Counting my blessings

I have lots of blessings to count this evening. Here are some of them:

1. Birds. On the way out of the office today, I saw a half-dozen starlings sitting on a wire in the parking lot. They were calling to each other in strange little voices. Then, about a quarter-mile from home, I pulled up to a stop sign and heard about a zillion birds singing their hearts out. I don’t know where they were. I looked all around but couldn’t see them; I guess they were all hiding in the trees nearby, chattering madly. Their little peeping and chirping was so cute, I had to roll down the window and shut off the stereo just so I could hear it better.

2. Spring. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw a robin on my neighbor’s fence. It made me think of my grandma. When I was little — and I mean REALLY little, like maybe three years old — Grandma and I sat on the front stoop of her apartment building and watched my dad and my grandpa doing something or other — moving furniture or something — while a robin supervised the goings-on from its perch in the maple tree high above us. Grandma kept saying, “Hello, Mr. Robin!” and Mr. Robin would reply, “Pert!” I laughed and laughed. Grandma told my mom about it, and I laughed even harder when she said, “Pert!” like the robin. I don’t know why I thought that was so funny, but I did … and my laughter made Grandma laugh, too.

3. Ron. And mushrooms. When I got home from work, Ron made me dinner — a big plate of sauteed mushrooms and a baked potato. Yummy. He makes the best mushrooms.

4. My new jacket. I ran the Oklahoma Marathon a couple of months ago. Everybody who finished got a commemorative Tyvek jacket with the marathon logo on the front and the names of all the finishers printed on the back. Here are a couple of pictures of the jacket:



I like it. I like that it has my name on it, and I like that I earned it. I’ll like it even more when I’m out running in it early next Saturday morning with Suzanne. Those runs are OK once we get going, but they’re awfully cold at the beginning, and an ultralight jacket is just what I need to keep warm.

What blessings are you counting today?


I’m a slacker.

My friend Peter from the UK sent me an e-mail a couple of weeks ago, telling me he would be away from his computer for a couple of weeks, because he was going to Kenya. I asked him what he was doing in Kenya. This was his reply:

I am accompanying friends … in their mission to assist a local minister … with his 6 churches, school and 100 orphans (most of these through AIDS). Some time ago, [my friend] was contacted by a parishioner whose son … has spent a lot of time organising the delivery of much-needed items for the large congregations. As this is the year of “Make Poverty History”, [my friend] has been given time off (he is a United Reformed Church minister) to visit Kenya and see how his parishioners can assist. As he knows that I am interested in construction (before retirement I was a construction site manager), I may be able to help with the rather primitive buildings used for school, orphanage and church. I can also help with some teaching. Janice is scheduled to advise the womenfolk on the causes of HIV/AIDS. Maybe we will also do some singing as Janice and I are part of a S.A.T.B. quartet and she is a pianist. We will be taking several children’s text books, Bibles, writing equipment as allowed excess baggage and later, after we return, will be organising the shipment of large items via BA Freight. We will be in Nairobi for 2 weeks and hopefully will be able to see something of the Great Rift Valley, the National Parks and archaeological sites.

Now, here is the question his e-mail raised in my mind — and I want you to think about it, too:

What have I done today to help somebody else?

Granted, the answer is probably not going to be, “Flew to Nairobi to build schools and churches and teach the local citizens about AIDS prevention.” But what have you done? If your answer is “nothing,” write a check and stick it in an envelope to send that nonprofit group that’s been flooding your mailbox with requests for donations, or go click the “feed the hungry” button on The Hunger Site, or grab a quarter and go feed a stranger’s parking meter while you’re thinking about where you can find an hour or two in your schedule to do some volunteer work.

Peter arrived in Nairobi on the 15th. Here are his impressions, sent Friday:

We arrived in Nairobi last Sunday and are staying in the Anglican Church Guest House. Quite comfortable and the food is good. Our mission is to help the Reverend … with his churches, orphans and school. They are situated in the most appalling slums that you can imagine. But all that we have met are so happy and undemanding. We have been very moved by their resilience. Today we are going to see the 120 pupils in what serves as a school ( actually a tin shack) and listen to their lessons. When we saw the children last Monday they sang welcoming songs to us – it was very moving. We will have time to see something of the other Kenya and in fact did go to the giraffe park last evening.

Now, here’s another assignment I have for you today: Stop and think up three reasons to be thankful.

If you can’t think of anything, here’s some more inspiration, courtesy of the update Peter sent me this morning:

We had a pretty busy day yesterday and despite being in the school “building” (I say building advisedly!), for over 4 hours while all the Rev. Philip’s various pastors and parishioners came to see us and partake in their form of services, time did not drag. We were able to entertain them with a few songs/hymns and their 2 choirs were extraordinarily good, despite only having some pretty basic drums to accompany them. Later that evening we went into the Anglican Cathedral of All Saints to attend Evensong (such a change after all the dancing and singing in the slum areas) and later yet we went for some nice cool beers in a nearby hotel.

