There are only two places where I have ever eaten escargot: on cruise ships and in Paris, France. Honestly, I was apprehensive about eating land snails. Or any snails, for that matter. But I maintained cautious optimism and tasted the little shelled delicacies for the sake of immersing myself in a full French cultural experience.
The most appealing part of eating escargot is the melted butter – the unsalted quality kind, not like movie theater butter drizzled on popcorn from a pump dispenser. Snails are savory and a little chewy, and even if on the off-chance they had actually been chunks of those tiny little high-bouncing rubber balls like the kind kids buy out of those quarter machines, they were delicious because they swam in pools of melted butter.
Where everything is far bigger in Texas, everything is far smaller in France – especially the food portions. They give you a tiny little fork and a tiny little plate with some tiny little snails. They even set out wee baby water glasses. And if you want, you can order a tiny little cup of coffee. When I did that, I was served an espresso, because the French call their espresso coffee and drink theirs the way Americans drink a shot of whiskey, throwing it back all at once. It’s served in a tiny little espresso cup, the size of my childhood china teddy bear tea set, with sugar crystals that are supposed to float on the top if it’s made properly. It took some detective work to figure out that if I wanted coffee as I knew it, I should ask for an Americano. Once I learned these European coffee ropes, I was a happier traveler all the way around – and my companions appreciated my much-improved morning outlook. After holding that tiny little espresso cup, I now understand how the one-tiny-little-finger-pointing-up-when-sipping came to be a thing.
Isaiah 7:15| Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
Slice of Life Day 20 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)
I’ve never been to Auschwitz, but my daughter Mallory says her travel group was rendered speechless for hours after they visited 12 years ago. They’d all had to regain their composure before being able to talk again. After reading Night by Elie Wiesel and watching the documentary of Oprah Winfrey going back to Auschwitz with him years later, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to have stood mere inches from the clothes, shoes, and other precious belongings – including teeth – of the innocent people who were taken there, separated from their loved ones, and killed at the hands of merciless monsters.
On a morning that started like any other, I was standing in the hallway of the high school preparing for a meeting when an English teacher shared that she had been cleaning off her bookshelves and discovered a book that piqued her interest. Upon further examination, she found that the book, A Beggar in Jerusalem, was one of 250 copies signed by Elie Wiesel himself.
As I beheld the signature, I was instantly transported to all the harrowing moments of Night – from the prophetic words of Moshe the Beadle that I reflect on more frequently than I care to admit, to the marches from the ghettos, from the cattle cars and the fighting over a scrap of bread on the train to the screaming of Madame Schachter, from the machine gun killings of infants used as target practice to the hanging of the young boy on the gallows, from the starving man who was shot crawling to the soup pot to the sickness that overtakes Elie’s father, from the image in the mirror where Elie sees the corpse staring back at him to that iconic photograph of him among the crowded, starving men in the wooden bunks. That one signature took me to all of those moments at once as I gazed with heartbroken sorrow at the ink there on the page, knowing the hand that signed the book had lived through those terrible times.
A trip is not a prerequisite for a journey, and journeys like these catch us off-guard. This one came out of nowhere and punched me in the gut. I had to pull myself back together quickly and move on with my morning. I’m glad we are past those times, I told myself. Nothing like this would happen today. The Moshe the Beadles of our world would warn us.
I arrived home and stopped at the mailbox, excited that my weekly copy of The New Yorker had arrived. Then I studied the image on the front cover.
Slice of Life Day 19 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)
“We don’t take a trip. A trip takes us.” -John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
The London Eye offers a unique perspective of the city. High above it all, one can see for miles and miles and note distances between landmarks. To the traveler, perspective is important; but the majestic view can’t compare to what we see when our feet are on the ground.
Looking out, I thought of Peter Pan, flying above the city with all the freedom and fearlessness of a child – especially above Big Ben, even though they were doing some cleaning and refurbishing of the iconic landmark in the summer of 2019. The classic red double-decker buses, blood cells coursing the veins of the city, brought back memories of the metal toy bus that my brother had brought home from London years ago.
