Home of the Pawtucket, Agawome & Namkeek

I live in the home of the Pawtucket tribe. Nanapashemit and Squaw Sachem lived together on the shores of the Mystic River, along my commute. The Agawome and Naamkeek once canoed on the fall bright waters of Spot Pond, when it was quiet. Doleful Pond was a field of Indian corn, cultivated by skilled and careful hands.

Silas Dean says, approvingly, “this was a great place for the destruction of the Indians by the early settlers.”

Today, we remember.

Who lived in your home, before it was “discovered”?

The waning of summer

This summer was a remarkable one. I can think of few periods in my life where I crammed as much in (mostly great, fun stuff) as I have done the last four or so months. I’m honestly a bit daunted by the attempt to even summarize it all. Let’s see.

This summer’s motto for me

Hiking
This summer I hiked. A lot. I did four four-thousand footers (Osceola, Osceola East, Eisenhower and Pierce). I hiked Chocorua. I hiked Monadnock. I hiked Welch-Dickey. I hiked small trails centered around Tamworth New Hampshire, like the Big Pines trail, Mt. Major, the Boulder Loop Trail and the Castle in the Clouds. I bought a new hiking backpack and new poles. I did several long, full days hiking morning to evening. I was a founding member of the “Stoneham Mountaineering and Libation Society” (it started as the Stoneham Hiking and Drinking club, but these things tend to evolve over time). And this might have been my favorite part of the summer. I loved being in the woods, strapping on my boots, and heading towards the sky.

Travels
We went camping three times this summer, as is our custom. Nearly two weeks of the summer was spent in tents. We also journeyed back to near our family’s (and democracy’s) foundations in our trip to Greece. It was so glorious – the history, the food, the cool clear waters of the Aegean. I also sent my sons on a rather ill-fortuned RV trip to Canada, cut short due to mechanical failures. Grey spent four weeks at Camp Wilmot, Thane spent two. I took a week to myself in New Hampshire (wherein I mostly hiked…). Adam went to Gencon. It felt a little like a French Farce, where someone was always entering one door as someone else left through another.

Iconic moment

Home Improvements
I’ve been deeply remiss in the whole blogging as autobiography thing. I think you’ll understand when I tell you that the week before we left for Greece, we finally got a contractor to come in and replace the (awful) carpet in our hallway and stairway with hardwood. There was a lot of panicked last minute moving, and since then has been a lot of painting etc. This was the first step on a long journey to built in bookshelves!

Before
After

Friends
I’m just now coming back from a weekend spent with friends. While we were gone a lot this summer, looking at my pictures I see us at the newly opened restaurants in town, at BBQs and rock band nights, whitewater river rafting, tubing the Saco, catching live music, celebrating birthdays, watching the (incredible!) Women’s World Cup or running into each other in the climbing gym.

My selfie form leaves much to be desired

Exercise
My abysmal time in the Camp Wilmot 5k notwithstanding, I may be in some of the best shape of my life. I didn’t run a great race on Saturday (although I ran the race!) in large part because I’d hike 13 miles over ~10 hours with several thousand feet of elevation change the day before. Then slept in a puppy pile of air mattresses in a cabin with a bunch of my friends. This might not be considered optimal race preparation. But I have run, climbed, hiked, and biked to such a degree that I’m feeling stronger and more capable. That’s an awesome feeling.

Ask yourself: are you in top physical condition?

Filling in the corners
And in between all these bigger things were other things… like going to work every day. I’m engaged in some of the most interesting, difficult work it’s ever been my privilege to undertake. Even returning to the home sphere, there was jam to make (I didn’t manage to find any plums this year, alas!), spending time with my beloved husband, going to the beach with the boys and catching the book signing for the latest Randall Monroe masterpiece.

How To

I was once told that “Life is rich and full”. Life is so rich and so full, and I am so very grateful.

Sermon: Becoming a Matthew 25 congregation

I was asked to preach the sermon in my church, Burlington Presbyterian, this past week. Since I’m way behind on the blog posts, I figured I’d give you this writing instead!

