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advent journal: good time

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good time

the fallacy of the interstate
is that what matters
most is getting there
the highway knows no place
we are nowhere other
than traveling yet every
exit offers the chance

to face the truth of
places and faces that are
more than drive-bys
a reason to remember
there is more to life
than where we are
and where we’re going

every town is a community
each street an address
those handing out coffee
have stories to tell even
when those taking
the drinks don’t think
to stop and ask or listen

life is a journey not
a destination we say
as though we understand
but I’m not sure we do
because we live for
arrivals not engagements
we are in transit not journeying

we spent six hours on
the road and now we are
home without incident but
I only spoke to two people
other than those in our car
I wonder what I missed
making such good time

Peace,
Milton

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advent journal: get here, if you can

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Ginger, Rachel, the pups and I spent the better part of this first day of Advent traveling from Durham, North Carolina, where we spent Thanksgiving, to Baltimore, our halfway stop on the way back to Guilford. We were on the road with several thousand travelers, both coming and going from their holidays, all of us sharing the joys of road construction and thunderstorms. Beyond each other, we have talked only to the people who fixed our sandwiches and checked us out at the WaWa and the hotel clerk and the bartender at the Aloft, a hotel that welcomes pets–oh, and the woman who brought out our food at the pickup spot at the Longhorn Steakhouse.

When we travel, Ginger and I create impromptu playlists that consist of responding to each other’s selections, each of us, in turn, asking Siri to play a song. Since it was raining, Ginger started off with “Rainy Days and Mondays” and we rode the rain theme for about two and a half hours until we stopped just outside of Richmond. When we got back in the car, it was her turn again and she switched to a desert theme choosing “Horse with No Name.” Four or five songs with deserts later, the one that came to mind for me was a favorite from Oleta Adams–“Get Here”

you can reach me by railway
you can reach me by trailway
you can reach me on an airplane
you can reach me with your mind
you can reach me by caravan
cross the desert like an Arab man
I don’t care how you get here
just get here if you can

A couple of hours later, things got quiet in the car and I started thinking about what I would write when we finally got to the hotel because my practice of an Advent Journal is a promise I like to keep and also because I am a long way from feeling like Advent is here, or, perhaps better said, that I am here for Advent. The heart of the season has to do with preparing–with getting ready–and I think I am going to spend most of it just trying to get here.

I don’t mean that statement to sound as dire as it might. In fact, I may not even be saying it well.

What has been going through my mind is we often talk about the season as if something new is happening, like we are waiting or preparing for someone who has not already been born. Yes, I quote Meister Eckhart most every year about Christ being born in our time and our culture, but tonight I keep feeling that we are not waiting on a new birth; we know who is coming. We know who has been born already. We are not preparing for him, we are preparing ourselves to be able to be caught by surprise.

But surprise is not always easy; neither is waiting, one of the other verbs we use often at Advent. Both have rather violent roots. The earliest meaning of wait was “to watch with hostile intent.” The root of surprise is “unexpected attack or capture.” The earliest meaning of surprise party was more akin to an ambush than a celebration. The word preparation carries some of that history as well. We, as human beings, hold a long history of suspicion, it seems, and yet all of those words have grown to mean more than violence. Waiting now carries a sense of expectation, preparation means making room, and surprise harbors hope at least part of the time. However ambushed we may feel, the story is not over.

Many of those associated with the story of Jesus’ birth traveled–some of them significant distances. Mary and Joseph had to deal with holiday traffic to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the Magi crossed the desert like Arab men, and the shepherds came running into town in the middle of the night. All of them moved through pain and uncertainty. They all came from complicated situations and Jesus’ birth solved none of them. Still, they got there.

Twenty one centuries later, the story we tell has been layered with life, crowded by the marginalia of tradition and theology, colored by companion stories of compassion and hope, colonized by institutions and patriarchy, midwifed by voices of liberation and diversity, among other things. I find it hard to hear it simply as Love came down at Christmas, true as that may be. I want to hear a version of the story that is more than nostalgia, more than repetition or even ritual, more than being glad we can finally do things like we did before the pandemic.

