The Gift of Deep Friendship

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I’m back from the fourth reunion of childhood girlfriends since 2010. We were born in the same year; three resided in the same neighborhood; our parents were friends; we were raised in the same faith; we know each other’s siblings. We’ve been friends since kindergarten.

Along with all these similarities are differences. Geographic, to be sure. The closest link between any two of us is over 800 miles. We differ in economics, vocations, passions, politics, tastes, theology, and in all the other ways people change.

The thing is that we six were not bff’s growing up. I think the phrase friendship by proximity describes some of our early years. Sometimes we hung out together because that’s who was available. Now that our friendship has come of age, we are repeating stories! (We = me, sigh…)

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This treasure, these friendships, are more precious to us than diamonds. Other than checking our phones and taking calls from husbands and children, our time is unplugged. We don’t watch movies; we don’t go shopping (except for groceries). It is time to attend, to be present, to listen, to share, to truly know each other. We laugh and guffaw, we cry (even the non-criers among us), we eat, we swim, we sing.

We established a protocol at our first reunion that we always follow. We could (and do) have a fabulous time cooking communally, grabbing a cuppa, letting the conversation meander like a river. But eventually we have a formal time of focus. One friend shares her heart: what’s good, what’s hard, what’s changed, what’s real. This is a time of transparency and trust. We take notes, ask questions. It can also be a time of discovery, when the perception of girlfriends translates truth we didn’t before see. Then we pray, asking God to help, to intervene, to strengthen, to bless our friend. Then we sing the songs we grew up singing that are imprinted on our souls. Rinse and repeat.

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These friendships are for each of us a bonus. We all have sisters — not just sisters, but close sisters with whom we regularly share our lives and hearts.

Two stories. Meeting in the airport has always been an exciting moment. We’re giddy and goofy and garrulous. This year, however, Ruth’s father died the Monday before our gathering. She drove to Virginia on Tuesday, buried him on Thursday, and flew out to Phoenix on Saturday. My plane arrived five minutes before hers. I parked myself in front of the gate to welcome her. Sitting at the back of the plane, she was one of the last passengers to deplane. Seeing each other we burst into sobs, running into a hug. It was a spectacle, but we didn’t care. All our griefs to share.

Eileen’s plane came in later than the others. Nancy’s sister Kathy picked her up from the airport. Eileen didn’t want to inconvenience her. Are you kidding? Kathy replied. When we were first married, we flew to Chicago, but couldn’t rent a car because I was under 25. We called my mom in Phoenix and asked her what to do. She told us to call your (Eileen’s) dad. We called him, he dropped everything and drove to O’Hare to pay for our rental. I am only too happy to give you a ride. More tears, and the gift of an previously unknown story about her dad.

One evening the Gibson sisters joined us for an old-fashioned hymn sing. I guess reading the lyrics on your phone wasn’t old-fashioned! Those girls (ahem, women) can SING!! Lots of nostalgia and gorgeous harmonies and rejoicing in a heritage of music.

After four girlfriend gatherings, I remain astonished at the profound transforming power of this deep friendship. It has all the hallmarks of grace: unexpected, unearned, unsought, undeserved.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

Our 2010 Reunion
Anticipating 2010 Reunion

10 Christopher Kimball Quotes

One time my brother gave me ten years of old Cook’s Illustrated magazines. Reading through them was like reliving Dan’s culinary phases. Oh, yeah, remember when he was making sausage?  There’s the artisan bread recipe! Here’s where he learned to make risotto! Adding nutmeg to stroganoff might not have been an original idea…

I used to think my brother was a genius. (Ha ha, bro!) Then I realized he was merely an amazing reader who followed fantastic recipes.

The first thing I did with the magazines was cut out the Flemish-ish art and frame it.

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Because I admire Christopher Kimball’s voice, I recently read through ten years of essays to assay his writing. I immersed myself in them in one week. A very few were ‘meh;’ most had a phrase or thought I copied into my journal.

His overarching theme is one of my own soap boxes, the importance of families eating together, a concept he encapsulates in the word familiar. Here are ten quotes I gleaned.

