Home Blog Page 189

something to believe in


“Commit to something you believe in,” was the title of one of the twenty-two email messages that greeted me when I signed on this morning.

I considered it a bit of a sign, or at least a nudge.

I opened the letter from Sojourners Magazine (I’m on their sojomail list) to find they were asking for donations and subscriptions to their organization. Their logic was I get their stuff and I share some of their passion; I should pony up. I can’t fault their logic, but the title of the email had already sent my mind spinning in other directions.

I’m still wrestling with this chocolate thing. My posts last week generated some ongoing conversations between several folks, not the least of which is at church. Some of us have started talking about how we can become a “free trade congregation.” I like the sound of that. But there’s more. I went back to the Millions website because I’m thinking about showing the movie to my high school youth group in a couple of weeks, and found a link to WaterAid, who says their vision “is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and effective sanitation.” They are doing amazing stuff. I was humbled to see what the five bucks I plunk down for a case of Poland Springs half liter bottles will do in Mali or Burkina Faso.

But there’s more. When I searched to find the Sojourners site, I first typed in sojourners.org and that led me to Sojourner’s Place, an organization in Wilmington, Delaware that helps homeless people get off the street. (Part of the reason I was intrigued is I’ve never actually met anyone from Delaware; I was almost convinced it was a fictitious land, sort of like Narnia or Middle Earth.) Thanks to Bono and others, the “Make Poverty History” campaign is getting necessary and deserved attention. I can go on: Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International, Compassion, Human Rights Campaign, and the Pine Street Inn (a Boston homeless shelter) are some that get my attention.

The world is bleeding with need and there are a lot of folks trying to do something about it, which is both comforting and overwhelming. Every issue brings a rush of resolve, guilt, hope, and helplessness in me; I want to do something even as I feel incredibly inadequate to do so.

Commit to something you believe in.

I can’t do it all. I can do something. The creative tension that lies between those two statements holds the power to change the world. Years ago, Compassion had a poster filled with cartoon images of people, each one thinking, “What can one person do?” The poster didn’t need a caption. Which leads me, finally, to my point.

Almost two months into this blogging thing, I’m amazed by the sense of community that can develop online. I check in everyday, hoping for comments, recognizing names of people I’ve never seen, yet to whom I somehow feel connected. I want to know what you’re committed to doing. I want to know what you believe in. So I’m asking for links and stories, for connections to the things that matter, for suggestions about how we get off our butts and do as well as talk about what is important.

I’ll be happy to work as a clearing house of sorts, creating a links list so folks can follow up on what we share with each other. I’m hoping for ideas and encouragement for all of us to not feel alone or insignificant in the face of a world so desperately in need of people to believe it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m looking for a conversion experience here. I want to be changed by what happens here. I want to be called to a life different than the one I’m leading. I want to claim for my own the phrase I see plastered all over the Olympics: “passion lives here.”

Conversion is not a solo sport; neither is life.

All together now . . .



baby pygmy goat day


My friend Patty drives from Higgins Lake to Ann Arbor, Michigan regularly. She calls when she’s on the road. Just south of St. John’s, the highway flattens out into farm country, which is usually when my phone rings because I think the landscape gets boring, or at least hypnotizing.

One day last year she called laughing because she had seen a sign for “baby pygmy goats.” Neither one of us knew what they were, but we both had fun saying the words. She noticed it was early spring and said, “Next year I will watch for the first day the sign is out and that will be Baby Pygmy Goat Day: the first sign of spring.”

She called yesterday afternoon to say February 13 was Baby Pygmy Goat Day. The sign was out; five babies were available. Since I had already blogged yesterday, I did not get a chance to tell you, but a few Baby Pygmy Goat festivities added to Valentine’s Day have to be a plus, don’t you think?