I found the railway museum fascinating. Kenya owes much to the railroad built by the Colonial British between 1896 and 1902 from Mombasa to Lake Victoria via what became Nairobi. It was a very difficult route and used mainly imported Indian labour, many of whom died in the process. In its heyday it must have been a wonderful way to travel, but now, as with so much of the country, it is in a general state of decay. You only have to see the roads and slums to know how little is being done at government level to help maintain this land. And yet generally the people are so friendly and happy.

I saw the slum school’s headmaster yesterday and the 10 new desks that I commisioned will be ready tomorrow. I’ll be seeing them on Friday when I give the children a talk on the Principles of Flight and present them with a new drum. If I can arrange it I will be going to a very ancient place this week where the earliest known remains of Human life have been found, dating back 19 million years. In this area are thousands of stone axes and other tools dating from about 50,000 BC. It appears to be a “factory” site for the manufacture of stone implements.

As a mark of our visit a tree is to be planted on Wednesday.

By the way, this is not the first time Peter has traveled far from home to do something positive. A few years ago, he and a friend flew their Fiat Panda to the United States and drove it down Route 66 as part of a fundraiser/awareness-raising project for charity.

If his efforts inspire you, please post a comment here and tell me what you did. Maybe it will give someone else an idea.


The Real Dirt on Farmer John

I have an interesting link for you, courtesy of Ron.

There is a documentary coming out about an eccentric organic farmer who runs a CSA farm in Caledonia, IL, and it looks really interesting. Roger Ebert reviewed it. Ron reads just about everything Roger Ebert writes, so of course he read this review, and — being familiar with my affinity for crazy hippies, organic produce, and community-supported agriculture — sent me the link.

He also rustled up a link to the farm itself here. Be sure to read the Farmer John stories on the Web site. Some of them are funny, and some of them will break your heart. They are all worth reading, I think.

There are some CSA farms in our area — one is in Bristow, and I forget where the other one is — and I think I am going to subscribe to one of them this year. We used to have a subscription to Biver Farm when we lived in Belleville. We did that for a couple of years. With a CSA farm, what happens is you pay a set amount of money at the beginning of the season, and then you get a bag of groceries every week for the whole growing season. You don’t know what’s going to be in the bag. It’s just a big bag full of produce. You get whatever is ready to be picked that week.

One time, we got fennel bulbs. We didn’t have a clue what to do with them, but Ron bought a cookbook the farmers were selling, and it had a recipe in it for baked fennel. The recipe was so good that I still pick up fennel at the grocery store every chance I get and bring it home for Ron to bake. We got some to-die-for berries. We got some Swiss chard. We got kohlrabi one time. I don’t remember what we did with it. Made slaw, I think. The first year we subscribed, it was a good year for bok choy, so we ended up with a head of bok choy every week for … I dunno … three or four weeks, I guess. I made a lot of stir-fry that year, and I think I used some of it to make chow. (If you aren’t familiar with chow, it’s a kind of zippy slaw that involves mixing minced cabbage, sweet pickle relish, mustard, and a few dashes of hot sauce together. You basically start with a head of cabbage, throw it in the food processor, and then add a small jar of relish and enough mustard to make it the right texture. Ideally, you want it thick enough to spread on a bun, but just slightly sloppy. It’s a Southern Illinois tradition; you put it on barbecue. I learned to make it by watching my boss at Burger Nook, where I flipped burgers and waited tables as a teenager, and where I nurtured the deep and abiding affection for mom-and-pop diners that remains part of my psyche to this day.)

A CSA subscription is kind of a crapshoot — you don’t know what you’re going to get from week to week, and you don’t know how well the crops are going to do — but it makes you a lot more aware of where your food comes from, and it kind of forces you to get out of your usual rut and try new stuff. It makes grocery day a lot more exciting, too. You might get a bag full of stuff you love. You might get a bag full of stuff you hate. You might get a bag full of stuff you’ve never seen before. Most weeks, you get some combination of all of the above. Whatever happens to be ready that week is what goes in your bag. It’s as close as you can come to having God plan your menus for you.

If you’ve never tried a CSA, I highly recommend it. It’s soul food of the highest order … and a nice failsafe in case your own garden doesn’t cooperate as well as you’d hoped. I’m planning to do a CSA as backup this year, as we are still figuring out the soil and lighting conditions in our yard. If we get more produce than we can eat … well, that’s why the good Lord gave me a cabinet full of Mason jars and an intense love for the gentle PLINK! of a wide-mouth lid sealing as it cools.