed her. It has been such a remarkable experience to ramble around in this house, and have all three of them come along, settle down whenever I settle down, always present and always good company. They humble me. My new life humbles me. I had no idea this is what it means to cultivate joy.

Another Lesson With Coda


The drive from Lowndesboro to Tallahassee is lovely–most of it is on one-lane back roads through towns with melodic names like Letohachee and Lapine and Petry. I was only on a stretch of interstate for about an hour. Boo and Daisy were along for the ride and as always, good company. There is a marvelous and inexpensive place called Pet Paradise Resort where the girls get to chillax while I tend to my daughter. As you can see from the picture, they even have a pool to play in. So I drove into Tally, dropped them off and made my way to TDC. This was the 1-month review meeting, a time to assess how the transition has gone. Not so well. In fact, Our girl has tried and tested the system in every possible way. What used to amuse me, her endless craft and cunning, now fills me with weariness. I wonder when we will get to even begin to consider bringing her to our new home for a few days. Months? Years? Ever?

Her need for attention and those horrible patterns for trying to get it leave me way far out on the edges of her life now. Maria is shut down so after 45 minutes with me she basically excused me to leave. I will see her briefly tomorrow and then I head back home. Tallahassee is a college town and I go right through FSU on my way to see her. I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what it would have been like to bring my daughter to college, how I would have been both elated and heart broken, dreaming so many dreams for a future filled with wonder. Another lesson in accepting what is: that kind of thinking just makes it worse. On the eve of my 26th wedding anniversary and after a hard day, I am headed out to take myself to a movie…

The theater was just too skanky looking so I headed back to the hotel but missed a key turn. Instead, trying to turn around, I took a left into what looked like an entrance to a park. Long story short, I had stumbled into a lovely park around a lake with a great walking trail. Of course that was what I needed. Doing the circle, I came upon this:

And then, an old beat up helicopter like Sherod flew in Vietnam, and on this eve of our anniversary, it was like he was right there beside me, that brave, honorable man I love

I found a a Trader Joe’s a block from the hotel and now have a healthy salad to eat for dinner. The banquet…

What I Have to Show for the Weekend

Weekends are definitely harder.  It didn’t help that yesterday Boo got real sick.  Her symptoms were like the ones she had twice before, when she had intestinal blockages.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine having to decide whether or not to operate when those operations run in the thousands and Sherod and I have promised each other not to do that again.   Today, the old dame is able to hold down her food and is in good spirits so it may just have been gastritis.  I get to see what I was able to accomplish by being determined not to get overwhelmed.


Hauling debris out of the yard.




Mowing some more.


Making peach ice cream from scratch


Cooking a meal, bringing in a rose from the garden, getting to know some new friends.

On Tuesday I drive down to Tallahassee to see my girl and come back on Wednesday.  There’s lots left to do and my buddy C. will be here on the 19th and my spouseman on the 29th.  I do get to missing some of the parts of the life I left behind and have to work a little extra to keep looking forward.  There’s no way it could be otherwise, I don’t think…