I’d visited London in 1984 with my parents and brother, and again in 1999 with my first husband. Its beauty and history hadn’t changed when I visited in 2019. Of all the things to love about London, my favorite is its theater. Something about those stages mesmerizes me – the smell of musty old wood, the creaking of floors, the old velvet seats and thick-piled carpets, the dust settled long into crevices that always make me wonder whose strand of historical hair may be resting somewhere beneath my feet, the lights and the actors and actresses that bring stories to life.
But there is one entertainer who comes to mind frequently and has the power to melt my heart at the sheer memory. Have you ever had one of those moments when you saw something so beautiful that completely captured your heart to the point that you had to fight off tears that threatened to come out of nowhere- and then you just gave up and let them flow – and people were aflutter all around you, not seeing the very same thing you found so moving? I have – and still today, I have to keep that memory guarded, because if it slips up during a meeting at work or in the frozen foods at Kroger, my eyes may get glassy and I may be moved to a place of deep introspection.
I heard one of my favorite songs and stopped to listen to the street performer singing Leonard Bernstein’s Hallelujah. People were walking in all directions, some running, like human versions of the London buses flushing veins and arteries with blood cell movement, ……and then I saw the little dancer on this crowded street in Covent Garden, without fear or inhibition, living fully in each breath. I had no inkling of the profound effect that this one single moment would have on me then or in the coming years, especially when the world shut down with Covid the following spring and the dance brought smiles in the midst of sadness and loneliness. It found a place in the crevice of my heart, like that theater dust that settles in and takes up residence.
He jumped, he leapt, he spun, he twirled, exuding joy and the love of the moment that no one else around him seemed to have. I watched, completely taken by this child’s in-the-momentness. I don’t know his name or where he lives, but in my impossibly full travel itinerary, he brought pause and wonder – a shift in my approach – a deeply introspective personal challenge henceforth to look for what is missed by everyone else: what’s the one thing that I see that no one else sees? I need more embracing of life like this kid understood. Big Ben is boldly there for all to see. Peter Pan will always be soaring in the minds and hearts of those who live on the edge of childhood. The stages of London draw the eyes of millions every year.
And yet it wasn’t a landmark, it wasn’t a Lost Boy from literature or a stage that took my heart on a completely unexpected journey in the heart of London.
It was a young boy whose name I will never know, dancing to the music of life. As we all should.
I’ve always been fascinated by the ability of children’s literature to shape character and teach values. As a child, I was curious about those “bad troublemaker” characters and wondered what fate would befall them, and I evolved into a page turner with an insatiable desire to see how other people’s situations play out on the pages of books. Today’s efforts to ban books will, no doubt, prove a classic tale of be careful what you wish for – – you might just get it. And the unintended consequences that those pushing for bans never considered. When we take away books that allow children to learn through the stories of fictional characters, they will learn through the nonfiction stories and mistakes of their own.
But what bothers me almost as much is that the logic of this war on books doesn’t add up. I think of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi as a prime example of secular literature that shares similarities with the Biblical story of Jonah. Both Pinocchio and Jonah found redemption in the belly of a whale. Both were having trouble listening and obeying (a prime reason that people want to ban any book these days – -because <dun dun dun> someone wasn’t being a “perfect Christian”). The radical banning clan is quick to want to erase secular books like Pinocchio for disobeying Gepetto, yet quick to validate the consequences of disobeying that Jonah suffered by not going straight over to Ninevah.
I mourn the loss of classic literature and its threatened extinction from childhoods of today. The common threads of literature throughout the world carry similar messages and common values in different settings and stories – there are Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood stories in almost every culture of the world. Books teach lessons and build character, and they offer readers a glimpse into the troubles of the world that might be avoided by learning from characters who just might offer a child a voice of reason he hears more clearly than that of his parents.
Books reinforce values and teach lessons that we cannot possibly teach. We should expect that the nose of Pinocchio grows – – and as it does, we should suppose that the nose of Pinocchio shows.
Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
When I was a teenager living on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, I attended H. E. McCracken High School in Bluffon, South Carolina. In the early 1980s, no one waited to be a senior to take part in Senior Skip Day. We all eagerly honored our graduating class each year by skipping school right along with them on the traditionally declared skip day, piling into cars and crossing the nearby state line into Savannah, Georgia to join the throngs of people who converge on the city every year to attend the nation’s second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade and celebration. We flooded River Street, carefully descending the old stone steps and navigating the cobblestone streets to admire the river that was turned shamrock green back in those days to commemorate the occasion. We stood along the streets cheering the parade, decked out in green beads, wearing green “Kiss me, I’m Irish” or “Patrick was a saint. I ain’t” t-shirts, green eyeshadow and glittery antennae four leaf clover headbands. Green beer flowed more swiftly than the Savannah River on those streets, but a few of us stopped at a taste or two just to say we’d partaken in such novel revelry. Then we’d go home at our regular weekday times as if no parents were ever the wiser.
It was all fun and games until the wreck.
Highway 46 was the two-lane highway that led to Savannah. It was paved with narrow lanes and curves that required careful attention; there wasn’t much margin for error on that highway back then.
I’d been home for a while that afternoon when the house phone rang. I was in the den when my mother answered, and as a preacher’s kid, I knew all the meanings of the tones when my mother summoned my father from his study- from the joyful news of babies just born to the heartache of disease and dying to the crisis mode of Dad dropping everything and leaving in a hurry to go be present with someone.
Whenever Dad went to go be present with someone in a crisis, it was hard to resume any focus until we knew things were better. This time, they weren’t. We learned that a student from our school had been driving home drunk from Savannah and had swerved across the center line, killing a father in our community. The students in that car all survived the wreck; one was the son of one of our church families, and his parents were in shock and disbelief at the scene.
Since that dreadful day, there hasn’t been a St. Patrick’s Day when I haven’t remembered the impact of the choices that we make and the effects that they have on others. On this St. Patrick’s Day, I journey not to a senior skip day, not to a place of celebration or parade festivities, not to a place where I dwell on luck and leprechauns and rainbows, but instead back in time as I remember those who lost a precious family member forty years ago and think of all that was taken from them.
Slice of Life Day 16 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)
Boston, Massachusetts holds special memories for me. When my grandmother Haynes died in 2003, she left each of her grandchildren a small inheritance. I’d been planning to get my Master’s Degree, so I invested mine in furthering my education – something that never depreciates and would have made my grandmother proud (and it also can’t be split 50/50 in the event of divorce, which happened in my first marriage). I explored a fast-track program called the National Institute of Teaching Excellence (NITE) at Cambridge College in Boston. I applied, was accepted, and registered to attend in the summer of 2005, where I’d spend six weeks in the city studying during the week and exploring on weekends. I’d been there once before, in 1998, for a long weekend to see the fall leaves and take our youngest daughter to visit the Boston Science Museum. She climbed up and down the musical chiming stairs in the museum with such joy!
We’d walked the Freedom Trail and stopped by the Boston Public Garden to see the Make Way for Ducklings statues based on the book by Robert McCloskey. I’ve seen on the news this week that someone knitted a yellow and blue sweater and placed it on a duckling to show support for Ukraine, but for me it carries more than a show of support for Ukraine – that sweater on a duckling is a sobering reminder that there are children involved in this crisis. Children through the years have lined up to climb on the backs of the ducklings one by one, Leapfrog-style, until they get to the to the mother duck at the front; then, they run back and get in line to leap to the front all over again.
I fell in love with the New England Aquarium, where Sy Montgomery conducted her research for her book The Soul of an Octopus. As I turned each page of the book, I reflected on my time in the aquarium and envisioned the events unfolding with Athena and Octavia and all the other octopuses and their antics. I could spend weeks more in Boston and never get enough of the city, from the USS Constitution to Boston Harbor to Old North Church and the Paul Revere Museum. I love it even more than Manhattan because of its unique history and the ease of getting around.
