Tuesday, December 24, 2019

There's No Place Like Home

Last week Susan and I attended a local production of the Wizard of Oz. Toward the end of the show, we witnessed Dorothy, acting on the guidance of Glinda, figure out how to return to Kansas. All she needed to do was close her eyes and click the heels of her ruby slippers three times while chanting the magic words, "There's no place like home." Voila! I-70.

It's Christmas Eve and I was reminded of Dorothy's lesson yesterday in a surprising way. This is a time of ritual, when many of us set aside business as usual for a fortnight, to celebrate family, friends, and relationship to the divine. One the ways we do that is through food—in particular, traditional dishes or libations. Perhaps tied to ethnic heritage. Perhaps linked to an old-time family favorite. Perhaps something clipped years ago from a newspaper food column.

In my case that includes plum pudding, a steamed English dessert featuring plenty of dried fruit in a thick, sweet batter, and served with hard sauce (powdered sugar worked into butter until your wrist falls off) and a warmed up sugary bechamel laced with bourbon. You can feel your fillings dissolve when you eat it. The roots of this dish go back to Aunt Hennie, my mother's homesteading older sister.

[To give you an idea of how far back this particular recipe goes, it's often called "suet pudding," after what used to be its most prized ingredient: beef fat. Back a century or more, people craved calories—of course, they still do in less developed and overpopulated countries today—and nothing delivers like fat. In my modern adaptation I substitute butter, but this dessert has never been a good choice for dieters.]

In the fruit department, my recipe calls for raisins, currants, figs, candied orange peel, and citron. While I've never had any trouble in the past (I've made this pudding many times) I was frustrated this past week in my attempts to locate orange peel and citron. I struck out at three grocery stores as well as at a hoity-toity gourmet food emporium. It turns out to be easier these days to find sriracha, hoisin sauce, or wasabi peas than candied fruit. Who knew?

Thus, I returned home yesterday evening empty handed after my final forays in the hunt for orange peel, resigned to my fate: I would need to substitute or do without. How about candied pineapple and dried cherries? As I was mulling this over, Susan decided to take a look at what we had squirreled away on the top shelf of one of our kitchen cupboards—you know, the shelf you need a step stool to access and have forgotten what you have up there.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear
But miniature containers of holiday cheer.

I'm talking about a pint of candied cherries and a small stash of orange peel. Hallelujah! 

Dorothy was right. There's no place like home.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

It's Snow Miracle—It's Community

The last 48 hours Susan and I had some pretty interesting travel moments, especially for a couple of 70-year-old geezers.

Each day started before dawn (no sleeping in for us)…

We awoke in Las Vegas, where we were winding up a Thanksgiving Weekend with my kids and grandkids. While the rest of the house slept in, we piled our bags into the trunk of our rental car and tootled over to McCarran amidst light traffic and under fair skies. Dropping off the car went smoothly and we were at our gates in plenty of time. (I said "gates" because we were not flying on the same plane. I bought a one-way ticket much earlier than Susan because it was the tail end of a 23-day trip that included stops in Eugene OR and Spokane WA. 

I enticed Susan into joining me in Vegas only after my trip was in place, and she got the best deal on a round-trip ticket with Delta. I was flying Sun Country. While the flights were both nonstop and were scheduled to take off and arrive a mere 30 minutes apart, that's not how it worked out. Susan's plane was early into MSP, while my flight was substantially delayed out of McCarran—first because the equipment was late from a prior flight and then a cargo door light malfunctioned, necessitating a trip back to the terminal to get it fixed. In all, we landed 1.75 hours late, which meant we'd missed our schedule shuttle to Duluth.

But it turned out that didn't matter much, because all shuttles to Duluth had been canceled due to our home town being blasted by 20 inches of snow sculpted by 40 mph winds—the ninth worst blizzard in the city's history. Yikes!

Fortunately, Susan was busy using her unexpected layover at the airport well. After finding out the bad news about our shuttle, she rebooked for a morning shuttle (the snow had stopped in Duluth midday and the shuttle folks were optimistic about being able to get through on Monday). She also responded to a fortuitous text inquiry from Ray (partner of Elsie, her college roommate and lifelong friend) who was curious how our travels were going. They live in Minneapolis, and when they found out we were stranded promptly invited us to dinner and to stay the night—chauffeur service to and from the airport thrown in at no additional charge. Talk about tripping on a tree root and landing in clover!

So Sunday ended well, if not in the city we meant to be in.

After getting fortified with mugs of strong coffee, Ray drove us to the airport, arriving 10 minutes before the scheduled shuttle departure. While we got underway a bit late and the driving was noticeably slower than usual in order to safely negotiate the marginal road conditions, we arrived safely in Duluth circa 10:45 am.