As far as the little goats go, I found a bunch of information here and even an audio clip of a goat bleat. The goats are cute and evidently a bunch of folks are really into them, but I’m celebrating Baby Pygmy Goat Day because of my friend. We’ve known each other for almost twenty-five years and have seen each other through a lot of stuff. She stood up with me at my wedding. She and Ginger are also good friends. I will mark February 13 on my calendar as An Important Day because I’m friends with Patty.

Which brings me to February 14.

Tuesday night is committee meeting night at my church, every week a different committee. Christian Education meets the second week of the month. When we got to the end of our January meeting, the chairperson said, “Our next meeting will be February 14.”

“I can’t meet then;” I said, “it’s Valentine’s Day.” So they moved the meeting a week earlier.

A former teaching colleague chided me one year because I was making plans for Valentine’s. “It’s nothing but a Hallmark holiday,” he said. Several others around the lunch table agreed.

“Maybe so,” I replied, “but I figure any excuse to tell Ginger I love her is worth enjoying, regardless of who came up with the idea.” And so I’m off to pick up roses (peach) and chocolate (free trade) and then we will make our annual pilgrimage to the Hard Rock Cafe.

Valentine’s Day 1989 was early in our relationship. I took her to the Hard Rock in Dallas because she loved the place. They had a band that night. The restaurant gave everyone a glass of champagne. The night was full of energy and electricity for us; we both knew something was happening we didn’t quite comprehend. About half way through the set, the lead singer called his girlfriend up on stage and proposed. Ginger and I both knocked over our champagne glasses. When we got to the car after dinner, I moved to unlock her door and surprised her with a kiss that rivaled the one between Wesley and Buttercup at the end of The Princess Bride. It was a great night.

Life does enough to pull as apart, whether we are friends or lovers. The people who stay connected are the people who are determined to stay connected, who work at it, who find ways to build reminders of the bonds that matter into the daily routines of existence. When we get our cell phone bill every month, Ginger and I laugh because most of our minutes are spent talking to each other, and most of those calls are just to say hello.

I don’t really care about pygmy goats, but Baby Pygmy Goat Day matters because it connects me to my friend Patty.

Hallmark or not, I’m going to celebrate the hell out of Valentine’s Day because Ginger — the woman I love more than anyone else in the world — is going to dinner with me.

And when we get to the car, I’m planning on the Best Kiss Ever.

Peace (and Love),


every last one


I got home from the restaurant about 10:30 Saturday night, put on my pajamas and Ginger and I hunkered down for the storm. It’s now Monday morning and neither of us have left the house or changed out of our pajamas. Both our congregations cancelled services. We watched a couple of movies – Millions (highly recommended) and The Polar Express – and we kept checking back with the various weather people to see how the storm was progressing. We knew it was snowing (we could see) and we knew it was windy (it blows through our house like water through a sieve), but we wanted to know what was happening around us.

Most of the forecasters were downright elated by the storm. Their jobs have been fairly boring this winter, I guess, since we haven’t had much snow. I was amused by how jazzed they got every time they were on camera. When the storm met the criteria for a blizzard they were beside themselves. Then they moved on to talking about how this ranked as an all-time storm. We got a fair amount of snow – twelve to twenty inches across eastern Massachusetts, but the storm only ranked as Number Eleven on the all-time list. We didn’t even break the top ten.

They seemed a little disappointed.

Last night, we kept checking in on the Olympics. Two events caught my eye: snowboarding and short track speed skating. The snowboarders capture me with their free spirits and reckless-but-purposeful abandon. The sport is packed full of creative tension and whimsy. They are non-conformists and precision performers at the same time: bungee-jumping ballerinas. When they soar up about the edge of the half-pipe doing flips and turns, they make it look as though any of us could do it. Even though we all know better, for a moment we get to go along for the ride.

The speed skaters are another matter. Short track means they are going as fast as they can on a course that is too slick and two short for the kind of speed they achieve. As Ginger noted, it’s human NASCAR, which means, of course, we’re all waiting for the crash.

