Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Hutchmoot

Blessed are the Mooters

Hutchmooters to be exact.


(For those who don’t know, Hutchmoot is a conference-gathering-feast-reunion-thing in the Nashville area for people who love music-art-story-food and who are happy-sad-hurting-joyful-empty-full-introvert-extrovert-questioning-seeking-weary-hungry.)

Two lies linger in my mind before every Hutchmoot.

  1. You shouldn’t be here.
  2. You don’t belong.

The first time I attended, I knew that I shouldn’t be there. I had said as much. Things were in crisis mode at home. Everything felt out of control.

“I need to cancel my tickets for this thing I’m supposed to attend,” I told the counselor. I couldn’t even bring myself to say “Hutchmoot” because then I would have to try to explain it and I couldn’t.

He looked straight at me. “You have to go,” he said firmly.

And so I went, knowing I shouldn’t.

Ben Shive gave a session that year about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. He talked about how Brian walked around with his hand over his heart because he was afraid it would fall it.

I walked around all weekend with my hand on my heart, too. It was falling out.

You shouldn’t be here. The words ran through my mind and my heart over and over.

A young man introduced himself to me as I sat alone waiting for Hutchmoot to begin. I looked at him — his baby face, curly hair, funky glasses — and thought, I could be his mother.

I looked around at the other people trickling in and suddenly felt very old.

More than once I was asked what I did. Many of them were authors, singers, songwriters, artists. A bunch more were professionals of one sort or another.

“I’m a mom,” I said.

Each time I said it, I heard the ugly whisper in my heart — You don’t belong.

Who was I to think that I could possibly fit in with all these talented, accomplished, young, vibrant people? I’m just a mom — and a very tired one, at that.

Yet, that year, and in subsequent years, those talented, accomplished, young, vibrant people welcomed me into their midst. They waved me over to sit at their table. They saved seats for me in the sanctuary. They stood beside me at the book table and made awkward, forgiving small talk.

They shared themselves with me.

And gave me opportunity to share myself with them.

During that first Hutchmoot, my heart finally did fall out.

In the kitchen.

On Saturday night.

I wept on the shoulder of the man who was young enough to be my son.

He didn’t tell me that I shouldn’t be there. He didn’t say that I didn’t belong.

“I’m glad you came,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here.”

I was — and am — too.

Blessed are the Mooters for they are allowed a taste of heaven.

Posted in friendship, Hutchmoot, Life

Burnt Steak and Key Lime Pie

Hutchmoot has been described more than once as a feast — and people are not talking about the food, although the food is amazing.

But each night our chef, John Cal, would introduce the evening meal with a story that related to the food. On the first night he talked about showing his father around New York City. For dinner each night as they ate at a nice restaurant his father would order the same thing — steak, burnt and grey. One night while dining out, he saw a plate pass by their table that looked amazing. Upon inquiry, he learned that it was cassoulet and decided to be adventurous and order it. When he asked about getting rice on the side and the waiter offered rice pilaf, John’s father got flustered and switched his order to steak, burnt and grey.

Thursday night menu at Hutchmoot.  Photo by Mark Geil
The Otesaga Hotel

In Cooperstown, fine dining at its finest takes place at the Otesaga. Years ago, when I was still in high school, my parents took our family there for Easter brunch, which was usually the best of the best, table after table of delicious food.  My youngest brother, after perusing all the food, sat down with a single piece of Key lime pie.

“There’s nothing good to eat,” he announced, which translated meant — I couldn’t recognize all the fruit in the fruit salad. I worried that they had added sour cream to the mashed potatoes. The seasonings looked weird on the vegetables. There were olives in the tossed salad.

All that food, and he ate Key lime pie. I think he ended up eating 4 or 5 pieces of it. That was his burnt steak, his comfort food that he knew he could trust and enjoy.

At Hutchmoot, I watched plates of cassoulet pass by in the form of conversations between people who hadn’t known each other until that day and they were saying to each other, “What! You, too?” The delight of finding new friends. The delight of meaningful conversation. The delight of laughing and crying together over joys and sorrows and longings.

At Hutchmoot this year I chose the familiar over the adventurous. I didn’t meet many new people. On Sunday, I sat at a Cracker Barrel (can you get any more predictable than that?) in Franklin and ate lunch with two dear Hutchmoot friends. I reveled in sinking roots a little bit deeper and strengthening already existing bonds rather than forming new ones.

I am John Cal’s father. Okay — not literally. Obviously, not literally.

But often I choose the familiar over the adventurous, especially days when I am weary.

I think sometimes that’s what we need.

