Bluff

Wouldn’t you know it? Yesterday I discovered the A to Z Blogging Challenge for April, where for the month of April the challenge is to blog every day except Sunday, and use the letters of the alphabet to mark off the days.

April 1st, A, I decided could be Assistance, since that’s what the story was about. Today, I could say B is for Bus, but I semi-promised no more bus stories.

So B is for Bluff, more precisely, Circle Bluff.

I’m no longer telling a chronological story; it’s an alphabetical one, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

The destination for all my travels was a place called Laity Lodge in the wilds of Texas. I’ll have to come back to my time at LaGuardia and Charlotte airports, my short stay in San Antonio, my first real Texas barbecue, and even my drive through the river to get to Laity Lodge.

Let me simply say that Laity Lodge is pretty close to heaven on earth. Pretty. Darn. Close.

I heard someone say “Friggin'” there, so I knew it wasn’t heaven. Still.

A group of us went for a hike on Friday. The fact that it felt like it was straight up half the time was a testament to how out of shape I am.

It was up, but not straight. Straight up is a cliff.

And straight down is the direction I looked once we were up on the bluff.

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I wasn’t alone past the rocks.

Apparently there was a sign — “Don’t go past these rocks.”

I honestly didn’t notice the sign.

I just saw all these other people out there and climbed over the rocks.

The view was spectacular.  I kept looking at this little out-jutting ledge, thinking how fun it would be sit on it, and dangle my legs, and really enjoy the view, but when I looked back at our trusty hike leader, she was literally holding her heart in her chest, like it might fall out from the palpitations we all were causing.

So I just took a picture of the ledge.

It would have given me a great view.
I considered sitting here.

Because, really, I never got that close to the edge. See?

Me, taking pictures of the view.
Me, taking pictures of the view. (photo by Kristen Kopp)

And the truth is, the farther away from the edge, the less spectacular the view.

In fact, Evel Knievel said, “Where there is little risk, there is little reward.” I remember watching his daredevil stunts when I was a kid.

But he is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of “most bones broken in a lifetime”. 433, to be exact.

So I risked a little, but not too much, and loved the view.

From the bluff.

Which begins with B.

Looking down from Circle Bluff.
Looking down from Circle Bluff.

Assistance

Q: How many stories can I eke out of one bus trip?

A: This is the last one. I think.

When I began the trip, I was determined to have writer’s eyes and ears, paying attention to the details and scribbling them down. Once I reached my destination, that plan evaporated, like a puddle in the Texas sun.

Still, I now have this notebook full of notes. When I pulled it out this morning to help me recall the next leg of my journey, I realized that I had left out a little chapter about my bus ride.

Here is the story verbatim from my notes.

*****

Aviary Photo_130723656517667067I’m dozing.

Dubai mom walks to the front of the bus.

“Anyone have a paper bag?”

Someone gives her one.

She goes back to her seat and hands the bag across the aisle.

Vomiting.

Take-charge nurse-type across the aisle from me calls back questions.

“Does she have asthma?”

“Yes.”

“Does she have an inhaler?”

No answer — vomiting.

“Does she have a pump?”

“Yes.”

“I’m coming back…”

Thank you for these little heroes on a bus.

“I work in a hospital,” she said to me later, “used to work in the ER.”

*****

As fair and lovely as Dubai mom was, ER nurse was dark and strong. She reminded me of Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind. 

I was so thankful for both of them. Dubai mom (who turned out to be from Greene) was compassionate and caring enough to not ignore the distressed passenger across the aisle from her.  ER Nurse was exactly the kind of person to handle such a situation to a safe conclusion.

Another woman in my vicinity kept muttering that the driver is supposed to stop if someone is sick.  However, we were already an hour late, and he was hired to drive, not talk; I’m not sure that compassion was in his job description either.

A final note from my notes on this (“she” refers to Dubai mom)

“Quite a ride, wasn’t it?” she said, smiling.

Was she referring to the broken down bus or the vomiting woman?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge — my word for the day: Assistance

Communion again

IMG_5903[1]I was the first in line for communion.

When the teen server tore off a piece of bread and handed it to me, she looked at me and paused.

I waited for the words — “This is the Bread of Life.” Or, “the Body of Christ broken for you.”  Which would she say?

She hesitated and then her face broke out into a big smile. “Hi,” she said. She had forgotten what she was supposed to say and simply greeted me.