Two Americans ended up center stage in the two events: one won and one didn’t. Shaun White, the Flying Tomato, won the gold medal in Snowboarding. Apolo Anton Ohno, who was supposed to win, didn’t make the finals because he slipped in the final turn. He was in second place, which would have qualified him, but he pressed to win the heat and it cost him.

Both White and Ohno gave it their best shot. Both do things most of us can only dream of doing. Yet, in a world where even our weather competes against itself, one will be remembered and one will not. Such is the logic of competition, particularly in America.

A couple of things to clear up: one, I’m an amazing average athlete. As the perennial last-picked-why-don’t-you-play-right-field-kid, it’s no wonder I’m a cook and a writer. Two, I’m not without my competitive streak; I’m just questioning why we only remember the winners.

(Quick, name three fourth place finishers in any event at any time.)

One of the biblical metaphors that gets lost in our go-for-the-gold mentality is the idea of life as a race. “Let us run the race that is set before us,” says the writer of Hebrews, “fixing our eyes on Jesus. The point of the race is to finish, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, everyone encouraging one another. I’m afraid the American translation would challenge us to get across the finish line first so we could shout, “Jesus love you, but I’m his favorite!”

In 1968, a young African was sent by his country to run the marathon in Mexico City. His name was John Steven Okwari . (I heard his story years ago, but I’m afraid I don’t remember the county or how to spell his name.) He finished dead last. Four hours after the winner crossed the finish lines, Okwari entered the Olympic stadium. He was so far behind that the closing ceremonies were over. When word reached the stadium that one person was still on the course, about thirty thousand people stayed in the stands to wait for him. After the race he was asked why he bothered to keep going.

“My country sent me to finish the race,” he said.

He was last — even Google can’t find him now – and he did his best.

Shawn White was the best in the world at what he does yesterday. He deserved the gold medal. I’m not saying we shouldn’t congratulate or reward him. I am saying life is not a competition. Our churches and classrooms are packed full of folks who are not Number One. They’re not even Number Four. While we often talk of the courage it takes to play through the pain to win, we fail to notice the courage it takes to live day to day feeling unnoticed or even invisible.

I see it in the eyes of the “fringe kids” who come to youth group because they know they belong. I hear it in the voice of the Brazilian woman who sings while she washes dishes for nine bucks an hour. We matter not because we are all winners, but because we are breathing – because we are God’s creation, every last one of us.

Every last one.

Peace, Milton

PS — Thanks to Gwen, one of the readers of this blog, I can clear up the details on the marathon runner I mentioned:

John Stephen Akhwari (b. 1938?, Mbulu, Tanganyika) was an Olympic athlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He representated Tanzania in the marathon but he fell during the race badly cutting his knee and dislocating the joint. Rather than quitting, he continued running. He finished last among the 74 competitors. When asked why he ran he said simply, “My country did not send me 7000 miles away to start the race. They sent me 7000 miles to finish it.”

Akhwari has lent his name to the John Stephen Akhwari Athletic Foundation which supports Tanzanian athletes training for the Olympic Games. (from wikipedia)

Thanks, Gwen


ready for the storm


We’ve not had our usual winter here in New England: very little cold or snow. Seems that’s about to change. A Nor’easter is blowing in tomorrow. By Sunday afternoon we could have about a foot and a half of snow on the ground and I will be out shoveling the driveway.

Though the mild days have been nice, there’s an air of disappointment, too. Surviving the long winter is part of what distinguishes us as New Englanders. We were ready and have not been put to the test. I feel like I worked hard to get ready for the big game and have done nothing but sit on the bench. We need cold and snow — piles of it — so we can name the storm and tell the stories and call out to each other as we clear our driveways and then go into warm fires.

As Dougie MacLean says, I am ready for the storm.

Part of being ready is having what I need to make the food that warms us as well.

So here’s a recipe for “Open-faced Chicken Pot Pie.