If the experiences and places of travel create the memories, then the specialty food of a place adds a dimension of richness of the cultural experience. Even though my October 2021 trip to Boston didn’t allow more time than one loop on the Hop On/Hop Off Trolley for a refresher glimpse of the city, I didn’t miss the opportunity to hop off and eat my favorite Boston meal. I ordered a bowl of New England Clam Chowder in a pub near Faneuil Hall and savored every bite of my chowdah – something I enjoy whether it’s hot or cold weather whenever I’m visiting Boston!
Slice of Life Day 15 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)
Visiting Rome in June 2019 was one of the highlights of all my travel experiences. The city holds powerful ancient history, the most heartbreaking and moving sculpture in all the world, and the footprints, fingerprints, and brush strokes of the most accomplished artists who’ve ever lived. It’s a mecca for culinary delights – pastas, sauces, olive oils, pizzas, gelatos, and tiramisus.
Rome is also home to the most iconic fountain in all of Italy – the Trevi Fountain, full of the coins of those who have thrown in one coin (from their right hand over their left shoulder) wishing to return to the city of Rome, two coins to fall in love, or three coins to marry the person they love. I am blessed to be married to the love of my life, so I threw one coin.
Rome is also where Julius Caesar was betrayed and stabbed by those who conspired against him after having been warned by a soothsayer about the Ides of March.
Two conflicting ideas came to mind as I left my own footprints on the streets of Rome: persecution and promise. Each day, we make choices about what we believe – whether to live in fear of persecution or to proactively place our hope in the promise of a better tomorrow. Sunday’s sermon reminded us that we are travelers on this journey, pilgrims on the intersecting roads of time- weaving past and present to plant the seeds of the future. In a world of soothsayers seeking to squelch all hope, I turn from all bewaring of the Ides of March to beholding the fountain of promise.
I hum the postlude the pianist played in church last Sunday, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy past, and our eternal home.”
18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.
Slice of Life Day 14 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)
Before October 2021, I believed that visiting Salem, Massachusetts in October was a bucket list experience that everyone should have in a lifetime. I’ve revised my position: if I were to visit Salem again, I would not go in October – it’s far too crowded! Perhaps I might go on the 13th of a month instead, for superstition’s sake. The 13th: a jinxed number, paranoid with black-cloud cover and omens.
Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s gave rise to one of the darkest periods of New England’s history – an era that defined the concept of witch hunts that still take place today. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is an allegory that uses the Salem Witch Trials to illustrate its similarities to McCarthyism – and portrays how ridiculous accusations can result in people being “black listed” with no concrete evidence, often so illogically and outrageously that it shakes the rest of us to the core. Social media perpetuates the whole avalanche of mob mentality that can ruin innocent peoples’ lives.
Due east of Salem in the the Atlantic Ocean, the hunt for other innocent creatures was also happening, as Herman Melville describes in his iconic literary masterpiece Moby Dick (Nathaniel Philbrick describes the true events inspiring Melville’s novel in his book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex). If we were to walk back into Biblical times and cast an injustice-sweeping net across the globe and drag it through history, our fishnet would rip wide open with the ugly gut-wrenching truths that the most innocent among us have been persecuted since the dawn of time, even while singing songs of hope and praise from chambers of anguish.
In the Salem Witch Museum, I read the names of those accused of witchcraft and their fate in the hands of swift Puritan judgment. From the deck of a tour boat in Gloucester, I admired the peace of gentle whales in the Atlantic Ocean, wondering how likely it might have been that their very own great grandparents were victims of Ahabs aboard Pequods. And I pondered the tremendous responsibility I have to be a vessel of light in a dark, unfair world -to journey inward to understand a person, a situation, an event – rather than to judge, to jump to conclusions, to throw jabs or join the fray.
Journeys create moments of deep introspection like these that help us see the world and seek our place and purpose in it.
Take not away your gentle mercies from me, O Lord; let your mercy and your faith keep me safe for ever.
In October 2021, I visited Rockport, Massachusetts, where I stayed in a quaint little VRBO named the Sail Loft of Bearskin Neck, right next door to the leather shop in the heart of town. The New England vibe was strong, and my heart swelled every time I took a walk in the crisp autumn air. The church bells chime the hour and evening hymns from the church steeple blanket this charming town with peace that quiets the soul, a reminder to pause and praise.