  1. We lost traditions that had connected us, and in which food played an important role: the social vitality of a meal, for example, as an occasion for families to talk, argue, persuade, or even shout.
  2. On many days, there is more sense to be found in a good recipe for roast chicken than in all the news on the front page of the New York Times.
  3. Today, a whole generation has grown up as a take-out culture. The food is convenient, and some of it is even good, but it has none of the ring of the familiar; it can never be personal enough to become part of our past.
  4. Dinner slows the clock, allowing us a moment to catch our breath, to savor the stillness of the moment; the first taste of a family recipe connecting us instantly to each other, to our past and future.
  5. So many of us today avoid cooking because it is difficult and time-consuming, requiring skill and planning. But it is the blessing of common labor — transforming simple beginnings into rich harvests — that is the great joy of cooking and of any life well lived.
  6. I hate the idea that cooking should be a celebration or a party. Cooking is about putting food on the table night after night, and there isn’t anything glamorous about it.
  7. Over a lifetime, hands become invested with knowledge, if we allow it. The surgeon, the farmer, the gardener, the artist, and the mother all accrue a lifetime of skill in their hands.
  8. Cooks are architects, building a present that is worth remembering, investing time and energy in simple tasks that grow in importance as time passes.
  9. It’s a shame that at the beginning of this new century, the world is watching America and America is watching television.
  10. Cooking isn’t creative, and it isn’t easy. It’s serious, and it’s hard to do well, just as everything worth doing is damn hard.

After I read the last essay, I read a few articles about Christopher Kimball, the man. I was saddened by his divorce, and laughed out loud at this sentence by Alex Halberstadt: “His real difficulty as an evangelist, however, is the one afflicting most multimillionaires who expound publicly on the virtues of simple living.”

As it happens, Kimball has left Cook’s Illustrated to begin a new magazine called Milk Street. Clever name, I thought, wrongly guessing it was an idiom like in tall cotton. Turns out it’s the street where Kimball’s offices are located.

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Last night I started a biography of Benjamin Franklin that a friend wants me to read. When I read that Benjamin was born in a house on Milk Street in Boston, I just laughed. Once again, my reading life has synchronicity, serendipity and sweetness.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

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Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal introduced me to Matthew Crawford, calling Shop Class as Soulcraft a hymn to the virtues of what he [Crawford] called manual competence and a lament for the decline of honor accorded to work with one’s hands.

My husband, a former high school shop teacher, captivated from the first page — bemoaning the disappearance of shop classes from our common education — kept interrupting my reading of another book to share a paragraph of this book. Thus, he convinced me to read it myself.

Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but when he’s not writing he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. (While this is a rare combination, I know several carpenters who are conversant with Kierkegaard and Heidegger. My husband can weld an axle and ask compelling questions.)

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Crawford’s book is part social history, part philosophy, and part memoir. The altitude of some of the metaphysical  musings were beyond my reach but within stretching distance. The history of transition from craftsmanship to assembly line and the degradation of blue collar work was absorbing. His personal ‘education of a gearhead’ was fun and fascinating reading.

Crawford laughs at the cubicle culture with teambuilding activities and speech codes. He urges learning a trade even if you go to college. Reading this book inspires me to pick up a shovel and dig in my garden.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. And in fact this is the case: to really know shoelaces, you have to tie shoes.

 

 

 

Cleaning before Being Cleaned

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There’s something radically new in my life: a young woman comes every other week to clean my house. It’s pretty weird. But I’m getting used to it.

I was telling my husband about a book I was reading,  The End of Your Life Book Club — the story of Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will, and the books they read and discussed during her final two years. As I explained their background, I said, Well, they lived three doors down from Julia Child. And Mary Anne worked full-time, back when moms typically didn’t work. But she must have hired a housekeeper because all they did was read on the weekends and you KNOW that someone had to clean toilets.  And Curt, bless his heart, leapt into this opening he had been waiting for to suggest that we hire a house cleaner.

So Jamie comes and I gather scattered books so she is cleaning and not picking up. I work on a deep-cleaning project while she’s here. To me, it’s akin to paying a piano teacher when you mostly need accountability to practice.