The great thing about the recipe is — though I have given you a specific list of ingredients — you can add or take away whatever you want. Ginger is not much for carrots, so, when I don’t feel like watching her pick them out, I leave them out. Broccoli works well in the mix also. Try sweet potatoes instead of the white ones. You get the idea.

Since our house sits in a wind tunnel between the beach and the marsh, the storm will swirl around us, making the house whistle. Since our house is a converted summer home, the windows do a little whistling of their own as they let in some of the cold air. We wrap up in our quilts, the schnauzers turn into little donuts that smell like corn chips, and — despite all of the inconvenience — we are still captured by the magic and wonder of the white stuff stacking up in the yard.



us vs. us


A couple of weeks ago, my brother left a message on my cell phone:

“I just finished a book you have to read. You’ll love it. It’s called Blue Like Jazz.”

Since recommending reading is not one of his usual things, I went and bought the book. He’s right. It’s good. I’m reading it slowly because I want time to think about what Donald Miller, the author, has to say. After wrestling with this chocolate stuff, I came back to his retelling of one conversation in particular. He and his friend Tony were discussing the genocide in the Congo.

“It’s terrible,” I told him. “Two and a half million people dead. In one village they interviewed about fifty or so women. All of them had been raped, most of them numerous times.”

Tony shook his head. “That is amazing. It is so difficult to even process how things like that can happen.”

“I know. I can’t get my mind around it. I keep wondering how people could do things like that.”

“Do you think you could do something like that, Don?” Tony looked at me pretty seriously. I honestly couldn’t believe he was asking the question.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Are you capable of murder or rape or any of the stuff that is taking place over there?”


“So you are not capable of any of those things?” he asked again. He packed his pipe and looked at me to confirm my answer.

“No, I couldn’t,” I told him. “What are you getting at?”

“I just want to know what makes those guys over there any different from you and me. They are human. We are human. Why are we any better than them, you know?”

Reading through the comments on yesterday’s post, all full of great thoughts and feelings, I’ve been trying to come to terms with my own. No, I’m not going to give up chocolate. I don’t want to and it doesn’t solve anything. I am going to have to come up with an alternative for Valentine’s other than Reese’s Hearts, but there are alternatives. Thanks to Newman’s Own, I can find fair trade chocolate even in our biggest supermarket. It’s tucked away with the Kashi cereal, Terra chips, and flax seed oil. Meanwhile, the “candy aisle” stretches from the front end of the store to the back, and none of it fair trade.

We’ve got work to do. Miller’s words remind me the conversation has to be about “we” — about us. The coporate executives at Nestle and M&M/Mars who answer protests with form letters and dodge the real issues, the buyers and sellers of cocoa futures, those who abuse the children on the cocoa farms, the stock traders and stockholders who demand profits at all costs from their companies, the media who make one-day-emergencies out of chronic problems, the children who are forced into slavery: they are all part of us.

I’m no better than they are. I’m connected to them, if by nothing else than our common humanity. The only way things will really change is if we — WE — work on it.

Part of us are already out there. Check out the folks at Global Exchange. They have everything from information to educational resources to a fair trade on-line store. I’m challenged and encouraged by their approach because it offers me a way to respond beyond being angry, guilty, or resigned to this just being the way things are. They really believe we can change things.

I want to believe that, too.

When I named my blog, I was playing on the Buddha quote at the top of the sidebar: “There is no joy in eating alone.” Yesterday, one of the comments posted said, “The grocery store certainly is overwhelming when you start to consider the origins of what you eat, and justice. We really never do eat alone, do we?”

No, we don’t.

As I have said before, one of the things I love about coming to the Communion Table is I am coming to the table with all of those who have come before me and all who will come after me. I am not alone.

I’m learning that is true about any table, or any food for that matter. When I pick up a chocolate bar, or a cup of coffee, or a ham sandwich, I’m at the table with those who helped get the food to my table, those who have benefited from my purchases, and those who are harmed by my choices. I don’t ever eat alone.