It will never be before the pandemic again. Do we have the courage to speak up if the way we used to do it doesn’t speak to us anymore? How can we get here if our maps no longer lead us?

As I read over what I have written so far, I am aware it is not particularly linear. I didn’t start with a point in mind other than I feel caught up in the traffic of life and wonder how I will get here for Christmas. Perhaps that makes sense for you, too.

Let’s travel together.

Peace,
Milton

running out of daylight

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running out of daylight

it’s not that the night bothers me
I find comfort in the way the dark
wraps itself around lamps and
light bulbs like a custom fit suit
I love the deep expanse of the
night sky reminding me that
there will always be more
than I can see or comprehend

it’s that the days grow shorter
in the same season as the trees
let go of their leaves a prophetic
cascade of color and connection
or disconnection we won’t always
be here but we are here for now
we are here as the sun falls like
a leaf into the arms of the dark

Peace,
Milton

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tahini, fig, and almond cookies

2

I had a rare opportunity this week to a part of Project PX, an amazing program sponsored by St. Luke’s UMC in Houston. My friend Sid Davis asked me to come do a house reading and concert on Saturday and then connected me with Meredith Davis, his daughter, who runs Project PX along with Chef Adam Garcia.

Project PX is “a workforce development training program in a culinary setting” that takes a group of “fellows” into an eighteen-week full-time program that centers not only around culinary skills, but also life management skills and mental health. Each cohort has four or five fellows. They get a full-time wage and serve lunch twice a week to folks in and around the church. Meredith describes the program this way:

We are not a culinary school; our graduates can enter into any field of their choosing. And our holistic approach sets us apart as we include social/emotional health and financial literacy in our curriculum. We also have the unique opportunity to practice skills in real time as we serve meals, cater events, and very soon will have a full cafe that the fellows will help run.

Part of our mission is to give young people a place to learn and hone skills that will serve them regardless of the career path they choose. We pay our fellows for their full-time work, giving them a space to learn while still helping sustain their families. It is a place to discover talents and skills, and figure out how to make those gifts work for you long-term.

My task was to bake cookies with the fellows–Brandon, Chris, Dan, and Kenneth–and to talk with them about how I got into cooking. Our collaboration and conversation also gave  me the privilege of hearing some of their stories. I brought two recipes–Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip, Sriracha; and Tahini, Fig, and Almond. The recipes go together for me because, at their base, they are the same cookie in that they both use plant-based butters. Then, because of the different flavors of peanuts and sesame seeds, they go in different directions.

Over two hours, we compared recipes, prepared the doughs, shaped the cookies, baked them, talked a bunch, and ate the fruits of our labors–and we shared some as well. Chef Adam sets a tone of kindness and attentiveness in his kitchen. The guys worked hard, listened well, and made good cookies. We all had a good time. If I lived closer, I would be there everyday.

One of the lessons I learned (again) from Project PX is that the best way to change the world is in small actions rather than grand gestures. The guys I worked with are the fifth cohort for Project PX. Meredith and Adam and all those who work with them are changing the world one eighteen-week cohort after another. What makes the difference in everyone’s life are relationships, which means the energy runs both ways: everyone in the room is teaching and learning, everyone is giving and receiving, everyone matters in the mix.

Alongside of Brandon, Chris, Dan, Kenneth, Adam, and Meredith, I got to change the world with cookies.

I got to see the plans for the new building that will open in a year in the Sharpstown area and will allow for the program to grow as well as to offer a community center and other things. I hope one day I get to bake cookies there as well.

I have posted the recipe for the Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip, and Sriracha cookies before, but the tahini cookie is a cookie I have only made one other time, when we did the Milton’s Famous popup in Durham in August of last year. I wanted to make something new and kept thinking about what could replace the peanut butter. Thinking of tahini made me think of Mediterranean, North African, and Middle Eastern flavors, so I used orange extract instead of vanilla, added cardamom and black pepper to the dough and then finished with sliced almonds and chopped dried figs.