The main push to get back home was for me to keep a monthly date with my oncologist and to receive infusion therapy as part of the regimen that keeps my multiple myeloma at bay. Monday was my one day to accomplish that (because I was loath to shorten my family visit in Vegas, and needed to take a train east Tuesday morning to be on location to start a facilitation training Thursday evening). In short, my time in Duluth was tightly choreographed, and I was already in trouble. By virtue of having spent Sunday night in Minneapolis, there was no way I was going to be able to keep my 9 am date with my oncologist.

Thus, I was on the phone to my hospital (St Luke's) during the shuttle ride north, trying to negotiate a later slot in the day so that I could still leave town Tuesday morning. While same-day rescheduling is usually impossible, others were struggling with weather delays also, which worked in my favor. My doctor had 23 appointments queued up for Monday, but there were eight no-shows, which unexpectedly provided me with a precious afternoon make-up slot—if I could get there by 12:30 pm to do my blood work.

While we were optimistic about that schedule when we first hit Duluth, it turned out that we were the very last stop—there were five deliveries before ours—and that ate 30 minutes. Susan had left the car in the shuttle parking lot Nov 26, so that it would be there waiting for us upon our return. While that plan looked solid when the ground was bare, we found our Subaru Legacy buried in 20 inches of snow with no lanes plowed out near it. Ugh! Now what?

The silver lining was that there was another customer who just had her vehicle shoveled out and was ready to depart when Susan recognized her as a former member of her church, and asked if she could drop me off at St Luke's on her way home. Sure, she said. She'd be happy to be our angel of mercy. While I left Susan to figure out how to extract the car, I jumped into Alison's Prius and away we went like a red rat, trying to solve the maze of which streets had been plowed and which hadn't—and which plowed streets had enough clearance that we could negotiate the snow pan. It was exciting and circuitous but I was delivered to St Luke's at 12:20—10 minutes to spare. Whew!

While I spent the next seven hours in the hospital (blood draw, doctor visit, infusion therapy), Susan performed miracles in the open air. First she nudged the folks at the shuttle place to locate a plow to clear a path near her car while she and an underemployed shuttle driver dug out the vehicle. Then she connected with our dear friend Nat (who had been dog sitting Lucie in our absence) to retrieve our retriever. 

Amazingly she got all of that done just as I was wrapping up at St Luke's, so she swung by the hospital and collected me. After Lucie got through with her effusive slobbery greeting (she missed me!) we stopped at a nearby grocery for essential vittles and headed home, not knowing what we'd find. 

We had been advised by a neighbor to approach our back alley from the uphill side (the access on the downhill side had not been plowed), where one lane had been cleared by the concerted efforts of neighbors with snowblowers (there's no telling when the city would get to it). Not only was the snow blown away, so were we. When we sashayed down to our garage we discovered that our parking pad had been cleared as well and there was even a path to our back door one shovel-width wide! We were tired and cranky after a long day, and suddenly we were enveloped in love.

Lucie waltzed in through the back door, we unloaded the car, and we were home. Hurray!

After basking in the alpenglow of our good neighbors' ministrations for about 10 minutes, I got back up and did trip accounting, opened mail, sharpened my pencil (there are always crosswords out there needing attention), changed dirty clothes for clean ones in my suitcase, swapped out read books for unread ones, notified family and close friends of our safe arrival, and plopped into bed about 11 pm. It took all of about five minutes to pass into a sound sleep.

Susan's iPhone went off alarming early at 3:30 am. While we did that on purpose, it was still jarring. For the first few seconds I had no idea where I was. Then I remembered (if this is Tuesday it must be Duluth), and popped out of bed, got dressed and finished assembling my travel gear. We were in the car by 3:45 and at the pick-up spot by 4:05. The shuttle was on time at 4:15, and back I went south—less than 18 hours after we'd arrived from the other direction. I felt like the end of a giant yo-yo.

Today, thankfully, has been easy so far (knock on something with cellulose). While it's only noon and I have to make a train connection in Chicago—never a sure thing—the eastbound Empire Builder auspiciously arrived early into St Paul (I thought I'd faint). We're still on time halfway to the Windy City, and the vast majority of the snow is north of us now as we rumble through the Wisconsin Dells.

• • •
Aside from the sheer joy of reading about the harrowing travel adventures that people survive, it occurred to me how much this story is a testament to Community Where You Are, a concept that the Fellowship for Intentional Community adopted as part of its mission in 2005. 

Over the years I've noted with interest how my dedication to community building has remained steadfast though I am less and less attached to any particular form. From a commitment to income-sharing that started in 1974, I got involved on the ground floor with FIC in 1987, which promoted intentional communities of all stripes. My position there became the springboard from which I expanded my thinking to embrace Community Where You Are.

Then my reality followed. I left the income-sharing of Sandhill Farm in 2013 for the non-income-sharing ecovillage of Dancing Rabbit. After my marriage dissolved in 2015, I left northeast Missouri to live in a cooperative house in Chapel Hill NC with two facilitation friends. After only six months there I left NC for Duluth, to live with Susan, who was thoroughly integrated in a traditional neighborhood of single family middle class residences.

How much community can there be in such a neighborhood? Take a look at our driveway and the path to our back door.