I know sometimes that’s what I need.

Burnt steak and Key lime pie.

Already, though, the conversations have begun with new people. The conversations that happen over the internet from the comfort of my home, when I have time and place to relax into forming a new friendship.

I’m looking forward to the next Hutchmoot when the old and familiar may include some of them.

Posted in Hutchmoot

News Storms

“Are you feeling better?” my father asked me Monday morning.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He looked at me, perplexed. “You’ve been sick,” he said.

I laughed. “No, Dad, I’ve been in Nashville at that conference I go to every year.”

“When I didn’t see you,” he replied, “I thought you must be sick and in the hospital.”

His world consists of a failing mind and body. To explain my absence, he made up a story that fit his world.

While I was in Nashville, I didn’t read the news. Not a once. For four whole days.

No news may not be good news, but sometimes it’s just good.

Oh — I thought about it. People talked about it. The news felt like a rip current that threatened to pull us under and drown us in our differing opinions.

But at Hutchmoot, grace, tenderness, and humility surrounded us like a warm blanket. Our commonalities pulled us close and the day’s political controversies didn’t drive us apart. In fact, when, one evening at Hutchmoot, that rip current threatened in a particularly diabolical way, Andrew Peterson, our proprietor and host, showed us how to handle even the most treacherous waters — reaching out like the very best of lifeguards to pull us to safety.

The Brett Kavanaugh – Christine Blasey Ford controversy is mostly over, ending while I was away. It was an earthquake followed by a tsunami — and now America moves on – battered, skeptical, self-protective, and uglified by debris.

I couldn’t help thinking about how my father truly believed his own story of me being in the hospital. It fit his world.

And I daresay people who could insert themselves into Christine Blasey Ford’s story, who knew what it was to be sexually assaulted, found themselves making their story her story. Perhaps they remembered how they couldn’t tell anybody because of the shame they felt. Perhaps they remembered how they wanted to move far far away and start over in a new place without the reminders of that terrible act.

On the other side, people who had been falsely accused, who had been doing their best to do their best, working hard and keeping their nose clean for decades, who suddenly had been falsely blindsided by some incident from 30 years ago — perhaps they watched Brett Kavanaugh and asked themselves, how would I handle this? Perhaps, they told themselves, This is so unfair. Perhaps they know that they, too, would have gotten a little testy under that questioning.

But we don’t take the time to stand in someone else’s shoes. We put them in our story and force it into a narrative that may or may not be true. We make it make sense in a way that makes sense to us.

Like my father putting me in the hospital.

At Hutchmoot, I found a tranquil haven from the current current-news storm.

My October 2 Inktober attempt. “May you find serenity and tranquility in a world you may not always understand.” — Sandra Sturtz Hauss

Thinking ahead to the next storm and the next — because we seem to be in a political hurricane season in the US — I’m going to try to do more listening, less trying to inject my assumptions into the news stories. More trying to understand the fraught emotions on both sides, less knee-jerk judgmentalism. More compassion, more looking for common ground.

I would rather be a safe haven than a whitecap on this stormy sea.


Posted in Blogging Challenge, family, Hutchmoot, Life

The People in My Life

I hate talking about myself. Who cares that 1I love coffee and 2hate brussels sprouts?

If a person is defined by the company he or she keeps, let me tell you about some of the people who are dear to me. That may tell you more about me than my blathering.

All her life, my mother saved newspaper clippings. When I cleaned out her desk, I found that she had saved clippings about me — from 3when I volunteered at a Red Cross bloodmobile as a teen, from 4that time USA Today featured my family in a little story about the Baseball Hall of Fame, from the interview 5when I was coaching the high school swim team and I didn’t say all the things I said. My mother wasn’t good at overtly expressing love or letting me know that she was proud of me, but those clippings said a lot.

My father asked me to be 6his health care proxy many years ago. Until we sat in that awful meeting with the doctor discussing end-of-life care for my mother, I didn’t realize what a heavy burden that was. To make those decisions is not for the faint of heart. Of late, I have realized that one of the things I have disliked about myself — 7that I am an INTJ — is the very thing that equips me for that task.

Thankfully, too, 8I have three surviving siblings (Donabeth, Peter, and Jim) that will stand, sit, and walk beside me when the time comes. I’m not alone.

9My oldest brother, Stewart, had a fatal heart attack in 2014. 10I hadn’t returned his final phone call to me a week before. I’ll have no regrets like that from here on out — I’m going to love and care for my family with every ounce of my being.