The task, then, is for us to live and eat so none of us goes hungry.



we are what we eat


It’s hard to write when you feel stupid.

I’ve run up against something I didn’t know about that should have been on my radar. I’m deeply disturbed, convicted, and dumb.

It’s also hard to write when you have too strong an agenda.

I’m pissed. I want to preach, to rant, to tell everyone what they should do – not particularly compelling reading.

About thirty minutes after I heard the symphony of trucks on Monday, I heard a report on Marketplace that disturbed me, to say the least. The story had to do with a lawsuit filed against Nestle, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland for their connection to child slavery on the cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. The suit is being brought on behalf of three boys who escaped the horror, with hopes that it will become a class action lawsuit to move these corporations beyond “studying the problem,” which they have been doing for years, to moving to a fair trade model that would not allow for slavery in any form.

I had no idea.

Some of the specifics I heard in the story and found in some other material are:
70% of the cocoa used in America comes from Ivory Coast;
90% of the cocoa grown in Ivory Coast is connected to child slavery;
though new to me, it’s not a new problem.

I’ve spent the last hour chasing down links, trying to learn more. I’m overwhelmed by what I’ve found. Rather than repeat it all, I offer these links so you can read for yourself.
“Why slavery still exists: those along the ‘chocolate chain’ put blame on someone else”
“Chocolate and Slavery”
“Fair Trade Chocolate”

I’m just trying to figure out what to do with the fact that I’m killing children when I buy M&M’s.

Unfortunately, there’s no hyperbole in that statement. Tim Bergquist, president of International Chocolate Company, said it this way: “Every time one closes his eyes and buys a product made by children, then he is also responsible. He becomes an accomplice.”

Ginger, my wife, put it more succinctly: “No more chocolate.”

And Valentine’s Day is next week. This year we’ll be skipping the Reese’s Hearts.

Every trip to the supermarket, it seems, is a test of faith. Globalization means that my picking up grapes from Chile in the dead of winter means some poor farmer is taking it in the face. I have more fresh produce available to me in the dead of a New England winter than the people who live in the countries that grow the stuff ever get to see themselves. So I’ve joined the growing band of folks who are working hard to figure out how to eat more locally and challenge the big corporations.

But this chocolate thing goes to a whole different level.

Children are being sold as slaves, being beaten and killed for not working fast enough, just so I have ninety-seven inexpensive candy options when I step up to the register at CVS. Kids are dying for candy.

What in hell are we doing?

I know I’m late to the game in adding my voice to the chorus of concerned folks demanding change. But now I know and I can’t keep quiet.

When I lived in Dallas, my roommate and I decided to make a concerted effort to quit adding salt to our food, since both of us came from families with heart issues. We decided the best way to do it was to quit calling it salt; we called it “White Death.” If we wanted to salt our food, we had to say, “Please pass the White Death.” We soon cured ourselves of the desire to use the stuff.

Maybe it’s time to say, “You want a Child Killer?” instead of “You want a candy bar?”

I know this is raw. It’s how I feel.



appropos of nothing


I heard this story on All Things Considered last night. You gotta hear the symphony of truck horns.



once upon a time


In the early nineties, Robert Olen Butler wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection called A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. I read it for a Fiction Writing course I took while working on my MA in English. My favorite story was “Fairy Tale,” mostly because of the first paragraph:

I like the way fairy tales start in America. When I learn English for real, I buy books for children and I read, “Once upon a time.” I recognize this word “upon” from some GI who buys me Saigon teas and spends some time with me and he is a cowboy from the great state of Texas. He tells me he gets up on the back of a bull and he rides it. I tell him he is joking with Miss Noi (that’s my Vietnam name), but he says no, he really gets up on a bull. I make him explain that “up on” so I know I am hearing right. I want to know for true so I can tell this story to all my friends so that they understand, no lie, what this man who stays with me can do. After that, a few years later, I come to America and I read some fairy tales to help me learn more English and I see this world and I ask a man in the place I work on Bourbon Street in New Orleans if this the same. Up on and upon. He is a nice man who comes late in the evening to clean up after the men who see the show. He says this is a good question and he thinks about it and he says that yes, they are the same. I think this is very nice, how you get up on the back of time and ride and you don’t know where it will go or how it will try to throw you off.