There are three theories explaining how Bearskin Neck got its name. The most commonly held story is that a young bear was caught by the tide and killed in 1700. The second story is that early settlers in the area encountered aggressive bears and would lure the bears onto the neck where they could trap and hunt them. The third story is that Bearskin Neck was named after Ebenezer Babson saw his nephew being attacked by a bear and intervened, luring the bear into the water and killing it with a fishing knife.
Having lived in coastal Georgia and coastal South Carolina, I know that shell hunting yields greater abundance on an outgoing tide, and the locals confirmed when I’d asked about the best places to find sea glass that Front Beach and Back Beach were the places to go – – but that I’d have to get there early the next morning on the outgoing tide. I made a note to keep an eye out for aggressive bears as I made my way to the beach.
I poured a cup of coffee and headed out before sunrise on a sea glass quest. There were already several seekers with their dogs out at Front Beach, scouring the shore for the bits of opaque glass. A quick walk along this beach told me that I might have better luck at Back Beach, so another few minutes down the way took me to a far rockier beach. The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon in a vibrant golden color unique to New England beaches, like a pirate’s treasure chest opening in the sky.
I set my coffee cup down. With careful footing on the rocks, I scoured the shore for the tiny bits of glass. While I wanted to take home some sea glass that I had found myself, I realized in those first few minutes that the search was relatively futile. I think I’ll buy myself a bracelet. That’s the only way I’ll be taking home any sea glass, I decided.
And then I got lucky. I changed my search zone and found a few tiny pieces that brought heart-stopping excitement. A cobalt piece, a red piece, a light green piece and a white piece resurrected the same thrill of finding the golden Easter egg one year when I was young. I dumped my cold coffee and used my mug as my collection cup.
There’s a certain slant of light, a gift known to earlybirds, that is incomparable to any other time of day. The way the rays hit a window or a rocky shore are breathtaking. For sea glass seeking or sunrise, I’m eager to breathe the morning air, to inhale the salt of the sea, to watch the day begin and know each night that I’ve been a good steward of the beauty of this world!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!
Among my last words to my brother’s dog Feivel in my special dog voice before he’d crossed the Rainbow Bridge was an invitation back to the Johnson Funny Farm, where Poppy and I would be waiting to welcome him. My brother told me that Feivel had raised his head at the sound of my voice across the phone’s speaker in his final moments, so I knew he was hearing…..and listening. I just may not have realized how seriously he was taking me.
Feivel loved the farm where he and my brother lived in Concord, and he loved our farm in Williamson, too. Pike County, Georgia is an hour south of the world’s busiest airport and light years from any town. We are as rural as it gets. We don’t even have curtains in our house. This place is a dog’s paradise – they can chase squirrels and sniff and track the footprints of all kinds of critters, tire out and then bask away the afternoon in the sun. They often find a soft patch of clover and roll over and wiggle-scratch their backs, kicking all four legs in the air in sheer joy and smiling that satisfied upside-down dog grin that reminds us that we, too, should live more fully in each moment.
Dogs here do their favorite country dog thing ever: after a bath or grooming, especially right after a fresh rain, they sniff the wet ground for worms. Dog masters see it happening from across the way and try to stop it, but it never fails – the dog always wins. They hone in on one unsuspecting worm and drop the left shoulder onto the ground before the clover-roll elation begins and all four legs are kicking and thrusting toward heaven with unbridled joy as the dog continues this muddy, dead worm perfuming ritual.
When I left for work on Monday morning after the break, I noticed a tan dog playing by the edge of the road near our driveway. Oh no. It’s gonna get hit, I worried, teary-eyed, as my heart skipped a beat. I need to turn around and see if it has a tag. I need to get it to safety. But it would have made me late, so I kept driving, praying that someone else with time to spare would help the poor baby to safety and that no one would hit it.