I laughed and took the bread to dip into the challis.

The little girl beside her lifted the cup to me and said, in a tiny voice, “The cup of blessing.”

I dipped my bread and went back to my seat, still smiling.

Sometimes, in the somberness of the occasion, we forget that it was like a family meal in that upper room so long ago. I’m sure there was a clatter of dishes and hubbub of voices while everyone dined, reclining at the table.

  • Peter objecting to Jesus washing his feet.
  • Peter motioning for John to ask Jesus a question.
  • John asking Jesus Peter’s question.
  • Jesus dipping the bread and handing it to Judas.
  • Judas leaving.
  • Peter’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Thomas’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Philip’s exchange with Jesus.

Comings, goings, actions, conversations — all in the course of one meal.

Quiet introspection played no part.

Listening to Jesus did.

Sometimes, in the ceremony and formality of communion at church, we miss the human connection — and that’s what Jesus did on earth, connect with us in a very human way.

“Hi.”

Communion amazes me every time.

Bridget

Yesterday, my friend Laura Lynn Brown launched a new site: makesyoumom.com.

I have previously written about how I met Laura at Laity Lodge.

I was honored that she asked me if I would be willing to submit a piece for her new site, so I found an old piece I had written, dusted it off a little, and sent it to her.  I was even more honored when she decided to include it in her launch.

quiltsquareMomswimcoach” was written about my time coaching the Cooperstown Girls Varsity Swim Team.

Feeling nostalgic, I pulled out another piece written about that era and read through it.

Gosh, those were the days.

No, they weren’t, really.  They were hard and stressful. I was in my forties, pregnant for some of it, working outside the home for the first time in decades, trying to homeschool, and still in the wake of the storm I mentioned yesterday.

But Bridget — Bridget was a gift to me.

She was a high school girl with a sunny smile, a giving soul, and Rocky Balboa’s work ethic.

When I started coaching, I had no experience coaching anything ever. Yes, I was a swimmer.  Yes, I was a swim official.  Yes, my children swam.  Did that make me a coach?  No.  Yet there I was, on deck, being called “Coach” by eighteen girls, one of them named Bridget.

I threw myself into coaching to the best of my ability.  I used workouts that the previous coach had left me, started watching videos on teaching the different strokes, researched swimming on the internet, and shamelessly asked other coaches how they did things.

The girls knew I was new. Some used it to get out of work.  The most common technique was to negotiate during practice.

Negotiations would go something like this.

Swimmer:  Coach, do we really have to do 10 100s of freestyle?

Me: Is that what I wrote on the board?

Swimmer:  Yes, but I was thinking, maybe I could just do 5 50s of butterfly since that’s what I’ll be swimming in the meet.

Pushover me:  Sure, I guess so.

Or,

Swimmer:  Coach, do we really have to do a 200 kick?

Me:  I was thinking we need to work on our kicking.

Swimmer:  I have this blister on my foot from some new shoes and kicking hurts.  Can I just do a 100 pull?

Pushover me:  Sure, I guess so.

Eventually, I started to catch on.  Only certain girls asked me and without exception they were negotiating for something easier.  Also, as I planned out the practices, I became more and more keyed into what I wanted to work on and what I wanted the team to accomplish over the course of the season.

The more I grew as a coach, the more the negotiating irked me.  I started to say no to all negotiations.

One day, when the chief negotiator began to propose her own sets, I said no, but she continued whining and wheedling.   Something in me snapped.  I took off my whistle, handed it to her, saying, “Apparently you know more about coaching than I do,” and walked off the deck.

Bridget came and found me in the locker room. “Mrs. Zaengle, I’m so sorry,” she said.

I looked at her – Bridget, who never gave me a problem, never questioned anything I asked her to do, was apologizing to me.

She followed up that verbal apology with a letter that she had every girl on the team sign.  In the letter they thanked me for my time and my efforts; they apologized for not respecting me; they promised to work hard for me.

I think that was the day I realized what a gift Bridget was to me.

She worked so hard at every practice.  Sometimes, in my quest for sets, I went to college sites and selected sets that were probably too hard for the girls.  One of those times, I looked at Bridget’s flushed cheeks mid-set, realizing how hard the practice was.

“Let’s change the interval, Bridget, or shorten the set,” I said.

