Soul Whispers by George Merrill

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I had conversations recently with two friends. They are long-time colleagues. One is a rabbi and the other a priest. They are seasoned clergy. Both think outside the box of sectarian religion and political affiliation. They’re reflective people.

We’d not seen each other for a while. We were catching up. Soon we were discussing the social and political scene in America today.

America’s moral decline soon came up.

We agreed that our social, political and moral codes are fraying. Those supporting the president are as angry and uncivil as those opposing him. The anger finds expression in hostile and mean-spirited exchanges and a pervasive feeling of uncertainty, if not helplessness and doom. We are stuck in a climate of malaise. That’s pretty much the state of affairs and we agreed it’s not going away any time soon. Given those realities, in the interim how might we live our inner lives and help others live theirs? Put differently, how can we stay sane and relevant in a world gone mad?

The rabbi suggested a spiritual exercise. In the short haul, he said, we are limited in what we can do to change things, except to hope and vote. He suggested that we write a letter to our own souls; take the matter up there, rather than engaging in the habitual no-win criticism and carping which I, for one, slip into so easily. What would emerge from such an exercise?

The idea of writing to my soul intrigued me. I began collecting my thoughts. It was a delicate exercise trying to assemble the data to write. A soul brooks no fudging.

Souls whisper. I have to listen carefully to hear. I can con my ego – which typically shouts – but never my soul.

As forthrightly as I could, in the interests of full disclosure, I prepared to write first that I didn’t like Trump one whit. When I see him on TV, the sight of him ties my stomach in a knot.

My soul whispered, “Merrill, don’t give me that, these are not your real thoughts; I know better. You call him a creep and a sleaze.” My soul, mischievously, goaded me: “I’ll bet the ‘Reverend’ would not like those sentiments made public. They’d make him look, well, not any different from the creep and sleaze he’s just scorned with such derisive language.

Listening to one’s soul isn’t always fun. I then had the thought that the meanness and contempt I feel for Trump was as reactive as many conservatives were when Obama was elected president. I’ll bet they said and thought a lot of ugly things, too.

While composing my letter, this first tangle with my soul highlighted what I have suspected is the real heart of the matter, not only in politics, but in how we deal with others; What am I to do with my knee-jerk responses of aversion? They can be vicious and waspish. Do I, as is common, build rationales to justify them, cling to my atavistic impulses and retaliate with all my righteousness blazing? Do I simply ignore them?

Ignoring powerful emotions never works. I know that. They only come out sideways.

What then?

As I consider writing my letter, I know that this internal struggle is timeless. It’s a part of being human. It’s about how discernment is different from reactive judgements and how I distinguish one from the other.

Reactive judgments often carry contempt – at least on this side of the veil – which is why God advises we leave the judging to him. Such judgements have incendiary qualities that stoke an inner seething. That’s when we wish only the worst for who or what we loathe. Such judgements will either mobilize energy or create malaise. When their energy is released, it rarely if ever ends well, or worse still, legitimizes my own craziness. I know this even before my soul confronts me. But, my soul also knows full well that there is also something deliciously seductive about feeling hateful, especially when the hate has been seasoned with a healthy dose of one’s personal sense of rectitude. It’s a rush, a high, and in an absence of anything more substantive, hate and resentment can offer a sense of purpose, a cause to champion. I can feel righteous and ready. It fills a spiritual vacuum.

Discernment is different. Discernment is nuanced. It is a form of discrimination (not prejudice) that reaches beyond outward appearances and sees to the heart of a matter, like an X-Ray goes beyond the surface to reveal what lies beneath. Discernment will not be driven by ignorance, in the way the ego is when making reactive judgements.

A Buddhist myth about an old monk makes the point.

He sits by a stream and watches the current go by. He listens to the gurgling water. He is at peace with himself and the world. He sees a scorpion. It’s floating on a leaf. The Monk knows that downstream the current gets turbulent and will flip the leaf over and surely drown the scorpion. The Monk reaches for the scorpion to take him safely to the shore. The scorpion stings him. In a few minutes, he does the same with another scorpion. It stings him. One of the monk’s disciples standing nearby sees him and rushes over to him. “Master, why do you reach for the scorpions, you know they will sting you?” The monk replies, “Yes, that’s just how they are.”

It’s an odd parable at first glance. Initially I thought the monk was foolish; after all he knows what will happen. I also thought that the monk might do better for all concerned to let the scorpions meet their fate downstream as they would not pose a danger to others.

A closer look at the myth is revealing. In the face of harm that might cause the monk pain if not death, he did not behave reactively. He was a kind and compassionate man. He had no illusions about what scorpions do. He did not react to them with revulsion, anger or fear. He responded with the kindness of his soul, transforming the moment dramatically. The moment was like Dr. King’s March on Washington. King was fully aware of the venom of his adversaries, but he turned a moment that could be potentially toxic into one of hope and promise. The event changed America. Dr. King did not, as with many frustrated Americans today, identify with his angry adversaries and behave like them. He did not lose his own soul under pressure.

Our challenge today is to be as wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves.

For those of us, however, who will hopefully continue to struggle with soul, ego, and specifically with personalities we can’t abide, George Eliot offered this kind but wistful lament: “It was a pity he couldn’a be hatched o’er again, and hatched different.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Mid-Shore Arts: Getting Them When They’re Young with Mike Elzey

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The way Mike Elzey, owner of Mike Elzey’s Guitar Studio, sees it, learning to play an instrument, such as guitar, can only make you a good guitar player. Which is why he hopes to inspire his students with something he can’t really teach them; the talent to become musicians. In the process, Elzey feels they will also pick up valuable life lessons.

“Some kids have never played music with others and when they do they learn social skills and how to compromise. “During class, I’ll hear: ‘I don’t like Johnny’s song,’ and I tell them, ‘Well, Johnny doesn’t like your song selection either, get over it so you can just play.’ Kids today are used to doing their own thing. We’ve become too fragmented. I’d like to change that.”

The change, he wants to be involved in is to offer instructions in a multitude of instruments (including voice), motivate his students to form a band, and find them a showcase where they could perform. That is the reason, Elzey says, he started the band camps with help from other talented musicians, including Jordon Stanley and Quinn Parsley.

“The problem,” Stanley says, “is that the musicians in our community are all over 25 years of age. There is no place where those who are younger can go to be motivated.” Stanley was inspired to pick up drums after watching the movie Drumline when he was 9, an age he considers ‘pretty late to start.’ He’s never stopped playing and now, besides being a studio musician, performs in church and with several bands including the Front Porch Orchestra, and Blackwater.

Parsley, also plays with the Front Porch Orchestra, for theater productions, at Christ Church of Easton, and for “anyone who is paying.” He knows the importance of working with young musicians. “It’s a great outlet through which children can express themselves.” A multi-instrumentalist, Paisley began playing at 15 after his parents bought him an acoustic guitar for $5 at a yard sale. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Salisbury University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in classical guitar.

Elzey’s love of music began at an early age, as well. He remembers attending a battle of the bands in high school when he was 14 and watching the reaction of the crowds. He ended up joining the group. “Suddenly, I went from nothing to a Rock Star.” He knew, even then, that this something he wanted others to experience.

Despite Elzey’s talent and interest, once school ended he married and accepted a position in a start-up manufacturing company. He filled the musical void by teaching guitar to a few students and playing with a band on the weekend. After many successful years that included a corporate merger, he decided to make a change. “I knew I wanted to give something back to the community. My wife and I didn’t have kids, but it was clear to me that anything I did would have to involve children and music. I used the business skills I acquired in my previous job, gave myself 6 months to succeed at the end of which I had 25 students. We hired another teacher, and a year later we had more students than we could handle.” That was 30 years ago.

Currently, Elzey owns two studios in Cambridge and two in Easton, while also teaching at Seaford Music in Seaford, Delaware and performing in local area bands. But, it is the future that excites him the most, a future that will allow him to introduce the love of music to his students.

This is no easy task. At a time when nationwide there is a decline in the number of children learning to play guitar, bass, drums, or keyboards. When songs are being recorded using computerized instruments and autotuned voices, and children are busy with other activities. “We can’t compete with video games, and we can’t compete with sports. If the child does not have the drive or the passion, parents don’t make their kids practice the homework we give them,” says Stanley.

Instilling that drive and passion is what it is all about for Elzey, one child at a time. This is how it usually happens, he says: “Gina sings and likes Nirvana, Ryan plays guitar loves Nirvana and is learning their songs and Eli drums to Green Day who everyone likes. And I think, let’s get you guys together.” That’s how his school was invited to play at Talbot First Night and how a band called Jinxed was formed and how they all played at the Avalon Theater to an appreciative audience. And that’s why the school has been invited to the Caroline Summerfest in Denton in August. “I want other kids to see our musicians and get inspired, as I did. I want to hear: ‘mommy, I want to play drums, too. ‘ ”

Says Parsley. “I enjoy working with younger musicians because it allows me to help build an even stronger musician community for the future. It also allows me to show music to kids that they may have never heard. They may run into such classic bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but there are many great lesser-known bands out today that also deserve appreciation like Vulfpeck, Whitney, and Moon Child. Through learning how to play music, kids can also gain a greater appreciation for the artistry that goes into making the music they like.”

Elzey agrees. “Quinn and Jordon are younger and have a different perspective. I’ve got great help, I’ve got great space and we’re all ready. What we all agree on is that if we can get kids involved in a band and with other musicians, they grow to love their instrument. It’s my mission to do all we can to encourage and promote children playing instruments Maybe we can make a difference in the community. I want to look back and know we’ve made a difference; I want to see people in our community say: ‘look at all the musicians we have here.’ “

Summer Music camps are being offered throughout the summer.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

Food Friday: Yes, You Do Dare to Eat a Peach

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I was wandering around the grocery store the other day, as I tend to do most days, and was overcome by the heady aroma of local, ripe peaches. There was a gauzy cloud of deliciousness wafting gently in the front of the produce department. Some canny merchandiser had crafted a display of the velvety orbs, knowing that it would drive shoppers mad with passion and desire and hunger for sweet juices and warm flesh. The ultimate food porn.

I think peaches are best eaten on the front porch, on a warm summer day, with the juice running down my chin, which I wipe away impatiently, with the fist that isn’t clutching my library book. I’m sitting on the ancient wicker chair that creaks as I wriggle around trying to get comfortable. My hands and chin are sticky. It is a good summer feeling.

There are people who cook peaches! The horror! If I cannot enjoy peaches in their natural state, then I really only want them sliced on top of the best vanilla ice cream. The cool creamy ice cream, slightly melted, is the perfect foil for a warm peach. If hard pressed, say with a few dozen peaches I cannot possibly eat during the course of a day, before they are suddenly soft and over-ripe, then I know I can find other uses for them.

Peach Daiquiri – for one

1 ripe peach, peeled, pitted and cut into blendable slices
1 cup crushed ice
2 ounces rum – if you use white rum, add a tablespoon of fresh lime juice for some extra zest

Place all ingredients in a blender. Purée until smooth. Pour into a tall glass and serve immediately. If you are concerned with aesthetics, garnish with a peach slice and a mint sprig. This is the evening substitute for the front porch peach.

Here is a non-alcoholic peach smoothie for the pure at heart:
1/2 cup peach or apricot nectar
1/2 cup sliced fresh or frozen peaches
1/4 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
2 ice cubes

Peach Salsa:

My tomatoes have slowed down this week, so I need an alternative for my chips and salsa:
4 peaches, peeled and pitted
2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges and seeded
½ sweet onion, cut into wedges
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 cup of chopped peppers – you choose whether to add jalapeño
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon pepper

Combine the peaches, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and garlic in a food processor or blender. Pulse until satisfactorily chopped.
Add chilies, vinegar, lime juice and pepper and pulse again until well combined. Transfer to an airtight container and chill until ready to serve. Yields 4 cups. Add warm chips. Top up your tacos. Use over grilled chicken. Bliss!

Here are some other ideas for using up as many peaches as you can:

Martha has a Peach and Crab Salad that we might have to try: https://www.marthastewart.com/777163/peach-and-crab-salad-mesclun-and-herbs

Peach Bruschetta: https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/peach-bruschetta/

Peach ice cream: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/peach-ice-cream-242620

Peach-tarragon Shortcake: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/peach-tarragon-shortcake-51241890

It’s not going to be peach season forever. And yet, you will want to have some of this delicious summer sunshine stored up for a rainy day in October; no cling peaches in a can of syrup for you! It is easy to store a couple of pounds of peaches in your freezer. Peel and slice a pound or two of peaches tomorrow. Toss each pound with a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Put the sliced (and lemon-bathed) peaches in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and freeze overnight. In the morning, transfer the frozen peaches into your favorite freezer container. I prefer Baggies, because I can never find Mr. Friday’s Tupperware lids, but you might have a more organized life, and can find these kitchen items easily.

“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
-Mark Twain

Grants in Action: St. Martin’s Ministries and Women & Girls Fund Getting Women in the Saddle

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Over the last several decades, there have been countless studies done on the positive impact of teaching horseback riding skills to a full range of emotionally or intellectually challenged children. From those who have Down’s Syndrome, autism, or physical disabilities, these young people have shown extraordinary improvements in confidence, patience, and personal self-esteem after working with horses for even a short period.

St. Martin’s Ministries in Ridgely, who provides families, and particularly women and children, with the basic needs of food, clothing, and housing for the Mid-Shore region, wanted to use this technique to accomplish similar results for their residents and have been able to recently team up with Talbot Special Riders with a grant from the Women & Girls Fund this summer to make that happen.

The Spy sat down with Beth Spurry, who has served on the Women & Girls Fund Board of Directors for more than a decade, and who currently co-chairs the Fund’s grant committee, to talk about how such a small investment can yield such positive results.

We also talk to the St. Martin’s new executive director, Deborah Vornbrock, about the organization’s mission, and its partnership with Women & Girls Fund, to provide this unique opportunity for women at risk.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about St. Martin’s Ministries please go here

This is the eighth in a series of stories focused on the work of the Women & Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore. Since 2002, the Fund has channeled its pooled resources to organizations that serve the needs and quality of life for women and girls in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties. The Spy, in partnership with the Women & Girls Fund, are working collaboratively to put the spotlight on twelve of these remarkable agencies to promote their success and inspire other women and men to support the Fund’s critical role in the future.

Dennis Powell and his Cast Iron Pans: ​A Manufacturer Comes to the AAM Craft Show​

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While the Mid-Shore’s Dennis Powell has agreed (and is honored) to be one of the featured artists at the Academy Art Museum’s famed Crafts Show this coming October, he still recoils slightly at being called an artist or even a craftsman.

That’s because his product, the simple American cast iron pan, is the result of an intensive manufacturing process that involves approximately 180 workers in a Pennsylvania foundry to produce his small run of some of the most remarkable cooking skillets in the world.

It also might be due to the fact that Powell started his company as the result of trying to solve an engineering problem rather than one of aesthetics. When his grandmother’s skillet from the 19th century finally cracked in 2013, his journey began to recreate somehow an ancient process in manufacturing cast iron pans that would have a surface similar to his grandmother’s; so smooth that scallops could be sautéed without seasonings or oil.

Dennis Powell has taken several years of study, and more than a few bucks, to follow this passion. With the support of an encouraging spouse, he started a project that would eventually bring a product of near perfection to market in 2016  as Butter Pat Industries, which offers for skillet sizes for some of the best-known chefs in America as well as “in the know” home cooks.

The Spy sat down with Dennis near his Easton Airport office to talk about cast iron, engineering, and the distinctive art and craft (Sorry Dennis) that comes with pan manufacturing.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum’s Crafts Show for 2018 please go here

Good Samaritan by George Merrill

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Who is my neighbor? The real question is, who are my neighbors?

I remember attending a Eucharist years ago. The homily was memorable, partially because it was mercifully short but also poignant. I’ve never forgotten it.

During the liturgy, the celebrant recited the Summary of the Law: “Thou shalt love the lord thy God will all thy heart with all thy soul and with all thy might, and thy neighbor as thyself.” During his homily, the celebrant posed the question again but rhetorically this time, asking who is my neighbor? He responded, “All those with whom I share space.”

There’s a Biblical story called the Good Samaritan. The story is well known beyond its sectarian boundaries. In fact, it has found its way into American law; it’s known as the Good Samaritan Law. It offers legal protection to people who give assistance to those who are, or whom they believe to be, injured, ill, or in peril. If the help does no good, there are no legal repercussions. We’re free to do good whenever we can. It’s comforting to know in today’s litigious society that when we risk caring for others, we have the full weight of the law behind us.

It’s a humane law. It underscores the assumption of a basic solidarity among humans, and all those with whom we share space. Everyone is our neighbor; some are next door while others are thousands of miles away. Our job, where it’s within our power, is to look out for one another.

Today there’s an undeniable rip current, pulling against our humane instincts. It’s a mindless drive to make those who would naturally be our friends, into our adversaries. One loyal public servant after another is mocked or fired; agencies that serve not only the administration, but also the country’s safety are relentlessly demeaned; the agency for assuring environmental protections, the planet on which all of us share space, exhibits no vision. It’s being sold out to short term economic interests. Migrants, America’s future lifeblood, are being driven from the land.

By now this is old news. I don’t want this to be an “ain’t it awful” rant. Instead, what I’d like to consider is another way of understanding ourselves in today’s adversarial climate. There’s one vision of being with our neighbors and ourselves that might give us heart again and help mitigate the loneliness that our prevailing atmosphere of suspicion has bred.

I’ll paraphrase the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus is teaching. A lawyer in the crowd asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies; love God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

The lawyer (pitching a trick question) asks, so who is my neighbor?

Jesus tells him a story:

A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho has been robbed, beaten and his clothes taken. He’s left half-dead. A priest (establishment clergy) passes by to avoid him, as does a Levite (privileged citizen with social capital). A Samaritan (regarded as a low-life) comes by. He has compassion, goes to the victim, administers first aid as best he can, and puts clothes on him. The Samaritan places the victim on his donkey, takes him to the nearest inn, gives the inn keeper money, instructing him to ‘look after him.’ In the event the inn keeper incurs additional expenses, the Samaritan says he’ll pony up for whatever the amount when he passes by this way again.

So, Jesus asks the lawyer, who of the three was the victim’s neighbor?

The one who showed the victim compassion, the lawyer responds.

Now you know who your neighbor is and what you need to do.

Seems to me as if Jesus was saying to the lawyer that if he really wanted to inherit eternal life, he’d first have to get down to earth and get serious and become personally involved with the needs of his neighbors.

One writer said of our time that we live in a season of vanities and spiritual emptiness. Our psycho-spiritual diet has few nutrients. We’re fed mostly junk food. The symptoms are ennui and hopelessness.

Stories can help; parables, sayings that illuminate the soul, can lift us. We need to hear good news; we yearn for a loftier vision.

I’ve read some of the accounts of the early Christian monks, sometimes called hermits. They meditated in the Egyptian desert. They were a quirky lot, one of whom, Simeon, was reported to have lived sitting on top of a pole in order to have a clear and uncluttered spirit to be with God. It’s similar to Buddhists who, when they meditate, say that they “take the one seat,” only Simeon’s practice was more precarious and surely not as comfortable. All were good men.

As quirky as some were, they spoke the language of the spirit and knew the music of our hearts; they knew of the things that are eternal while at the same time were earthy and temporal. One story from that era illustrates this:

“Once, a certain brother brought a bunch of grapes to the holy Macarius. He, however for love’s sake, thought not on his things but on the things of others, carried it to another brother, who seemed more feeble. And the sick man gave thanks for the kindness of his brother, but he too, thinking more of his neighbors than himself, brought it to another, and he again to another, and so that same bunch of grapes was carried around to all the cells, scattered as they were far over the desert; and no one, knowing who first had sent it, it was brought at last to the first giver.”

Considering the miserable climate these men lived in, and despite their personal idiosyncrasies, in my book they sure are the kind of neighbors I’d take any day.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Food Friday: Holiday Leftovers

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I just had a tentative peek inside the refrigerator, which is packed and groaning with leftovers and good intentions.

I honestly meant to bake the annual Fourth of July cake yesterday, but Mr. Friday was using the oven to bake ribs. All afternoon. Half of a rack of leftover ribs is contained by a large Baggie, and it is taking over a shelf in the fridge. Also two pints of blueberries, and a pint of raspberries for my holiday-themed cake. Not to mention the large container of heavy whipping cream. The stuff is packed in there. Tight.

Teetering on a top shelf, next to the container of whipping cream, is a quarter sheet cake pan, still half full of Ghiradelli dark chocolate cake, slathered with the best buttercream icing I have EVER made. No wonder we are Weeble People! There are two pint containers of blueberries (One which I upended and scattered all over the kitchen floor on the Fourth in the heat of battle. The takeaway – Luke the wonder dog has no interest in blueberries.) and one of raspberries. There is a wedge of watermelon, and half a cantaloupe.

Sitting boldly in the middle of the fridge is a huge mixing bowl full of potato salad. And right next to that is a Tupperware container of cole slaw; a gallon o’cole slaw.

Crammed into a drawer are half a dozen ears of corn, and an elastic-bound bunch of asparagus.

Also on the top shelf are rye bread, a can of raspberry La Croix fancy fizzy water, a stainless steel tub of extra buttercream frosting, three bottles of store-bought salad dressing, and one Pyrex cup of homemade vinaigrette. I am not happy with any salad dressings these days, and am searching far and wide for a good recipe. Keep watching this spot.

Scattered into any nooks are bottles of middling white wine, and in the crannies are the cheap white wine, milk, Diet Coke and mayonnaise.

There is a package of salted butter, and another of unsalted butter. Also eggs; brown and white.

The Fourth of July cake goes in the Might Have Been a Good Idea category of good intentions paving that slick route to hell for me: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/flag-cake-recipe-1941624, thus the raspberries and blueberries. I have read that Ina Garten and Martha Stewart can’t agree who first came up with the now ubiquitous Fourth of July flag cake. I am inclined to believe Ina Garten, but only because she and I grew up in the same town. Martha was late to the Connecticut scene.

Since I could not bake anyone’s Fourth of July cake, we managed to get by with slices of leftover chocolate cake. There are still quite a lot of cake leftover, so stop on by later.

Mr. Friday stepped away from the grill this Fourth of July, and brought his cooking skills inside. It was the heady combination of a new, sure-fire baby back ribs recipe, and the stinking temperatures outside. And it was easier for him to monitor the ribs while they cooked, from the comfort of his sofa, and the World Cup games he had TiVo-ed… https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/220987/baked-bbq-baby-back-ribs/

No Fourth of July could be complete without someone’s mother’s potato salad. This year I chose my mother’s. Of course.

Potato Salad

I don’t always have green onions – Vidalias work just fine. No red potatoes? Go for Russets. A little fresh thyme? Why not? It is dependable, tasty and can be adapted and stretched to feed the masses. Just add more potatoes, and more mayonnaise. Particularly fine for large picnic gatherings. Plus you can make it in the morning, and it is just right by suppertime.

• 2 pounds little new, red potatoes
• 1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise thinned with milk
• 1 bunch green onions, chopped
• Sea salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes until tender. While warm (but not still steaming hot – I have melted my fingerprints by slicing too early and my life of crime may start any minute now) slice potatoes and begin to layer them in a large bowl – one layer of potatoes, then a handful of green onions and salt and pepper. Pour on some of the mayonnaise mixture. Repeat. Gently stir until all the potatoes are coated. You may need to add more mayonnaise mixture when you are ready to serve, as the potatoes absorb it.

Also necessary for summer holiday feasts is cole slaw. My mother’s won. Again.

My Mother’s Boring (Yet Reliably Deelish) Cole Slaw

• 1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise (Duke’s if you live father south)
• 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar vinegar
• 1 tablespoon celery seed (not celery salt)
• 1/4 tsp kosher salt
• 1 half teaspoon coarse black pepper
• Some people add carrots for color. I don’t think my mother would approve.
• 1/2 largish head of cabbage, green or purple, your choice, you will have to live with the consequences. You will be dissecting the cabbage to make workable pieces for slicing.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, celery seed, and salt until smooth.
Mix in the shredded cabbage and fold over with spatula until completely coated. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, or overnight.
It is always better the next day.

We were in California last month and had the great pleasure of eating at the Bouchon Bistro. I bought the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook which is a beautiful, yet weighty, tome with intimidatingly precise recipes. I thought I would be whipping out professional-looking macarons and pain au chocolat immediately upon our return home. Instead, I grabbed a box of Ghiradelli dark chocolate cake mix, and turned to my friends at Food52 for icing guidance. I don’t know why I entertained the notion that I would find time, or oven space, to bake a Fourth of July cake. The chocolate cake is something we know and love, and was perfect for watching Macy’s jubilant fireworks, before we returned to our Independence Day film fest.

Basic Buttercream Icing
https://food52.com/recipes/70448-buttercream-frosting-adapted-from-wilton

Tonight we will not be tossing our usual Friday night pizza. Instead I am rooting around in the freezer for some hot dogs. We will top them with leftover slaw, and have a side of potato salad, and yet another slice of chocolate cake. Oh, and some of that cheap white wine. We need to clear out some space. Happy July!

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”
― Calvin Trillin

A Lineman for the Country: Delmarva’s Bradley Hughes on Working on Puerto Rico’s Power Lines

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While Bradley Hughes calls Easton home, and his job is with Delmarva Power’s regional office in Centreville, it’s entirely accurate, with a few apologies to Glenn Campbell, to call him a power linesman for the country rather than a county.

With almost no notice, Bradley and his fellow linesmen can be assigned to any part of the United States for weeks at a time after a significant storm to help repair power lines. And for Hughes, that has meant long-term projects in Florida, New York, Tennessee, Alabama, and most recently, Puerto Rico.

Hughes calls this just part of his job, but very few make a career of working at very high heights, under hostile weather conditions, and for very long hours. It takes a unique calling and skill set to not only tolerate the work but enjoy it.

In fact, when talking to the Spy after he arrived back for three weeks in Puerto Rico about the horrific power shortages that island is facing, he referred to that challenge as the equivalent of being the Super Bowl of sorts for professional linesmen. It’s on these occasions for someone like Bradley to use all his skills, physical strength, and problem-solving skills to extreme levels while also returning power to 12,000 families during that time.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Delmarva Power’s efforts to help Puerto Rico please go here.

Handwriting On The Wall by George Merrill

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I liked taking photographs of old, dilapidated buildings and rusting farm machinery lying in fallow fields; or drift wood that’s stripped bare by the sea and bleached in the sun.

Graveyards also fascinated me, especially colonial sites on the island where I grew up and here on the Shore. On their weathered and crumbling headstones, I’d read tributes to, or lamentations for, the deceased. Whatever else, the headstone epitaphs affirm one’s existence –wanting passersbys to know they had once been – along with a synopsis of how the deceased or someone who knew him or her felt about their life and their death.

When I look around in old cemeteries, I wonder what these brief headstone testimonies mean and what the deceased persons once thought. There are few places on earth, other than a cemetery, where our mortality is declared so definitively. The markers identify not who’s there now, but who isn’t any more. The silence and emptiness of a cemetery’s terrain has a paradoxical effect on me, and, as I’ve learned since, on many others. Even while being in the midst of so many absences, I have a strong feeling of a presence while standing above those who’ve long gone. Among the old stones I stand waiting, as if for a revelation. It’s a haunting feeling, not as though I expected ghosts, but in the stillness of the space, some primal feeling in me is being called forth for which I had no name.

This feeling I’ve come to understand as yearning or longing, not for death, but from a desire to have a more complete story to which the brief epitaphs on the headstones allude. I wanted to reach my hand across the divide of time and experience the world as these people had once known it. I longed to hear their stories, see the landscape through their eyes. It was perhaps as I understand it now, my yearning to feel more deeply connected to the others through whose history, I too, had been shaped.

I long for connection.

Years ago, I read an essay by Bruce Mills titled. “An Archeology of Yearning.”

Mill’s story was about exploring the delicate terrain of the mind; the space deep within and surrounding us, and the symbols each of us use to travel in and out of one another’s terrain. Mills had written a moving account of the years he struggled to find ways to communicate with his autistic son, Jacob.

He seemed to be speaking about something I knew about intimately, but how, since I knew little about autism?

Living with Jacob’s autism, Mills tries to interpret his son’s inner space. Since there is little common language that parents, teachers, or playmates can share with Jacob, he lives in a lonely world. So, do his parents. They are woven tightly together by family bonds, but don’t have a common language. It’s painful being close and yet so far away, like standing next to a headstone that has a story, but no one to tell it.

Jacob drew pictures with the skill of a professional’s hand. He sketched perfect replicas of TV characters from the scenes in the children’s shows he watched on TV – like Sesame Street and various Disney movies. He constructed his inner vocabulary from these images. He mastered drawing perspective and depth perceptions of a much older child.

Jacob thought in pictures, not words, while imputing emotional significances to particular characters and certain colors. Through his art, he developed a visual language to give meaning to his inner space, to reach out to others. It was, however, a pictorial language and his father could not be sure that the pictures meant the same to him as they did his son. Often, they didn’t.

In general, when children pose the question to parents, “Where did I came from?”, I believe inherent in the question is a lot more than curiosity about the mechanics of sexuality. I suspect that in the question lies an eternal yearning to know the continuum of life beyond our own. How is who we are today connected to others who had been there long before? Who were they and what’s our connection to them?

While working with his son, Mills begins to describe his situation with a beautiful metaphor. In the relationship to his son, Mills sees the same mystery that archeologists experienced when first entering the ancient Chauvet Cave at Vallon-Pont d’e Arc in southern France. The images of animals on the cave’s wall witness to a story some tribesmen wished to tell. For the discoverers, in the silence of the cave which they found inscrutable and dazzling, they also felt a deep yearning to know more. What did these images mean?

Like Jacob’s, the images that the Paleolithic inhabitants drew on the cave’s wall were exquisitely crafted. There was the wondering about why this particular cave, and what the paintings themselves signified about the mind-set of the artists who painted them, the culture in which the artists lived and the significance of the particular subjects they elected to paint.

Art is a way of knowing. Art expresses what we feel about the world in which we live. Art is not confined to any one medium. It’s born of the primal human urge to create, to weave the strands of experience into the whole cloth of a vision. For years photography had been my artistic expression. How I ultimately became skilled in photography may not have been that different than the way Jacob became proficient in drawing: he wasn’t able to express his interior space in conventional ways, and so he naturally gravitated to another. It was important for him to create.

When I was a boy, my uncle took me to the countryside to paint. He was was a natural. As I watched him paint the rolling hills and farm houses, I felt lost, helpless. I could not sketch a landscape so that anyone might recognize it. I had no feel for rendering perspective. I wanted to be a part of my uncle’s world, to be creative in the way the way he was, but I had no aptitude for it. I had only a vague sense of color. After a while I’d find reasons not to go with him. I gave up.

That is, until I discovered photography.

It was apparent early on that I had “an eye.” I took quickly to the tools of photography that equipped me to render pleasing and imaginative photographs. As the saying goes, I found my voice, or more to the point, my eye.

In today’s world, the teaching of various forms of art is regarded as “soft” next to serious courses like business or science. Art education, in budget squeezes, is the first to be cut. I think this reflects a spiritual vacuum that exists in our consumerist culture. We have marvelous tools by which to serve our outer needs, while the tools to nurture our inner lives, to feed our souls, languishes.

It does not bode well for society when its young have no visions of possibility nor can its elders dream dreams.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.