All of it sounds a bit odd, but they really taste good.

tahini, fig, and almond cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks) room temperature
16 oz, tahini, mixed well
2 cups (17 oz.) brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon orange extract

3 cups (16.5 oz.) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

8 oz, dried figs, chopped
3 oz. sliced almonds
granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a stand mixer using the paddle, mix the butter, tahini, and brown sugar until well emulsified. In general with my cookies, I let the mixer run for about ten minutes at this stage to make sure the fat absorbs the sugar and it takes in a lot of air.

Add the eggs and orange extract and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Whisk them together and add them to the wet mixture in the mixer. Mix until combined, but don’t mix it to death. Scoop the dough into a large bowl and work the figs and almonds in by hand so they are scattered throughout the batter.

Using a 2 ounce scoop, drop the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Shape each ball into a sort of mini hockey puck that is about an inch and a half across and dip the tops in granulated sugar and return them to the baking sheet. Bake for 9-10 minutes. I usually turn the cookie sheet halfway through.

Let them sit on the baking sheet–on a cooling rack–for about five to ten minutes before removing them.

As I said, these taste good. The next time I make them they will even taste better because they will also hold the memory of my day with Brandon, Chris, Dan, and Kenneth.

Peace,
Milton

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the funeral of reasonable expectations

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the funeral of reasonable expectations

you would think a funeral
would be more quiet
the din makes it difficult
to discern my emotions

in these days of
venom and vitriol or
know what dreams have
a chance of survival

how then do we hope
when so many seem
so committed to
fighting to the death

war shrinks our word
choices our imaginations
victory at any cost means
we all lose everything

once upon a time
it was reasonable to
think what mattered
most was each other

relationship over
doctrine over party
over ideology over
anything else

anything else
how else do we
survive how else
do we survive

amid the screaming
I see you I am with you
after the funeral
we will keep living

Peace,
Milton

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banana pudding cookies

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banana pudding cookies

I was invited by my friend Taylor Davis to be a part of an All Saints celebration at his church. During the past year, they have experienced a season of profound grief that included the deaths of two of their pastors. Taylor asked me to come and prepare a meal to go alongside Communion for their Saturday night service and he had the idea that we might make some of the pastors’ favorite dishes, which included hot dogs, Thai food, red beans and rice, and banana pudding. Oh–it also needed to be pick-up food.

Working on the menu was a unique experience because I didn’t know either of the pastors and was working to create a connecting experience for a congregation I didn’t know either. What I do know is food sustains us not only physically but with deep ties to memory and relationship. I learned, once again, that the Internet is my friend when it comes to recipe ideas and, with the help of other people I have never met who are willing to share their knowledge and creativity, I put together a menu:

Thai-inspired hot dogs (we cooked the hot dogs and then dipped them in a peanut and coconut milk sauce and topped them with shredded carrots and scallions);
red beans and rice empanadas (we made the red beans and rice and then put it in egg roll wrappers that we folded into triangles and baked–wontonadas?)
banana pudding cookies (recipe below)

The meal was well received, but the best part of it, for me, was the prep time. Four folks from the church showed up a couple of hours early to help me cook and they brought great energy and ideas. Since all of the recipes were new to me, we had to problem solve and improvise. I had bought bags of slaw mix to add a salad element, but had no dressing. I also made too much of the peanut sauce, so that became the salad dressing–and it was really good. The first tray of cookies helped us learn we needed to flatten them a bit before they went in the oven.

Right before the meal, I read a poem of mine that was in Keeping the Feast:

congregation

God has made a habit of gathering
undesirables, the less than perfect,
or at least those as broken as they
are brazen – I could name names
but it serves just as well to look in
a mirror, or around most any room
filled with the fallen and faithful;
what privilege I enjoy I have not
earned; any hardship or suffering
I have endured was not inflicted;
what sense of belonging I have
known, what love I have found –
or has found me – came wrapped
in the dusty envelope of humanity,
fraught with fingerprints that point
to both a checkered past and a promise
that love binds us together because
it is not earned, but given and received.