Yesterday was the anniversary of when I climbed upon a time: Ginger and I had our first date on February 5, 1989. I was living in Fort Worth and she in Arlington. I had tickets to go see a new singer, Lyle Lovett, who was performing at Caravan of Dreams in downtown Fort Worth. I had planned to take my best friend, Billy, but after I met Ginger I called and told him I would get him something else – I had met a girl. In 1989, February 5 fell on a Sunday night as well. Since I was working in a church that had a Sunday night service, my original plan was to cut out during the last hymn, shoot over to Arlington and pick her up, and then come back for the show. An ice and snowstorm hit and church was called off, so I called her and made plans to pick her up for dinner. I slid across town in my front wheel drive Toyota Tercel and we ate at Good Eats, a kind of comfort food place, and then went on to see Lyle.

The show was amazing. He had a cello player with him and they moved from country to alternative to blues to improvisational jazz seamlessly. The room was intimate and charged. As we reflected on the evening later, we both had a sense of awe and mystery that night.

We climbed upon a time and have been riding ever since.

The next day I sent her a card, using Lyle’s words:

if ford is to chevrolet
what dodge is to chrysler
what corn flakes are to post toasties
what the clear blue sky is to the deep blue sea
what hank williams is to neil armstrong
can you doubt that we were made for each other?

I don’t think we ever have. In April we will have been married sixteen years. Together we have moved across country, made our home here in New England. She has stayed with me through my seemingly endless vocational crisis and the ride down the wormhole that is Living With Depression. I was there as she got her doctorate, among other things. The ride has had its moments when we felt as if we had been thrown. But the best parts have been the meals and the movies, the walks on the beach or around our old Charlestown neighborhood, the memories we keep packing into our hearts.

I searched hard to find a Good Eats Café of some sort in the Boston area, but all I found was a cheap college pizza joint, so I opted for familiar food. We went to Bob’s Southern Bistro, based on reviews I found, and stumbled into another memory together. They were having a Super Bowl party (that’s what Feb. 5 meant to everyone else). When we got there, they were handing out shots of Crown Royal; after dinner they gave us homemade carrot cake. In between, we chased down fried catfish and chicken, some meatloaf, and all kinds of good southern side dishes.

And we told anyone who would listen why we were celebrating.

One of the last lyrics I wrote when I was writing songs is one that never made it to any sort of recording, but remains one of my favorites. It’s called “Well Worn Love.” The image I had was of Ginger and I after forty or fifty years. I kept playing with the image of a love well-worn, like the library steps worn from good use.

he pours her coffee like every morning
she kisses his nose as she passes
his hair is much thinner than back when they started
and she did not always wear glasses

she smiles with her eyes as he butters his bread
they talk about what’s in the news
he heads for the garden she gathers the laundry
and life feels familiar and true

and this is the story of two common hearts
who started out young and grew old
they have practiced a lifetime the waltz of a well-worn love

he takes her hand coming out of the movie
they stop at a sidewalk café
he finds her a chair that is next to the window
‘cause he knows she likes it that way

she smiles with her eyes at the things he remembers
she touches the side of his face
the moments they share in the balance of time
are the heart of redemption and grace

and this is the story of two common hearts
who started out young and grew old
they have practiced a lifetime the waltz of a well-worn love

she wears the ring that he put on her hand
some forty five years ago
and time is defined by the lines of the love they know

winter comes early with how shadows and snowfall
who knows how long it will stay
so he pours her coffee like every morning
‘cause he knows she likes it that way

and this is the story of two common hearts
who started out young and grew old
they have practiced a lifetime the waltz of a well-worn love

Sometimes Ginger asks me where I think I would be if we had never met. My answer is always the same: “I don’t think I would be alive.” I am upon a time, rather than crushed below it, because Love found me when I looked in her eyes some seventeen years ago.