“No, Mrs. Zaengle,” was her reply.  “I can do it.”

And she did.

She worked, and her work was a joy to me.  Even when I messed up.  Even when what I asked was unreasonable.  Bridget was a gift.

Bridget’s attitude was infectious, too.  I noticed more and more of the girls adopting her positive ways.

In the end, the team and I had the relationship described in Momswimcoach. That was a gift, too.

And Laura Brown? She’s also a gift. Encouraging me to keep trying.

We’re surrounded by people who are gifts. I’m quite sure of that. We just don’t always recognize them.

Andrae Crouch

The only photograph I could find from my time at Mid-State Baptist Camp
The only photograph I could find from my time at Mid-State Baptist Camp

When I was a teenager, I worked at a small Baptist camp in the wilds of upstate New York.

I was initially hired as the cook — don’t ask me how — but eventually was moved into the lifeguard position after they tasted my cooking and the other lifeguard left.

To my Baptist friends, forgive me, but sometimes Baptists can be stodgy.

Although I attended a Baptist church at the time (which wasn’t stodgy), I was unprepared for the strictness of this camp.

I had to sign some sort of statement of faith to work there, and, being 18, gave it only a cursory reading. Yep, I agreed (or so I thought) and quickly scrawled out my signature.

Trouble arrived on two fronts. One had to do with speaking in tongues.

For the record, I do not speak in tongues. I speak English and know a smattering of other languages. In worship services, I speak in the tongues of men – mostly American — not angels. I told someone else at the camp (I’ve never really been sure who) that I believed that the gift of tongues could still exist today. Before I knew it, I was called in before a panel of pastors to discuss the matter.

You have to picture it — I was a slip of a girl, blonde, freckled, unschooled in theology, wearing t-shirt and shorts — and, in my mind’s eye, I still see them wearing suit coats, sitting in a semi-circle around me, grilling me about the charismatic movement, of which I was not a part. I stood my ground, though. I do believe the gift of tongues could still exist. In the end I had to promise never to discuss tongues with any campers, and they would allow me to continue working.

The other problem was music. The dining hall was a long low building with a kitchen at one end, rows of tables and folding chairs in the middle, and a turntable with speakers at the far end. I had just discovered Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. His album, Keep on Singing, lived on that turntable.

While I worked in the kitchen alone, I blasted Andrae Crouch over those speakers and sang at the top of my lungs.

Take me back. Take me back, dear Lord.
To the place, where I first believed…

I closed my eyes, clasped my hands, and swayed while I sang:

How can I say thanks
for the things You have done for me?
Things, so undeserved,
Yet You gave to prove Your love to me.
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude.
All that I am,
And ever hope to be,
I owe it all to Thee.

I opened my eyes to find two Baptist ladies staring at me.

“Turn that music down,” one said.

“You can’t play music like that here,” the other one added.

I turned it down temporarily, but, oh, I still played Andrae Crouch — for two solid weeks. He kept me company and lifted my spirits. He gave me confidence. Trouble came from time to time, but that’s all right, I learned not to be the worrying kind.

Maybe that was why they booted me from the kitchen.

Andrae Crouch passed away yesterday. I’m sure he’s singing now in heaven.

But one summer, I sang his songs on a mountaintop. Today, I just gotta tell somebody.

A Sweet Tradition

IMG_5540Yesterday we decorated Christmas cookies.

I know, I know — it was New Year’s Eve. With the busyness of the holidays, though, this is not the first year we’ve decorated the cookies after Christmas. As long as it gets done sometime during the season, it counts. Heck, we’re having our New Year’s party on January 3. Close enough, I say.

Traditions can be like the gossamer strands of memories. Tenuous. Fragile.

If we don’t cradle them gently, we lose something precious.

My brother, Stewart, was faithful about birthday phone calls. A tradition. I missed his last call and never called him back. He passed away less than two weeks later. Maybe in 2015 I can pick up where he left off and make those birthday phone calls.

Food and tradition walk hand-in-hand.

I was thrilled when Owen and Emily brought Chex mix to the nursing home at Thanksgiving. Party mix (as we call it) is a staple around the house from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. My mother made batch after batch after batch during the holidays to share with others. I love the smell of it baking in the oven.

My brother, Peter, has continued the spritz cookie tradition — making them and sharing them with us every year at Christmas. I get my cookie press out sometimes; it’s fun to squeeze out camels and Christmas trees and stars. But Peter is the one who has best carried on this tradition.