I drove slowly, peeking out through my finger-covered eyes on my way home to see if there were any signs of a dog fatality on the road; thankfully, there were none, so I pulled into the driveway, stopped and crossed the road to get the mail, and returned to the car to begin the long crawl up the driveway to the house.
On Wednesday afternoon’s mail check, though, she was there, playing at the edge where I had seen her on Monday. When she saw me get out of the car, she broke out in a full clumsy run toward me, wagging her tail, begging for attention but far too skittish to let me touch her. I coaxed her from the road to the driveway to avoid the cars that fly at high speeds down our road and saw her ribs and felt her hunger radiating.
Hunger was no problem for a sugar junkie! I had a stash of cherry Twizzlers in the console of my Rav, and I unwrapped one and offered it. She would not come all the way to me at first, so I kept throwing out pieces closer and closer, Hansel and Gretel- like, to try to see if she had a tag with an owner’s number that I could call to help her get back home. When I finally lured her close enough, I could see that her collar appeared to be chewed on, and there was no number or tag.
It appeared she’d been dumped.
I posted her picture on every local Facebook pet site I knew: Anyone missing this sweet girl?
I also texted my aunt, who had asked me no fewer than five times in recent months to please find her a dog. Their Lily had passed on, and she was missing the companionship. She’d texted: I want a medium or large dog (Lily had been huge). Nothing little that we might trip over, like yours. If no one claimed this dog, she’d be absolutely perfect for my aunt and uncle!
But her daughter texted me: Mom wants a dog so bad, but I’m not sure that she needs one. I know you understand.
My aunt who couldn’t quit asking for a dog wouldn’t be allowed to have her, and no owner was responding to my posts about a found dog – so the dog continued to sleep on our front porch. When I left for work on Friday morning, she was nowhere to be seen, so I figured she had moved on. As I prepared for a 9:30 meeting that was running late, I checked in to see if there was any news of the dog turning up at another house. A post from our road community page caught my eye.
To the owner of the tan/brown dog, I am so sorry. I hit him the is morning and tried to avoid, but I could not avoid him. The dog ran off but it was a hard hit. I know he has to be hurt. Please let me know if he is okay. It was an accident and my heart is broken. Also, please if you own a tan dog and he’s missing, please go look for him. I am terrified that he is suffering.
Tears welled in my eyes as I remembered her trying to come in and be part of our family the previous night. She’d waited for her opportunity to bolt in the door, and she’d made it past all efforts to block her. We had to pick her up and put her back outside, and in the process, she’d been so frightened that she’d puddled right on the wood floor. I’d felt so sorry for her – – and now, to know that she’d been hit was just too much.
I responded with a picture of the dog to the woman whose heart was broken, asking if the picture matched the dog she had hit.
I believe it is the same dog. So sorry.
I frantically called my husband at work, and he had a family member ride the roads to see if the picture of the dog matched any dead or injured one on the side of the road. I texted: Start at the house. If she’s injured, she probably tried to get back to where she felt she could get some help. And then I apologized to the man who’d arrived for our meeting and explained my emotional state. Thankfully, he understood and was patient each time my phone dinged.
Shortly, I received a text with her picture from our family member checking things out. She was standing out by the old chicken coop in the back yard with her playfully skittish stance, refusing to come close to anyone else, but clearly not dead or injured.
That afternoon, the brokenhearted driver messaged to see if we had found the dog she’d hit that morning.
She’s fine, I replied, we see no injuries and she’s running around like nothing ever happened.
When I got home, she covered me with dog kisses – grateful to see me. I found it oddly perplexing that she was so skittish of others and so quick to want to love my husband and me. After I’d taken the boys out to do their business, I came back in and sat down to rest from the day and catch my breath. A strange Twilight Zone feeling came over me all at once…..an invitation to Feivel to return to the Funny Farm, where we would be waiting…..a skittish dog quick to befriend my husband and me but no one else……a dog appearing on the Funny Farm, asking to be taken in when no dog has ever done that as long as we have lived here…… a neighbor who’d hit a dog she believed to be this one, now running around like nothing ever happened.
I just wonder.
33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.