However bumpy the ride has been, Love has never let go.



how do we appreciate?


Any time we have a discussion about a meal at church and the discussion turns to how we are going to pay for it before we talk about why we are having the meal or what we are going to have, I’m afraid the folks in the room know what I’m going to say because, at least on this point, I’m rather predictable. I have a rather well-rehearsed rant that goes something like:

If we’re going to fix a meal, then let’s do it right. We don’t have to spend a lot of money to prepare nice food, and to make people feel as though we mean what we are doing. If we don’t intend to do the best we can, why do it? Do we want people to think church dinners are always substandard meals?

OK — that’s the abbreviated version, but you get the idea.

I got to make the speech again a couple of weeks ago as we planned for our annual Teacher appreciation Dinner. The quality of the meal speaks to the quality of our gratitude. For a number of years, the church paid for everyone to go to a local Chinese restaurant, which meant we had a nice meal and no one was stuck with the dishes. A couple of years ago, we convinced ourselves that kind of gratitude was too extravagant and decided the Christian Education Committee would prepare the meal in our Parish Hall. (Insert the above speech here.) Yesterday afternoon, committee members met to prepare the food and set up the room.

The woman who decorated the hall did a great job. Undecorated, the room looks a lot like an unfinished roller rink. By pulling the room dividers and using some red-checkered tablecloths and candles stuck in wine bottles, she turned it into a cozy little cafe. Our cooking team went to work as well. We served Open Chicken Marsala Ravioli and Oreo Ice Cream Pie (not my recipe, but I’ll get it). The whole event cost about a hundred dollars and we served thirty people. After dinner, people sat at the tables and talked for almost an hour. Some of us still had to do dishes, but it was worth it. We did a good job saying thank you.

Up until my grandmother died, she had a framed thank you note I wrote her when I was ten or eleven, which said, “I’m writing to say thanks for the Christmas present because Mom said if I didn’t write a thank you note I wouldn’t get any more presents.” Cute for a kid, maybe, but a lousy thank you. And yet, I’m afraid it is the kind of appreciation we too often offer one another. Acting as though a thrown-together Ragu Reward is going to make someone feel appreciated is fooling ourselves but not fooling them. True thanks ought to cost us something. When we come across as though we a just throwing a bone so we can check it off our list, the alleged gratitude is hollow and condescending.

I love to cook, so good food is a good way for me to say thanks, but it’s not the only way. Good gratitude starts by asking, “What do I have most to give and what do they most need to receive?”

It doesn’t have to be open ravioli, but it does need to be open-hearted.



food and poetry: part two


Today I’m cooking for a Teacher Appreciation Dinner at church and I’m making fresh pasta (report and recipes tomorrow), which brings me to pass on another poem shared with me by another friend. She found it through the Writer’s Almanac. The poet is Kate Scott, from her book Stitches.


In the yellow kitchen her pink hands
play with creamy dough. Squares of sun frame
things that shine; spoons, cups, hair.

She sits the fat belly on the table.
She pokes it with one finger, it dimples.

Stroked with flour, her rolling pin
works roundness to flatness,
teases out a thin cream sheet.

She picks up the sheet with a nimble pinch,
feeds it into the teeth of the steel machine.

She turns the handle, smiling at me
Though I know she is tired, not very happy.
She hangs the frail strips on chairs, on doors.

As the dampness lifts they start to flutter.
She hangs them lightly over her arm, padding to the stove.

She boils water, opens wine, puts vegetable in pots.
Lights click. Smells blossom.
Everything feels suddenly invited.

Dinner is at 7:00 in the Parish Hall. We’ll save you a seat.