11My husband is my biggest supporter. I couldn’t do what I’m doing (12caring for my father) without him. Our time together these days is limited, but that makes it all the more sweet when we can get away together, like 13our trip to France last year and 14 to Laity Lodge this April.

15We have eight children (Philip, Owen, Sam, Helen, Jacob, Karl, Mary, and Laurel), three daughters-in-law (Amanda, Emily, and Donna), and two grandchildren (Henry and Everett). Getting everyone together is rare and so very sweet.

Zaengle gathering 1985

My husband is from a large family — thirteen children (joeybuddyjackiebillydonnytommyjimmyeddieanniemaryjanniejeanniekenny), although two are now deceased. When they all get together, with spouses and children and grandchildren, whew – what a crowd! 16I love large families. 17The introvert side of me, though, needs lots of recharging after family gatherings.

I’ve met some of my favorite people at an event called 18Hutchmoot. Those friendships have extended beyond the conference. Alyssa and I have kept up a correspondence for years that involves the baring of hearts and sharing of lives. Helena sent me her book when I asked her about it. Melanie sent me an out-of-print book for pretty much the same reason. I sent David chapstick when I heard he hated it. Libby talked to my daughter Mary about being a librarian. Leah traveled the world with me. Kim came to my son’s wedding in British Columbia. A group of us went to Laity Lodge together and hold each other in prayer regularly (including AE, Jade, two Kristens, two Lauras, and more).

19I love meeting people from other cultures, and some of my favorite people are Muslim. I’m looking at you, Maftuna, as well as Hanka, SabinaŠefika, Amina, and Ayla.

20I skipped out on my 40th high school reunion last summer. I couldn’t get past the thought of making small talk for hours. Thankfully, though, one of my friends, Dana, called that weekend and we went to breakfast together to catch up. Another friend, Brad, stopped by the house. Still others – Jack, Cheryl, Beth, Dan – keep up with me on Facebook. I see Mark almost every time I go to the grocery store. I ran into Hugh last week at a party. Who needs a reunion?

I wanted to introduce you to so many others — Anna Brown, who is a delight, that I met through blogging and then met in real life; Laura Brown, a fellow caregiver and a great teacher, whose superpower is encouragement; women from our church in Greene (Donna, Kay, Joy, and Tammy) who regularly check in to say they miss us and ask how we’re doing; Pastor Amy, who touched my life in ways I can’t express; friends like Jan and Mary whose families parallel my own — but this is already too long.

I think I blathered.

But I’ve listed more than 20 people and numbered 20 facts about me.

My challenge for June:

Posted in Hutchmoot, poetry


Taken 7:30 AM October 13, 2017

~~ Morning Prayer ~~
Thank you, God, for the beauty
Of the light upon the trees,
And though I see it every day,
Help me always see
The cloak upon the river
From the morning fog
And help me, Lord,
To always hear the mundane dialogue
Those simple common moments
That make up my day
To see,
To hear,
To taste,
Smell —
To be present,
This I pray.

“You’re the Godspeed guy,” I said, when I finally recognized the man with whom I had been in conversation.

“That’s right,” he replied.

“That movie was life-changing for me,” I told him.

Godspeed, the movie.

Not the 2009 “intense, dramatic thriller set in the lingering light of the Alaskan midnight sun” (IMDB description).

No — I’m talking about the documentary subtitled “The Pace of Being Known.”

“Did it make you want to move to Scotland?” Matt Canlis asked, and he explained that that’s what some people got from it.

“Not at all,” I said. “It made me want to slow down.”

“Good,” he said.

Last year, after watching Matt’s film at Hutchmoot, I started taking long walks into town. My New Year’s Resolution for 2017 — to not use self-checkout at the grocery store — grew from the movie.

No, he didn’t talk about grocery stores in Godspeed. He talked about taking time to see people and the importance of community.

Then, there he was — in person.

Matt Canlis, the Godspeed guy, spoke at Hutchmoot this year. I wrote down more of his words than any other speaker.

Things like — “When God says, ‘Here I am,’ He’s always closer than you think, and in places you don’t expect Him.”

Or, “Our home is our greener grass.”

When I was at the grocery store yesterday, not using the self-checkout, waiting in line behind two other people, I marveled at the way the woman at the register knew not only me, because I go there every day, but the young man who refused the gas points — “Oh, that’s right. You walk everywhere.” — and the older man — “When are you retiring?” “The 28th.” “Of this month?!” After he nodded, she stopped counting out his change and turned to  grasp his hand in warm congratulations. “I’m so happy for you,” she said.

She was living at Godspeed, seeing the people who come through her line, and interacting with them. It’s so much better than a self-checkout.

