A Slower Tempo

Take your time and expect them to take theirs. Be very tolerant. Be as undemanding as you can. This slow tempo will help the contemplative side of your life: but if you get in a frenzy and want quick results, you will run into spiritual disaster. I repeat, disaster.

Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction, letter to a Papal Volunteer leaving for Brazil

Early yesterday morning I shopped at a warehouse store during their senior citizen hour. Yikes — yes — I qualify as a senior. I thought it would be a zip-zap-zoom trip. Nobody else would be there so I could grab my things and get home pretty quickly.

I was wrong.

It turns out that senior citizen hour at a warehouse store means that most of the shoppers are driving their shopping carts instead pushing them.

They drive slowly.

Down the middle of the aisle.

And stop frequently.

Zip-zap-zoom turned into wait-wait-wait.

I remembered taking my father to Target in past few years and he tried to drive one of those carts. I guess it’s not as easy as it looks.

I laughed when I read Thomas Merton this morning. He was writing to a volunteer heading to Brazil in the early 1960s. The different country, the different culture — it fit so perfectly with my shopping expedition. The slow tempo did indeed help the contemplative side of my life. I paused and listened to the Christmas music playing in the store. I prayed for patience when I realized that those one-way arrows on the floor don’t apply during senior hour. I prayed for a shopper who was struggling and short-tempered. I helped someone find something.

The warehouse store may not have been Brazil but it was another world.

What is Christmas, though, if not a venture into another world? The ultimate venture.

Lord, let me take my time and be tolerant,
not just at Christmas, but all the time.
Christmas is a good season to begin.
The world feels disastrous enough.
I don’t need to add to it.



My Rabbit Room gift exchange package ready to be mailed.

I took part in the Rabbit Room gift exchange this year. Below is a letter for the person whose name I drew.

Dear Rabbit Room Gift Exchange person,

I am so so sorry.

Spoiler alert: I bought a Baseball Hall of Fame cap for you. Since I live in Cooperstown, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, I included some something from there with my RR gift. I know, there’s nothing rabbit-y about the Hall of Fame, but it’s a little piece of me. Cooperstown is where I live and the Hall of Fame was my first job. There’s some more rabbit-y stuff in the box, too.

The baseball cap sat on the piano in the living room blithely waiting to be wrapped and mailed.

The other morning I went to check on my father. He has some dementia. From the dining room I could see he wasn’t in his chair. When I went in, I found him by the piano wearing your cap. It was awkwardly perched on his head because he hadn’t noticed the cardboard inserts inside the cap. He had, however, ripped off the tags and held them crumpled in his hand.

“DAD!” I fairly shrieked. You would have thought he was about to burn down the house.

He looked up at me, startled.

“No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-NO!” I said. “That’s NOT YOURS!”

Clearly he didn’t understand what was happening as I pulled the cap — your cap — off his head. I stomped off to the coat room, found a Red Sox cap, and brought it back to him.

“Here,” I said, not very nicely, “You can wear this one all day and all night. This one is yours.”

“Why would I want to wear a baseball cap all night?” he asked innocently.

I changed the subject. “This one,” I said, waving the Hall of Fame cap under his nose, “is a gift for someone.”

He looked at me blandly.

“It’s not yours,” I said again.

“I didn’t know it was something important,” he said.

“Yes, it’s important,” I said, even though I knew in my heart that it wasn’t.

For the next hour, he brought me things and asked the same question every time.

The first was a bobby pin — “Is this important?”

Then 17¢ in loose change — “Is this important?”

A scrap of paper with a grocery list written on it — “Is this important?”

A photograph.

A book.

A garden stone with the word “SUN” carved into it.

A spool of thread.

“Is this important?”

After about the third thing, it hit me how unimportant things are.

“You’re important, Dad,” I finally told him — and was glad for the lesson that I learned.

So I’m sorry about the crumpled tags that I stuck in the cap before I wrapped it for you. They served as a reminder to me of how easily I lost sight of what is important.