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Be better. Do better. Be healthier. Waste less. Save more money, time, calories, trees. Just take ten minutes a day for exercise, financial planning, meditation, rinsing your recycling, stretching, dental hygiene or vigorous exercise. Call your elected representatives, write a letter, watch the debate, be informed. Cook more at home, from locally-sourced, sustainable food sources that are healthy and tasty and your whole family will eat. All your kids really need from you is your time and attention. But don’t forget that you need to do your job too – show up on time, work hard, pursue career growth, put in the extra effort. Go the extra mile. And no matter what, make sure you get enough sleep.

I don’t know about you folks, but I’m absolutely exhausted at the end of the day – or sometimes even the beginning – by the list of things I should be doing. It often seems like there’s no aspect of my life where I don’t get constant messages on how I need to improve. It’s hard to know where to focus. Is flossing more important than composting? What if I’m trying to save money, but healthy foods are more expensive? What if being an informed voter makes it hard for me to sustain my mental heath?

When Trina asked me to do the sermon today, I knew I wanted to talk about the verses of the Bible that best describe what I believe God’s people should be doing in the world. Those of you who know me have heard this Matthew 25 passage before. It’s so clear and actionable: see a person suffering and help them. When we do that, we serve God in the purest way. I imagined a sermon where I would lay out Jesus commands here and inspire us all to answer the call of the Presbyterian Church to commit to being a Matthew 25 congregation. You know, to work just a little harder. And then I remembered that you are probably just about as tired as I am.

And this from the Jesus who said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest!”

I would still like for us to respond to our denominational calling to be a Matthew 25 church, but instead of asking you to do more I thought I’d take a moment to talk about what we already do. This group of faithful people you see around you has already dedicated their life, sweat and love to responding to Jesus calling, and here’s how.

I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.
This might be the most central mission of the Burlington Presbyterian Church, from our smallest to largest moments. At coffee hour, so many Sundays, you will find food prepared for you by loving hands. Next week, we’re looking for volunteers to feed our Presbytery visitors. They love coming here because they know they’ll eat well. All of us know that on Mondays, Farmer Dave uses our playground as a distribution point for the fresh, healthy, sustainable produce he grows. You probably also know that the extras from the farm share go to the Burlington Food Pantry. But did you know that the refrigerators the food pantry uses to store that food were donated by BPC for just that purpose? Not only that, but among our members are those who have dedicated their working and volunteering lives to that pantry, to ensure that our neighbors are not only not hungry, but fed with nourishing food.

When we together stand before God, he will recognize our cooking.

I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.
In our world of seemingly endless, nearly free, perfectly safe tap water, this almost feels like an anachronism. But so much of the world doesn’t get to turn on a tap in the kitchen and get as much clean water as they want. You may recall a year or two ago, our Sunday School classes devoted their year to raising funds for safe and sturdy water jugs for folks who have to walk to get their water for cleaning, cooking and drinking.

We also serve the thirsty in another way. Did you know that our church is home to an Alcoholic Anonymous group? In this case, we welcome those who are thirsty for something that is harming them, and provide them instead with a chance to find living water.

When we see the cup in Jesus hand, it will hold water we have given him.

I was a stranger, and you invited me in.
Almost two years ago, I joined some of our fellow church members at a dinner in Lowell. This was a refugee welcome dinner. We brought food (always!) and then broke bread with people who were coming from terrifying situations around the world. I met a man from my country of birth, Congo, who told of the murder of his family and his panicked flight from that war-torn country, followed by long months alone in a packed and arid refugee camp before coming to this cold, strange place. I’ve kept in touch with Louis since then, and helped him in small ways. We have been growing our relationship with those groups who welcome strangers like him to this, our strange land. We are as much moved and changed by this hospitality as are the people we meet.

When we meet Jesus, we will recognize him because we welcomed him into our homes.

I was naked, and you clothed me.
I checked the bulletin this morning to see if we had started putting in the Wish Tree notifications. Every year, pajamas and underwear make their way to kids through our loving generosity.

When Jesus judges us, he will be wearing socks we have given him.

I was sick, and you looked after me.
Have you ever gotten a casserole or frozen meal when you had surgery, or were laid up? Chances are good if you’ve been here any length of time and let the deacons know you weren’t doing well, you have. I once contemplated whether I could convince the Deniers that my cold was serious enough to merit some of their beef barley soup (food again!). We have also done things like brought communion to folks who were unable to leave their homes, spent time in hospitals waiting and watching, and helped with household chores that were hard on aching joints. Many of these things are done very quietly, with great dignity. We have held blood drives, and opened our veins. Members of this church have even, on a few remarkable occasions, given of their very bodies in organ donation.

Jesus will recognize us from his sickbed.

I was in prison, and you came to visit me.
This is the hardest one for me. It is so in keeping with God’s call that just when you’re feeling good about what you’ve already done, there is one more thing that you still need to do. I have thought a lot about this – about the rules of American prisons that make it almost impossible for people to visit, about the well known dangers and risks of working with incarcerated felons, about how foreign and scary and strange this work is. I’ve also thought about how Jesus does not distinguish that these are innocent, safe people we should visit. I have some ideas on things we might do. But I’ll throw this one back to you. What do we already do? What can we do?

I hope that by the time we stand before our God, we will have served him here, too.

I believe we are, already, a church following Jesus’ calling in Matthew 25. I’m quite sure that I have missed many of our ministries that serve these purposes, and even more that don’t fit comfortably in the bounds of these commissions. I am proud and joyful to be a part of that with you. I would also invite you to go to the link in the resources section at the bottom of the bulletin, and read through what our greater church is thinking about.

In the deepest sense, however, I wanted to tell you that you are beloved, faithful, hardworking servants of God. I know that you make me proud, and I suspect you make him proud too. As the words of our first hymn say, “Well done, well done.”

Panos

Back in the ’80s, when women had perms and air travel was just adjusting to being unregulated, Adam’s family came to Greece for the first time. Adam’s father worked for Saudi Aramco, and the four of them lived in the American compound in Dhahran. Greece is a very convenient hop from Saudi, so their first trip became an annual journey.

I’m not sure why they picked Aegina. It’s not a fashionable island, although it had a moment in the sun then, still discernable by the thirty year old abandoned buildings. It’s pretty traditional, and many of the people sunning themselves on the beach are Greeks escaping Athens for a day. I’ve heard few American accents here.

Thirty years ago, Adam’s family left the hotel to find breakfast, and ended up at the Cafe Marina, or as we simply call it, Panos’s. For the decade the family spent a week every summer here, the cafe was home base. They’d break fast here in the morning, reading through breakfast. They’d drink at chat at the bar until late at night. Adam would bring his book and read, then fall asleep.

Twenty years ago, Adam brought me here on our honeymoon and introduced his young bride to Panos and his wife Gelen. I read all of Ivanhoe sitting right here, and developed a fondness for the English breakfast.

We talked a lot before we came about whether Panos would still be here. A lot can change in twenty years. The economy here has struggled greatly. The refugee crisis and fiscal austerity have punished the county. Panos was not a young man. My father in law, Michael, who had shared many a beer at Panos’s bar, died ten years ago. We could learn little from internet stalking. But I tried not to get my hopes up when we arrived for breakfast yesterday.

But as we walked up, there they both were – Panos and Gelen. After a few moments, they remembered Adam (Eleni was particularly amused at how Adamiki used to fall asleep here). They think Grey looks like a little Adam.

I ordered the English breakfast. The boys all dove deep into their books (they’re working their way through the collected works of T. Kingfisher on my Kindles), and for another generation, we connect. It is a great joy.

Like that star of the waning summer

We found our way through the Port of Pireus across a short, quiet stretch of water to the island of Aegina. After a perilous taxi ride (no roller coaster has ever terrified me that thoroughly), we arrived in a quiet, pine-shaded compound, with limestone grottos and placid Mediterranean blue waters.After a moment of deep appreciation for the view, we sunscreened up and climbed in. The water was intoxicating in our near private bay, warm and clear and calm.A ten minute walk brings us to the tiny town of Aegina Marina, which is sadly reduced from the days of Adam’s youth, and where ambitious and long abandoned buildings stand as archaeological ruins from the ’80s.As the daylight waned, I spotted a path up the pine slope along our grotto. I resolved to see where it led. The answer was boring (a hotel), but there was this enchanting rock, almost made got by the sun, where I sat for an hour to watch the sun fall beyond the bay and behind the mountains.In the gloaming, I returned to fetch my youngest son, and we watched the light disappear in the West to be to replaced by the great swath of stars. The Milky Way cut a path from Athens towards Africa. Jupiter was bright at our feet, with Scorpio perilous under the tread of that wanderer. It was gorgeous, and glorious and I spent an hour on that warm rock with a cool breeze and the sound of gentle surf below. There are precious moments in life, and that was one.Tomorrow, more swimming. We plan on spending the entire day at the beach. But today? Was perfect.

This is Hellas

Nineteen years ago, Adam and I took our first trip together, to Greece. It was a gift from his parents, this trip to a place he’d grown up visiting every year for vacation. It was also our honeymoon. We were married so long ago, those still took place immediately following the wedding.

I am sure that other people have much better ways of planning their vacations. I came up with a list of three vacation spots, and started fleshing out the options. I ran out of time when I’d only finished the first option. Thus, a return to Greece!

If I’d really been thinking, I would have waited until next year, a pleasing symmetry with our 20th anniversary. But I wasn’t, so the 19th anniversary it is.

We’ve been in Athens for just over a day, following marathon travel. So far we got up at the crack of dawn to see the Parthenon before the crowds woke. We’ve met stray cats, tread polished stones where citizens with voting rights have walked since the concept first originated, eaten in cafes, tracked down favorite spots from (gulp) last century, read books, bargained in the Plaka and gotten a ride from someone’s cousin who happened to grow up in Toronto and study linguistics. So far Athens is very on brand.

Tomorrow we take a ferry to the island of Aegina, to the port of Aegina Marina. We’ll dive off the rocks, like they did thirty years ago. I’m hopeful we’ll see some good stars, play some games, read some books and sit in Panos’ Cafe.

Time to panic

Guys, I hate to be the one to tell you, but SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER!!! QUICK PANIC!

It’s possible that I’ve counted out the remaining summer weekends on my fingers and come to the conclusion that this weekend needed to be ALL THE SUMMER. This was definitely exacerbated by a realization I had during my “sabbatical” that I only had four summers left with Grey after this one, and I might well never spend another July with him. I am not ready for many (or any) lasts with my children that do not involve diaper pails. My friends will point out that I’m always looking way ahead and anticipating what happens next with my kids. This is true, but in this case it nicely focuses me on what I need to do right now: panic.

So this weekend I tried to cram in as much quality family summer time as humanly possible.

It started on Friday night with some rock climbing. A Very Nice rock climbing gym has recently opened about 3/4 of a mile from our house. Adam and I both did belay classes, and went in together (and with the kids) to get certified and do some climbing. Both kids loved especially climbing with a top rope (obviously they’re not lead climbing). We had a great time just being together and doing that as a family. The kids are excited about going back, and I’m excited about more activities we can do as a family that don’t involve sitting down.

Hanging out as a family

Saturday morning on the early side, we headed up to New Hampshire. Over 20 years ago, Adam and I hiked up to Mt. Major with our fellow college friends during Fall Break. The boys ran up the mountain, in an excess of testosterone. We have never revisited it, until this weekend. It’s a pretty easy hike with a big scenic payoff. There might have been some whining as we climbed to the top of the mountain, but not too much. We celebrated our summiting with a meal at nearby Hart’s Turkey Farm. Mmmm turkey gravy poutine….

Summit time!

But we needed to get back in good time, since some friends had invited us over for dinner! BBQ, of course, being the summer. A neighborhood-favorite game of bottle bash broke out, prior to the consumption of hamburgers. It was great to catch up with some friends! But we had to leave at a moderately reasonable time, due to needing to get up early again today.

You try to hit the bottle with the frisbee

See, it’s already August and we have not yet hit the beach! I mean, our children have been MIA for most of the summer, but basically all remaining summer weekend days are spoken for. So we HAD to hit the beach this weekend, or not at all. And so we did, on a summer morning with perfectly blue skies and relatively warm waters.

Beach bums
Absolutely perfect weather

Now, when not posting breathless updates to my blog, I’m cleaning out the first and second floor hallways. Finally, almost a year after it should have been done, we’re doing the last planned part of the attic project and getting hard wood put into the first and second floor hallways, and pulling the carpet off the stairs. Given that this carpet may well be older than me, it is past due. But I definitely procrastinated on the work of it! Also, once again I failed to take a “before” picture. Why do I continue to be so bad at remembering that?

Anyway, back to panicking!