Love binds us together; thus say the cookies.

banana pudding cookies

24 oz. butter (3 sticks), room temperature
1.5 cups brown sugar
.5 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons banana extract
4 large eggs, room temperature

4.5 cups all purpose flour (24.75 oz)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 5.1 oz package Jell-O Banana Cream Pudding Mix
12 oz white chocolate chips
12 oz. dried banana chips
6 oz. mini vanilla wafers, crushed

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars for about ten minutes, until light. Add eggs and banana extract and mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and dry pudding mix. Whisk to combine and then add to wet mixture. Mix just until everything is integrated. Depending on the size of your stand mixer, you can add the white chocolate chips, banana chips, and vanilla wafers, or you can transfer the dough to a large bowl and work them in by hand.

Scoop or pinch 2 ounce cookies and roll into balls. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten a bit. Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes, until tops begin to brown.

NOTE: Because of the pudding mix, these are naturally softer cookies, so they will be done before they feel done.

NOTE: This is a large recipe. You could half it if you want fewer cookies, which begs the question who wants fewer cookies?

The recipe lends itself to experimentation with other pudding flavors as well. Let me know if you try any.

Peace,
Milton

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items may have shifted during flight

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items may have shifted during flight

getting from one place to
another quickly takes a lot

of time what began as a seven
hour journey has turned into

ten and I am floating in the
endless transition of an

airport lounge packed with
others who are not yet where

they are supposed to be
in transit is not a way to live

but the food and drink are
free so we keep queueing up

for cabernet and mini club
sandwiches convinced that

free means we can somehow
be more demanding about

what is due us in our state
of passage and privilege

those behind the bar are at
work in a place where they

come everyday to talk to
those of us passing through

offering a hospitality that
rarely results in personal

connections (where are you
headed?) other than with

those who stand beside them
still they are grounded in

ways the rest of us are not
since travel is not in real time

it makes us less than human
unless we choose to land

to connect to tell a story to
do more than pass through

so I say as i sit and type as
the others order drinks

Peace,
Milton

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no, more sad songs

3

We were in the kitchen this morning kind of goofing around and Ginger said, “Hey, Siri, play sad songs.” A couple of seconds passed and the voice from our HomePod said, “Okay, now playing sad songs.” Two or three tunes played and Ginger smiled and said, “This sounds like what you listen to all the time.”

She’s right. I love sad songs. I love songs that sound sad even when they aren’t. What I love are songs that offer hope, or talk about how we help each other keep going. That said, I couldn’t help but start with one that spoke to our time in the kitchen–Pierce Pettis’ “No More Sad Songs,” which, slightly altered, gave me my title for tonight’s post. I also love the power of punctuation.

sing the one about the guy that lost his true love
play the one about the girl he left behind
everybody wants to hear the sad ones
everybody wants to hear the sad ones
and for the life of me I don’t know why

no more sad songs, no more sad songs
no more sad songs, no more sad songs

“Fleet of Hope” by Indigo Girls starts with a beautiful image of two people with different ideas of what fishing means and then carries the metaphor on into the chorus.

the fisherman comes up
puts his two poles in the sand
he stares out at the sea
just exactly like me
but I’ve got a book in my hand
we will have caught on to something by the end of the day
but mostly we think about the one that got away.

‘cause the fleet of hope is so pretty
when she’s shining in the port
and the harbor clings to the jetty
for protection and support
out in the choppy waters the sharks swim and play
you’re all washed up when Poseidon has his day.

Kate Campbell embodies an informed hope in her song, “Hope’s Too Hard,” drawing sustenance from the bird song around her.

I’ve been chattering all night long
like a crag or swallow on and on
I’ve lost my voice from all this crying
and I’ve lost my will to sing

hope’s too hard and I’m too weak
and I don’t know if I can keep
holding on beyond my reach
love can you sing for me

“Keeping Hope Alive” is a song by John Fulbright that has both a haunting melody and a haunting lyric.