IMG_5544We make the Christmas cookies. Every person becomes an artist with the various colored glazes, little brushes, and toothpicks to coax the colors into position.

I remember decorating cookies with my brothers and sister. The oddly shaped kitchen table would be covered with cookies and sprinkles and icing.

Years ago my mother neatly wrote out the recipe for me years ago. It’s a sweet tradition that I’m happy to carry on. I told my children yesterday that they need to do this with their children. For their sake, here’s the recipe.

Aviary Photo_130645991662410873
A well-worn oft-used recipe card

Christmas Cookies

3/4 Cup Oleo (that means margarine, kids, but I use butter)
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
4 Cups Sifted Flour (yes, I really do sift the flour for this recipe. Twice.)
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt

Mix together. (First four ingredients first, then add dry ingredients after sifting them together.) Roll to 1/8″ and cut shapes. (You don’t really have to measure the thickness.) Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet at 400 for 7 minutes. Ice with confectioner’s sugar and water (in lots of different colors).

And it’s okay if they don’t get made until after Christmas.

Cold Morning

i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the glittering icy brilliance of snow
and the pink-streaked watercolor dawn;
for the bare branches of trees whose tiniest twigs
point upward,
upward,
upward,
reminding me there is more.

thank you for the take-my-breath-away cold
that freezes in my throat,
and for the merino warmth of my scarf, hat, mittens, socks.
the bitterest cold helps me to appreciate
the snuggliest warmth.

this, this is a privilege
that my southern neighbors rarely know —
the nip on my nose,
the tears frozen in my eyes,
the soft flakes that land
(and sometimes melt)
on upturned chilly cheeks

thank You God for winter —
for leaned-on shovels
and salt-sprinkled sidewalks;
for glacial ground
where grass breaks instead of bends;
for barren landscapes
that belie the promise
of new Life
and Spring.

thank You God for most this amazing day.
may the ears of my ears awaken to hear
and the eyes of my eyes open to see.

may the tastebuds of my tongue
rejoice in snowflakes that land there,
outstretched and waiting,
as i am
for You

IMG_5220[1]I woke up this morning with the words of e e cummings’ poem “i thank You God for most this amazing” running through my head, but winter in New York has no “greenly leaping spirits of trees.” Instead, we have snow forecast.  Still, I’m thankful.

Hey Canada – Aboot some of your words….

There are strange things said, or at least so I’ve read,
By the neighbors up north of  U. S.
It’s more than just “-eh”. What I’m trying to say
Is there’s lingo I need to address.
They have one dollar loonies and two dollar toonies,
And couches are called Chesterfields;
A kilometre’s a click, a hoser’s a hick,
And a parkade is for parking your wheels.

XYay Tims!
Anna said, “Tim Hortons. Serving sub-par coffee and donuts since 1964, this fast-food type chain also serves bagels, chili, and sandwiches and is a strong Canadian icon. I almost cried in the Toronto airport when I was 14, returning from my first big overseas trip. It meant I was home. Stop by and order a double-double (regular coffee with two creams and two sugars) and be sure to ask someone about their Roll Up the Rim Campaign every March!”

’tis really no trouble to understand double-double-
One coffee – two sugars, two creams.
Electricity is hydro. Donair is a gyro.
Washroom means bathroom, it seems.
Poutine, I have heard, means fries, gravy and curds,
And while that sounds kind of yucky to me
I could stomach that dish – hey, it might be delish!
But I was shocked that they switched out my zee.

Just why do I feel that zee’s a big deal?
It is ’cause my name begins there.
I say “zee as in zebra” when I’m spelling to people
How to write it – a simple affair.
But still they say Daengle, instead of Zaengle
For them, I say “zee”, they hear “dee.”
Zed — it could help there, so listeners would not err
When distinguishing the good letter zee.

Yes, they use different words, these Canadian birds.
Like commotions are called kerfuffles.
When you awaken, they may serve you back-bacon,
And they carry knapsacks, not duffles.
They buy Timbits at Timmies. (Do they use sprinkles or jimmies?)
But, O Canada, this needs to be said —
Even though you say decal* — hey, what the heck, I’ll
Say thank you for making zee zed!

pronounced “deck-ul”

Cooperstown Induction Weekend 2014

My brother told me that they’re expecting upwards of 80,000 people in Cooperstown this weekend.  The population here is usually around 2,000.

80,000.

That’s an eight plus four zeros.

As Phil Rizzuto used to say, “HOLY COW!”

If you’re coming because you want to see Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Joe Torre all inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, you’re here on the right weekend.

I remember when they used to hold the ceremonies downtown.  The little park next to the Baseball Hall of Fame would be so jam-packed full of people that they would spill out onto Main Street, and Church Street, and Fair Street.

They used to hold the ceremonies on the steps of this building.
They used to hold the ceremonies on the steps of this building.

Back in those days, the Hall of Famers freely roamed the streets wearing a ribbon that marked them as a Hall of Famer.  Autographs were free, and many felt honored to be asked.  Cool Papa Bell won my heart with a smile and a signed strip of paper.

My father saved one of those strips by gluing it into a book.
My father saved one of those strips by gluing it into a book.

A number of years ago, though, they moved the ceremony to a field beside the sports center where I work.  It holds a lot more people.  But 80,000? I guarantee this crowd will spill over Susquehanna Ave and down Brooklyn Ave, where we used to live.

So if you’re here because you want to hear the speeches and see some baseball heroes on a Jumbotron, you’re in the right place.

This year, with 80,000 people making their way to Cooperstown, I want to talk to the ones who are the tag-alongs, who aren’t here because of baseball, but because they heard Cooperstown was a charming quaint little town.

To you I want to say, please don’t judge Cooperstown by this weekend.  The people who make Cooperstown Cooperstown are far out-numbered for these few days.  The quaintness that is Cooperstown will be virtually non-existent  this weekend.

Come back in January, when the air is crisp and cold. Parking will be plentiful on Main Street. The beautiful decorations from Christmas may still be up. You won’t have to wait in line at Stagecoach Coffee to get a cuppa.  The doughnuts will be hot, crisp, and fresh out of the fryer at the bakery.

If you go to the Hall of Fame, you’ll be able to stand in the Hall of Fame gallery and read every word on every plaque.  In fact, it will be so quiet in there, that you’ll feel the need to whisper.

And you’ll see the locals — the ones that are hightailing it out of town even as I write these words — greeting each other on Main Street, because everybody knows everybody.  That’s the blessing of a small town.

If you don’t want to wait until January, pick a small town near you, one with a population under 2,000.  Go sit on a park bench or in the local coffee shop.  Watch the people. They clap each other on the shoulder when they meet. They ask about family — spouses, children, parents, grandkids, even the dog. They laugh and reminisce. They talk shop and they even talk baseball sometimes.

But if you’re a crowds-and-baseball kind of person, come on down. Be part of the 80,000.

A panorama including the stage and the field, both of which will be full on Sunday
A panorama including the stage and the field, both of which will be full on Sunday

Coracle Moon

The moon was a luminous coracle adrift in a cloudy sea.Aviary Photo_130505071358153409

Gosh, it was pretty. Early in the morning, the waning moon drifting in and out of clouds. Dawn broke, soft and pink, full of clouds that were fluffy like cotton candy, but I was still pondering the pre-dawn moon.

Recently I heard the story of Columba, a 6th century saint, about how he was banished from Ireland, set adrift in the North Irish Sea in a round boat known as a coracle.  The story was meant as a way of explaining liminal space, that place where we are unsure of everything, where we are “unmoored.”  Part of the legend of Columba was that in this round boat he had no means by which to steer and that his fate seemed hopeless.

I wish the speaker had told the rest of the story — how Columba had landed his coracle on the Isle of Iona, how from there he worked spread the news of Christ to the people of Scotland, and how his “unmooring” actually advanced the church.

In C. S. Lewis’ book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep the mouse sailed off in a coracle.   Strangely, he did not feel unmoored.  While he didn’t know his final outcome, his sole purpose was to pursue Aslan’s country.

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

~~ Reepicheep the Mouse

My coracle moon, drifting in and out of the clouds that morning, seemed unmoored.  Yet I knew that it was held in its orbit with the earth by that invisible magic we call gravity.

And the earth is held in its orbit with the sun by that same unseen tether.

When I feel unmoored, like a coracle tossed on the sea, I know that, despite what I feel, I am being guided by a mighty unseen Hand.

Like Columba, like Reepicheep, I can rest in God’s great plan.