Enjoy the cap. May it (and this little story) remind you not to lose sight of what’s most important.

Merry Christmas!

The funny shaped package is a baseball cap.




Zaengle Family Gift Exchange 2017

This is for Leah. She said she wanted to hear about our family gift exchange this year.

We do two gift exchanges within our family. Sam nicknamed them — Nifty and Thrifty.  The Nifty exchange is a “real” gift, with a spending limit of $50 (although we aren’t terribly strict about that). The Thrifty has a spending limit of $10 and can be something from a yard sale, thrift store, or something homemade (and we aren’t terribly strict about that one either).

We draw names about two months before Christmas and then commence with plotting, planning, and fretting. We’re a family of givers — and everyone wants to give the best gift.

This Christmas Eve, when the family was gathered — although some joined us from afar through the magic of FaceTime — I asked, “How do we begin this?”

Donna and Sam on the big screen

Someone started giving me the history of the whole thing. “I think we decided to draw names, like, five years ago when…”

But I interrupted. “No. How do we begin? Like, how do we begin the gift-giving?” I honestly couldn’t remember. I’m not sure anyone else could either, so we drew names out of a hat. And then, because my memory is poor, I’ve already forgotten who went first.

Helen was early on. I remember that. Philip handed her a huge box.

She sat in front of the camera so our Canadian family members would have a good view as she opened it.

“This is every little kid’s dream,” she said, “getting the giant box for Christmas.” It’s not every child’s dream to get a crockpot for Christmas, though. That would be a young adult’s dream — to come home to a delicious-smelling apartment with dinner ready to eat.

I had drawn Owen’s name for the big gift and gave him chickens. Not actual chickens then and there. I gave him a feeder, a waterer, and some other chicken paraphernalia. My father gave him a gift certificate for a place that sells chicks. I had debated between chickens and bees, seeking advice from knowledgeable friends, and the chickens won.

Laurel had drawn my name. She gave me spatulas — the one thing on my list — and then teamed up with Donna (who had drawn Bud) to give us a gift certificate for a nice restaurant in town so Bud and I can go on a date sometime. I really appreciated that. Bud and I don’t have enough time together.

You know your children are adults when some of the nifty gifts are bourbon. Others got clothes.  All in all, the big gifts are always an opportunity to purchase one nice thing for a family member.

My favorite, though, is the thrifty. It’s an opportunity for thoughtful creativity. Laurel made bath bombs. Mary made homemade oreos. Emily gave Mary her old ukulele.

Amanda had drawn my name. She gave me some maple candy from Mexico. Mexico, NY, that is. Upstate New York is delightfully confusing with towns named Cuba, Poland, Chili, and Mexico, not to mention Copenhagen, Rome, Amsterdam, and Warsaw.

I purchased a groupon for a photo book (to stay within the spending limit) and made a little photo book for Philip with poems to go with each photo.

Each poem tells a little story about young Philip. My hope is that he’ll read them to Henry.

Here’s the poem that I’m reading in the picture. The last line is what Philip said to me when I went to the hospital in labor for Owen:

Mommy had a baby growing in her belly.
Little Philip said to her, “I want you to tell me –
Where did the baby come from?
How did he get in there?
When will I get to meet him?
What will the baby wear?
Can the baby see me?
Can he peek out somehow?
Will you let me hold him?
Why can’t we see him now?”

So after months of questions
And Mommy growing rounder
One day she went to hospital
And Philip waxed profounder –
“I don’t know what to call this thing
That you’re about to do
But it has to do with baby,
and it has to do with you
And from everyone’s reaction,
it’s a GOOD thing, there’s no doubt.”
So he kissed Mommy and whispered,
“Have a good baby-coming-out.”

And that’s pretty much it. Any questions?