Days
Cliches and throw aways
Trying to learn better ways
But it’s getting harder to survive

Change
Moments that rearrange
And the only fight that remains
Is called keeping hope alive

Glen Hansard writes wonderful songs that speak to all that is beautiful and difficult about life. “The Song of Good Hope” is one of my favorites.

And watch the signs now
You’ll know what they mean
You’ll be fine now
Just stay close to me
And may good hope,
walk with you through everything
May the song of good hope,
walk with you through everything

Nightbirde is the one artist in playlist whose song doesn’t have hope in the title. Nevertheless, “It’s OK” belongs here.

I moved to California in the summer time
I changed my name thinking that it would change my mind

I thought that all my problems they would stay behind
I was a stick of dynamite and it was just a matter of time, yeah

Oh dang, oh my, now I can’t hide
Said I knew myself but I guess I lied
It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay
If you’re lost, we’re all a little lost and it’s alright
It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay
If you’re lost, we’re all a little lost and it’s alright

It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright

If you have listened down the list, you might make a case for all of these being sad songs in their own way–and you might be right. The melodies are quiet, even melancholy, even as their lyrics reach for more. Still, for me, these are hopeful songs, so, I say, “No, more sad songs.”

Peace,
Milton

goodbye/hello

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November begins with two anniversaries in our household: on the first day of the month, seven years ago, we said goodbye to Durham, North Carolina, and then on the second we said hello to Guilford, Connecticut, arriving in town on the fiftieth anniversary of the day Ginger and her parents moved into the house where her parents lived for forty-five years when they moved in with us.

In my reading this morning, Amy Leach wrote, “. . . for there has never been a perfect goodbye, not one . . .” Perhaps it is also true that there has never been a perfect hello. Both of them are a little messy because both of them are a part of relationships.

Our move to Connecticut has been unusual for me because, as I have come to say, Durham didn’t let go of me. Our friendships there have stayed current. When my mother entered hospice two months after we got to Guilford, she made Ginger and I promise that we would use the money she was leaving us to buy a house because we were living in a parsonage and weren’t building equity, and we bought one in Durham, partly because of the difference in housing prices and also because we love Durham.

Our hello to Guilford has created connections as well. Tonight I went to Confirmation Class because I am a mentor for one of the participating high schoolers. In that first couple of months after we arrived I met her and her family. She was in second grade. We used to talk to each other at coffee hour. I got sick that winter and she made me a card and she and her mother brought it by. Over the years, we kept talking. This summer, she sent me an email asking if I would be her mentor.

Both the goodbye and the hello have had longer stories to tell; like I said, both are a little messy. And rich.

In his book In the Shelter, Pádraig Ó Tuamá tells of an exercise he did with a group of high schoolers, asking them to think of the first sentence of their autobiography. I have borrowed the exercise on a few occasions. I think it is a wonderful question. So far, the sentence I have come up with is,

He was just trying to find his way home.

I suppose one way to think about home is it is somewhere between (among, within) goodbye and hello, maybe along the lines of getting caught between the moon and New York City. You know–the best that you can do is fall in love.

Peace,
Milton

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death is not far away

3

death is not far away

I have lived long enough
to learn that those who
have died don’t go anywhere
at least not to some land
far beyond the skies like
I was taught to sing about

what I mean is wherever
they go is not above or
below but among beside
a dimension we have yet
to comprehend but not
distance no not distance

my mom shows up in the
cornbread david drops in
to watch the world series
my dad hangs out in any
hot dog stand I can find
no one has flown away

to have one day to honor
the dead must be humorous
to them who move among
us or perhaps sad since we
can’t sit still more often
for them to find us again

too often we make distant
what we don’t understand
or we try to make simple
that which is unexplainable
even as our loved ones wait for
us to catch a glimpse of love

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. My website is free and ad-free because of the support of my readers. If you would like to become a sustaining member, click here. You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors.