God’s other book: Backyard friends

Several members of our church congregation have t-shirts with the following slogan: “God’s work, our hands.” I like to think of the habitat-building work my husband and I have done in our backyard as an example of this philosophy in action.

I adore the wildlife that shares our backyard space. Pete and I have done a number of things to make our yard more critter-friendly, from installing goodie-filled bird feeders to planting flowers loved by pollinators to letting our lawn go “wild.”

For several years, we’ve been luring a variety of feathered friends to our yard with sunflower seeds, suet and other assorted munchies. Of course, the squirrels never got the memo that all these enticing treats were for birds and not for them. I finally gave up trying to keep the squirrels out of our bird feeders. I mean, why? I could watch their antics for hours. They are SO much fun.

The birds are patient, waiting their turn until the squirrels have had their fill. One day as I watched the birds and squirrels during morning meditation, I counted at least a dozen different kinds of birds who visited our feeders, ranging from cardinals and bluejays to woodpeckers, doves and sparrows.

We’ve been adding pollinator-friendly perennial flowers and herbs little by little each year. Here, a butterfly and bee (you can see them both if you look close) feast on some blooming chives.

We’ve traded in a neatly manicured lawn for a wildflower meadow since we stopped using chemicals of any kind in our yard. Now the grass is interspersed with violets, white clover, dandelions and assorted small wildflowers that provide both nectar and pollen. This chipmunk seems to like our new lawn as much as the bees and butterflies do.

For several years we even had a fox living under our deck. She would have the cutest babies each spring.

I had become accustomed to sharing my lettuce, tomatoes and other “salad crops” with my furry backyard friends. However, the rabbits have for the most part stayed out of my flowers and veggie beds since I started sowing white clover for them. (Shhhh! Don’t tell the neighbors.) The clover also does a nice job of filling in bare patches in our lawn.

Small mammals may not be so glad to see this guy, but we think our resident hawk is magnificent! Pete likes to joke that we’ve provided a nice backyard deli for him by attracting all the other critters. I don’t like to think about that part. I just admire the hawk.

We proudly display this sign in our backyard. Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife, says the National Wildlife Federation. This is true whether you own 100 acres of land or live in a small apartment that only has room for a container garden.

To find out how you can make your green space of any size more wildlife friendly, and turn it into a certified wildlife habitat, go onto the National Wildlife Federation web site (link HERE).

Thoughts on turning 65

Unlike many people “of a certain age,” I still get excited about birthdays. I have always considered my birthday to be a personal holiday. This year is a milestone birthday – I’m turning 65 and officially entering Senior Citizenhood.

So here are some thoughts as I embark on a bright, shiny new chapter of my life:

Time is limited. Of course, I’ve always known – intellectually, at least – that we’re not immortal. But in recent years, this has started to register on a deep-down level with the loss of both my parents and a best friend my own age. Bottom line: Nothing is guaranteed. I need to let family and friends know how important they are to me and how they’ve impacted my life. I need to do this now.

I survived adolescence once already, thank-you. These days, I swear I’m experiencing more bodily changes than I did as a teenager. My husband and I have acquired a new pastime – looking up medical problems on the Internet after the doctor sends us for tests based on the latest unnerving symptoms. At least my biggest priority is no longer “be popular.”

Perfection is an illusion. All my life I’ve struggled with perfectionism in areas ranging from my diet and my housekeeping to my career ambitions. But I probably need to face the fact that our home will always look like real people – and pets – live here, no matter how much time I spend cleaning. There will never be a time when my house is in perfect order inside and out, including the closets, the garage and the basement.

So is eternal youth. Is 65 really the new 40, as Baby Boomers proclaim? Some say my generation is redefining old age. But truth be known, I have wrinkles. I have gray hair. There are some things I can’t do anymore – like burn the figurative candle at both ends and get away with it. Actually, I wasn’t getting away with it when I was younger either. I just thought I was.

Perhaps I should say I’ve survived adolescence twice. I did have one of those midlife crises the shrinks talk about – that second adolescence complete with acne at age 45, identity struggles and acting out behaviors (red car, drastic career change). As I prepare to enter this new territory called Senior Citizenhood, I’m thinking maybe it’s time for my flaming midlife crisis to be over already! On the other hand, a friend sent me a Facebook meme that advised, “If you haven’t grown up by the time you’re 60, you don’t have to bother.” Whew! Maybe I’m off that hook.

Believe it or not, I do not spend all my time wishing I were younger. Yes, there are days when I wish I had my 20-year-old body back – especially when my arthritis flares. But only if I could keep my 65-year-old mind and all the experience and wisdom about life that I’ve accumulated. I’m old enough to know what’s important and young enough to still act on at least some of it. Besides, when I am 90, I will most likely wish I still had my 65-year-old body, so I might as well appreciate it now.

 “Respect your elders!” never sounded so good. I can tell I’m getting older whenever I’m tempted to direct that admonition toward 25- and 30-year-old kids. Oops! I mean young adults. On a serious note, it’s gotten more scary to encounter young adults who regard their elders as people who either need to move out of the way or be thrown away rather than people to learn from and respect.

It’s time to let go of regrets. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have picked up that first cigarette. I would have spent fewer of my younger years striving and competing for that brass ring that didn’t seem so shiny once I succeeded in grabbing it. Alas, I can’t change what happened decades ago. What I can do is make better decisions in this 24 hours. When my father turned 75, he said, “I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.” I hope I can say that when I’m 75!

I have set some boundaries with the fashion world: 1. Clothes must be easy to care for. If they need dry-cleaning, forget it. 2. They must be comfortable – nothing that binds or scratches. 3. They must look good on a 60-something woman who’s never been a size 0 and never will be. 4. Since I don’t have the time or inclination to constantly shop, my wardrobe must stay in fashion for longer than a month. If clothes don’t fit all these criteria, they don’t go into my closet, no matter how many cute young things are wearing them!

I’m much less materialistic than I used to be. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s more THINGS!!! If I need to be reminded of this fact, I can go to my basement and gaze upon the 48 boxes marked “miscellaneous” that make me scream when I think about sorting whatever is in them.

But there are some things I continue to wantI want to spend more time on what’s important – enjoying life with my husband, entertaining family and friends (even if only on FaceTime and Zoom these days) – and less time mindlessly surfing the Internet. I want the courage to stand up for my beliefs and values and let the chips fall where they may. I want to stop worrying so much about what others think. I want to stop fighting with my own body.

Yes, I still have dreams. Now that I’m retired, I have never been in a better position to achieve dreams like writing a book or making a constructive contribution to our society through meaningful volunteer work. The time to do these things is now, not some future date when everything will have settled down and fallen into place so I can start living my life in earnest. Especially since writing a book has been on my bucket list since age 10. (See “Time is Limited” above.)

I’m entering the Age of Wisdom. Or so I’m told. When I was in my 20s, I had the world figured out. But the older I got, the smarter my parents got, just as Mark Twain predicted. Now I’m convinced only God has all the answers, and it’s my job to keep asking the questions.

I have a LOT to be grateful for. I have a terrific 35-year marriage to the best man on the planet (I’m only slightly biased here). I have wonderful enduring friendships. I have a beautiful home and – for the first time in my life – some real financial stability. I’ve had a successful writing career, followed by a challenging career in human services, followed by fulfilling volunteer work. Despite minor ailments, I’m relatively healthy. And I’m thankful God has given me another year.

Recipe: Spinach quiche

What a delicious way to sneak an extra veggie serving into our meals and meet our daily 3-5 fruits and vegetables challenge! By using Egg Beaters and fat-free feta cheese, I cut out most of the fat and cholesterol usually found in this kind of recipe. 

I use store-bought pie crusts – much easier! If you’re looking for a healthy alternative or have dietary restrictions, Wholly Wholesome makes whole wheat, as well as gluten-free ready-made crusts (link HERE).

One thing I love about this quiche is its versatility. I may have a slice for breakfast, for lunch or for a light evening meal. Depending on the meal, pair it with either a fresh fruit cup or a salad.

Another thing I like is that this quiche freezes well for up to three months, which means the recipe lends itself to batch cooking.

Ingredients

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach
Dash of black pepper
1/2 cup fat free feta cheese
1½ cups plain Egg Beaters or similar product
9-inch frozen pie crust

Directions

Allow pie crust to thaw for about 20 minutes before adding filling. Using a fork, poke holes evenly throughout the pie crust to prevent bubbling. 

Thaw spinach in microwave for about 5-10 minutes or leave in refrigerator the night before to thaw out. Make sure spinach is thoroughly thawed and drained. It is important to press out all the moisture from the spinach before using.

Sauté the garlic in olive oil. When the garlic is lightly browned, add the spinach. Lightly sprinkle black pepper over the mixture and continue to sauté until the mixture is heated through.

Remove from heat. Add the eggs and feta cheese, stirring only until blended.

Spoon the spinach mixture evenly into the pie crust.

Bake in pre-heated 350-degree oven for approximately 75 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

I usually top a slice of the quiche with a dollop of Hollandaise sauce, which I make from a pre-packaged sauce mix. Knorr makes a sauce mix that is very quick and easy. 

If heating up leftover quiche, pop single servings into the microwave for approximately 90 seconds to two minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information

Calories: 225 | Carbohydrates: 16 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 12 g | Saturated fat: 3 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 396 mg | Potassium: 93 mg | Fiber: 1.5 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 9% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 20% 

Oley and Champaign

During our time in lockdown, Pete and I have been blessed with the company of two adorable companions. They’ve certainly made our extended quarantine much easier to bear!

We adopted Olaf DaVinci and Champaign Le Chat as a pair from a shelter back in 2007. They’ve given us an abundance of love and cuddles ever since. And kept us thoroughly entertained.

Oley is the tabby-striped Maine Coon and Champaign is the yellow domestic longhair.

Here’s the King on his throne.

Or is it the Prince and the pea?

That water in the dish on the floor? Boring …

Our boys love our sunroom. Or maybe I should say their sunroom. Just chillin’.

Good thing there’s a window separating these two and the critter outside …

Helping grade papers is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Champaign will have us know: “It’s not a dulcimer case. It’s a cat bed.”

Boundaries, kitten. Boundaries.

Chasing each other around the house at 3 a.m. while yowling at the top of their furry little lungs can be tiring. The boys need their rest.

The kitties teach us how to live in the moment …

… While keeping us focused on our priorities.

We love them to pieces. That’s for sure.

Some holy humor

I just love all those funny church memes. Who says Christians can’t have a sense of humor? Here are my “Top 10” favorites this week.

When I saw this meme, I could still hear my own mother holding forth with one of her many “Momisms.”

Talk about missing the boat …

Needless to say, I made sure my sweet hubs saw this:

For anyone who has ever had to mess with technology at church …

And while we’re on the subject of technology …

As someone who had to do a lot of academic research over the course of my career, I find this one seriously funny.

I’m getting to just about the right age to appreciate this one.

There’s gotta be at least one COVID-19 meme in every bunch these days. I have a pair of “Cat in the Hat” slippers that would be perfect for the occasion.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites.

And another favorite … LOL!

Virtual blessings

My husband Pete and I have been part of our congregation’s choir for several years, and I’ve REALLY missed it since our church stopped having in-person Sunday services.

But, if there’s a silver lining behind the quarantine we’ve been living under for the past three months, it’s that I’ve discovered some absolutely superb “virtual choirs.”

Virtual choirs are a global phenomenon in which singers or other musicians record and upload their videos from their own homes or various other separate locations. Each one of the videos is then synchronized and all are combined into one single “performance.”

Since the COVID-19 “lockdowns” began in March, Christians around the world have come together in virtual choirs to sing blessings over their communities and nations. These choirs have showed us that, while many of our church buildings may be closed, church itself is alive and well.

I’m sharing some of my favorites here.

What better hymn can one possibly ask for in a season of stress, trouble and uncertainty than A Mighty Fortress Is My God? This virtual choir piece features the performances of 176 singers and musicians from 34 countries.

The Nashville Studio Singer Community formed a virtual cell phone choir to perform It is Well With My Soul. I’ve had a special sentimental attachment to this hymn since it was sung at my mother’s funeral.

The New York City Virtual Choir and Orchestra performed another one of my personal favorites, How Can I Keep from Singing?

Choristers from 50 countries affected by COVID-19 formed a virtual choir to sing Amazing Grace in a multitude of languages. The result is … truly amazing. I could watch this one 20 times and not get tired of it.

So far, choirs from at least a couple dozen countries have sung The Blessing. Christians all over the world have gathered in virtual choirs to sing blessings on their respective communities and nations in their own languages. This has been a truly ecumenical effort — churches represented range from Catholic and Mainline Protestant to Evangelical, Pentecostal and Coptic Orthodox. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these renditions from the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Ghana.

And this hauntingly beautiful hymn from a Middle Eastern virtual choir goes to show that a hymn need not be familiar, or even in one’s own language, to inspire. Listen to Healer all the way through — helpful English subtitles are provided — and prepare to be blown away!

Alas, Pete and I haven’t figured out the technology yet for joining any virtual choirs. However, we did manage to make this little video for our own congregation’s online service on Pentecost Sunday.

Blessings,

Recipe: Pineapple lime jello salad

This salad was a Sunday dinner staple at my grandparents’ house when I was growing up, and I still think of it as comfort food.

I took the classic recipe and removed some of the calories, fat and sugar content by using fat-free cottage cheese, sugar-free jello and pineapple canned in its own juice rather than syrup. And the salad is still delicious.

Ingredients

  • Small .3 ounce package sugar-free lime jello
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 8 ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice (no added sugar)
  • 1 cup fat free cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions

Bring the water to a boil and add the powdered jello, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the ice cubes, stirring until all the cubes have melted.

Drain the crushed pineapple and add to the jello.

Add the cottage cheese, then the chopped nuts, and stir until well blended.

Refrigerate for at least four hours, or preferably overnight.

Makes approximately 6 servings.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 2/3 cup | Calories: 85 | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Protein: 6 g | Fat: 4 g | Saturated fat: 0 | Cholesterol: 2 mg | Sodium: 195 mg | Potassium: 140 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 0% | Vitamin C: 7% | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 2%

Book excerpt: Are we part of the problem?

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and discusses what might be an appropriate Christian response. To read my first two excerpts, link HERE and HERE. For an overview of the book, link HERE.

Those of us who identify as Christians are in no position to judge secular society when it comes to polarization. We often stand justifiably accused of stirring the pot ourselves — and not in a good way. 

Granted, it’s irritating to hear atheists refer to our God as “your Sky Fairy.” But realistically, how many atheists have been brought to Christ through exchanges like this one, which appear all too frequently on social media sites?

Atheist: Your “god” is imaginary.

Christian: Your mind is of a reprobate. 

Atheist: I suspect even you know your own criminal religion is a joke. 

Christian: In the name of Christ, you are condemned. Make no mistake about it, with your beliefs you will positively burn.

And we’re not sparring solely with atheists. Here are just some of the things I’ve heard Christians say about other Christians in recent years:

That church is nothing more than a glorified country club. Their minister preaches heresy so as to avoid offending the rich people who support the congregation financially. … It would be nice if the folks at that church spent more time actually reading their Bibles and less time thumping on them. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so bigoted toward anyone who is different from them. … That church doesn’t preach the gospel. It offers entertainment. … You need to stay away from that church. Those people are not real Christians. … I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that church is the Great Harlot mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

A couple years ago, I joined an invitation-only Facebook group made up of people from a denomination that shall remain mercifully nameless — and felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone. From the “About This Group” description, it was clear the administrator envisioned this discussion group as an outreach and evangelism tool. However, several conversation threads consisted of little more than name-calling and expletives NOT deleted. You are the anti-Christ and Were you born that stupid or do you have to practice? were just two of the lovelier sentiments expressed by commenters. F-bombs dropped on people left and right. Whenever someone responded to the nastier threads with the observation that we could all use a bit more civility, they were met with the kind of hostility one might expect if they’d suggested we all start cooking and eating puppies. 

Progressive and conservative Christians regularly maul and skewer each other on Web sites such as Patheos, both in the articles themselves and in the comments sections that follow: 

“Progressive Christian” is an oxymoron. … The Christian Right is neither. … Anyone who would vote for [a Democrat, a Republican, fill in the blank] has no right to call themselves a Christian.

Though I suppose nothing should shock me in the current political climate, I must admit I’ve been more than a little taken aback as I encounter these flame wars between Christians on the various social media sites. Even more disturbing is the fact that some of the ugliest vitriol has come from seminary students and members of the clergy.

As with the Culture Wars in our larger secular society, staying off social media does not necessarily keep us out of the line of fire. 

Pastors or congregation members who bring up moral issues ranging from abortion and gun violence to racism, immigration and economic justice are accused of “getting too political.” If we don’t believe this, we can go to a service where the gospel message is Matthew 25, Isaiah 1:17, or the Beatitudes and see how long it takes for someone to say, “Let’s not bring partisan politics into church.” Got a stopwatch? 

The Worship Wars transcend denominational boundaries. For years now, Christians of all stripes have been locked in an unyielding struggle over whether a congregation’s worship and music style should be traditional or contemporary: 

Okay Boomers, if you want to attract young people to your congregation, you need to lose the geezer music. … When I attended a contemporary service recently, I felt like I was in a bar rather than a church. … I do not want to see drums in the sanctuary!

Of course, one could argue that bickering among church people is nothing new. It’s been going on at least since New Testament times, judging from 1 Corinthians 1:11-13: 

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

In the Middle Ages, some Christians burned other Christians at the stake or subjected them to imprisonment, starvation, thumbscrews or the rack for alleged “heresy.” Depending on where one lived and which denomination’s leaders had power, one could face these forms of execution or torture for being a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Calvinist, an Anabaptist or just about any other sect in existence at the time.

While we no longer burn people alive in the 21st Century, we continue to divide ourselves and judge each other relentlessly. One reason we have literally hundreds of Christian denominations lies in our inability to agree on much of anything. The various sects and denominations offer contrasting teachings on everything from baptism (Sprinkling or immersion? Infant or older?) to communion (Wine or grape juice? Open or closed?) to how one gets “saved” (Baptism or personal decision?). Whether our brand of Christianity is conservative or progressive, some of us are very quick to label those who disagree with our interpretation of the truth: Heretic! Apostate! Satanic!

I have to admit I’ve been guilty of waxing snarky about other Christians myself at times. One day in Sunday School class, someone asked the group, “Do you think [well-known person] is really a Christian?” I replied with the proverbial wink-and-nudge, “By their fruits we shall know them,” and was gratified when several people laughed. I probably should have deposited a $20 fine in Rachel Held Evans’ Jar of Contention for that one. (For more about the Jar of Contention, link HERE.) I also have to admit several less-than-charitable thoughts came to mind as I wrote this blog post about divisive behavior among Christians. 

But in the end, this all leaves me feeling more sadness than anything else. Name-calling, flaming, trolling and other rude behavior stop genuine discussion in its tracks. Lashing out with insults toward those who disagree with us only gives others an excuse to discount us and dismiss our message. For those of us who claim to be people of faith, spewing hurtful and gratuitous snark gives people ammunition to call us hypocrites and declare they want nothing to do with either us or our religion. 

Yes, I get that church is a hospital for sinners and Christians need to attend precisely because we are less than perfect. In fact, most of us, myself included, tend to need forgiveness of the seventy-times-seven variety. But there has been a lot of talk in our congregations in recent years about the increasing numbers of young people who identify as “none” when asked their religion. If we were an unchurched young person and came across the behavior described here, would we want to come to church?

I’m certainly not suggesting we must all paste fake smiles on our faces and agree with everyone about everything in the name of civility. I’ve witnessed lots of sincere and intelligent Christians taking opposing stands on various hot-button issues and backing up their positions by pointing to relevant Biblical passages. Perfectly honest people can honestly differ. But to say that people who disagree with our own interpretation of the truth aren’t “real Christians” simply doesn’t strike me as helpful. 

Christians could show love for our neighbors by offering the secular world an example of how to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to start now.

Questions for readers: How has our society’s polarization impacted you personally? How do Christians avoid becoming part of the problem? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on the article itself. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

Time for some cute animals

I know I’ve been spending way too much time on Facebook during this dang quarantine. But so far I’ve been resisting the urge — at least most of the time — to share the dozens of political memes that have been popping up on my news feed lately. I’d prefer to let others fight about the upcoming election and the best way to handle the coronavirus.

Cute animal memes help me maintain this discipline. So I’ve been collecting and sharing my favorites. Here are my “Top 10.”

Of all the variations on the “Woman Yells at Cat” meme, I think I like this one the best.

If the animals really could talk they’d probably say we taste like chicken.

Ms. Kitty means so well. How can we NOT be appreciative??

Get the tomato juice ready.

No truer meme was ever created.

An oldie but goodie.

Gotta have at least one bad pun.

Or two.

This is SO sweet.

And last but not least, my absolute favorite meme of all time.