The following is the text of what I read at the reception for Sam and Donna, my newly-married son and his beautiful wife. Enjoy.DSC04550

Once we had a guy re-shingle our carport roof – a mostly flat roof, only slightly pitched downward from house to gutter. Bud uttered a minced expletive when he saw what the workman had done.

I thought the roof looked good with its neat black lines of overlapping shingles.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“He did it backwards,” Bud complained, but I still didn’t understand.

I’m slow to understand construction problems. I had to look at it for a long time before it sunk in. The shingles overlapped in the wrong direction. He had started at the top and worked his way down, so where they overlapped rain could work its way underneath the next shingle.

But this really isn’t about roofing or shingles or mistakes made in shingling.

It’s about Sam and Donna.

And it’s about the way our lives overlap, like shingles properly installed on a roof.

It’s about Sam’s first Christmas.

Not his first Christmas as a baby. He probably didn’t even get any good gifts that year. With him being the third child, I had figured out that babies almost one year old don’t care very much about shiny new toys. Hand-me-downs are fine as long as they come wrapped with paper that can be ripped into tiny pieces and with curly ribbon that can be waved and boinged.

Honestly, I couldn’t even find any pictures of Sam’s first Christmas. It was that non-monumental. The plight of the third child.

No, this is about the first Christmas when, as an adult, Sam didn’t come home.

“I just don’t get enough days off,” he told me, “and the holidays are such a busy time at the store.”

“What will you do?” I asked. “You can’t spend Christmas alone.”

“No worries, Mom.” He likes to say that. He knows I worry. “I’ve got several invites.”

“Who,” I asked, demanding to know, trying to make him a little accountable.

“The store manager invited me to spend Christmas with him and his family,” he said.

Perfect, I thought. Maybe the manager will like him so much he’ll start giving him better hours.

“Dan and Lindsay invited me, but I’d have to get over to the island,” he said.

Victoria Island. I had never met Dan and Lindsay, although I had heard stories about them and their child, Denali. I had chatted with Lindsay once on Facebook about the nutritional value of hemp. That could be a good choice, I thought.

“And a friend from school invited me to spend Christmas with her family,” he finished.

“Who is it?” I asked, like I might possibly know.

“You don’t know her,” he said, reading my mind.

“You should go to your boss’s house,” I told him. It seemed like a good career move.

When Christmas arrived, he didn’t go to his boss’s house. He didn’t go Dan and Lindsay’s house. He went to some stranger’s house, some girl I didn’t even know.

We skyped Christmas morning.

“Hey, Mom,” he said, “Donna’s mom wanted me to tell you that she gave me a hug today. She said that every mom would want to know that her child got a hug on Christmas.”

I laughed, and thought it was so sweet, and wondered how awkward that hug was. We’re not the most huggy family.

Donna. Sam referred to her as his friend from school. “We’re just friends,” he told me. At Christmas.

Six weeks later, around Valentine’s Day, I got this message on my cell phone – ““Hi, Mom, this is Sam. I was just calling because I have some exciting news. I have a girlfriend. Her name is Donna and she’s pretty much awesome…”

The rest, you know, is history, with more history being made here today. Sam and Donna.

Where do the shingles tie in?

It’s in the overlap.

While I was fussing because I would really rather have had Sam home for Christmas, God knew that it was important for Sam to be somewhere else that Christmas.

You see, that was Donna’s mom’s last Christmas.

Ruth Mayer’s last Christmas.

Her only chance to hug Sam on Christmas morning.

Her only chance to fuss over him and make his Christmas special.

No one knew that at the time, but it was a perfect overlap of lives, where Sam could meet her, get more than a hug, actually spend some time with her – and then, months later, be there to support Donna, to cover her protectively, like an overlapping shingle going in the right direction, so that the sorrows could be shared and run off both of them together.

Sam’s first Christmas away may have been his most important Christmas – until this coming one, Christmas 2015, when he and Donna will have their first Christmas as husband and wife, together, building a life with each other.

Sam, Donna — May your shingles always overlap in the right direction.