But, here’s the thing: the instinct is so strong to clean up myself before I get help. It’s neat to clean (Next to Godliness is my favorite soap from Trader Joe’s) but this is more about self-protection and perhaps some self-deception. I see this tendency in my life in other areas. After I lose 15 pounds, I’ll go to the doctor, I promise myself.

Years ago, I participated in a foot-washing ceremony. A group of women circled their chairs and the friend on the right got on her knees and dipped my feet in a large bowl sudsy with warm soapy water, washed, rubbed, and dried my dirty, stinky feet — a profoundly unforgettable encounter. It struck the same emotional response in each of us. We were happy (happy! happy!) to wash a friend’s feet, but our heart screamed No! when it was our turn to be washed.

Getting Paid to Read

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I have repeatedly said, I would love to get paid to read!

What I really mean is: I would love to get paid to read whatever I want on my own schedule. Basically, I want a stipend to breathe air.

Because having to read what someone else has chosen is too close to being back in school.

At times the promise of free books has tempted me to consider pursuing review copies from the publisher, but the obligatory nature of reviewing has slapped me on the cheeks and snapped me out of it.

Because of my reputation as a reader, I am often given books to read. People love a book and they want me to love it with them. Which obligates me to read that book. [This is fitting payback, because I’ve been that friend/acquaintance/stranger who pressed unsolicited books into hands with the words You. must. read. this. book.] Don’t get me wrong: I love gift books and I love loaned books. I love the discussions they engender. I just don’t like feeling disloyal to my books which migrate to the bottom of my pile.

Recently, I started following Anne Bogel’s blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This girl reads for a living. She is fun and welcoming: a literary, book-loving version of The Pioneer Woman.  Anne’s content is beautifully linked to Amazon and I’m sure she gets sweet monthly referral fees. It hit me one day: She gets paid to read!

My next thought was But. She must read newly released books to get Amazon referral fees. You can’t recommend Anthony Trollope (whose books are free on Kindle) and make money. And I am quickly back to contentment. I get to read the books on my shelves, yay!

Anne has a podcast called What Should I Read Next? While I am probably 38% compatible with Anne’s picks, the moment I wait for is when she describes her guest’s reading pattern, based on 3 books loved and 1 book hated. These diagnoses are often Aha! moments; guests use words like uncanny, crazy, I’ve never thought of that before!  It’s as close to book therapy as you get. Here is a sample analysis:

You’ve chosen books about women who had to learn to be strong, because life threw some stuff their way. And they had to rise to the challenge. And they did. And whether the story is written in first person or third, these books show us these women’s lives through their own eyes. We get their side of the story, their version of events, and we, as the reader, have the privilege of walking alongside them as they get a little older and a little wiser and really come into their own.

I have my own What Should I Read Next? dilemma, but not in the way of needing a book recommendation. My question stems from having far too many choices staring at me from my bookshelves. I want to read them all. The job doesn’t pay well, but there are benefits.

We Were So Poor Stories

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I’m tempted to pity my grandkids whose life is bereft of We Were So Poor stories. When such stories are impressionistic paintings from the past, they surely are delicious memories.

A coworker of yore bragged about getting SIX. TEEN. cups of tea from one tea bag. He was so poor.

My friend asked her husband what kind of meals his mom made when he was growing up. He thought and said, We ate a lot of Spanish rice. She asked, What did you have with it?  Just rice. They were so poor.

Before we married our weekly date was splitting a $2.25 plate of chow mein. We were so poor.

After we married our grocery budget was $12 a week. My farmer uncle gave us a few bushels of tomatoes that I canned, Curt put a deer in the freezer, and tuna was on sale at $0.33/can. We were so poor.

A young couple moved to California from the midwest. When their folks sent a dress shirt from Sears for a birthday gift, they quickly exchanged it for cash to feed their babies. They were so poor.

One Christmas, we prepared our boys for a skinny Christmas. We didn’t have money and refused to go into debt to buy toys. That year ::takeabreath:: our boys wrote a note and put it in an envelope with twenty dollars from their savings. We hope this helps. We were so rich.

I’m pretty sure you have some We Were So Poor stories. Won’t you share in the comments?