“Saved By Others’ Words”

I originally titled my blog “Saved By Words” for a variety of reasons, but among them was an understanding that reading often kept me sane. I have gratitude today for two publications to which I subscribe. One is The Sun, a monthly magazine. The other is Plough Quarterly. Both have strong on-line presences, and it appears that you can read quite a bit of each on line without a subscription. The Sun is free of advertising. Plough Quarterly has announcements of books and conferences, but no commercial advertisements.

A friend at the gym recommended The Sun to me because it features an intriguing variety of thoughtful essays, poems, fiction and contributions from readers around the world. Each issue announces the topic for the next several issues, soliciting short pieces from readers. For instance, this month’s readers reflected on “The Mall.” I enjoy all of the writing in the magazine. One particularly strong piece this month recounted the experience of a woman whose baby died before birth. Restrained and powerfully moving, it is a piece which will stay with me for a long time.

I am not sure how Plough Quarterly got my name and solicited a subscription. (I often wonder who exchanges mailing lists with whom.) At any rate it was a good move on their part. This magazine comes from a Bruderhof  community in upstate New York. The members of this Christian pacifist intentional community attempt to live out the Gospel in all aspects of their lives. The magazine presents challenging articles focused around a common topic. This quarter’s focus is on vocation. The quality of the issue, both in its art, its design, its writing and its ecumenical reach puts most other magazines to shame.

I am thankful that amidst all the garbage both on the air, on television, and in print, I have found company in the words of others. Both magazines are  saving presences in my life right now.



“Is the Sky Falling?”


By the time the third friend from around the country called on Wednesday to see if we were all right, I finally learned why they were asking. Apparently a “cyclone bomb” had hit the Northeast of the United States, including where we live. I had never heard of a cyclone bomb, nor had I experienced one on Wednesday. Wednesday had been quite windy and it rained a great deal. Nothing had alarmed me, nor had we heard the signal to hide in the basement until a tornado passed.

It turned out that there had been very strong winds in some places, and about 38,000 customers out of one and a half million or so had lost electric power in Connecticut. Many trees had fallen down knocking breaking power lines. Apparently there was also significant wind damage scattered around the Northeast. Of course there are occasional strong windstorms which knock out power and fell trees. So why were my friends so concerned?

For some arcane reason of weather forecasters, this particular event got the specialized name of “cyclone bomb.” That phrase has specific meaning to some scientists. However, it has no such meaning to the general public. Clearly if you take two very charged words, “cyclone” and “bomb,” repeat them frequently on the air and say that a large part of heavily populated areas will be affected, you will scare millions of people. It worked, whether they meant to frighten listeners of not. Hence my worried friends’ phone calls.

Just a head’s up readers. It is bound to snow very heavily for a long time some time this winter. Undoubtedly the wind will blow during this blizzard. However, be wary of terms such as “buried,” “catastrophic,” “unprecedented,” and “crippling.” We are ready and we will shovel and plow and return to regular life in a short time. No need to panic.

“Opening Pandora’s Box”


A popular afternoon television show here used to feature an angry woman and one or two scofflaw men denying fathering a baby. We would get to hear lengthy rants by the woman followed by righteous denials by the men. The camera then would show us the adorable baby waiting back stage to be united with the true father. After endless commercials, the host would open an envelope and announce either “You ARE the father” or “You ARE NOT the father.” The woman would yell, the man run off the stage, the crew would try to calm everyone down, the baby would be brought out and placed in the suddenly eager arms of the real father.” Supposedly all live happily ever after when the show concludes.

Lately a great deal of attention has been paid to the chaos in some families resulting from DNA testing done by one of the family members. Here there is no crew member waiting to calm everyone down. Instead a daughter discovers that her “real” father is someone else. Or a man learns that he isn’t the “real” father of the children he has raised. Or a woman discovers that the sperm from an unknown donor really came from her gynecologist who also impregnated many other women. One woman has sold many copies of her memoir “Inheritance” recounting her life being totally disrupted by such an event.

I think that many times children wish that they had different parents. One of mine yelled at me “I wish I were adopted and you weren’t my real mother.” But I am distressed by the kind of turmoil that happens by learning that things are not as they seemed. What does it mean to have been raised by a man who is now told he isn’t the “real” father? Why this sudden insistence that biology is more important than lived reality?

Perhaps the problem lies more in secrecy. Secrets rarely stay secret forever. And DNA testing has uncovered many secrets. I wish that more people could just acknowledge the toll that secrets can take on families. And I hope that fewer people would take the opportunity to abandon the people who raised them as they go searching for their “real parents.”

“This is the Way We Mend Our Clothes”


Last week I was reading an article describing what a disastrous effect manufacturing of clothing has on the environment. Apparently for many people fashion now dictates that they must constantly buy the newest clothes, wear them for a short time and then discard them. Accordingly, much of this clothing is poorly made, designed to fall apart fairly quickly, needing to be replaced with more up to the minute fashion. The solution proposed by the activists worried about this situation was to buy sturdier clothing and wear it longer.