I started a new job this week, lifeguarding for a couple of hours in the early morning before anyone at the house is awake. It was a way to help the new Aquatics Director. She was desperate for lifeguards, and I thought, I can do that.

“Lifeguarding is mind-numbing,” Philip said to me when I told him what he was doing.

He should know. I’m working a shift that he used to work as a teen. He did push-ups and walked laps around the pool to stay awake at 6AM, but that’s my time of day.

This morning, at the pool, one man struck up a conversation telling me about Native American artifacts he found in a field. After every dive, he would swim over to where I was standing to tell me a little more.

Another woman warned me that I may have to rescue her. “I haven’t swam in a while,” she said.

“That’s okay,” I told her. “I haven’t lifeguarded in a while.” We both laughed.

Lifeguarding is most definitely a Godspeed job.

My greener grass includes a pool. Not many people can say that.

Plus, the commute in the early morning is beautiful (check out the photograph at the top!).

And, I got to meet the Godspeed guy, which was one of the highlights of going to Hutchmoot.

Posted in Hutchmoot

The New Hutchmoot

Two explanations before you read the actual post:

  1. Hutchmoot is a hard-to-describe conference but the video on their homepage ( captures its essence.  If you’re unfamiliar with Hutchmoot, you may want to watch the video first. It’s an old video and this year they changed venues.
  2. I began my Hutchmoot weekend with Jonathan Rogers’ writing workshop which he began with a mention of incurvatus in se.  The Latin translation of incurvatus in se is “curved inward on oneself,” and I squirmed a little as I felt the uncomfortable recognition of seeing myself in that phrase.  I explain all this to apologize to those of you who received this post twice. I posted it once, realized I was going all incurvatus-in-se on you, took it down, and then thought, why not.  It’s where I am. This is probably the first of many posts I’ll write as I process the things I heard and experienced at Hutchmoot 2017. Hopefully it will be my only incurvatus-in-se one.

As a parent, I have had to send children back to their rooms to change clothes because the beloved t-shirt/sweatshirt/pair-of-jeans no longer fit.

“Can’t I wear it just one last time?”

“No,” I had to learn to say.

By nature, I am a resistant-to-change person. I cried when our neighbor cut down some pine trees between our houses that had gotten too tall. I blamed my tears on my pregnancy at the time. But I also cried when the village cut down a mostly dead maple in front of our house and I was past child-bearing. In both cases, I never got used to the absence of those trees.

I like things to stay the same.


But children grow.

As do trees.

As do conferences.

On Day One of Hutchmoot 2017, I sat in my car in the parking lot for a long time before walking into the new venue. The walkway looked forebodingly long.

It’s funny — I don’t remember hesitating 7 years ago when I attended my first Hutchmoot. I had arrived on foot after using a hand-drawn map to navigate the tree-lined streets and find the Church of the Redeemer.  I walked right in, even though I didn’t know a soul there. By the end of that weekend, I had made lifetime friends.

This year I was afraid of the newness. Afraid I would get lost in a new space. Afraid I would no longer belong.

Like a child sent to put on the new clothes, I wondered if it would be stiff and awkward. I worried if it would be uncomfortable.

I longed for the Church of the Redeemer — for the inside ramp that hosted many conversations, for the little kitchen off the living room that was always full of goodies, for the swing set outside, for the awkward bumping into people as we all tried to navigate the cramped merchandise space.

Once upon a time, two brothers counted forks and knives and spoons in a church kitchen to determine how many guests they could invite to the table. They wondered if people would come to this feast they were planning.

And people came.

Year after year after year…

Until so many hungry souls grasped at the opportunity to come to the feast that the brothers decided they needed a place that had more room at the table.

But I worried that there would be no room for me.

So I sat in the parking lot, staring at a walkway that, though empty, looked like a gauntlet.

When I finally walked in, every fear came to fruition. It was big and uncomfortable. The hallways, which basically formed a triangle, felt like a maze. I forever turned the wrong way.

I looked for familiar faces but saw mostly unfamiliar ones.

Which, as it turned out, was a good thing. I met some delightful people.

It seems that my little Grinch heart still has more sizes to grow — and it grew over the weekend.

Like a new piece of clothing, the new venue became more comfortable over time. Some aspects were definitely better, but others, from the old, I missed.

Ah, regeneration. Chris Eccleston will always be my favorite doctor. Church of the Redeemer will always be my favorite venue for Hutchmoot.

But I gave the Christ Community Church a try. When I pushed away from the table there, I was full.

Full of all the goodness that I have always experienced at Hutchmoot — and maybe a little bit more.