After I recovered from laughter realizing that I was now in the forefront of an environmental movement (I had always bought sturdy clothing and worn it a long time), I thought of something the article failed to mention at all. Mending clothes! Growing up, everyone I knew had the basic skills to mend clothes. My mother kept an active mending basket near her chair where she did repairs. Seams were resewn, knees reinforced and buttons replaced. My mother darned socks, using a darning egg such as pictured above.

We wore clothes longer using the time honored skill of letting out hems. At that time everything seemed to come with large seam allowances, so that they could be adjusted as children grew. If a dress had been worn long enough to make an obvious line after the hem had been let out, rick rack covered it jauntily. Sleeves went up and down, waists in and out. Clothes lasted through many children. When they were finally totally worn out, garments became cleaning rags.

My title today reflects how common mending once was. Even the nursery rhymes we sang included not only washing and ironing, but also mending. Maybe it has gone the way of fish on Friday. A once ordinary event now needing explanation for the young.


“Table Manners”


Big thanks to Arlene for identifying the use of that little bowl. She not only let me know it is in fact for cream soup. More amazingly, she told me that you are supposed to pick it up by the handles to drink the soup. I have tried in vain to imagine my extremely proper, manner conscious grandmother, owner of the china, picking up anything to drink soup. I now know why she never used these bowls with us. She had spent endless meals trying to enforce a rule against picking up a bowl to drink from it, whether it was the last of the Frosted Flakes or the drips of the melted ice cream. She knew us well enough to imagine our arguments about cream soup versus melted ice cream to get those bowls out of the cupboard.

I remember a while back writing about table manners and getting a reply about which direction one was to move the spoon when eating soup. I have forgotten that rule and happily drink most of my soup out of mugs.

But both the recent post and that one have led me to think about soup in general. Until I was grown I never knew people actually made their own soup. Every soup I ever ate came out of a bright red and white can. The kinds I loved then seem to have disappeared from the shelf, particularly scotch broth and pepper pot. The strong lamb taste in the broth and the chewy tripe in the pepper pot must have repulsed more modern palates so they were replaced by lots of bacon. It’s just as well. The sodium content of canned soup exceeds the limits my blood pressure sets for me.

Well fall has begun. I know how to make delicious soups of my own. Soon the smell of chicken, vegetables and noodles will fill the kitchen. But I still won’t use those little bowls. No cream soup for us. Back into storage they go.

“ Touch of the Old”


A while back I mentioned I would post photos of some of the china I inherited. This little bowl is part of a set from Noritake that must have come from my grandmother. It is a lovely little piece with handles and is maybe four inches across and two inches deep.

I also have so far been unable to identify the pattern. I tried Google Image Search, but that seems to be in a very early stage. It presented me with countless images of bowls, all sizes and shapes. Not helpful.

My mother never used any of these dishes as far as I know, and I am still not sure the intended use of the bowl. I tried to figure out if it is the cream soup bowl discussed on various etiquette sites. Of course that search led me down the rabbit trail of the proper way to eat soup from one of these bowls. If in fact it is a cream soup bowl.

So I have a six fragile bowls with handles lying in wait in my storage cabinet. Perhaps one of my readers can either identify the pattern or clue me into its use. And maybe, even though we don’t eat cream soups, we can at least know more about it.



“King Arthur To The Rescue”

Not only did I stop using Jiffy Corn Muffin mix, I also began to avoid all mixes after noticing how many alien ingredients they used. I continued to bake my own bread, cookies, cakes and bars. Once living in New England, I began to use flour from King Arthur company in Norwich, Vermont. I particularly like their white whole wheat flour which I use in my bread. I had to order it from the mill in Vermont since it wasn’t carried in my local grocery store. Soon I began to receive regular catalogs from King Arthur displaying a wide range of available products.

I bought a number of helpful tools from the catalog including a tablespoon scoop, just right for measuring out cookie dough. I also acquired cookie sheets, sheet pans, an instant read thermometer and cake pans over the years. But I never tried their mixes, despite the abundance of ones they produce. I still had the horror of Jiffy hanging over me, turning me away from mixes.

A couple of years ago we stopped at the King Arthur store in Vermont. Not only do they display all of their products, they also serve wonderful baked goods, salads and soups, just right for a lunch stop. While there, I took a look at various mixes. To my surprise they contained the same ingredients I put in my home baked goods. I would need to add eggs, butter, oil or milk, but everything else was included. I bought a few mixes to try out.

Now I have a couple of boxes of mixes on hand for the last minute demands I encounter. Last weekend we celebrated the 190th anniversary of our church and I needed to bring cookies. I opened the coconut macaroon mix, added water, put scoops of dough on a sheet, baked them and took them to church. Pictured above, you can see the results. No strange additives, just coconut, flour and sugar. No need to run to the store on a crowded day. As I said, King Arthur came to my rescue.